Face the Musician: Six Organs of Admittance and Luminous Night
On August 3, Dusted published a review of Six Organs of Admittance’s new album Luminous Night, which came out the following day on Drag City Records. Longtime staff writer Emerson Dameron penned the review after spending a few months with the record. Before we published the review, we sent it, along with a number of questions, via e-mail to Six Organs guitarist Ben Chasny. We wanted to give Chasny a chance to respond to our opinions in the hopes a dialogue would enrich everyone’s experience with the album and give Dusted readers a chance to approach the industry-standard record review from the artist in question’s perspective. It’s the second installment in a new series we call Face the Musician.
Dusted: Do you see this record as an advanced draft of earlier work, and do you agree with the bit about the value of revision?
Chasny: I think Emerson has a good point about revision but I don’t really think of it as revising a previous draft. I think there is a myth that one’s work exists on a singular trajectory that can be charted with one line on a graph and that the line changes direction in relationship to where it’s been. I don’t see things like that. I see it as you have a center, which is where inspiration and imagination exists and from that center different lines (which represent different works) extend outwards in (at least) three dimensions. Some of the lines are closer to others, but they don’t have to be branches of other lines. So the "revision" that happens isn’t on the lines, the work, but on this center, which holds within it the original impetus for creation in the first place.
Dusted: Is there anything at stake, ethically, in sustaining a commitment to your musical ideas?
Chasny: Well, on one hand you have the admirable stance of not being swayed by whatever is popular at the moment and trying to craft a sound that is unique. On the other hand, you have the trap of being afraid to really branch out and expand or try something new because you have a sound. Those two ideas sort of lie on top of each other so I guess it’s a matter of just making the music that feels good to you. I just do what I feel sounds good to me, throw it to the wind, and if people dig it than cool. If not, there’s plenty of other bands for people to dig, so no big deal.
Dusted: "Enemies Before the Light" is really hard to listen to on headphones, with intense ear-to-ear phasing on the drone. Through regular speakers, it’s a totally different track - heavy, imposing, beautiful in the way that metal can often be. What mode of listening to a given song has the final word for you when you record?
Chasny: Ah man, really? I thought that song sounded better on headphones. We definitely panned some stuff on the record. Headphones play a huge part in all the mixing because I listen to the songs for hours on headphones at home between days of recording and take massive notes. It’s also how I listen to music when I want it to be pretty loud. Sometimes I think I mix with the music too loud though, because people don’t really listen to music that loud. This is a problem because I’m thinking, "Holy shit, this song is heavy!" but it’s only because it’s turned up. Turning it down to “2” makes it sound much softer, which is why I guess Nanjo likes to red line that shit!
Dusted: Does Drag City facilitate or encourage "higher production values"?
Chasny: They facilitate but don’t necessarily encourage. They’re pretty open to whatever. I could record on a wax cylinder and they would be OK with it. They’re pretty awesome in that way of trusting people.
Dusted: This may be a very 1996 question, but maybe it’s relevant again (also, maybe not). Do you feel like there’s a hard line between your work and that of an "electronic musician" like Tim Hecker? At least in terms of terms, your music is likely to be described by its orientation toward folk concepts, especially signposts of genre (unprocessed vocals, acoustic picking, etc.), and his from anxieties brought about by electronic music, especially the organic/human vs. the technological. And yet there clearly are, as Emerson points out, a whole lot of sonic similarities between what you two do. Why the differences in reception, and in what ways are these differences meaningful to you?
Chasny: I don’t see a hard line at all. I listen to more electronic music than acoustic music in my life right now. Or maybe I should say I just don’t listen to a lot of acoustic guitar music nowadays. A lot of the drone aspect in Six Organs comes from people like Thomas Köner and Organum, though I guess those artists do use more acoustic means to achieve their drones. Context is a large part of any listening experience and perceptions are often just regurgitated and passed on without any thought, though maybe I’m being too cynical. If people think they are listening to a person who is more concerned with folk forms, they will think they are listening to folk, even if it doesn’t sound like what is usually considered folk. Trust me, I could record the next record with Ableton Live and throw it all through insane bit crunching VSTs and people would still say, "Yeah, sounds like Fahey."
Dusted: Did the Arthur interview sell anything, after all?
Chasny: Ha. I doubt it. I can’t see someone reading that and thinking, "Ah, I gotta check this out." Line some bird cages maybe, but...
Dusted: Any thoughts you’d like to add about Emerson’s take on Luminous Night?
Chasny: What can I say, it was really nice. At this point I can use all the niceness I can get. And please tell him it will take at least two weeks for that check to clear. I’m digging this new thing you guys are doing. I thought the Oneida one was great. And I’m really looking forward to the one with Dirty Projectors that you guys are going to do, right?
By Ben Tausig