steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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with g. lucas crane of nonhorse and woods

His unique approach to sound awash with anxious energy and recycled content, G. Lucas Crane is part of the dwindling but ardent group of present-day tape jockeys. His solo outlet, Nonhorse, has been bouncing around as far back as 2002, and behind him lies a convoluted trail of releases out on fledgling cassette labels as well as more established outlets. Dealing in themes of deterioration and overload, his often-hectic sound collages are frequently challenging but always engrossing. Lucas also plays with such memorable acts as Woods and Vanishing Voice, although this interview -- conducted over several weeks via electronic mail -- deals principally with his one-man endeavours.


So should I call you G Lucas? or G? Nonhorse??

Ha haha. My friends call me Lucas. The G is my unused first name Gabriel. I still use the G, because it seems natural.

Where did the Nonhorse name come from?

The Nonhorse is an adversarial entity inculcated in the symbol of a horse-not-horse. It is a negation of horse, which therefore is most other things, or belongs to the set of "things in this world that aren't a horse" As primarily a not-thing or non-thing, it is a cold pitiless evil void and must be escaped by constant striving.

I saw it in a dream I had a few times, where I was being beaten underneath a giant billboard that had been partially destroyed, and the design on the billboard had been blown away, and the picture that was left was the nonhorse. The symbol then repeated in other dreams, where the dream would be going along fairly normally and then suddenly everything would go haywire frozen cold and the symbol would be floating behind me engulfed in black fire, and the dream would freeze for a few hours.

Surreal... Do you normally remember your dreams in such detail?

Usually yes. Dreams are extremely important to my life and work. The actual answer to this question for everyone is "only the important ones" but to me dreaming is especially important. The personal story of one's own dreamtime shows up in our waking behavior, our attractions and obsessions. For me, the day's recall of a dream, the actual experience of remembering, is akin to the sensation I would like to evoke in my music, the flash of full sensation and memory, the quickly shifting richly different environments, the mental image of a degraded signal, etc. I feel like the art of the collage is an attempt to recreate or evoke the experience of the basic functioning of the human sensorium and its peculiarities. We all need to do something with the very real inner world. It's an unwritable tale, literally the stuff of pure insanity. The juxtapositions and synchronistic media layers I try to achieve during a performance are an access point for my dreams to come out.

Do you ever put music on as you go to asleep, perhaps to influence the dreams you have?

Yes I have a tape deck next to my bed, and I regularly record 45 minute long tracks expressly for the purpose of falling asleep to.

It definitely would influence my dreams, but I have no fun stories unfortunately. The dream world usually may only be related tangentially to our waking mind.

Another fun experiment I've been doing is putting a voice activated recorder near my head and training myself to keep talking as I loose consciousness. I'm working on a "Visions" project to incorporate these tapes, but it won't be done for a while.

How did you come to like tapes so much?

I got into tapes to fulfill a practical concern, and then that led to equipment and design fetishism. Tape provides a low-tech answer to sampling needs. If you need sound to play under or with something, putting the sound on a tape and hitting a button is a quick, cheap, physically immediate thing to do. But the more I did it, the more attracted I got to the design simplicity of a cassette. Its immediacy and physicality. When you put a sample on tape, the tape itself becomes a physical representation of that sound, a stand-in that you can grip and locate in space, changing the experience of the sound from hearing to touch. When working with samplers or computers, the sounds are saved to banks represented by numbers or file names, making retrieving them an intellectual exercise. "Hmm... would 244 sound good with 547?" With the sound embodied physically in a tape, I find it easier to encounter and take advantage of the coincidental intersections that lead to honest inspiration. It helps when you make collage based music, where juxtapositions are the meat of the art.

What are your thoughts on the Plunderphonics movement? John Oswald, Negativland, People Like Us, etc...?

John Oswald had too many cartoon samples in it for me, but I always liked People Like Us and Negativland. Negativland especially, considering they were (are) a conceptual art piece masquerading as a band, and I always liked that, the stretching of genres. A completely sample based band on SST? How much punker can you get? I think nowadays to sample and reprocess culture it isn't immediately revolutionary, but when these guys first were doing it, it was. I feel like sample based art is a little more naturalistic now, as the amount of media and its level of saturation in our lives has increased. The fact that any smartphone can be a whole sampling/remixing tool and anyone can carry them around changes the game a little. Negativland and artists like Paul D Miller situating their sampling and collage work within a media centric-conceptual framework was always really interesting and evocative.

What Negativland was doing always seemed downright militant. It's my impression that sampling these days has become less political, and more about either novelty or - in its more abstract forms - creating a unique sound experience. I wouldn't necessarily say that this is a bad thing, although perhaps the outlets that artists use for social criticism have taken on new forms. For you and the experimental scene, using tapes as a primary means of generating sound, and putting out many of your releases on CS only, is in itself a sort of "fuck-you" to the conventions of modern society... What role do 'politics' play in your music?

The ‘fuck you' of releasing on tapes is the statement it makes about technological obsolescence. The rise of the MP3 killed the format arms race of the 90's. There is nothing after digitizing music, the music itself is now in its most malleable, transmittable form, which is why the race is now about the players themselves, the iPod and do-everything cellphones etc.

But this self-evident media politics fades away once you get down to the meat of the creative act. The salient detail of experimental music now is that ones own personal concept or sonic vision can be achieved by oneself. Weather you choose tapes and pedals or max/msp on a laptop the technology is there for you, and the Internet levels the learning curve on anything. Choice of technology is an aesthetic choice rather than a necessity. Modern society includes tapes, and that I think is the reigning aspect of our mediated lives now. We have to respect that our life with technology is not just the cutting edge; it also includes what the mechanized striving of man has left behind. The political aspect of my sound may be one of reminding the listener of the existence of the garbage detritus of our technologically mediated life. The more signal the more noise. The more interconnections between people the more opportunity for garbled communication.

The act of making art, where it comes from inside oneself, I feel can never be political. Creativity is just too phantasmagoric. Politics is a higher order concern that is fitted over the rawness of creation.

The Black Cockroach

Take me through your sound-making process. What cassette equipment do you use? What goes into the sound?

I use two regular Sony TCM-929 tape decks ("the black cockroach") and a crossfader DJ mixer. The two tape decks mix whatever tapes I throw in them; this is mixed to a looper usually. By throwing sound loops on tape that I skip with my hands into the looper, I can quickly build up a refracting pulsing wall or bed of sound.

So in the context of a live performance, you would be switching tapes in and out of the tape decks pretty frequently, right? Or do you make mixtapes of desired sounds for your shows?

I do both. I can either improvise the way the tapes intersect, or the way I play the tapes. I often craft samples that are supposed to be played together, or "off each other". Its like making all the parts of a song separately, constructing many many pieces that could potentially go together, and then at the moment of a performance experimenting with combinations. Anytime I record a tape, whether its recorded music or just an environment sound, it becomes a node in a sifting relationship of possible combinations.

How does your process differ when you're performing live, as composed to making a recording for release?

When I'm making a recording for release, I'm using the same set up as I do live, but with more options. I can stop, I can take my time. The live setup is stripped down for ontological simplicity and "terrible purpose", bring only the equipment you need to make your point, your piece - do it and get the hell out of there. It's necessarily more frantic being that it's brought to life under the attentions of an audience. This will always change what comes out. My tape system is formulated to give an outlet to both aspects of what I want: Exploration and transcendent functioning. I can get as out there and brainy as I want with a certain sound in the studio, but when I play live I want to lose myself in the moment of the performance and have it be a moment of maximum sonic intersection. I make the tapes at home and cut them up live indulging in my "sonic exploration" side and my "player" side. In the studio, I'm always striving for more of the energy I get naturally live, and when I play live I'm always striving for the patience I have naturally in the studio.


What inspired the candid street footage on the (brilliant) HangoutDowner video? Hipster disdain?

That video is more about summer finally arriving than any distain. I like crowd footage because an observer can imprint anything on the random strangers engaged in innocuously familiar activities. Even if one hates "hipsters" you cant fault anyone for enjoying nice weather. I just happen to live in Brooklyn where you can't aim a camera in any direction without hitting someone hip as shit.

How did you first become involved in unconventional music?

Making art is kind of the "family business," as both my father and brother are artists in New York City. As for the music, I made up the system I use as an instrument, and am not a classically trained musician in any way, so my music is unconventional by the very fact of its existence... My tape set up was essentially a conceptual art piece when it started, a "tape DJ" set up, but then I started using it to play in bands, and many of my friends are musicians... I feel like music is the most social artform, and that's they way I want to work... with people.

For sure. You mentioned your brother and father. What does your family think about your music?

They are very supportive and pretty "with it" when it comes to contextualizing and understanding my method and the result of what I do. I believe they think it's "hypnotic".


What do you do when you're not making music?

I'm barely ever not making music, but I've been getting into video, and I've always drawn and built stuff. I like to cook and am working on a "punk house" cooking show in my spare time. I also co-run a house show space/art studio in Queens NYC called Silent Barn, and that takes up a large portion of my time... If you Google it you'll see what I mean....

No kidding! That's cool that you keep it all ages. How did the Silent Barn start up in the first place?

Well that story could fill a book, but it's an old sweater factory that was taken over by musicians six years ago. Over the years it's always been used for music in some way, whether recording or shows, and we've had a variety of different residents with different focuses as far as the curating of the house is concerned. I'm currently the longest full time resident. Lately the schedule has been intense, with at least three shows or more a week. Lots of punk lately. I've had to scale back booking because of touring and recording demands, but I did the more experimental shows, of course.

From where do you track down found tapes for use in your music? Any favourite finds?

Everyone has a box of tapes they don't want. Tapes being officially outmoded or "garbage" media means they can be anywhere, and usually gravitate to the forgotten or wilderness areas of the media landscape. Among my favourite tapes are a computer tape labeled "Karate: Perfection is the only accepted standard" full of blistering noise and a tape of a preacher interviewing a former Satanist who admits to stabbing and eating children, but "she's been saved" so its all cool man....

Shit! How did you come by that one?

Just in a box somewhere. That's always the way. Because this strata of media now exists in the world as the technology presses forward, its practically begging to be found and used creatively. Because of the nature of the cassette, it can be an immensely personal medium; a stray tape can contain anything from your garden variety "casingle" real music to a one-of-a-kind personal rant. When you find that secret tape that was clearly a personal moment for someone between them and the recorder, it's a window into a very strange world. Those are the best tapes.

Have you ever heard any of the Jonestown tapes?

Hmmm, I've seen the documentary. You cant really get creepier than a tape on in a place where everyone's about to kill themselves. Are you talking about some specific audiotapes, or do you mean the Jonestown recordings in general? I understand there are many recordings that the church made itself.

Yeah, there's even a tape of the fateful day itself. You can hear them passing out the flavour-aid. They used a really old recycled tape, and the music on the other side of cassette comes through, so all the while you hear this evil, warbly, gospel music in reverse. Real disturbing. What's even stranger is that the CIA also found a tape, filed among all the other cassettes (which were mostly Jim Jones' sermons), that's comprised of several recordings of news broadcasts that took place AFTER the fact, after everyone had died and police were just getting to the scene. Anyway, over the years you've produced hordes of releases on a real medley of labels. What motivates you to put stuff out on so many different record labels? Any especially excellent experiences or horror stories?

I'm always surprised and delighted that people want into my own personal world, and I'm psyched to be involved on the artist side with labels that support artists. I'm always making music, so when people ask I usually say yes. Not Not fun is a great label with a very personal touch. 5RC, the Kill Rock Stars imprint who put out the WWVV stuff, were great at bringing a larger audience to weird obscure stuff. I appreciated that. I really love tape labels though, they are always a labor of love. Most don't last very long, so when a new one contacts me, I do my best to lend my music to the experience of putting tapes out. The final product is always so freaking cool, to hold in the hand, to see on a shelf.

Do you pay attention to music criticism?

We're not just dancing about architecture anymore, now its full on "producing a movie about the Broadway musical based on the videogame Architecture™". Sure I'll read stuff about music, but I like how poetic it gets, and little else. Sometimes music criticism seems completely unrelated to the music, with uncalled-for associations and blatantly unfair content. I think bad reviews are stupid. But when its treated like an art form I'm into it, and there are plenty of people who consider writing about art their art form.

What is your favourite colour?

Blood Red

Lastly, is your website supposed to be giving me seizures?

Oh yes....its my natural state. Vibration...

The Rare Tape Zero

interview conducted by Michael Tau
October 2009
published December 2009



all content copyright 2009