55: Josh Hager (ShadowParty)

Recorded: September 8 2018, 1230
Place: Portmeirion Town Hall, Festival No. 6
Interview: November 8 2019

I think 4’33” is really interesting. It’s a great concept. It’s very Dada, very Duchamp. It could be interpreted as really deep or really pretentious. It depends on how you look at it. And that’s the beauty of it – the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or the listener.

Mute approached ShadowParty to perform a version of it and we did it very quickly. We were playing the No. Six Festival in Portmeirion, North Wales. And they said, ‘Oh by the way we’re doing this 4’33” thing,’ so we recorded it there. We were onboard, but at first it was like, ‘Ah jeez, this is pretentious.’ We were like, ‘Well, we’d rather have you release our next single…’ But Daniel Miller and those guys, they’re having fun with it, I think. I think it’s maybe not to be taken too seriously.

Nick McCabe wasn’t there when we recorded it, Jeff Friedl also wasn’t there and Denise Johnson was out with ACR at that time. We were very fidgety while we were performing it. We did it during soundcheck so we were like, ‘Oh we’ve got to get this over with. We’re short on time for soundcheck.’ It was one of those where we had the whole string section and Joe Duddell up on stage, and everybody was just kind of standing there trying not to fidget, you know. We couldn’t keep ourselves from giggling. That was the hardest part.

There’s someone coughing on our version. That was somebody who came in early and was sat in the audience. It might have been a friend of the manager or somebody. I can’t remember if they let him know what we were doing or not.

Doing nothing for four and a half minutes isn’t a long time if you’re used to meditating, or anything like that. I did a lot of teaching martial arts and stuff like that in the past, so for me patience is a virtue.

I work on ambient music with a guy in New Hampshire called Scott Dakota. We do a lot of brainwave entrainment ambient music, which involves a lot of mathematics. It’s a program that’s a model of the golden ratio, where you can pipe in mathematics to calculate, say, rhythm, melody, combinations that make certain timbres, length, and silence. They’re also binaural, that is they’re offset left ear to right ear so they trick your cerebral cortex a little, vibrating at, say, theta. So it induces trance states, just from putting the headphones on or listening to it. The pieces are usually forty, sometime one hundred and twenty minutes long, so for me four and a half minutes – I’m like, that’s the single edit.

I love experiments. I mean, Devo’s very much into the Dadaist movement. We just did a show out in California a couple of weeks ago where we needed the sun to go down so that our screens would work. So while the sun was setting they decided to show a half-hour mockumentary on the music business, and everybody was just freaking out, pissed off, like ‘What are they doing?’ And Jerry’s just sitting there laughing, ‘It’s so Dada.’ He’s like, ‘The beards are the new squares, man, and they’re getting all pissed off – that’s so weird.’

Where do you go when you want silence?

I would say in my car. Driving, you know. I mean, it’s not complete silence, but it’s close. I listen to a lot of ambient music while I’m driving, but not the stuff I make with Scott. You probably shouldn’t listen to that in that car. I listen to Brian Eno instead.

Music and silence can really change your whole perception of where you are, and your mood. I mean, you put on King Tubby and it’s a totally different vibe to listening to Joy Division. That changes the whole atmosphere.

It’s a funny story. I used to have this loft in Downtown LA, and I had just moved there and it was completely empty, with a bright blue floor, white ceiling, white walls and everything. I set up this little patch of fake grass, a tent and a fake log fire, and I had this one record called The Magic Of Psychoacoustic Sound, and on one side it was a field, an English meadow, and on the flip side were crickets. So during the day I would have it on the English meadow side – you know, with birds and things like that – and then at night I’d flip it over. I did that until I could afford furniture. I still put it on all the time. I always thought of those sorts of records as the music of the future, where the ego, the big rock star egos and guitar solos are kind of gone, and it’s more about the communal sound or mood.

One of the entrainment experiments Scott and I do is concerned with repetition as a form of change. We’ll do something that has, say, a drone that’s tuned to a pitch that probably isn’t a Western pitch. We’ll have that drone just roll over and over, and what happens over time is that it’s so boring that your brain finds ways to make it interesting. And it’ll start changing, and that’s why these pieces are so long – your brain is part of the thing that’s making the music, the way it’s interpreting the redundancy of it.

There’s a book I have called The Hidden Messages In Water by a Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto. He would project what are called cymatics, which is where you take a steel plate and you put salt on it, and you pump frequency through it – just pure frequency – and it’ll make these mandalas, these different shapes for different frequencies. Sound does that with water and of course you’re made up of 90% water, so the way that sound affects you on a molecular level can be healing, but it can also be used for sonic weapons like Americans do with crowd control.

The Hidden Messages In Water ties into ShadowParty, actually. There’s a song on the record called ‘The Valley’, that was the first song that Tom Chapman and I ever did, and in the middle you hear Tom talking. He went, ‘What do I say?’ and I go, ‘Here,’ and he just picked up that book, and he reads the title of it on the track. I only just remembered that.

Interview: Mat Smith

Thanks to Tyson.


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