David Grubbs – “Last year I started to throw out a batch of hardcore punk compilations and demos but a friend thankfully brought me to my senses”

David Grubbs (2)

I need to ask you about one close up you choose to send me, that seems to show LPs from “F” to “H”. I wonder why you chose that, but my first though was: “It’s for John Fahey, uh!?”
Working here for Concrete Shelves, I keep noticing some recurring name in shelves and conversations, and that guitarist and composer emerges very often, especially when coming to American musicians like you. Is he someone particularly important for your musical evolution?

The spines for those two John Fahey boxed sets are very appealing. But I chose to send you a close up of that particular shelf because it is more or less at eye level for me, and I wanted to send you at least one photo in which the spines are clearly legible. But Fahey — yes, without a doubt, someone hugely important for me: for his compositions, for his doggedness at playing solo, for his attitude, for his unconventional scholarship, for his humor.

What abou the Half Japanese one that I also see?

You know, it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve listened to “1/2 Gentlemen / Not Beasts”. Probably not in the twenty-first century. But what a great album title!

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I see that tower of LPs, and a quite big wooden wardrobe for the CDs, but I funnily discern some sparse cassettes among them, often with no cover. Are these survivals of a wider set of cassettes? Especially in US I see that most musicians are keeping them, and I know the importance that the tape network in the past had. In some cases they are just ‘shameful’ reminiscences of their teenage life.
Greg Kelley sent me a pic with funny stuff compared to his actual ‘adult’ listenings… What’s inside your survival cassettes?

Most of my cassettes are in my office at Brooklyn College (as are roughly half of my CDs, a small amount of overflow LPs, and a huge amount of books). I dumped a bunch of cassettes in the trash when I moved from Chicago to New York in 1999, although those were mostly things that I’d put on cassette to listen to in the car. I think I held onto all of the live tapes, demos, cassette releases, etc… When my parents moved to a smaller house last year I started to throw out a batch of hardcore punk compilations and demos but a friend thankfully brought me to my senses. I have sold a few of them online for sort-of ridiculous prices. Some are still for sale — check out Record Grouch on Discogs. As far as the cassettes shoehorned into the CD shelf, they are more recent acquisitions plus weird and excellent stuff that it’s nice to have conveniently at hand: Circle X unreleased material, Bastro live, and interviews that I did for the book “Records Ruin the Landscape”.

Records Ruin cover image.jpg

Perfect, you mention your book. It touches topics striclty related to the nature of this blog. The fact that you accepted my invite to participate in Concrete Shelves makes me suppose that you more or less agree with the declared ‘goal‘ of this initiative, right? I say:

Concrete Shelves has no purpose other than to enhance the concept of records as concrete objects. Not fetishes, not collectable items, just the matter of being physical objects in a home, in a domestic space. Not on a hard drive or on a server.
For the future generations.

But related to your books are declarations of John Cage and Derek Bailey, asserting that music could only be experienced in full in ephemeral performance settings. It’s a an endless debate, but for sure our readers are very interested in this…

Yes, but I should make clear that the sentiment “records ruin the landscape” – a paraphrase of John Cage – is by no means my own.  In many ways I wrote the book to better make sense of period attitudes, particularly from the 1960s, in which commercially-released recordings were an especially disdained form.  When I first encountered this attitude in Cage’s “Silence”, I thought that it represented Cage at his most reactionary and most anachronistic — that here he was drawing a line, stating that a listening to a record is not a musical activity.  In time I came to understand his attitude, which became so influential in that decade, in its complexity and contradictions.  But it’s still far from my own relation to sound recordings.

I’m also collecting interesting points of view and statements here from some of the participants to CS, for instance this one of Nigel Ayers of Nocturnal Emissions, who just told me:

I feel I can listen better to a CD than I can to something on the radio or on the internet (I noticed the sound of MP3s really irritates me, especially when put through PA systems, I wish it didn’t, but it does) and the fact of it being in a packaged physical form frames it in some sort of real life context.

Would you comment on that?

I feel that in recent years I’ve come around to being able to listen with focus to streamed audio, but it took some time, most likely because the sound quality is often garbage (not that that keeps me from listening to scratchy LPs or old cassettes) but also because being around the computer encourages multitasking, and suddenly I’m doing work instead of just listening.

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I know it’s not polite, but I like to peek at the half-hidden details of photos, so I saw a strange floor decoration just in the corridor (or room?) behind the LP shelves… what is it?

It’s a pattern of colored tape on our kitchen floor that my son made when he was about five years old. We immediately liked it and have never thought about removing it.

Funny, as this decoration made by your son seems really to be the fruit of an improvised gesture that remained sculpted in time… quite close to the topic of our conversation and of your book! Is he now an artist? Did he followed his father steps somehow?

Strangely enough, he’s a musician. He attends a performing arts high school for instrumental music. He’s a low reeds guy: bass clarinet and baritone sax.

Nice to hear that your son is also a musician, I didn’t know. You seem to like to collaborate with other musicians. Are you maybe also doing the same with your son? Or maybe it’s already happening on a more private basis?

Not yet! He’s very focused on a concert band and jazz big band, but we did recently get a piano, so that’s more of a point of mutual interest.

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So I have a very last one question, more oriented to your musical activity: has it been affected by the work you did in writing the book? In which way? 

Not so much with Records Ruin the Landscape.  But my next book after it, Now that the audience is assembled, seems to have taken over from what had been my impulse to write lyrics. At present, I’m happier writing books of poetry that writing songs, and the music has become wordless. But that may just be for the moment — what doesn’t change?


David Grubbs is an associate professor in the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, CUNY, where he also teaches in the MFA programs in Performance and Interactive Media Arts (PIMA) and Creative Writing.
Grubbs has released twelve solo albums and is known for his cross-disciplinary collaborations with writers such as Susan Howe and Rick Moody, and with visual artists such as Anthony McCall, Angela Bulloch, and Stephen Prina. He was a member of the groups Gastr del Sol, Bastro, and Squirrel Bait, and has performed with the Red Krayola, Will Oldham, Tony Conrad, Pauline Oliveros, and Loren Connors, among many others.

dragcity.com/artists/david-grubbs | twitter.com/blackfaurest

David Grubbs - PHOTO.JPG

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