There is Peace in Momentum
Interview by Chris Sienko
Blake Edwards seems
to be made entirely of forward motion. His sound/noise/drone
project Vertonen has released a never-ending flow of CDs,
CDrs, vinyl; he runs C.I.P. (formerly Crippled Intellect Productions),
dedicated to releasing old and future classics (on sturdy,
dependable formats like CD and vinyl) by his favorite artists,
from Alu to Z’EV, Wolf Eyes to Halfler Trio, Spider
Compass to Brutum Fulmen. He books experimental music shows,
writes constantly, DJs (at gigs and on the radio), bikes in
below-zero weather, tours the world as Vertonen, and still
has time to bake the best vegan chocolate chip cookies around,
and bring them to shows. Pay the ticket, take the ride…have
editor, the cruel-but-kind Mr. Dolman, made me promise, as
he enveloped my head in electrical tape, gun pointed at my
forehead, that I would talk about any subject, except
what his music was “all about”…good advice,
though my psychiatrist and I question the method of communication.
Blake talked about life in his many cities of residence, his
writing, sick fucking tricks, C.I.P, high school hijinx, and
some secret science shit that I still don’t
done a lot of traveling: east coast, west coast, Midwest,
you’ve lived all over. Can you give us a brief travelogue
of the places you've laid your hat, what brought you there,
and what sent you onward? Your living environment circa "Captive
Compositions/Peace in Providence" tapes sounds pretty
A short travelogue
would be: born and raised in the California Bay Area--about
20 miles inland from San Francisco. From there I shot down
to Riverside, CA, about 60 miles inland of Los Angeles, for
undergraduate school. From there I skipped across the nation
to Providence, Rhode Island for graduate school, then bounced
to New York for 4 or 5 years, attendant to a job offer and
a girlfriend who was accepted to a Russian language / area
studies program at NYU. I’ve been in lovely Chicago
since 1999. Moving to Chicago actually was a spontaneous decision,
and one of the better ones I’ve made.
As for correlations
with music and where I lived, I dunno, I think the Peace in
Providence stuff is pretty mellow--I was in my “derivative
Zoviet France” phase, I'd say, with a lot of percussive
elements, wind sounds, yadda yadda. Providence was one of
my favorite places to live--affordable, 80% of the students
would leave in the summer (it was a pretty chunky college
area, with Johnson and Wales, RISD, and Brown all pretty close
together), you could bike to Connecticut or Massachusetts
easily in a day, there was enough cold weather to weed out
the riff raff, some great greasy spoon diners, and some pretty
creative folks as well.
Compositions, on the other hand, was recorded during
one of my crap times in NYC. I’d just moved out of Manhattan
and into an illegal basement apartment in Queens--it was hellish
in just so many ways, not the least of which was biking across
the 59th Street Bridge (feelin’ groovy, etc.) through
snowstorms to get to work. Don't get me wrong--biking in inclement
weather kicks ass. The aggravation for me was that the ascent
and descent spans of the bike path (which was pretty much
a sidewalk tacked on the sides of the bridge, so you could
look beneath you and see the water) were made of metal grating.
If you’ve ever walked on metal with ice on it, you can
probably envision the fun of biking on said surface. The perhaps
obvious option of taking the subway to work was never a question
for me for two reasons: 1) I dislike the “mass”
part of mass transit; way too many people way too close to
me; and 2) biking in cold weather makes me feel alive.
In Chicago, I've
had this opportunity to enjoy zero and subzero biking myriad
times--most noteworthy, perhaps, when I lived in Hyde Park
and Lake Shore Drive was closed due to blizzard-esque conditions.
I went out on my bike and had nothing but 20 feet of snow
on either side of me for probably six miles each way. It was
just me and a few cross country skiers out there, and it was
Compositions sez, "part 10 of a 10 tape series."
Any of the other tapes see the light of day? How did the five
7" project happen?
Yes indeed, all
10 tapes were released; no more, no less. It goes a little
01: Charlie Core (60 min.)
02: Sound & Vice (90 min.)
03: Derail: Conceptual Disaster (60 min.)
04: Vertonen: Sound Knots and Orchestrations (90
05: Vertonen: Vertonen: anastasia (60 min.)
06: Arc/Ehnemho: split cassette (60 min.)
07: Vertonen: There is Peace in Providence (90 min.)
08: Loopspool: loopspool (60 min.)
09: Handmaiden Synergetics: cassette (60 min.)
10: Vertonen: Captive Compositions (90 min.)
The first two were
done at a young age with hand held cassette recorders, and,
aside from maybe one track on each cassette, are completely
un-noteworthy, even in the "hmm, how has his work evolved?"
The five 7”
project came about for a couple reasons. First of all, just
to do it. There was something noncommittal about cassettes
for me, since all raw materials were free. But to see if I
believed in what I was doing strongly enough to actually spit
out the money to produce it, that was a level I wanted to
explore. Plus, I wanted to learn about the process of making
a record. Not like I thought I'd be able to get to a studio
to see them cutting the acetates, or get to the plant to see
the records physically pressed, but I wanted to know, in as
hands-on a manner possible, what all went on. So, a learning
experience. And, of course, I wanted to see if anything I
was creating was of enough interest to pique someone else's
interest--warrant being reviewed, etc. Why I decided on the
number five was just to have a goal--a point where I felt
there was completion with the project and then move to the
all five records pressed/released simultaneously?
(and still don't) have that kind of expendable cash. Those
were released (roughly) over a four year period.
the CIP site, a slight mention is made of Derail, a former
band you were in. What was the band like? Did you play the
kind of instrumentation you used in Vertonen, or was it more
Derail was a trio;
we were a junk metal, effect pedal, abused cassette machine,
turntable, "use anything you can get your hands on"
project. What we aspired toward--and I'm not saying we reached
it by any stretch--would be Neubaten meets Throbbing Gristle
meets NON. Our (negligible) finest moment came when we performed
in a street fair in Fullerton, CA and were asked initially
to play quieter, then to move, because we were drowning out
a mariachi band up the street.
wanna know about your skateboarding days! What were your preferred
skating jams on the boombox back in the day? There was a big
conference of Chicago skateboarding noise dudes recently.
Any injuries of note? Any tricks to give Tony Hawk the night-sweats?
Slack-jawed punk kids left in the dust?
When I was 17,
it was a very good year... I think my salad days of skating
were probably from 15 to 20, when I had 1) little or no fear
of serious injury and 2) didn't wear glasses. My hankering
to skate resumed in NYC for a few years (after biking by a
skatepark on the upper west side), and just in the past couple
years I started up again, skating infrequently at several
of the killer parks here in Chicago. As I was telling the
other guys I skate with in Chicago, after a day of skating
20 years ago we’d be like “Man, you totally landed
a sick fucking trick!” and now it’s like you get
a phone call or email the next day: “Dude, I can still
walk; can you? Awesome!” Technique-wise, I don't pull
airs or do switch stance, or even ollie in any remarkable
fashion, but I have fun--and that, plus the fact that I can
still drop in without doing a faceplant, is more than enough
favorite stuff to skate to when I was knee-high to a grasshopper,
that's easy: Faction, Drunk Injuns, Misfits, Minor Threat,
Crass, Dead Kennedys, the Gilman Street bands--Operation Ivy,
Sewer Trout, Isocracy, Stikky... In reality, though, we usually
didn’t skate to music, because we’d more often
than not be skating point A to B to C to hit a handful of
spots every day, and who the hell wanted to carry a boombox
around? Plus, if we'd set up a launch ramp in front of one
of our houses we were a little self conscious about "Angelfuck"
blaring down the streets in the charming suburbs. But if we
had a spot that we’d need to drive to, we’d bring
the boombox and batteries…A related music and skating
incident: I remember when the kid up the street dragged out
the first launch ramp in my neighborhood and he started doing
kickturns while "rockin' out" to Howard Jones...
I went over and told him the ramp looked cool and oh hey,
I might have something that might be better to skate to, which
happened to be Septic Death. That definitely started his slippery
descent into the mouth of hell; he eventually became the bane
of his Catholic high school, building pipe bombs and stuff.
talk about Incremental Press. It seems like writing was your
primary focus originally, but now it looks like its mostly
been displaced by your musical activities. Do you still do
any writing, even if it’s not published?
was pretty much what I went to school for, and I still write
all the time. However, my interest waned exponentially after
Brown because I was pretty disenchanted with the creative
writing program there, and with my writing as well. With audio
releases, I’d always been interested in having something--texts,
visuals--attendant to the music; something to do while you're
listening to the music to enhance the experience. That sounds
kinda foofy in some ways, but I believe packaging is an important
trigger for how people respond to the audio…so if I
can do something to make the audio more encompassing / engaging,
or open up another avenue of thought about the sound, I'd
like to do that.
subject matter of some of your early writings sounds kind
of savage (It’s Not Rape If They’re Already
Dead, for instance). Was this largely black-humored,
or more of a desperate cry for help to the school guidance
counselor? What I'm trying to ask, Blake, is: did you wear
a lot of black in high school?
my favorite chapbook--which I actually wrote in college, maturity
be damned, clearly--and it became my favorite because I got
an order for it from some guy incarcerated in Sing Sing. But
to jump back to high school fashion sensibilities, I can say
with the confidence of hindsight that I was probably just
trying to play the trump card of being some hybrid arty skatepunk
who "saw through all this crap" and was thus sooo
outside the norm; after all, this was the rough and tumble
white-bread suburbs, and the punks had all the "jocks,"
"preppy kids," "school spirit," "conformity,"
and "political" tomfoolery to rebel against, unequivocally
sticking it to "the man" as we unwittingly filled
just one more pre-assigned role in the high school hierarchy
with our bad haircuts, self-righteousness, and sneers. In
the galley of maybe eight punks at my school, my only marks
of distinction would be baggy shorts that I’d drawn
all over, a long chain for my keys (which I actually still
wear), and intentionally mismatched argyle socks.
weekly radio show “War Bride” and your former
curatorial duties on the all-noise radio show "Cacophonix,"
(both on WHPK FM in Chicago) feature a lot of radio collage.
Has this regular weekly forum affected your style or compositional
sense in Vertonen? Have you ever taken any ideas from here
directly into a Vertonen recording?
Actually, I don’t
do War Bride any more--now I focus on two shows for oddball
audio, Radio Dada and Cacophonix. But no, I don’t think
there’s been any real connection between how I mix on
radio and what I do recording-wise. When I started doing radio
at WHPK I would sometimes construct sound events specifically
for radio performance--just so what I was broadcasting wasn’t
like what anyone else was broadcasting--but I got more interested
in using pre-existing audio and shaping it differently or
playing material from my own collection which I knew we didn't
have at the station.
list of cities played on the road is slightly shorter than
Willie Nelson's. Any parts of the country you prefer playing
to? Any towns that really "get it"? How big of a
pain in the ass is it playing to the same 10 sit-down, chin-scratching
semiotician-wannabes in Chicago? Scariest gig you've played
(i.e. possible loss of life or limb at the hands of an ugly
I like playing
in Chicago, back east, and CA because I have a decent amount
of pals in all those places, so it's always great to just
hang out with those people when I have the chance. But I also
hold a pile of contrasting ideas about the whole live thing.
For example, hanging out and playing with friends is great,
but hitting new places and having an audience who isn't familiar
with your material also is good times. Last summer I toured
with three compatriots from San Fran and one stop was Allentown,
PA, and that was probably one of the best crowds I've ever
been involved with. Presently, I'm looking forward to a short
summer tour with PCRV and Jason Talbot to the south and west
this summer so we can all hit places where none of us have
performed (save in CA).
As for Chicago,
I don't find Chicago audiences to be a bunch of chin scratchers,
etc. While the audience depends on where you're playing and
with whom you are playing, whether I play at a more "art
gallery" venue or some throbbing rock out fest, I go
in with the hope that people get something from what I do--I
mean, that's part of taking this crap out of your living space
and into the world. So, although I'd like to be able to say
I don't care about audience reaction, I do--to a certain point.
Because I also think doing experimental hoo ha live, especially
as a solo artist, is really just so much masturbation. I perform
live because 1) I want to hear what I’m doing louder
than I do at home (this applies to "harsh" stuff
as well as drones); 2) It's a testing ground--"does this
idea really work? Does this combination of sounds work?"--and
hopefully you finish a show and have an idea of what you might
want to try next; and, attendant to that, 3) I like to see
what people think of what I’m doing--both friends who
do music and those who just came out for the hell of it.
So yeah, the whole
live deal is a gelatinous, contradiction- filled sojourn…and
one I enjoy.
CIP releases you care to dish about? What advice would you
give to someone looking to start a label?
in early 2005, the "short list with commentary version."
Alu was a German electronic (almost like synth punk) band
from the early 80s. I asked them if I could reissue their
amazing live LP, "Licht," and they said "Well,
we aren't really interested in doing that, but we do have
the unreleased material from what would have been our first
studio LP, how about that?" It was an incredible opportunity
that I could not refuse to pass up in any way, shape, or form.
first CD by Hans Grusel’s KrankenKabinet
Currently based in San Francisco, Hans Grusel's “sound”
might be best described as the sounds you would hear from
a Bavarian music box designed by an artist who had been bonked
on the head with a brass cuckoo clock chime and then left
in a dark room for three years with only the music of Scriabin,
Wagner, and Prokofiev mixed with off-speed Throbbing Gristle
and sci-fi soundtracks from the 60s pumping through the air
vents. His music combines numerous divergent elements--rigid
structures and sweeping washes of plucky improvisation, classic
violin sounds turned in on themselves in a mobius strip of
clashing yet oddly related sounds and tones, flitting marches
and warbly traipsing among life at the bottom of the sea.
Hafler Trio: If Take, Then Take LP
There are three artists whose work I admired long before I
even had the idea for seriously running a record label (which
was truly in 1999, as I count “seriously” as meaning
not just releasing my own work), so releasing work by these
artists means a great deal to me. Z'EV was the first, and
Hafler Trio is the second.
is the third?
The reason the
third is unnamed is twofold; one, as of yet I do not know
under what contractual obligations with another label that
artist is operating--so I may not be able to release anything
by that artist at all. The second is because hey: why give
away all your plans?
advice for someone starting a label...that's a tough one.
The thumbnail sketch would be do it for your own “right”
reasons, I guess. I run C.I.P. for three reasons. One, as
a labor of love. Don't get me wrong; although C.I.P. is not
some altruistic hippy deal where I’m just going to press
stuff and give it away, making a profit also has never been
a concern in anything I’ve released. Given the limited
audience for this sort of audio, I feel safe indulging in
the “artistic integrity” path now and again. But,
if that route sounds too off-putting, an analogy I’ve
given friends is: some people spend their disposable income
on cars, or clothes, or drugs, or whatever; I spend mine on
the label. The second reason is so I can release material
by people I know and/or whose work I like. When I started
the label, it was pretty much Vertonen releases. After a while
the idea of what was becoming a vanity label didn’t
appeal to me (and part of that, perhaps ironically, was due
to vanity--I wanted some other label to say “hey, we
like your stuff, we'll throw down the cost to release it...”)
Third, documentation and some historical angle. Whether it’s
long out of print material by Z'EV, previously unavailable
material by Alu, or the first CD by Brutum Fulmen, I like
to feel like the label is serving some greater purpose in
documenting this style of music.
words or less, though, I’m basically striving to do
what so many labels other folks who run labels for this kind
of music do: put out what I like and hopefully expose more
people to those artists. And, as a personal goal for the end
of the long day -- in this case that day being death -- I
think it’d be cool if my label was regarded, in some
small way, as one that took chances. For example, when Leticia
Castaneda gets the greater recognition she deserves and someone
searches for her first CD, they’ll see it was on C.I.P.,
and perhaps notice such things happened more often than not
with this label.
Dolman wants me to ask you this: “Re: the Return
of the Interrobang album -- I looked up ‘toroidal
circulation’ on google and got all kinds of crazy complicated
scientific stuff. Is that something you've actually studied,
or was it just something you heard once that sounded bad-ass
for a track title?”
There are a few
sides to this answer; the first and most direct is that no,
I haven't studied that particular field of science...but I
am extremely interested in words, so the title was chosen
because it relates directly to the construction of the piece--how
the sounds evolve, etc. On the other hand, delving further
into that--explaining my reasons for titling the piece--is
a tack I'd prefer not to take; I figure if people are going
far enough to look up a word I use, or reread a bit of text
I've written, let them continue on that tangent and shape
how the title (or text) and the audio interacts according
to them. Same goes for listening to the audio more than once.
Personally, and especially for the dronish pieces, I find,
I lean toward obliqueness being more intriguing than a concrete
is becoming an iron-clad “final question” in Blastitude
interviews, and far be it from me to break away from the pack,
because I want to know the answer, too! Last five records
listened to? Books/mags read? Movies watched?
1. a CDR comp of 80s stuff I burned from WHPK, featuring the
likes of Missing Persons, The Pogues with the Dubliners, Nena,
Romeo Void, Reagan Youth, Part Time Christians, and Berlin,
2. Bran...Pos: Chirphuis CD
3. Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast CD
4. Fall: Totally Wired 2CD
5. Satan's Cheerleaders: Genocide Utopia 7"
Nabokov: Invitation to a Beheading
Haddon: Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
Overnight Runner (actually forgot the title and author;
it was an advance reading copy at my folk’s house in
Oh! Mikey vol. 1-4
Theatre of Blood