N O   P A R T   O F   I T
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Monday, January 13, 2020

Interview Series #11: Neil Jendon

The NO PART OF IT Interview series was a strain of questions sent to a number of different people between February and March 2019. Each entry was scheduled chronologically to be thrust upon the world on a monthly basis since then. Each individual is introduced informally as if they were being discussed at a bar.

Scheduled on March 6, 2019

 I have no idea what Neil does for a living, but he's always struck me as a working class person, it seems to come through in his work. At the very least, I've felt like his synthesizer work was in line with that of a guitarist more-so than a "composer", and I didn't really know he was a guitarist early on.   I've always taken it for granted that he grew up in Chicago, and I still don't know for sure if that's true.  I think he lived at one point near where I mostly grew up, at least the same neighborhood.  Neil let me ride with him to St. Louis for a fest we did, and the most prevailing thing I discovered was that he and his father-in-law (was a radio announcer in the 40s and 50s) had a mutual appreciation for old time radio.  This extended to listening to actual 16 inch records (how radio programs were recorded in that time) on a special player, which Neil bought for a special occasion.    I guess Neil  started his "career" as a guitarist in 1988 with a band called Catherine, who went on to be signed to TVT Records and open for The Smashing Pumpkins, and I have found that they went on to do a record with SP's former bass player, D'Arcy.

Neil's worked with various people on various projects, with members of Locrian, Zelienople, Sunsplitter, Sshe Retina Stimulants, and others, and while his ambient sounds may not break any barriers, it is a signature sound which plays out in a myriad of ways when it comes to his solo work, which I especially enjoy when it breaks into rhythmic or percussive themes, or hard and fast transitions, while still being within the realm of a "soundscape".   I think that while Neil's miles away from the "leisure class", he's still got a gentlemanly sense of artistic integrity, if only when it is buttressed with maybe a humility that teeters on self-deprecating down-to-earthness.  The result is sort of a noise artist / sound designer with a kind of studious, yet stoic rock sensibility, whose work, on occasion, comes across as emotive only at times when it seems to sneak out, rather than being packaged as a thesis statement followed by a presentation.  I've never really seen Neil be too aggressive about promoting shows and things, yet he has shared bills with a number of well-established acts, so to me this would be a statement to his character or his ability or both.  In any case, I think the word "unsung" would still be in order here, and I do look forward to see what else Neil has up his sleeve as time continues to drift into some strange oblivion, despite the shrinking collective attention spans. 

1.  What types of things have you been getting into lately?

I've been listening to a lot of jazz pianists, particularly Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal.  Those guys have all the moves, harmonically, dynamically and rhythmically. Ahmad Jamal in particular can command so much attention with the quietest gestures. It sounds so simple until you try it yourself.

The Eliane Radigue box set is on heavy rotation. What a tremendous and soulful body of work. Another example of something that sounds simple but isn't.

I'm currently binge-watching The Sopranos. I'm 20 years late to the party. It's the greatest work of art ever devoted to the lives of stupid people. Within it is the story of an America that's too dumb to know itself. The characters don't inhabit their own lives. It's beautiful in it's grim despair.

A close second and fantastic companion to The Sopranos is the 5-film series The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor or Humility. Inept violence committed by serial cowards. The whole thing is a claustrophobic mess, and I give director Kinji Fukasaku mad props for so successfully hijacking a genre that typically valorizes violence.

2.  What you do, do you do it as an artist, or is it a hobby?  If you don't like that question, what do you have to say about true art (vs. "entertainment")? 

Distinctions between artist/hobbyist and true art/entertainment are social constructs that speak more to the economics of performer and the patron than what's being performed. Our day jobs are dirty, but the universities and art museums (with endowments chock full of money from e.g. arms manufacturers) are no cleaner. Call yourself whatever you want, and tell your story. What matters is what you have at stake; everything else is academic.

In my own practice, I feel I have to be at least somewhat entertaining when I perform. What I ask from people (time and attention) is a lot. I should make an effort to engage them beyond simply "listen to this, then listen to this." After all, It's me they're listening to, not the synth; otherwise they can just go to guitar center and sit in the keyboard room for an equivalent experience.

3.  How would you describe what you do?

I'm a musician. More honestly, I'm a guitarist. Even when there's no guitar in it, I'm still a guitarist. That was my first conduit into music, and I hang on to it despite knowing better. 

4.  How would you describe your creative progression over the years, in a brief synopsis?

 Recently I've given up trying to understand what works and what doesn't. It's a quest for the sacred. It's something we never really learn. I keep doing every day; it's the only way. 

5.  How would you describe your philosophy?

All life is suffering. Beauty, mercy and grace are the only consolations, which we must make ourselves from nothing but ourselves.

6.  Do you believe in psychics, magic, ghosts, or gods?  If no, then maybe you'll share your favorite conspiracy theory (whether you believe it or not). 

I do not believe in any of those things. Conspiracy theories are the most absurd because power functions so terribly and nakedly and serves its own needs so efficiently that one wonders - what could be gained by secrecy? RIP to Lyndon LaRouche, though; you were a very special kind of right-wing crank that they just don't make any more.

7.  What would you say was your most definitive experience?

Seeing Edgard Varesé performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when I was 9 years old. I think it was Hyperprism. I was overwhelmed.

8.  Do you have any side projects that I am not aware of? If not, what is something you'd like people to know about you, that you don't think anyone would ever ask?

The main things are:

My podcast - 1 Electronic Sound for 5 Minutes http://1esf5m.buzzsprout.com

9.  Would you care to name any theoretical "desert island" records, or at least releases that you think are approaching your concept of "perfect"? 

A desert Island would be a fantastic opportunity to leave music behind, enjoy the quiet, focus on finding fresh water, and learn how to fish. If I'm going to have any music, it has to be something that attracts fish. Maybe Brian Eno?

10.  What is the earliest childhood memory you can (or are willing to) recall?  

Being pushed down the stairs by the neighbor kids. I couldn't have been more than 3 years old. I walked from it and was apparently made of rubber then.

11.  Are you able to appreciate other peoples' creative work regardless of their personal shortcomings or inherent flaws?  To what extent? 

I don't have a satisfying answer for this at all. Ideally, we admire and support art from people who aren't shitty. However, the appeal of art and music is profoundly irrational; so much so that I don't think we have much of a say in it. People are going to love R. Kelly's music for decades despite him being an absolute fucking monster. Martin Heidegger is on the syllabus and widely published despite being a fucking Nazi. The list goes on.

Personally, I don't waste my time. There's a world of art out there deserving of more attention made by non-shitty people. It's not hard to find. I won't deny the emotional impact of works by people later revealed to be horrid; I treat them like any other abuser in my past with distance.

12.  Do you have any heroes or heroines? Who are they? Feel free to add anything that makes them stand out. 

I'm too old and cynical to have heroes. 

13.  What would you like to have on your epitaph?  Or what is your favorite quote? 

"Originality is a device that untalented people use to impress other untalented people to protect themselves from talented people" - William Gaddis

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