NO WORD IS AS BEAUTIFUL AS NO: An Interview with Allen Mozek
“Language is the slash through an error which leaves the mistake legible. Archiving is a way of forgetting, but recording is profanity. The temptation, as always, is to cease the chatter & stop making work. All that would be left is to abolish what has come before. // There is never a good reason to write a word.” – from the J-card, No Intention – Representative Works c60 + chapbook (SPAM, 2016)
: : : : :
There are times when we, the media-hungry, over the course of our unceasing cultural excavations, get lucky. For some time I’ve been happily tracing the activities of one Mr. Allen Mozek, who, in addition to recording in projects Good Area and No Intention, is also the proprietor-curator of Vitrine Records, a cassette label dedicated to the release of sound-art & non-music. On the heels of his latest release as No Intention (pictured and quoted above), the following conversation took place via e-mail. – GS
: : : : :
Having had formal training as a poet (as regards text), when did you decide your interests and abilities were better suited to the world of sound-art and the like? Did the textual interest actually precede the interest in audio? Were they always entwined? Did you decide to privilege one over the other?
I’m not convinced my abilities are better suited to sound-art than to anything else. The best sounds are the ones I’m not making. Sound work is simply the arena I stumbled upon while blackout drunk in the afternoon. I’m an obsessive collector and I enjoy inspecting complex systems. My abilities have always mirrored my interests. In that way I don’t think myself unique from anyone else, though I have many more interests than I do abilities. We are all quilt-works assembled from the various threads of our interests and proclivities. The only true peculiarity in my instance is the stubbornness and dull obsession I pursue with whatever catches my attention. “My hobby keeps me busy.”
My first love was language – not so much story, but the games which make up storytelling. This led to an early interest in fiction writing and soon expanded to a juvenile interest in poetry. I pursued a formal education in writing because it was what interested me. Writing also served as a trapdoor – another way to avoid doing any real work. There you go; it’s that pesky stubbornness I mentioned above. I enjoyed the undergraduate experience, though in hindsight I’m not enthused about the workshop apparatus as it stands. I switched from fiction to a focus in poetry. This was for the best, as I have a difficult time prioritizing tasks and details both in life and in text. My fiction, if it could be called that, mostly consists of simple tableaus which are then expanded upon to the point of vulgarity. There’s usually a vaguely science fictional conceit as I’m attempting to write a conventionally plotted SF novel and routinely failing. I’ve always admired Jane Bowles’ absurd tenacity when it comes to describing her character’s physical characteristics. I read a great deal of poorly-written, supermarket fantasy as a child. The writers of those books were often paid by the word, so tellingly there is an excessive and pointless attention to detail and inane description. I found this true to life. I eventually discovered the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Raymond Roussel and Francis Ponge as well as Xavier de Maistre’s A Voyage Around My Room. Poetry allowed me the strictures of precise game-playing. A poem, for me, was not so much a work of art, as it was a machine. I placed text into the machine and the poem came out.
Charles Olson advises us to approach poetry “…as though you were hearing for the first time – who knows what a poem ought to sound like? Breath is man’s special qualification as animal. Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts…” I read the word proud as evocative of both man’s great achievements and also his gross arrogance. Perhaps man would have been better off if he just shut the fuck up, or better yet, never opened his mouth to begin with. I have no real time for the artistic temperament and no time for works of art. Strangely enough I can’t seem to get away from it. Language is dangerous. It is as hard a thing as it is pliable. It can’t be trusted and it says anything. Language is the great seductress, or perhaps it could more simply be called the great seduction. Poetry is the art of seduction. As such, I find it vile and devious. If you were to ask me who the most duplicitous people in the world are, I would reply poets, philosophers and rhetoricians. I am attempting to obliterate language through my sound-work, but I acknowledge the futility of the gesture. The attempt to destroy poetry in effect becomes the poetry. Toshiji Mikawa once said that music is omnivorous. Noise is not sound. Noise is interference. All sound eventually becomes music. All language becomes poetry. In a sense I consider [former project] Good Area’s French Antarctica an approach of poetry, as I do something like “Dedicated to Dominique Veneer”.
I haven’t made a decision to privilege one interest over the other. I see my practice as striving towards a totality. What other people see is entirely contingent upon what they’re willing to – either through releasing my work or showing an interest in picking it up. I’ve had more success in life with my sound work than as a writer. Perhaps it’s on account of me being a bad writer. That very well might be the case. I’m most likely bad at being a writer, though that doesn’t mean I’m bad at writing.
An excerpt from No Intention Side B.
You embrace, as it were, the position of the “professional” dilettante. I think that’s great, as specialization seems the worst kind of trap, and likewise identification as any one type of artist. Do you struggle with the notion of identifying as one type of thing?
The more training received and the more experience gained, the more confident I became that not only did I have no clue what I was doing, but that no one else knew either. I learned, instead to pretend. And that is a game adults play well. How well an adult plays that game dictates their success in life. I approach my work, whether it manifests as text-based or sound-based (though I’m more comfortable labelling it event-based) as a cumbersome sleight of hand. I recently had the privilege to play a bill in Detroit as No Intention, supporting T.D., Dog Lady Island, Creode and Ivory & Gauze. My friend Sam, of Creode, provided a brief blurb for the show and described No Intention, or she was describing me I guess, as “the man behind the curtain.” I like that. I see myself in the Wizard of Oz – just a crackpot, wannabe-doctor operating machinery he didn’t invent, cowering behind a gaudy curtain.
I’m not opposed to specialization in the arts, actually. That is a rather tall subject, of course, and I don’t consider myself sufficiently well-read to add any worthwhile insight to the greater discussion. Identification is much more interesting to me, personally. I feel out of place in academia or at a poetry reading, just as I feel out of place at a noiser basement show. I hate belonging. I get closer to self-identification by recognizing what I am not, both personally and as an individual making work. Is artist a functional term – someone who makes art? Or is it a more romantic notion – an ineffable state of being? I don’t know. As I wrote above, I’m not as well-read as I once was. I’ve done too much drinking and too little reading to offer much other than organizational deferment. Traps are an obsession in my work – whether the trap of competency, literacy or categorization. I’m not particularly comfortable as either artist or curator – but lo and behold, one could argue I’ve fallen into both roles at times. I’m a dilettante. I come and go with an attention span appropriate to my age. I’m a dilettante, which is to say, I don’t know what I’m doing, but you damn well know I’m going to be loud doing it. Ultimately, I have no desire to identify myself as anything. I’m not No Intention, rather, the audio contained on the cassette is No Intention. I’m not trying to prop it up as some arcane entity or sensation. It’s a rote system of categorization. If I am going to identify myself as anything, it’s as a person who wants to stand still and shut up, but can’t help disrupting the silence through inattention and unease.
One thing I’ve for certain gleaned about you is your passion for research. It’s easy, I believe, in such a context, to fall into the much-treasured trap and ordealism of influence, and to be, for the most part, rather than maker, a scholar and/or librarian. Eschewing academia, such talents can often seem useless – speaking, here, mostly from my own experience. Tho your label seems so far to be a relatively successful experiment in curation and sensibility. Some of this I feel is owed to willful obscurity, or at least its risk – tho not necessarily obscurantism.
I agree with your sentiments, but I don’t see influence as a trap. Rather, I am preoccupied by influence. We all start somewhere. This ties in with an emphasis on record. The pernicious conceit is of a natural state of creative fire. I roll my eyes whenever I read an artist proclaim they create solely from some inner spark, outside the sphere of influence. Freedom from influence means freedom to commit menial error. It’s painfully common. Art is an echo chamber of whispers heard as shouts. I am proud to say my work is entirely referential. Deliberate dilettantism is a far cry from forced naivety. The latter is precocious at best, but more frequently devious to the point of vulgarity. I’m more a librarian than a maker. I’ve listened to far more tapes than I’ve ever recorded or released. And god, let’s keep it that way. I consider what I do to be first and foremost criticism. What I’ve done makes more sense when viewed as the critical lens itself, rather than through it. Of course, there’s an art to criticism, but art is arrived at through the back door, or better yet, a window left ajar in the kitchen. The label is a reflection of my own history as a listener. Sure, distortions occur, but I aim to reference and recreate the strong feelings I’ve had as a listener and share that with others. I hope to convey to others listening as a form of participating. My activities celebrate participation more than creating. These words come from a man who consciously conducts himself as a nonparticipant in any scene or social stricture, so make of my contradictions what you may.
Research is its own reward. Yes, research can at times feel mind-numbingly void outside the comfort of academia. I research things which interest me for the pleasure itself, but the danger in keeping that information to one’s self is that what is gained can easily be lost. My memory is awful, which I’m sure is due to both my poor organizational skills as well as my Herculean drinking habit. I do the research for myself, but I don’t wish to keep it to myself. Spread the wealth. I’m not some fucking alchemist.
Thanks for your nice words about Vitrine. I don’t aim for willful obscurity, instead, I make a point not to engage in activities I find unsavory. I will not petition friends, acquaintances and contacts to pimp my material via social media. I won’t send promo copies out in the hopes of exposure. If I send someone a copy of a release, it’s because I genuinely respect them. I won’t set up a big cartel because I want the act of acquiring these cassettes to retain both a satisfactory mystery and also a knowable, human origin point. I try to minimize the no-risk, no exposure shopping which the internet facilitates. I don’t run mail order, but I hope my practice operates in similar fashion. Furthermore, I don’t engage in promotion because I find it arrogant to create some silly .gif for a one-hundred run cassette. I’m putting out marginal product from my bedroom and I have no pretense otherwise. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to work my ass off to get the work of other artists to as many people as possible. I don’t aim to confuse people or obscure my intentions. I simply don’t feel it necessary to go out of my way to explain them. Or, I don’t feel the need to shout them. There’s far too much shouting as it is in what can be termed the underground. I’m a fairly open person and offer many of my opinions and perspectives through the VT press releases, the mailing list and my critical writing in Matthias Andersson’s Fordamning Fanzine. I hope a certain sensibility, or perhaps even a philosophy (ha!), comes through in my activities, as I strive for a connectivity or total working. I aim to please, but the person I aim to please is me.
Check out Blackened Disco 28 here.
Language as an object seems to be a preoccupation of yours. It’s tempting to think of many of your own recordings as examples of process art, or at very least ritual that shows its own seams. I consider this commendable, as anything polished is perhaps too much a mirror to seem wholly individual. I like that your work is personal in that one can hear the nuts and bolts rattling in your rendering a thing recorded and available. This seems to carry into some if not all of what you’re interested in releasing on Vitrine.
Language as object is a foremost preoccupation of mine. The audible rewinding and fast forwarding of tape on various No Intention releases is meant to remind the listener of the artificiality of the sound. This isn’t journalism, which contributes to the irony of Russell Walker’s journalist on Representative Works’ “Enter K”. This isn’t sound ecology, as made apparent through various satires of the current field recording vogue like Armchair Electronics’ “Bonus Tracks” or the as-of-yet unreleased Anatomy of Nothing. Multiple screens exist between the listener and what is heard. I’ve recently scaled back the degree of manual manipulation in No Intention as I strive to allow moments of material dilemma to disorient expectations and conclusively dispel any possible immersion within the greater sonic environment.
I’m glad you enjoy the nuts and bolts captured on the No Intention releases. I don’t aim to communicate any personal drama through my work, but I do hope it stands as a personal archive. Good Area and the No Intention of Debris Music and the IDDB 7” remain a document of the strange, brief interlude which was my marriage. The hopeful optimism and process-based playfulness of that work reflects my relative happiness throughout that period, while the releases since chart both the marriage’s dissolution and my rough landing. Representative Works follows the next chapter in my life, after I left Philadelphia and moved in with family in upstate New York. Rabelais, the upcoming self-released No Intention cassette, opens with my father interrupting my recording session through no fault of his own and ends with a recording made on my phone of my mother and I searching the front yard for said phone after I forgot I’d left it on the hood of my car. Masochism is interrupted by my mother telling me a repair man is coming through that afternoon to look at the washing machine. Armchair Electronics, Received Pronunciation, and Representative Works form a makeshift trilogy chronicling the year plus after my divorce. The intention wasn’t to do so, but that occurred simply because I make work within my life, rather than about my life. Therefore, the events of living are bound to seep into the work. Again, I want to stress the aim isn’t confessional. Saying “I’m sad” is perhaps the least effective way to articulate sadness possible. My work is about attempting to make work, in that way I look to Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Sterne serves, forever, as a chief inspiration. Failure is the greatest success.
I agree that a common thread connects the artists released on Vitrine. At the very least there is a commonality to the cassettes released through the label. I don’t know if certain material is given to me by artists because they’re conscientious of a label aesthetic or whether it’s just the luck of the draw. [The compilation] Map of the Interior ended up enjoying an obsession with language and more broadly tapes’ effect on language and environment. This wasn’t planned, but the pieces fell into place of their own volition. I allow serendipity full court in both my own work and label operations. The No Intention track “Dictators of Sound” is a joke in that sense, as the sound is allowed a certain spontaneity and is not dictated or controlled by any agent. The title is also a self-effacing admittance of my own hardline and dogmatic stance towards sound and noise, etc. Yes, I’m more than a little cantankerous! “Dictators of Sound” is also a conscious effort to evoke the humor of Whitehouse or Incapacitants track titles.
My reasons for releasing an artist through Vitrine are that I trust them, that I believe their work implies something meaningful and most importantly that I like their work. I also try to put out cassettes which I don’t think would necessarily exist if I didn’t provide the opportunity. Lots of popular labels in the underground get by releasing the same stable of over-exposed artists. Why put out yet another cassette by an artist who has already released six tapes in as many months? It’s insanity afoot. Why don’t we support those artists who sorely need and deserve it? I have an idea firmly lodged in my head of what the label is and I am still moving towards that ideal. One step at a time and all the stumbles along the way.
More information about Allen Mozek’s cassette label Vitrine can be found on the label’s Facebook page & YouTube channel. Various releases, both from Allen’s projects and those released by Vitrine, are typically available in the US from Crisis of Taste, Fusetron, Little Big Chief, and Swill Radio.