7 Questions with Kim Cascone

Kim Cascone has been a central figure in experimental electronic music for more than two decades. As an artist, he continues to explore sonic boundaries in his work. As a champion of the global electronic music community, he has provided outlets for other artists to collaborate and share their work. He is an alumni Berklee College of Music, he worked as music editor for director David Lynch, he launched the highly regarded ambient label Silent Records and worked as a sound designer/composer for Thomas Dolby’s company Headspace. He produced and recorded under the moniker’s PGR and Heavenly Music Corporation.

One not to rest on his laurels, Kim founded the microsound list and launched anechoic (named after his last Heavenly Music Corporation release), which he established in 1996, to release his work.

1. You’ve been producing music for quite some time now. What to you is exciting about the state of music in 2010?

KC: Well to tell you the truth I don’t find much music all that exciting in 2010. I mean you have any number of software applications that wind up doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of creative sound design and composition and as a result of the ‘anybody-can-make-music’ trend I just don’t hear all that much that I can call innovative or exciting. I’ve gone back to my roots and have been studying the Schillinger System of Composition. I feel pre-composition is severely lacking in most of the work that passes for ‘experimental’ music today. I admire the work of Earl Brown and Bruno Maderna very much so I’ve been listening to a lot of their work lately. There was so much done in the state supported radio studios of post-war Europe that still blows much of contemporary music out of the water.

2. Your record label, Silent Records, is widely recorgnized as playing a pivitol role in the evolution of ambient music. When your tenure as label owner came to an end in 1996, did you think that the label would have such an impact? 

KC: No. It’s never apparent when you’re in the thick of things. At that time we were reeling from a distribution deal gone sour and as a result were facing bankruptcy so there was a lot of anxiety and mixed feelings as we walked away. It wasn’t until much later when the Silent Records tribute site went up that I began to realize what we had accomplished. Today I see there’s a resurgence of the 90’s style of ambient music — which is odd since most of the kids producing it today were barely old enough to have lived through it then. Sort of like the hippie kids that still hang around on Haight Street in San Francisco. It must be a morphogenetic field or something.

3. Have you ever thought of recording more PGR or Heavenly Music Corporation material?

KC: No. I hate it when artists keep churning out the same material with slight modifications over and over again. It’s like they have one trick and keep performing it to a bored yet polite audience. I find it more interesting and satisfying to continue exploring new ideas; or go back to old cultural ideas and see if I can do something new with them.

4. In terms of your production and compositional process, how has that evolved over the years? What was the impetus for this evolution?

KC: I studied music at the Berklee College of Music in the 70’s and once I exhausted all the electronic music classes there I continued my studies in NY with a private teacher. I was in a very stimulating environment (NYC in the mid-70’s) and hung out a lot at film and art schools (Parsons and SVA) where some friends were going at the time. This laid an important foundation for me and I ended up learning a lot about electronics and new music. I find that I have to continually move ahead, keep exploring. And when I see everyone headed in a particular direction I’ve learned to go the other way!

5. How did the microsound list come into existance? Can you talk about the community that’s grown-up around the list?

KC: I started the microsound list because at that time there wasn’t a central place where people interested in post-digital music and sound art could discuss theory and philosophy. I felt it was important to create a stimulant that could help propel electronic/digital music further, keep people thinking instead of just firing up the same software and making the same sounds as everyone else. A composer I know called it ‘push button’ music — which seemed harsh at the time but maybe was more prophetic than we care to admit?

6. What’s next for you as an artist?

KC: I plan to get more involved in environmental issues such as ocean noise and how it affects the marine life in our oceans. I started a festival based on hydrophone based sound art which I hope to help raise awareness of this issue. We did the first Hydrophonia Festival in Genoa, Italy last year with Jana Winderen, Domenico Sciajno, Alessandro Petrolati and myself. We also had bio-acousticians Gianni Pavan and Michele Manghi speak to the public about ocean noise. It was a fantastic time and very rewarding to help raise public awareness about this devastating problem.

7. What’s your top 10 right now?

in no particular order:

Musica Elettronica – Bruno Moderna
Spiral I & II – Karlheinz Stockhausen
David Tudor – Rainforest I & IV
John Cage – Constructions in Metal I – III
Joseph Anton Riedl – Klangregionen 1951 – 2007
Jana Winderen – Energy Field
Earl Brown – Selected Works 1952 – 1965
Mika Vainio – Black Telephone of Matter
Francois Bayle – [various pieces I’ve collected]