Originally published on The Silent Ballet, November 2010. (Their archive is currently migrating, so I’m republishing it here.)
Just 2 months ago, the anonymous Brooklyn-based tape loving ambient artist Black Swan took TSB by storm with Black Swan (In 8 Movements), certainly the most captivating debut in recent memory. (Review here.) Who was this arresting artist who managed to stir our emotions and imagination? An established artist looking for secrecy? A savvy young upstart? A CD with two bonus tracks, tracks that hint that Black Swan has more quality material in the works. I had to find out more. So rather than research who registered the domain name or track down the IP address, I contacted BS for an interview.
Can you please tell me a bit about the recording process? Did you record the 8 movements first, and then the additional two tracks, or vice versa, or simultaneously? The tone of the recording, as well as the limited edition cassette and reel, seem to suggest a certain orientation towards analogue media, not just the tactility but the absolute uniqueness of each play, even if it is imperceivable. I can’t help but think of William Basinski, for many reasons. Can you describe a bit the process by which you created Black Swan?
The recording: Basically, I wanted to work with a type of sound that breathes… something dark and emotional. I love tape, and everything about it. I love its imperfections and the magnetic factors of tape. The first 8 movements had been recorded as a whole, followed by the extra two tracks. I’ve been told that my sound is similar to WIlliam Basinski, who I had recently become familiar with. I think I can say that I’ve heard enough to truly admire his work. As for Ambient music, I have always been a fan of music by (early) Brian Eno, Biosphere, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Thomas Koner. The field recording works of Hildegard Westerkamp and Raylene Campbell had also made a great impact on my music as well. I think it’s safe to say that these were my main influences within Black Swan’s sound.
So was tape used directly as a sound/instrument in your work? I mentioned Basinski in part because I’m wondering about your technique in creating music. Do you use samples from other work, or did you record work and then manipulate it? What is your background in terms of musical training?
Yes, tape definitely had a large instrumental breath in the recording of ‘8 Movements’. Most of the sounds came from my own recorded and manipulated experiments, even some being previous projects. I am in love with found sounds found media, etc. I’m even more in love with manipulating them. I guess, in reality, I love manipulation.
I’ve had no musical training, and have been messing with tape since I was a kid. As a high school retiree, I’m sort of against learning in general, schooling wise, when it comes to certain things. Sound, analog sound, will always be a love of mine… I had always been fascinated by reel to reel media and records, and how it moved as it played.
Regarding your interest in found-sound, media, and manipulation: that was the impression I got. You mention your own recorded experiments and previous pojects. Can you describe the nature of these recordings? Were you more interested in the specific moment? In the creation of an archive of experiments/sounds? Or did they constitute finished projects in their own right? Were you planning on the Black Swan project, or did it arise out of other factors?
The nature of a very (minute) selection of my previously released sounds that I manipulated were basically made within the same fashion. I’ve always had a fascination with home-made sounds, preferably analog grown.
The Black Swan project was a sudden idea, which had been recorded in a matter of a week, mastered within another. I didn’t plan to reuse my previously released material.
Of course, the question of anonymity has to come up. Is Black Swan your first project, or have you released other work previously under different monikers and prefer that this project be anonymous? 2010 seems to be the year for anonymous artists. Can you tell me a bit about your reasons for secrecy, what you hope to gain, or imbue the work with, and so on?
I’m obsessed with secrecy. Like a heart, it’s inside all of us. My main goal is to put out music which comes straight from the source… emotion wise, light or dark. When I record music, it’s like I’m shouting my most darkest secrets to a crowd of family, friends, and strangers. It’s almost like a way of being honest, without saying a word.
I really hope to do sound design and film music for other people’s projects. I’ve done it in the past, but my heart wasn’t really into it. But now I feel like I want to go full force. Sound design is disgustingly ignored in cinema these days (as is originality) and I really hope someday someone catches onto that. That would be unreal. Eraserhead wouldn’t have been what it was if David Lynch himself never owned a tape deck.
Black Swan is pretty much my first anonymous project with sound. I had released a CD a few years ago, still being in the ambient realm, but more melodic and piano based. I might even take that direction with the next Swan release. I haven’t even noticed any anonymous releases recently… Can you recommend a few? That would be great.
My favorite anonymous projects of this year have been Hummingbird (on Fluid-Audio) and Arandel (on InFine). They both made it known that they are established artists who wanted this particular project to not be identified with their other persona. Arandel also seems to have a larger artistic goal, a statement about authorship.
You mention secrecy as your motivation. Does secrecy allow you to be more honest, to take more chances? Often secrecy is manipulated as a gimmick to produce more interest in a project. Were you conscious of this as a potential result of your anonymity? Are you the only one involved in the project? Do you have any accomplices/ collaborators?
Yes, I am the only one involved. No accomplices, no collaborators.
The exact identity of the brain Black Swan will indefinitely remain anonymous. Sure, anonymity gains attention, but honestly, I find that to be almost pretentious and dull. I want to remain anonymous because I do have previously released sound and film material and do not want to associate Black Swan with those materials. I want to keep it as a sort of hidden secret, and as personal as that secret remains, not only to myself but the listeners being submerged. Sometimes it ruins the emotion when one associates a ‘face’ with a ‘name’. I can be black, white, famous or infamous. In the end, it really doesn’t matter… nor it shouldn’t. Simply put, I don’t exist. The music does.
I have fallen in love with the fact that so many people are connecting to the music on an emotional level- light or dark.
It’s clear that you are enamored with the medium of tape, which is understandable. How do you feel about digital recording, in general. Do you like the fact that the medium of tape is “obsolete,” and therefore derive some pleasure from working within the medium-specifics limitations, and benefits, of tape? Is there something in the obsolescence itself? Is it nostalgia? Does it matter at all?
Digital is great. And free in a sense. You can utilize it with total and utter passion, or you can rape and abuse it. Either way, it doesn’t mind. Same goes for tape in a way. I find that musicians who go out of their way to record in an analog method (with ready-made patience waiting to be spent, of course) take their work a bit more seriously. They’re recording that way for a reason. They’re recording that way for its charm. They want it there. Sure, it can be faked, but it seems these days that everybody and everything is pretending to be someone or something its not. The fact that tape is obsolete drives me further to do more analog work. It’s on par with an abandoned building. Lost and desolate, but could still be utilized and proven. It’s nostalgic too, of course. And, yes, sure. It matters.
You mentioned the process happened very quickly. When did the idea for Black Swan first emerge? That is, from that first idea to being reviewed by TSB, how much time has elapsed?
Years ago. Much time has gone by until I realized that if I didn’t do it at the time I did, I would lose touch with it.
So, will their be future releases as “Black Swan?” Those two extra tracks lead me to believe yes….
The comments I have received about the music was flooring… I was astounded that my audible diary was liked so much. The honor and loyalty I now have toward the listeners of Black Swan, both downloaders and purchasers, is the reason I will be recording more and I love them to death. Not because they’re listening to my music, but because they’re putting themselves inside my sound. That’s just something that is forbidden in the mainstream, because the powers that be, controlling both the media and our government, won’t allow it. We’re supposed to be controlled by these evil fucks, to listen to what they want us to listen to, and to do what they want us to do. To know that people are loving it so much, independently, connecting with it on a meditative and cosmic level, emotionally, is the biggest honor one could ever have. And I really think that’s what ambient music is all about. If the response wasn’t as good as I feel it was, I might be saying something differently. Mainly out of discouragement and sadness. But yes, there will be more. Perhaps on even vinyl.
Do you enjoy live performance, or do you ever perform live? I get the impression that your art is a studio based project, and beside, anonymity doesn’t exactly lend itself to public appearances.
I thought about putting a live performance together. I wouldn’t do it in a way where I would be recognized of course, but I want to be as close to my fans as I possibly can, and interact with them face to ‘face’. But I’m not sure if I can do that.
Were you aware of the film Black Swan when you chose the name? More importantly, what is the significance of the name Black Swan?
I’ve always had an idea of doing an anonymous project, focusing on dark but beautiful music. The name ‘Black Swan’ described what I wanted to do, perfectly. But the film looks great and can’t wait to see it, not just for Clint Mansell’s new musical work.
Clint Mansell is great eh? So you self-released Black Swan, as a custom CD, cassette tape or 7” reel-to-reel, which comes in a beautiful 7” box. Have you heard from any labels since the albums release? Do you have any interest in releasing via a label?
As far as labels go, I am actually in the process of possibly releasing a limited 500 vinyl pressing… Still thinking about it. As long as I won’t lose creative control and won’t lose touch with my listeners, I’m all for it. Those are the two most important things to me.
[Post-script: after this interview Black Swan announced that he has signed with Experimedia to release the LP version of Black Swan (In 8 Movements.) Taylor Deupree is mastering the record now and it will hopefully be released in December. Keep an eye out here for the official release date once it is set.]
Are you originally from the NY area? How was the NY community influenced your work, approach, ear, etc.
Born and raised. The NY community had a huge impact, as it’s over-crowded, pretentious, and disgusting. This made me disconnect from that and keep to myself with most things. It forced me to hide in the corner and record this project. I just wanted to add one thing about NY influencing my ear. I must have missed that part of your question. Yes, I think the drones that creep up in the city’s highways and tunnels, like any other city, had an influence in my love for field recordings. I don’t care for it, art wise.
“I can be black, white, famous or infamous.” Many people claimed that the internet was a space of liberation because it lacked the corporeal signifiers that seem to create prejudice and bias in ‘the real world,’ but scholars quickly disproved this notion, as race and gender persist in virtual space. Many readers assume, unconsciously, a straight white male in absence of other signifiers, not surprisingly when you look at what we are presented with in mainstream American media.
I don’t know that you’ve dropped any hints- I’d have to read very carefully with this in mind- but I suppose thinking about it now that I assumed you were male. I agree with your statement about maintaining flexibility in terms of listener’s reactions, but to play devil’s advocate, is their anything about staying in the shadows, so to speak, that is frustrating or limiting?
Yes, I am a male. I don’t really find what you stated as frustrating. I just ignore the media’s ignorance as much as possible, as much as it does bother me. Staying in the shadows seems so comfortable, and I’m beginning to like it here. I think, for once, I’m finally happy with myself, creatively at least.
I’ll leave it there for now. Thanks, as always.
My pleasure- it’s been fun.
The LP version of In 8 Movements will be released in December via Experimedia, mastered by Taylor Deupree.
The follow up record The Quiet Divide will be out soon as well.
The Silent Ballet would like to thank lack Swan for taking the time to do this interview.
Black Swan’s The Quiet Divide was enthralling as expected. He’s just released his third LP, after a string of fascinating collaborations on BandCamp. Follow this one.