In both his solo work as stillbirth and his collaborative project, Perispirit (with Ricardo Donoso), Luke Moldof creates music that is ferociously dense and often surprisingly beautiful. He works with prepared guitar, tape loops, and a variety of electronics and draws on a range influences from metal to noise to modern composition. On April 29, he will perform live on Rare Frequency. We did this interview by email the week prior to his appearance.
Could you talk a little bit about your musical background?
I think my musical background could be traced back to when I was in 2nd grade. My good friend brought in Kurt Cobain’s obituary for show and tell. For some reason I was under the impression that because Cobain was dead, Nirvana albums would no longer be available in stores and so I felt that I had to get them before they were gone. This led me down all kinds of musical and social paths. I started playing the guitar when I was 9 but really started getting motivated to practice when I didn’t get into La Guardia for high school nor jazz band at the first high school I attended. I realized I didn’t have much to show for myself and forced myself to become more rigorous out of frustration and disappointment. More and more I got into Jazz and that led me to music school. Gradually at music school I became somewhat frustrated and disappointed because I felt that the music being made was focused solely on technical aspects or musicianship for musicianship’s sake. I guess I wanted to start hearing things more in terms of a message, concept, idea, and less as a specific chord or “hip” rhythm.
How did you first become interested in noise music? What do you see as the relationship with what you studied at NEC, etc and the kind of music that you make as Stillbirth and in Perispirit? Do you see a division between the two?
I think it’s different for me than for a lot of people because I really didn’t grow up listening to metal or hardcore or anything related so there was no bridge from those camps. I heard about Wolf Eyes performing with Anthony Braxton. I got Burned Mind and saw Wolf Eyes play at TT’s. There was a guy named Paul Gunsberg who was in his final year at the Conservatory who I started spending a lot of time with and he would play me a lot of fucked up stuff like Gerogerigegege when we would be over at his house. Later that year, shortly after the Hospital Productions store opened, he and his girlfriend at the time were staying in New York at my parents’ house with me and my girlfriend at the time. Paul knew about the Hospital store and took us there. I was completely blown away. I hardly knew of a single band there and was fascinated I guess by the presence of the place. I spent a lot of money that day and went home with things like Macronympha’s “Intensive Care,” Deathpile’s “GR,” Pain Jerk’s “Trashware,” The Sex-o-Rama tape box and plenty of other stuff which definitely made a strong first impression. A few months later during the summer in an attempt to have a “job” to keep me in New York I asked Dom to let me work there as an intern and surprisingly he let me. That led to hearing and learning so much.
It’s really hard for me to answer the second part of the question. I do definitely see a division between the music that I studied at NEC and the music that I make now. I’m sure my music wouldn’t sound the way it does if I hadn’t studied music at school and outside on a methodical and theoretical level, but I don’t really know why. Perhaps I don’t have enough perspective on my experience yet to answer. Sure I could say that as a result of my studies at school, that I think more in terms of compositional form and blah blah blah, but I think there are plenty of people who are able to do this subconsciously without any real formal training. Here’s one connection. If I’m playing a drone, I think in terms of tonality and dissonance and consonance, but then again I’m sure that plenty of other people have figured out their own ways of dealing with those things without thinking of scale degrees.
Your work is often simultaneously quite beautiful and almost excruciatingly loud. What role does high volume in your work?
Thank you for calling my music beautiful. I do want to make beautiful music. As far as volume levels there are so many different reasons. However, I would say that it is sometimes a crutch for me and I’d really often like to play a lot quiter. Sometimes my reasons for playing loud can be a result of nervous energy and frustration or even just insecurity. I think that things that are very quiet and sparse can often be way more “extreme” than things that are deafeningly loud with all the spaces filled up. I guess my main reasons for being drawn to extreme volume is that the sound becomes more of a physical presence and can be felt in the body. There are also things that come out in high volumes that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent. For instance if you listen to Phill Niblock extremely loud, you will hear a lot of things that you wouldn’t hear at a moderate volume.
Are there any artists, musicians, filmmakers who particularly influence what you do?
There are so many that have influenced me. I definitely try to view anything I see, read, or hear in terms of the aesthetic choices beyond them. That being said it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly how they influence me sound wise so I guess there isn’t really any reason to list books, movies, or visual art that I like. However, I do think that the presentation and titles, etc. are very important aspects of music releases. There has been a lot of inspiration in that sense from labels and their artists like Hospital Productions, Slaughter Productions, the stuff that Raymond Dijkstra does, RRR or even things like American Tapes, which I guess are pretty aesthetically removed from anything that I do. Recent influences musically have been Ghedalia Tazartes, Henri Chopin and the Revue Ou box set on Alga Marghen, Graham Lambkin, Mark Lord, and working with Ricardo Donoso.
What projects, recordings, and/or concerts do you currently have in the works both as an artist and with your label, Razors and Medicine?
I’ve been trying to change my setup around a lot. I want to try to stop using foot pedals as much as possible and work more with tapes and less with computers and digital sounds. This might lead into a new project/sound but it’s hard to say this early on. As far as upcoming releases, there are a few stillbirth tapes that should be coming out soon and I just finished what will hopefully be the stillbirth LP but I’d rather let the labels make the information public because things often take longer than planned. Perispirit is continuing to record and practice a lot and we will be going on tour in late June with the band Cowards from New York. Another new project is Mischlinge which I guess could be considered crude industrial music or maybe me trying to reconcile some things with my old band Craniopagus. The first tape should be out any day now and I think I will be touring as Mischlinge later on in the summer. As far as upcoming Razors and Medicine releases, there are many things in the works including an a LP reissue that I’m really excited for but just to keep things safe, I will say that there are definitely upcoming tapes from Ricardo Donoso and Vile Bodies and an extremely important spoken word/inspirational tape from Matthew E. Lister. Those are the only masters that I already have in my possession. To keep up with label related activities send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Mailing List” in the subject or visit the website at razorsandmedicine.com
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