ESTWeb Home Page | ESTWeb Interviews Index
Scott Gibbons (a.k.a. Lilith) has been kicking around the post-industrial underground for a few years now, with several cassette releases as a member of The New Elementals in the late 80s. But it's his series of astonishing albums on the Sub Rosa label that has really attracted attention.
What binds these three albums together is an exceptional sense for the quintessence of a sound. The scraping, groaning and crumbling sounds of Stone might be initially unapproachable, but it's not long before the feeling of being sandwiched between two tectonic plates becomes almost pleasurable. Orgazio draws on Crowleyan numerology to structure its samples, which draw on sources such as female voice, contemporary recordings of Crowley himself, and pulsar radio signals. Even when subject to the most microscopic treatment, slicing sampled sounds into milliseconds and putting them back together in a new order, something of the spirit of the original sound survives. The unsettling music that results varies from barely audible ambience to corrosive noise (a range particularly noticeable on Crystal, his contribution to Continuum Asorbus 2).
His latest release, Redwing, moves on from Orgazio, using recordings of the voice of Rachel Wilson (also used on a track on Orgazio) as its sole source material. Lilith's method seems again to be to digitally sample his sound sources, process the sounds in a variety of clever ways, and then put the sounds back together. For the most part, Redwing is a more cloudy, vaporous, yes, ambient, piece of music than past Lilith releases, although the sleeve notes hint at a method of provoking the original vocal sounds that gives everything a peculiar significance (note the numerological fun in the track lengths: 3 x 23 = 69). Despite the general murkiness, this is a very fine album; there's a discipline and care that the closest comparison, the Hafler Trio, could learn from. It needs to be played quite loud to really appreciate the sonic details; there's a minimalist aesthetic of silence at work here.
Asked how his music fits into broader musical context, he notes: "I suspect the obvious parallel would be John Cage, particularly Cartridge Music, and his use of the I Ching and negative space in sound. However, I think Cage is academic to the point of being downright unlistenable. Obviously, there's a direct influence from Steve Reich, and also from the Dadaists - particularly Duchamp. While I occasionally hear a comparison drawn to the Hafler Trio and Lustmord, I think Lilith is more easily digested than the Hafler Trio, and not quite as ominous as Lustmord ... at least, I hope so! I've also heard an occasional comparison to Brian Eno, which I don't understand at all (I'm not bald!)"
There are indeed others working in similarly esoteric areas, but Lilith's intensity, rigour, and imagination are unique.
Please tell me about your approach to creating music.
Okay, here: Is this good for print? I'm drawing a triangle. Which should actually be a three-dimensional, endless strand. And this top point is, I'm going to call it "Accident". And it leads to this one, "Reaction". And this one is "Response", which then magically punches through this diagram to the next level, which is surprise! The same diagram, the same process, only a few seconds later. That's the only dog and pony show I've got, Lee.
Your educational background is in philosophy and religion, and your CDs seem to be very conceptual. How does this relate to your music?
Well, Lilith is probably three parts concept, three parts curiosity, and five parts mishap. [Laughs] And maybe a dash of ineptitude. But you know, I think that's a fairly pregnant combination. Oh, the Concept, yeah. I guess the concept is the first part of the conception. And of course the Concept is pretty much clear in my mind by the time I've finished the mastering and not before. But by the time the Concept has become fully clarified, it has taken over the whole process. Everything! I mean, I was applying the Orgazio formula to the pans on the mixing board. I tend to become very dedicated and faithful to the methodology.
How do you go about creating a piece? For instance, Orgazio [SUB ROSA, 1994, see review in EST #6] was two years in the making, but three days in the recording. What was the process in this creation?
Oh, Orgazio was borne out of a scholarly study of Crowleyan magick, ah, as it is being practiced by particular modern-day cults. I'm not a Crowleyan, but I've been an armchair numerologist since I was a kid. Orgazio actually sprung from a live piece that used samples of Crowley's voice. While I was piecing these voices together, I realized that I was more interested in using Crowley's numerology than I was in using any kind of compositional structure that I could manufacture. So from that domino came the realization that this formula should be given the freedom to dominate the entire process. Which it did. And with Crowleyan numerology and magick especially, certain tactics become obvious.
A lot of the time was spent waiting for specific dates to come about. For example, I knew that I wanted to master Orgazio on the anniversary of Crowley's channelling the "Liber Al vel Legis". So I knew that I had two years to find the pieces, and three hours to put them all together. And a lot of time was spent with books, paper and pencil, and a lot of coffee [giggle] in the true University of Chicago tradition! The U of C approach, especially to religion and sociology, has been notoriously armchair. Although that is much less true now, to be fair.
Anyway, a lot of time was spent programming. Much of that project was just data entry, to be honest with you. The final arrangement was done on the computer, and on the last three days I just had to hit "PLAY" and "ENTER" and commit the piece to DAT. I haven't done any multi-tracking in years.
I figure if I can't do it in one go, then it's time to cut some stuff out. If it's cut up across eight tracks, then it's been caged. It's stripped of its potency. You've isolated itself from itself. Let it breathe! Empower the thing-let it exist all together, all at once! Keep it simple. I'm not saying that multi-tracking is wrong, I have nothing against it, actually. I'm probably a lot like a guitarist who won't use a distortion pedal, but cranks the pre-gain on his amp up all the way. This is just my aesthetic preference, which I own right now. I believe that the single argument is more powerful than the complex one. Play it, record it, and then let it go. You know? But by the way, I reserve the right to contradict myself at least 10 times a day!
Please say something about Orgazio and your relationship with Crowley's work.
Well, there are five parts to Orgazio. The two most interesting movements take a passage from Crowley's "Book of the Law" and apply it's formula to every aspect of composition. The formula is used to map pitch, duration, intensity, velocity, envelope; and it's taken into the individual sample to determine loop length, sample rate, and so on. I picked the sound sources, and from there it was just a matter of plugging in numbers. The other three movements incorporate various other numerological suggestions, but in a less regimented manner. And the sounds were from a real hodgepodge of sources. They include recordings of Crowley's voice, ah ... orgasmic hoots and hollers from a couple Chicago talents, and those wonderful, wonderful voices from space!
How did you get into music, and how did you eventually end up making experimental / industrial / whatever music (like Orgazio and Stone [see review, EST #5])?
Actually, I was always much more interested in visual arts. Slides, video, I was in love with the Xerox machine. When I was in high school I got a job cleaning an office in town, and I would spend a few hours in the morning cleaning the place and literally-the rest of the day, into the night-I spent at that beautiful copy machine! I monkeyed around with tape loops, and I had some stereo components that I had "corrected". But my primary love was in using machines for visual results. Can I tell you this? I was in a psychiatric hospital when I felt my first serious compulsion to take that stroll down Sonic Avenue. I was on what my doctors call a "No-Stimulus" program that restricted me from all external stimulus-well, just short of putting me in a sensory deprivation tank 24 hours. I had no outside windows, no audio, nothing to read, nobody to talk with (I was able to talk at the mental health workers), and this was going on for five months before I began to compose music. In my head of course. And later, when I was able to write, I scribbled down some notes. And when I got out I was able to flesh some of those out as self-produced cassette releases.
Is your music borne from intellectual experimentation or questioning? Is it spiritually driven?
Spiritually driven? ...Yeessss, insofar as we can define spirituality as entailing one's "Ultimate Concern". See, I have to be careful, because I don't want to lead you to think of Lilith's work as operating on the level of, say Psychick TV, and these people who have a spiritual or, for that matter, any extra-musical agenda. My primary interest is in musicality. That's my agenda. Everything else is an embellishment; a part of The Show.
Where does your music come from within you?
Like I suggested, it starts with a position. A puzzle. A puddle. Then I stick my grubby little fingers in the water and watch to see how the ripples will carry the dirt away. Then if I get bored of that, I'll pick up a stick and give the thing a quick thrashing. It's a little bit of curiosity and a bunch of childish impishness.
What motivates you to create your music?
An intense, unreasonable fear of boredom.
What is the Divine Divinity House of the U of C? Do you really concentrate your musical activities there?
Well no, not anymore. That was where I lived, breathed, studied ... and studied. While I was getting my Masters. It's an absolutely incredible place. Stone [SUB ROSA, 1992] was arranged and recorded there. Um, to be simple about it, DDH is a community of people involved in the University, who share a common interest in the study of religion. And that's not the whole picture, but I think it may be the heart of it.
How do you choose the subject matter of your music?
Oh, it's become so easy! The opportunities lay like so much ripe fruit all around me. I have so many projects open at any given time...it's at the stage now where I just need to commit myself to bring closure to one of them, whichever one seems most timely, and then there are always three or four others waiting on back-burners. Right now I've got to finish what I'm calling "the Elemental Series", which includes Redwing [SUB ROSA, 1995] and Stone. There are three other parts in that series. Its sole intent is to celebrate essence. Right now I'm building one of Raudive's machines for it's conclusion. Are you familiar with Raudive's experiment's? He was able to capture the voices of the dead on magnetic tape. I have a couple modifications on his design, which I'm currently toying around with. Sub Rosa, it turns out, is releasing an archive of Raudive's tapes! Neither of us had any idea that the other's interests were leading us to the same place! Anyway, there are also three other smaller compositions floating around in there somewhere. Which I'm committed to, for better or for worse. The problem is, I'm the most retentive kind of perfectionist. And I won't let go of any project until I'm prepared to say "at this time I cannot do any better than this." Which is a very difficult thing to say. Because a month from now, I'll be able to have done it better. [Sigh] My life is so hard! Please send help!
What instruments do you use and how do you compose and/or create a piece? What equipment do you use?
[Laughs] Lee, I used to feel compelled to use very instrument I had for each composition. And the only way I could determine if a piece was finished was if I had allocated activity for each machine at each possible instant. How embarrassing! I wince when I hear the crap now. I guess a real turning point was The Taboos of the Laughing Creeper [LADD-FRITH, 1994], much of which was recorded live. My sister, Lari, and I had collected a total circus of objects - cardboard boxes, jerry-rigged stereo components, a cello, and some truly ancient synths - and we took them all into this basement in Crystal City (which incidentally has the highest rate of child molestation in the world) and commenced to unleash this god-awful noise muck. Which was very slow in unfolding. And it seemed to swell and ebb with an almost organic feeling which made me feel somewhat uncomfortable at the time. I was more interested in the mechanical jerkiness of Philipe Fichot [Die Form, Sadist School] and that whole ilk. So the tape was tossed and lost in my box-of-tricks for some years, until I teamed up with Brian Ladd, who expressed an interest in releasing some of the older Lilith material on his label [LADD-FRITH]. So I dug around and came up with that tape. And when I gave it a fresh listening, I was truly amazed. I mean, some of the stuff really drags. Don't get me wrong. It was probably a mistake not to edit it before expecting anyone to sit through it all. But as a whole it struck me as being some of the most powerful structures that I had been able to actualize at the time. And that was a total slap to my face. Now, I realize that it is a true gift to present an idea in as simple a form as it can be stripped down to. And every time I prepare myself to start a new piece, I'm always looking for that element that is truly worth something. Strip the bullshit. The Japanese school of noise bands can blast their audience with a thousand tons of distorted shrieks and clanks. And that will have an effect. But so much of it is just extraneous tedium. If you can find a single startling transition, or if you can present a tone or pulse that can actually ingest the listener - that's the nice gift. And those are very simple things. Very simple things.
What was the question? Oh, instruments. Sorry. Stone used stones. Exclusively. The sounds were processed with reverb, overdrive, stereo mapping, very simple shit, really. About as complicated as it got was when I used a computer processor to resonate two sounds against each other. That's where the sounds come from that imitate gongs. But all the sounds were generated using stones. The next release - which is already mastered - is called Redwing. That one uses Rachel Wilson's voice, exclusively. The title refers to a Hell's Angel's award which is granted to the initiate who will give oral service to a woman who is having her monthly issue. [giggles] I'm going to let it go at that. But the piece, again, is from one source: Human voice/breath. And it actually was catapulted from the work that was started with Orgazio. Both projects were being worked on simultaneously. But Orgazio is about discipline; Redwing is about pleasure. Oh hell, I can say it: it's about sexual pleasure. And service with a shit-eating grin!
Please explain how Lilith's "music relates to the religious experience and (in this context) contributes to altered states of consciousness."
Hey, I see you've been reading the press release! Actually, I think I've been misquoted. It should have read something like my "field of study is - music as it relates to the religious experience and blah blah blah..." And that's just a reference to the work that I was pursuing at the U of C. It's interwoven with the music, as much as every other aspect of one's life experience is. But in different ways, according to the project. Mantle [WHITE NOISE, 1991], for example, attempted to directly address and, to some extent, recreate the purely physical issues at work in the altered states phenomenon, as it is experienced in the religious context. It's armchair sociology taken out of the armchair. But not into the field. Out of the armchair and into the gallery! For your safety and convenience! Bon appetite, you fucking beast you! No really, the music is just a sort of mapping out of my sonic plinking. A lot of it is mundane and dull. The material that you hear are the moments that surprised me, and the elements that fascinated me. I've ingested it, tried to pass most of the bullshit, and what's left I've regurgitated and give back to you, in the hopes that you can suckle, make it your own and absorb something of value from it as well. Or you can always just play it while you fuck. From what I hear, that's what most people do with it....
In addition to the forthcoming album listed below, Lilith is collaborating with Brian Ladd under the name Orbitronik. The interview was conducted by Lee Pembleton in December, 1994. The introduction and a token extra question were added by Brian Duguid, April 1996. This interview first appeared in The Obscuritant #1, Terminal Projects Group, POB 1390, Orem, Utah 84059, USA