Gart & Seekatze
Under the moniker Gart & Seekatze, Ronny Van Hee has been exploring the minimal sides of things. His quiet improvisations are interspersed with tense silences, combining slow unfolding e-bow drones and softly stroked guitartones with brooding shades of fading fieldrecordings. This is music that takes its time to develop, creeps under your skin and gets you hooked. Ronny has been a regular in the Belgian underground for quite some time, playing in a wide range of projects as ne/ko 39/935, igNOr and Das Arentor Orkestrar.
I don't know how it started, maybe too many anime during childhood or an overdose of miso soup. It's hard to explain just what it is that has got its hook in me. One of the main pulls of Japanese culture for me is how it seemingly effortlessly combines totally opposite emanations and at the same time takes them to the extreme. For example, one of my favourite movies of all time is Takeshi Kitano's "Sonatine", which is at the same time extremely violent in its content and extremely poetic in its rendition of that violence. The same extremes you find in the music; the noise that can be extremely loud and at the same time very soothing and the Onkyo improv scene's extremely sparse and almost silent yet skull-grating sounds. My first steps in Japanese music probably where the kodo drummers, no wave punk groups like Friction. Later on I really got into koto and shakuhachi music, which was and still is very inspiring. I think that prepared me for the Onkyo and the improv that followed later. I think you can hear the koto influence in my guitar playing. I'm still working on playing sax in a shakuhachi way, with lots of breath and control of low volume sounds.
Taku Sugimoto is a real inspiration, there's no use in trying to hide that. Yet I'd like to stress one of the instigators for the silent way of Gart & Seekatze is John Cage, and probably the whole of the dada and fluxus approach to art.
The Japanese psychedelica sort of came with the territory, I like their volume, their sound, their total commitment to it. The Acid Mothers Temple family is brilliant. I mean the sheer vastness of their output and its quality throughout is amazing. Makoto Kawabata is a true original, as are Masaki Batoh of Ghost and of course Keiji Haino with Fushitsusha.
The Japanoise sort of got mixed in between, from early Merzbow, msbr, Guilty Connector, cccc,.... you name it.
I know it sounds like I'm very indiscriminate in my listening, but I'm not. I don't like things just simply because they are Japanese. A lot of the popular culture is "extremely" forgettable, totally embedded in a consumerist society. Though I grant you something Japanese will get my attention somewhat quicker. Also because to get a feel for a culture you need to get dirty sometimes.
It's very difficult to explain. I don't see Japan as some mythical or exotic place. There's not so much difference between places and what drives people, once you've somewhere for a while and most things look exotic from a distance. Yet I have this urge to know more about Japan; even on a sociological level. If I read in Haruki Murakami's "Underground" that the Japanese psyche was changed by two recent events, the Kobe earthquake and the Aum Shinrikyo attacks on the Tokyo subway, then I want to find out more about it. I'm constantly learning new things and having my opinions challenged; which is a good thing. I've no intention of becoming a second Allan Cummings when it comes to Japan.
I haven't mastered the language yet, though I've made numerous attempts, I think I actually have to go there for a couple of months to achieve that, and that won't happen for a couple years still. So for the moment I content myself by watching countless Japanese movies.
It's a yakuza movie about a gangster who is getting too powerful, so his bosses want him out of the way and set him up for a fall. They send him away to mediate but it all goes wrong and they have to hide out on the beach, with all the boredom and stupid games this entails. Sometimes it borders on the burlesque, with this very dark, cruel humour, that seems to be a part of modern Japan. You also get this contrast between the urban sprawl of Tokyo-Chiba and the rural dereliction of provincial Okinawa. It's always nice to be reminded that modern Tokyo isn't the whole of Japan, you know.
Another reason I might be attracted to Japan, is through my sci-fi addiction. Tokyo just looks like a retro-futuristic decor, this mix of the ultra traditional with the ultra modern.
I like most of Kitano's work; his movies always look incredible and as an actor he displays this fantastic almost insane cool.
I'm also a big fan of older Japanese movies especially Yasujiro Ozu. His depiction of the conflict between the generations after the second world war is stunning.
Something that's really been bothering me lately in a lot of modern Japanese cgi movies is the constant background muzak. I've watched "Casshern" with the sound off and a cd on because I couldn't stand it anymore. Really strange how people can sit through that.
Well, I think of myself as a Buddhist, but I stay away from -any- institutionalised religion as far away as possible. I've always been more interested in the fringe of things anyway; in Buddhism travelling monks like Enku who was a sculptor and Bankei who was a teacher and a bit of iconoclast, just feel more real and to the point to me. For me it's more a philosophical stance towards life, Buddhism I mean. Unlike Cage I don't really transfer it into noise. Most of the time I don't even like music that's overtly esoteric, unless it's field recordings of chants or religious ceremonies, but that's another kettle of fish altogether.
I know some of Cage's compositions, wouldn't say I heard a lot of them. I've read plenty of interviews and some of his books and lectures. His whole approach to music & sound appeals to me; the way he lets chance or indeterminacy govern his works, letting the outside and incidental sounds into music.
I read somewhere, I think it was in a book by David Toop, that for some Bollywood movies bits of the soundtrack where recorded with the windows of the studio opened to the streets, I really like that a lot.
My conceptual approach to noise or music lies more in the method, the method is the message, to subvert Mcluhan. The act of playing is always pure improvisation. Depending on what moniker I'm playing under the instrumental set-up is different. I start off with a certain idea or concept and see how far it goes.
Even when I still used lyrics, I only had some scribbles down on paper and filled in the gaps while the tape was rolling. Most of what I've recorded even on four track, was improvised and first or second take. Mind you I'm not that good at anything, technically I'm extremely limited on whatever instrument, but I always seem to luck out. Well, to my ears anyway.
I've stopped using lyrics when I felt I had nothing to say anymore. It became all a game with words. Very enjoyable, but rather trivial.
Gart & Seekatze emerged as a name on the seacreatures edition of Rotkop, two years ago I think. I made several tracks under different names for that issue but only that one made it, so it kind of stuck.
Basically the method of noisemaking, Gart & Seekatze is guitar based, I use e-bow and sometimes pre-recorded cd's with field recordings. The performance at the Imvated motel last year, was quite spectacular for me. Because the windows were open so you had the sound of the city, the recording was from a village near the Semois, then the guitar and e-bow sound, and the audience, especially in the three minute silence I snuck into the recording. I hadn't timed when the three minutes started so it was as new to me as to the people who heard it then. All these things just came together on the recording.
Das Arentor Orkestrar is mainly digital effects feedback. However the rack I use has a tube, so the sound is somewhere between digital and analogue. On the last cd-r, I fed the live recording from Deathpetrol back through the resonator bank. That's the only remixing of recordings I have done in a while. Most of the time nowadays I record with an open stereo microphone straight to tape or minidisc. The starting point of Das Arentor Orkestrar was the score I would make for a Dario Argento or John Carpenter movie.
Well, I think it's difficult to avoid all idioms. But I try to avoid the most obvious, like rock and blues riffs or jazz motives. There's nothing wrong with them, I love listening to Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Fugazi, Probot, Paul Desmond or John Coltrane; sometimes I even play along to the records or play some late night blues just for fun and in my own technically flawed way. I just don't feel the need to do it in public or record it. There's plenty of good blues and jazz or folk for that matter without me adding to the already huge mountain of mediocre material out there. It's difficult enough to avoid idiosyncrasies; whatever you do, after a while you do seem to sound like you're copying yourself. I really dread that. So I switch from guitar to sax, from sax to piano, until I forget, and hoping I find new approaches when I come back to whatever instrument I strayed from. I almost never practice. Most of the time when I play I always treat it as a recording session. Which means I record a lot over material too. there used to be a time when I kept everything, but I've noticed I almost never go back to it, so what's the use. I don't know if it helps though; all this switching on instruments or preparing them to avoid sounding a certain way, still... no harm in trying.
In earlier recordings I did do genres, most of the time just once, a lot of time to prove to people I could to it, well in my own distorted way that is, playing with the idioms of the genres. I liked to do happy music then with dark lyrics or vice versa, I think a lot of people start out that way. It's kind of fun drawing people in with a happy tune and then hitting them over the head with tales of murder, mayhem and whatnot. More illusions I guess…
Incidental Recordings started in 1999, before that it was Medical Records. That's why on earlier releases the "dental record" was capitalized. I started it to release my own material, all very limited, I didn't think a lot of people would be interested anyway. It still comes as a surprise when people are. I'm not the most social person. It takes me a long time before I open up to people, and even then I'm always thinking that I might be disturbing them or what do I have to say that would be interesting to them.
The older material is okay, but I'm a massively un-nostalgic person so I tend not to look back that often on things I did. Ne/ko 39/935, which is more concrete improv for lack of better name, with sax, guitar, field recordings and so on still has some life in it. But Kinshi or igNOr not I'm afraid. Strangely enough it's just those two a lot of people like. Maybe I'm sabotaging myself, could well be. I just don't like being the centre of attention, even when at a performance, I try to start without anybody noticing, so I can settle into the noise and the sounds and let them take over.
I already said I was un-nostalgic, even with regards to what I do myself. I don't think it's boredom or a low attention threshold but once I've done something, followed a certain route, used a certain method, I'm very reluctant to go back to it unless I can change certain parameters of the method or whatever. This makes me very dysfunctional in a band, probably why I only have been in one once or twice; even free improv can get stuck in a rut. for example the third Arentor cd-r was mostly live, so I had no problem going back to that, Gart & Seekatze swings from a minimal John Fahey vibe to more grating noise even piano. As long as I'm able to switch from one thing from the next, it works for me, doesn't even feel that different in essence.
This doesn't mean what I do is difficult, in my opinion a child could do it, or a stoned monkey, you just have to do it. I read in Heiner Muller's biography western civilization is one of representation, instead of direct action. I just took a step towards that direct action and it evolved from there I think.
Interesting question. it might be a bit like the chicken and the egg. was I drawn to Buddhism because of my character, or did my character find acknowledgment in Buddhism. I honestly don't know or even if there is any form of causality between the two. I'm in the middle of reading Mcluhan's "Understanding Media" and he says somewhere that it suddenly seemed the chicken was the idea of the egg for getting more eggs, when speaking of causality and sequence. He said it as a bon mot, but in this case he might be onto something.
I don't think of Buddhism as a separate thing to all other things in my life. for instance something that I have stuck on a piece of paper on my computer for years now is the situationist adage “In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni”, “we wander in the night and are consumed by fire”. In my opinion this holds very much truth, and it is close to the Buddhist world view. Yet I liked the saying for what it said and how it said it, only later I realized there were parallels.
I don't think of myself solely as a Buddhist either, it's just a fragment of what I am. There's also the anarchist fed by writings of Hakim Bey or the entropist fed by The Haters or the anti-artist fuelled by the New Blockaders and the warped symbolist by Matthew Barney...
As you see letting go of the illusion of my ego is another thing, I'm not there yet, a long way off. Luckily I'm aware that it is there. Well, most of the time anyway, so I guess I'm still a Buddhist with an attitude.
The awareness of illusion is something that is very present in all that I'm interested in. Sounds that appear to move or take on physical shape in your mind's eye are something that I find fascinating.
I was thinking about what it is that attracts me to psych drone space rock from Japan like AMT, while listening to the Iao Chant from The Cosmic Inferno today, and suddenly it struck me it must be the tangible quality of that kind of noise. Years ago I had an "epiphaneous" moment, in the middle of a Spiritualized concert, I could almost see the sound of a noise-drone piece hanging above the stage, like a block of stone or concrete, I felt I could almost touch it. Maybe that's why I am also interested in textural noise like Basinski, or harsh noise like John Wiese, my reaction to it is almost invariably partly physical. Even when I saw Sylvester Anfang a week or so ago, I could almost smell the witches cauldron. I think it's that kind of core reaction that attracts me to any kind of music from Aso Ai to Hivemind or Raymond Dijkstra.
All these influences, contrasts and interests creep into what I do rather unconsciously I think, I don't set out to set up illusions or trickery. Maybe I'm the only one that hears them, who knows.
-- Bart de Paepe (2 July, 2006)