Part 1

Name: Steve Bates
Occupation: Sound artist, producer, engineer
Nationality: Canadian
Recent release: Steve Bates's All The Things That Happen is out via Constellation.
Recommendations on the topic of sound: Karen Barad - Getting Real: Technoscientific Practices and the Materialization of Reality
Pete Barbutti, his drummer
Joshua Bonnetta. Filmmaker, field recordist.
Tony Conrad - Slapping Pythagoras; Links to audio and a remarkable interview. Tony ruled.
Once escaped from the Sphere’s hold on tuning and still on the topic of vibration, a nice landing is Duane Pitre’s Omniscient Voices
Stefan Helmrich - Transduction
Douglas Kahn - Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts
François Martig. Field recordist, artist, curator.
Now that shortwave radio is becoming a thing of the past, Radio Garden is amazing. But I miss the static between the stations.
Steve Roden. Sound and visual artist.
Eugene Thacker: In the Dust of This Planet / Starry Speculative Corpse / Tentacles Longer Than
Toshiya Tsunoda. Field recordist.

[Read our Duane Pitre interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with Steve Bates and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Soundcloud, and twitter. Or visit the bandcamp store of his label the dim coast.

For an even deeper look into the philosophical and scientific aspects of sound and field recordings, read the second part of this interview here.

Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?

In a broad sense with my work, sound is how I most immediately experience the world. As an artist I also work with visuals and other materials but sound is always the fundamental experience I’m working with in every project.

It’s a running family joke about my love of sound, experimental music, punk rock and how different it ran from their interests. I don’t know exactly how it landed with me but I became pretty obsessed with our Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers 8 tracks early on. Apart from just loving the music, and although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this at the time, I remember a feeling of wonder of how it all worked. How do the voices work together? How do the instruments function? What is the relationship between them?

When I was around 9 or 10 my parents took my sister, Susan, and I out to a dinner theatre where Pete Barbutti, a musician/comedian performed. Part of his schtick was mimicking real world sounds with his accordion and making corny jokes. So he would imitate a train or a car horn. But more interestingly, really specific cars or trains or planes. And I was really intrigued with not only his ability to imitate these sounds but it was the first time I remember thinking about sound in the world a little differently. What sound could share about the world. Not that I was conscious of this but it was a little opening for me.

I also had a shortwave radio as a kid and I remember being amazed at being able to listen to countries around the world and the noise and static in between. I still feel like a scanning radio dial is in the mood of a lot of my music still.

Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusual or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?

When I was in grade seven, so around 12, we had a new teacher who moved to Canada from Ireland, Kieran Hunter. He found out we were starting to hear about punk rock so he leant three or four of us a load of records and we passed them around. The first Clash LP was in the pile and that was the one that I really loved immediately and still to this day. But in that pile also was the first Stiff Little Fingers record (Inflammable Material) and I had just never heard a guitar that distorted and raw before. I thought one of my friends had ruined the record by playing it too much. Amazing!

That pile of records pretty much sent me on my way. I can still remember most of them. Eventually I came to Crass and the level of commitment to the politics and sonics was just so impressive to me. I would read the liner notes and lyrics for hours and hours. Conflict, Discharge, Flux of Pink Indians, Poison Girls.

From that early period, in addition to the sonics of Crass, Linton Kwesi Johnson’s record, Forces of Victory, was just so incredible and I remember thinking about music production differently then.

It obviously sounded different than Jamaican reggae records and this was due to Dennis Bovell (his work with The Slits is also incredible). You can hear the sonic imprint of recording in the UK and not Jamaica. Sonically, I felt like I heard a relation production-wise to some of the UK punk at the time like The Mob or Rudimentary Peni. The bass and drums were so different than Jamaican bass and drum sounds. But still super heavy.

When I started getting into more experimental music and sound art people like Philip Jeck and Martin Tétreault (still one of the best improvisors I’ve ever seen) working with vinyl records were great, and then the idea of concerts happening in unusual spaces was important to me. Labels like erstwhile, Blood & Fire, Touch, Charhizma, Durian, 12k, Line, Basic Channel, Mego, trente oiseaux, were all very important.

For interviews with some of the artists on these labels:

[Read our Taylor Deupree interview]
[Read our Francisco López interview]
[Read our Simon Whetham interview about sound]
[Read our Toshimaru Nakamura interview]
[Read our Vanessa Rossetto interview]
[Read our Michael Pisaro interview]
[Read our Lucio Capece interview]
[Read our Richard Chartier interview]
[Read our PINKCOURTESYPHONE interview about sound]
[Read our Kenneth Kirschner interview]
[Read our Frank Bretschneider interview]
[Read our Hildur Guðnadóttir interview]
[Read our Bana Haffar interview]
[Read our Oren Ambarchi interview]
[Read our William Basinski interview]
[Read our Mark Fell interview]
[Read our Yves De Mey interview]
[Read our Jim O'Rourke interview about improvisation]
[Read our Merzbow interview]

What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?

I’ve tried to figure out why so much music from all over the world is important to me and where this comes from. I still don’t really know for certain.

The neighbourhood where I grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, was probably very typical in many ways; a working class/middle class neighbourhood. But due to the time it began in the early 70s and being somewhat affordable due to it’s mix of middle-class and low-income housing, there was a real range of people which may have been a little unusual for a Canadian suburb. Ukrainians and Poles, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Irish, Pakistani and Indian kids. I was so grateful for that.

I’m not trying to make it sound idyllic, I know there was a lot of racism. But the mix and contact was important. I remember one day at school, around grade 5 or 6 where we had to give a little presentation about where our families were all from and this kid from Uganda gave a presentation about Idi Amin, which, you know for this privileged white kid in the mid-70’s to hear about was pretty eye opening. I remember him talking about the army throwing people into generators and lights dimming in the city and the teacher kinda shuffling nervously trying to figure out how to gently move on to the next kid.

Our next door neighbours, the Wedderburns, were from Jamaica and I remember Mr. Wedderburn would have his buddies over for BBQs in the summer. They would play all these amazing reggae records and I would sit in the backyard listening to music and being in awe of it. Then as I got into punk rock and started going to shows, I ran into Mr. Wedderburn at a Yellowman concert and his face lit up when he saw me. I think he was proud of this music and where it came from. I’ve loved dub and reggae and all of its sub-genres from this early time.

So these early moments of contact with other cultures and styles of music definitely made a strong impression on me. There’s a reason radio stations get bombed first in a war and it’s not just to stop the news. Music is a critical cultural artifact.

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