Like me, Jorge Boehringer moved from Texas to California late last century to pursue graduate studies in music at Mills College. He composes under his given name, but usually performs as Core of the Coalman, producing a potent sonic brew that is the result of the mangling and manipulation of viola, keyboards, and vocals by electronic means. He recently moved to Prague, and is planning to tour Europe in September. We spoke via Google Chat on August 6, 2008.
So hello there Jorge, if that is your real name.
You said this was a Christian magazine, right?
Yes, trying to spread the Gospel (His Word) across the land. We hear that He is especially into metal these days.
OK great, just wanted to make sure. We can begin then, if this is really the beginning.
In the beginning there was light… and this question: How would you advise someone to proceed in trying to tell another person about your music, a person who has never heard it before, but might be cognizant of certain music reference points which could be used?
Well, wouldn’t it take just as long and be more descriptive to play it for them?
What if that wasn’t an option? Also, people nowadays are so busy running to and fro, with their modern active lifestyles. Sometimes you just need to make a 10 second pitch in the elevator.
Hmm. It seems to me that slowing down is an option. One slows down when one listens to LPs, because they need to be played in the home, or at least on turntables. LP records encourage listening, in these contexts. One is encouraged by the medium itself to sit the fuck down on the couch and actively participate in the sounds by listening. This is how I enjoy music and what I am making music for, though I am sure there are other uses for it and I am not against anyone using something however they see fit.
Certainly that’s true. It’s also true however that nowadays people are inundated with so many musical choices that music which isn’t easily described can sometimes fall through the cracks, i.e. people never hear about it. But I know that you hate trying to describe your music in these sorts of ways, so I’ll desist and proceed to the next question. You have a number of musical aliases, although “Core of the Coalman” seems to have been your main nom de muzak for a while now. When did you start using that name, and why the switch from previous identities?
Core of the Coalman is the name of my solo project, though at times it ceases to be a solo project. This is the name the live electronic music I make changed to, coincidently, when I de-emphasized the use of the computer in live performance. Before that, I was using the name sevencentralandmountain.
I’ve been using the Core of the Coalman name a lot recently in the last few years because it is the name of my solo project, and since I have been traveling a lot for extended periods, and oddly I even felt that I was traveling before I left for Prague the first time. I had been traveling or moving in some way, as the I Ching was suggesting to me at the time, being in a state of “having somewhere to go”.
Anyway, when you are going somewhere you can’t force others to come with you. Sometimes you don’t want others, but in my case that wasn’t it, though I write a lot more when I am alone; my concentration and body rhythms change really. But I wasn’t trying to be alone, I was just moving and so I took my solo music with me and that is what I have been doing.
I need to say one other thing, which is that often Core of the Coalman pieces begin as sketches for other things, ensemble pieces for instance, or just as electronic ideas or conceptual ideas I want to try. I bring them in some form, sometimes at a very early stage, in front of an audience this way and see what happens, then I develop them, sometimes in multiple media, sometimes outside of Core of the Coalman entirely.
There are other things about that name as well. It has a dark heart to it, a dark human heart, and it references material from the heart of the earth. I am extremely drawn to minerals, and some of my sounds and music have components of their structures that for me are analogous to a mineral sort of situation. Also there is some Rip Van Winkle in that name. An old miner, believed dead for 200 years, suddenly emerges into the Utah sun. His mummified skin evaporating under the desert sun like the mummy in that new, disappointing Indiana Jones movie… or something. Have you seen pictures of the men who worked those mines? They were covered in that shit! Immersion in a texture, for real.
Here in Oakland, Core of the Coalman appearances were typically at shows in the noise scene. There are parts of your music that totally fit in with the music of others in that scene, but there were other parts, sometimes with more of a minimalist/Steve Reich kind of vibe, which I really dug, but that was unusual for that situation. Do you feel like that was the most appropriate venue for your music here, and how does the situation compare in Europe?
Well, Europe is a big place and I don’t really think I understand all of its attributes by a long shot. To answer your questions in reverse order (though I won’t answer them backwards, sheriff, because I am not that little guy from Twin Peaks)…
I have so far been performing most of my Core of the Coalman things here in Europe in the form of tours, so shows occur in short bursts with many performances grouped together followed by months of conceptualization, composition and rehearsal. In Oakland I generally perform pretty often. So that has obvious differences for how the music evolves. In the live setting I get a strong indication of what is working and what isn’t and I adjust it. In California I do this in an ongoing way, in daily practice punctuated with regular performances, whereas here I do that on the fly, on the road often. Maybe in that way the improvisational aspects take on a different sort of rhythm in the large scale, in relation to how the compositions work. I don’t recompose the structures on the road but maybe I alter the surface more than I would when I am based in California. Partly this is because I am living in Czech Republic and I wasn’t performing as often here as in some other countries nearby, though this may be changing. I have performed here quite a bit more recently, since I have returned here, which brings me to your next question. However, first I will say that I would hate to lose the solitude I mentioned earlier, and part of that is having these long, rather isolated breaks between stretches of performance. It’s a different landscape, a different rhythm of working, and it is conducive to bringing out aspects of composing and of asking questions that I really enjoy. If you have too many performances, it is easy to stop feeling that there is time to ask as many questions. After all, that is what I am interested in.
[As far as] what I feel is the appropriate venue for my music, I don’t really like to use the word “appropriate”. Of course, it’s great to have a good sound system. That seems “appropriate” to certain things in a certain sense. I don’t want to neutralize a place though. When I am performing I try to address the space, such that the sounds can become site-specific. I do this in a rigorous way when I do installation work and things like that, but in my performances it is there too, in “music” it is there. It is part of the improvisation and has to do with listening, and I think many musicians do this. I think maybe more should. I like visiting places I am unfamiliar with and am always glad to be invited, and I want to feel and hear what is happening there. So neutral, well-equipped venues are great, but so are odd places, squats full of personality. I would love to perform and install my pieces in museums, or some of them at least, but I often think museums should be more like certain disused architectural or natural phenomena I come across, where the focus is thrown back onto the idea, the questions being asked.
I enjoy presenting work alongside artists working with noise, and I am working with noise and this is because this addresses the basic material, it addresses a listener through the body, physically, through the mind in a way where one needn’t operate inside of a frame of preconceived musical structure (anything, theoretically, could be permitted here, whereas at a musical form whose genre is very well defined the material as well as the audience response is to a large degree determined a priori, leaving little space for questions or newness of any sort really). Further, the material’s noise itself, and tones, address the basic materials of sound at the disposal of people: percussion, basic and complex synthesized sounds, recycled sounds from the world’s musical and unmusical past and present, to make a sound of the future…everything can come in, and the focus is on listening into the sound, to its grain, to its envelopes and its long term movement (THAT envelope), and the physicality bridges between the “noise” being made physically with these materials, and the room which is responding to it (undeniably part of the “music” in this context) as it makes its way to a listener, who is free to move about in the best circumstances, free to make decisions about what or where the music is, to, again, ask questions and determine their own experience. Some argue that the intent of the artists in this context is lost, but I think it is in fact lost not more than in other music, where the artists intend music submit to a frame imposed by musical structures external to their own invention, which signify emotional, conceptual and even political structures already so loaded with meaning so as to paralyze any new expression. In fact, here the artists and audience interact on equal terms, and find themselves asking many of the same questions.
What do you mean by “asking questions” in your work? What are some examples of these questions?
There are two types of questions for the most part. The first deal with questions of a basic curious inquiry (what would happen if …? what would it sound like when …?). On another level there are questions I ask about the structure of textures I observe in operation and interaction in the world or in my and, by analogy, I hope, our bodies. From this I formulate concepts. This fuels the next stage which has to do with questions of design, which, as Charles Eames said, addresses itself to a need. These are questions of how something is done. The results then feed back into the first stage, in two ways: on a very practical level the results of my application of my designs to the ideas I am working with reveals to what extent a created situation is successful, in terms of construction and function; second, and maybe more importantly, this made situation I have created is now part of the world, part of the situation I was exploring in the first place. Then I am free to observe these interactions, and ask more questions.
But maybe you want a specific example.
Okay, one example of a conceptual level of inquiry could begin with my inquiry into the interaction of some systems of textures in the world at large, for example an ecological inquiry, “why does this population of cypress trees reach its thickest density at this point, why does this grove of trees have this specific shape, and what other systems are acting on this?”.
The next step is to analyze this system; this is done because it is interesting. That may take the form of data or some type of model. It can take the form of mathematics: a curve, say, or some statistical model of structure, or it may be vaguer: an idea from which to draw an analogy.
However, the mapping of textures and systems of interaction onto some new media (even the mathematics mentioned earlier is a new media, no? it isn’t dirt and wood and insects certainly!) begins to reflect the attributes of this new system, the system devised to understand the first. What I mean is that one’s model takes on a life of its own, the measurement apparatus and transformative mechanism becomes part of the experiment and affects one’s observation. A problem in science, maybe, but this is not science in that sense, it is art, and so I can be free with it wherever I damn well please! As such I am open to odd discoveries, accidents and aspects of chance that can be very surprising, and I enjoy surprises. They can be quite horrible…
In any case, sometimes one can end up with a map of some texture of system of interaction that reflects nothing in particular, and I think many popular mainstream artists working with scientific materials sometimes fall into this situation, where there is some museum piece, generally very technologically stunning, that reflects little or no inquiry. Maybe only information, but often very little of that even, and to me this falls a little flat, this isn’t so interesting for me. In fact I feel a little ripped off, like they are even selling [the] phenomena they are dealing with in the first place short, like as if it is an attempt to piggyback crappy art on the back on an interesting phenomena or technology, rather than really asking any questions or revealing anything. Turning the lights up on something taken for granted would be enough.
Thus when dealing with the transformation of information derived out of the study of some phenomena (that is the results of the first question, THAT grove of trees) into some form from which it can be understood or which prompts some use in a new media (like sounds), it is important that the questions continue. Curves of populations of THOSE trees may well look like curves of energy expenditures in Chicago in 1989, or the state of the NYSE markets between May and October 1992, but that doesn’t say much about anything (though this itself is an interesting occurrence, no?). When it becomes interesting is when the question can then come to regard the application of these materials. Lately, I have been increasingly comfortable with treating this stage with utmost freedom (another thing physical scientists often can’t afford to do; they are doing research, I am just creating situations, by analogy). So I can apply this freedom to these stages and maybe this is a sort of poetics or something, I can make many versions. Its up to the author and the listener at that point. Things can be adjusted and the questions then become, at that stage, “should I sample and hold these keyboard notes and modulate them with that sine wave, should at add noise to the signal and how much…”.
Perhaps at this point you could tell the home viewers a bit about some of your recent releases, how to obtain them, and about any future releases that might be in the works?
Sure, my last two releases are available directly from the record labels, both of which are small and dedicated entirely to experimental, and largely electronic, music. Resipiscent has recently reissued my recent CD release “Anxiety”. BOC has very recently released “AsoltMusket”, a sort of sequel to the Resipiscent release. A wealth of earlier releases, as well as the more recent viola and electronic continuum “rrrr” and Paul Moth Baker & my DVD “Energy Patterns”, are available from SauceJuice. A few copies of a cassette release called “Carnasie”, released by the beautiful Custodian Color Zoo Containers, may still be available from Aquarius Records in San Francisco.
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Thanks for speaking with the NonAlignment Pact!
Thanks for having me!