I was talking to the person behind tactil vision, Stevey7, last night at a show. We were having the type of conversation that him and I usually have. One that explores the oddities of being a human being enmeshed in a society, in vast complex systems, that one got enrolled in upon birth. I have really grown to love these random conversations I have with him. They have given me a viewpoint into his perspective on life. Not surprisingly, him and I both seem to be observers of the world and are quite interested in paying attention to the vast amounts of data that seem to flow by everyday and how technology has changed the world we live in. These conversations have greatly enhanced my appreciation of his art and his approach to sound and visual media. I can tell his art really allows him to work out his place in these system just as much as my sociology work and this media project help me find my place.
When one sits down to take in the music and art of tactil vision, bentwithlight, or any of his other names he releases under, you are stepping into his universe, his thought process, his interrogation with sound. This is obviously true with any artist whose work you pay attention too, but with stevey7 that world you to step into has been carefully and meticulously set out for you. He has an attention to detail in his music and packaging that shows his deep engagement with the post-industrial world we live in. As in most of his work, his recent tremors live mix features an array of his original productions that demonstrate his characteristic glitched, multi-layered sound that drives forward, sputters, and always keeps moving into the horizon like the machine-like society that we are all a part of.
One of my favorite parts of the trermors live mix is the last track “kemwar” where he allows some of the distorted, ghost-like voices that hang in the background of his tracks to come forward. These voices speak like a choir of crisis, as the cacophony of voices lists the numerous population, political, climate, and economic problems we all face today. I really appreciate how the drum and synth play off of these vocal samples. Sometimes stevey7 allows the drums and keys to wash over the voices and obstruct them from audibility, but there are moments when the voices cry out from the track and overtake your sensory perception. Just like in life, sometimes the crisis comes to a fever pitch and no amount of “noise” can prevent us from seeing it clearly.
This one mix is just the tip of the iceberg. The back catalogue of 5am Conductions (stevey7’s label for tactil vision, bentwithlight, and other side projects) is extensive and impressive. Like his music and artwork, the catalogue reveals the multiple layers and explorations of stevey7. I highly suggest you step into his world and walk around for a bit. It is replete with physical, sonic, and video media for you to experience the vision that Stevey has of the world around him. Make sure to check out his mixcloud, bandcamp, Youtube Channel, and facebook to stay up to date with all the releases and art work. I hope you enjoy this really in-depth interview with him, as it is full of interesting ideas.
LA: What does music and sound more broadly mean to the way you live and experience life?
TV: Recently i have been trying to get into more of the subconscious; i was just watching a movie recently and noted the soundtrack is most effective when you don’t notice it. Of course, there is the power of the story/filmmaking itself, but the idea, anyway….So i guess i see music as a soundtrack and i suppose that goes well with the name “Tactil Vision”, (ha ha). Also, as a producer i have learned to not take popularity or unpopularity too personally- it really has to do with timing when we experience art regarding how we perceive it, i suppose. Like reading a book- you may have read it a thousand times but pick it up once more and notice something for the first time. When was young, i noticed a sort-of inner clock in my brain that either sped up or slowed down, so i first became naturally attuned to percussion. I actually used to clack my teeth together, (not long ago i found out i wasn’t the only one), maybe it was a nervous disorder, but it has to do with the pulse of “being”- like the heart, or the solar cycles. Music is very primal to me and as they say, the Universal Language.
LA: How did you get into making music?
TV: Well, i dabbled as a kid, the first thing i really was excited about was drums, but didn’t really pursue an instrument until i was really inspired by what i had been listening to and was in early adulthood. It actually started from cassette recordings of noise and whatever i sounds could dub and then overdub them as much as i could without the layers getting lost, through a Radio Shack mixer. I believe it was Einsteurzende Neubauten that really hooked me. A person could just bang on some metal or whatever and make music with it. It was liberating. Eventually, several pawn shop visits later, it was get an old keyboard here, buy a drum machine, hook up a cheap mic…
LA: I know your output has ranged between more instrumental works and ones with vocals, but can you think of a common set of music and and ideas that helped shape your music?
TV: Well, i didn’t come from a musical background, and as a kid you think the only relevant music is pop music- with Baby Boomer parents that grew up with American Bandstand and records and such…i think culture has really shaped my music, actually..looking back in a hundred or so years, i am sure i would probably be a fairly common example of the times; where technology, commerce, culture is all fusing at a rapid pace and that anything has an audience, you just need to connect. I actually had a crisis with my own duality for a time and i suppose that explains some of it. Now, i learned a bit more balance, but the opposites are always there- between doing and thinking, or speaking or listening. So things with vocals seemed more related to outward, the yang- and instrumental is more yin, where the left-brained (words) are gone, meter and whatnot is open and is more observant, i guess. But this duality is only at the surface- both interchange, where the further i go in one direction, the elements of the other are more apparent. So what shapes it is really letting go as much as possible of control, or for me, being centered- doing, but still being aware and receptive. Observing, but still interacting. Mostly, it a need for some kind of beauty, as in Nature, i guess. Like some mad painter working feverishly on the “perfect” still, never ceasing, because they are all flawed; “flaws being the essential requirement for beauty.”
LA: You spoke to me about feeling like you are at a cross-roads in terms of your music. Where do you think you have been with your music and where do you think you will go next?
TV: Well, at first, a person thinks that the work is going through change, when in fact, it is the worker. I guess that is what that is about. The internet has it’s advantages, with the ability to reach across time or space, but inversely, the need to engage and effect those closest to me is coming about. I guess it’s like that digital versus physical argument-most people need balance in their lives…like the saying, “Live locally, think globally”. Giving something that you have made with your own hands carries with it all the energies- conversing face to face, with the nuances involved. It has to do with experience and expression of the self. I have not consciously made the decision, but overall, the music i buy and experience fully more often than not, is live performances. I get to meet the person behind the art. I learn about them and not just some image they are projecting for a time. It means a great deal to meet in person those whose work i admire. Usually, that image i project dissolves into the reality that they are human, too and perhaps ordinary, yet doing extraordinary things. So for me, that reminds me people are more similar than different. That it’s okay to be “ordinary”, one person among many, simply trying to create something with the time they have…
LA: What sorts of equipment do you use to make your music? Do you feel as though you have built a relationship with these machines?
TV: A chuckle there, James…”relationship” is a good word! Never been too good at those, ha ha…but yes, they certainly are. Each piece has it’s own character and quirks…basically, i have used the same gear for the last 15 years or so. Some stuff, actually, abandoned children i guess. But if you know how to utilize them….a lot of stuff that records- basically everything that records. Everything is put together on the ASR10 sampler. It took me a long time to master that one. I still use MIDI, outboard keys, effects, and the same 1202. Basically, it is a lot of pre-production -finding/editing/making the sounds. When things get strung out, you go back to the basics and build up again. But for a time, your process gets down and you’re at the factory. Whatever goes down, if you weren’t all there that night, you can always resample and rework it into something else…so everything basically is a remix, as they say. You use limits to your advantage.
LA: I like your focus on physical items. Is there a reason you have been going back to mail order limited editions?
TV: For most of my time producing, i didn’t have a web presence, so the only way people heard what i was doing was if i gave them a CD, which usually were burnt in real time and had different tracks on them. I like putting things together, painting/assembling stuff.. it’s a way to sort of capitalize on the roughness of handmade releases as opposed to pre-packaged. It seems to work design-wise, since the art is abstract and usually there is left-field sense to the music ..the latest is cut-up art, which i put together for performance swag. The runs are only as large as the material available. In this case, i had some large paintings done on corrugated plastic cigarette and soda signs lifted from a carry-out. These work well since they are water-resistant and basically indestructible. The large paintings came out too busy, but cut into smaller CD-sized they worked. So if i can attach a CD to it somehow and paint it…I much rather prefer individual pieces, so even if they don’t care too much for the music at least they have something interesting to put with all their other collections! So every one has a character of it’s own- it has a sense of honesty, maybe: so the image fits with the process and attitude. Things are so transient now and the production is constant, so an item is sort of a snapshot in time.
LA: A lot of your thought pieces on your 5AM Conductions blog find you analyzing the musical and societal systems that you are trying to inhabit/navigate as one person. I myself, also find myself continually trying to navigate these systems as a writer. What difficulties do you see artists having in our age of post-industrial media saturation?
TV: It’s pretty scary you subjected yourself to that…mostly, it’s the demands or duality (again) of the individual and the whole. I am not trying to critique as much as work things out- where do i put up limits? Where should i be more flexible? I started out writing poetry, so things are in that context- where i am trying to resolve a conflict, or just see things as they are. It’s more of “this is my thought process”. Usually things work out and i realize where the errors in perception are and if i am just owning more than i should. As in my reply, you get older and more discerning. You realize every scream and holler isn’t for you. I can’t even watch the news anymore- everything has become entertainment. It seems the average person would rather die of anything than boredom. Whatever happened to that television commercial volume legislation? So, we’re forced on the internet- not only that, but to be hooked into it all the time. People don’t want to know what color underpants i am wearing, or if i am at the coffee shop…because everyone already knows i don’t wear underpants and home-brew anyway. They Googled it. I hope people really don’t do background checks as much as i hear, because people with shady histories are a lot more fun, anyway. So i’ll just let it all hang out on the interwebs, kind of play with it, like everyone else sometimes. I suppose it’s like that prophecy: “Shouted from the rooftops.” Everyone is going to know everything about everyone and when it’s all finished, wished they hadn’t. In short: Me? crazy- yes, dangerous? You got to be kidding. And we have already bought everything, sometimes, the same things over and over again- i am personally really perturbed about all the car commercials you see- like we need 9 billion cars on the planet, all humming 24 hours a day. So, don’t get me too far off an a tangent; it’s a program, like it always was, but now it’s like everyone buying a bottle for the village drunk and not expecting him to misbehave.
LA: When listening to your catalogue and reading your discussions of your work, I keep thinking about ideas of freedom and power. Do you think music and art has a freeing capacity or the ability to empower individuals and groups of people?
TV: Oh, certainly- without getting political, although politics is everywhere, i am most interested in the individual’s personal freedom- not just in the context of their society, but the inner psychic life-breaking down barriers in themselves first before “wanting to change the world”. One person changes, the whole world can change. It may sound idealistic, but i am convinced of the inter-connectivity..much of the world’s problems, individual’s problems, after all, can be distilled down and attributed to lack of love. Now, me, i am not some old hippie, but i do have a strong sense of self-preservation. Primary mission: survival. Not just the basic needs being or not being met, but the way it is set up that an organism has to evolve or die. This does not mean just physical death, but powerlessness. To evolve, to an extent, one has to face adversity. So we do not demonize adversity, necessarily- but we do see that when people fear change, when they cut themselves off from opportunity and each other, decay ensues. So, in my past of being quite isolated, i realize the fact that man is a social creature- even that one’s personality may not be self-created, but a product of experience and those he/she experienced. This opens up a new way of seeing things, that, especially in the West, individualism has sort of run amuck, that instincts have become distorted and things are swinging back to more social-centered programs. Like the self-centered program insisted in a way that if we build a modern and successful society, the individual would prosper; now, it seems, for me the focus on individual progress can also build a society from the bottom-up. And we see this with break downs in institutions and paradigm shifts from sex to drug use and so on. If the United States, as a prototype for the rest of the world, was founded on the philosophy of self-governing- that change cannot be legislated from the top down, then individuals need to develop themselves; which is only personal responsibility. But individuals cannot develop themselves when their basic needs are not being met. We cannot say “it is progress” if we have 30 different brands of soda to choose from, but not altogether sure what’s in the water. I do not call myself an “environmentalist”, because that suggests i am separate from my environment. I just love Nature. It is simply self-preservation.