Count Milwaukee's Peter J. Woods among the uncompromising innovators who keep modern noise music thrilling. Initially as Raperies (Not Draperies) -- and later, solo -- and in collaboration with outfits Phoned Nil Trio, the Peter J. Woods Free Jazz Ensemble, and xALLxFORxTHISx, Woods' recordings have incorporated an increasing degree of theatricality that has the effect of heightening the impact of every sound he makes, and even sounds he doesn't make: the silences dotting 2011's Songs For Nothing LP (After Music Recordings) and the new 3xCS release Fear (FTAM) are breathtakingly stark.
Gimme Noise emailed with Woods a few days prior to the start of his current American tour.
At this point, are your live shows entirely improvised, or are they drawn from or inspired by studio work?
I do almost no improvisation at all. I save all of that for my group Phoned Nil Trio. When I perform solo, I may improvise certain aspects, but every cue and every change is completely scripted, along with the vocals. It's part of the mindset switch from noise to theatre.
Tell me a bit about Fear, your recent triple-cassette release. In some ways it feels like the most intimate and uncomfortable of your solo efforts so far, echoing the title in tone and in terms of the cover art, which evokes death in the guise of the Grim Reaper.
The origins of this release stretch back to spring of 2010. I had the opportunity to open up for the Wittmer/Knowles duo, who were doing these incredibly intense performance art/theatrical pieces with a harsh noise soundtrack on tour with Sissy Spacek. At the time I saw this, I felt like I was hitting something of a rut with the music I was making, or at least starting to realize the limiting nature of "only playing music."
These feelings were intensified when I saw both The Haters and David Phillips at Neon Marshmallow Fest in Chicago that summer. So I decided to start thinking of my solo performances differently, treating them like short, abstract theatre pieces that involve the sound palette I have developed, and that's where Fear came from. Five of the six pieces on the release were first developed for stage and performed in different capacities. I think this shift in mindset more than anything else creates that level of discomfort, since I stopped thinking about listenability or dynamic or the usual grab bag of musical tools.
At the same time as all of this, I had become interested with the idea of why we are afraid, what fear means in the most abstract sense. I became really obsessed with where fear comes from and thought about that a lot. I don't think I was thinking about that specifically when I created each one of these pieces, but subconsciously I think it shines through. From that I decided on the title and the artwork. The photos were taken in the ally behind Milwaukee's favorite DIY venue The Borg Ward. I had the box from the staging of "Lamp" and the sheet from a straight ahead monologue I toured with last summer. I needed an image that focuses people on that idea of the unknown, the fear of not knowing what's next that drives any and all fears. In the monologue, the sheet represented that void, and did so wonderfully, so I figured why not use it for that purpose again.
What are your greatest fears?
I'm not even sure anymore. Really, it all boils down to not know whats coming up around the corner. That inability to know at any point what will happen next with just about everything in life. That and animals, specifically rodents. Had a mouse problem in my house recently. Absolutely horrifying.
Joe Smith's contribution to "Moment Creation" is intriguing, to say the least. How did you come to work with him?
Joe has been a friend of mine for a few years. He is a fellow member of the Borg Ward collective and plays in a number of awesome bands around Milwaukee (Soup Moat, ex-Cartilage Party). He also shares a Samuel Beckett obsession with me, so we get along very well. I first worked with Joe a few years ago when I needed help with an An Extremely Loud Silence performance. I wanted to stage Ohio Impromptu and Joe was my first thought for the other part. He had said numerous times he had no interest in ever being an actor, unless it was in a Beckett play, so I took him up on the offer. Then last summer I staged a number of my works together as full on theatrical production (the monologue I mentioned, "String," "Moment Creation," and "A Story" were all part of this) and I needed another voice for the piece. I didn't want my own, due to the way the piece is staged (the whole piece is in darkness, except during the static blast at the end where bright lights turn on revealing me with hooks in my mouth stretched as far as they can go). Joe has such an interesting voice. This low monotone that holds an incredible combination of warmth and apathetic nihilism. I don't know how he pulls it off, but its fascinating to me.
Hopefully he'll do more work along these lines.
I hope so too. I will be performing as part of a two day festival in Minneapolis called "Your head is a phantom limb," hosted by the amazing Eric Lunde. I have been starting to write the piece I want to perform on one of the days, and I am already hearing Joe's voice in my head. Since it's coming up in October I'm hoping he says yes.
Since this interview is geared to a Mineapolis publication, I have ask: what do you look forward to most when you play the Twin Cities?
Bro-downs. I first played Minneapolis in January of 2008, and it instantly became one of my absolute favorite places to play. I was on a bill with Monsters of Pot (who have since relocated), Ice Volt, Wince (who at the time was named cookie) and I think Gnawed, and instantly realized all of these guys were awesome people. Not to mention the show was great, but I think that was due to a bunch of people on the Modern Radio board hating my band name at the time and the resulting "publicity" that garnered (I was still performing under "Raperies (like Draperies)" and I became an internet meme on there for a second).
Since then, I've played up there probably close to a dozen times and every single show is great. The crowd is always friendly and appreciative and the local scene is amazing. So much good harsh noise happening in Minneapolis. All of the guys I mentioned before, baculum, grain belt, seth ryan, prostate, sbaltcha, and a whole bunch of others. A lot of the non-harsh stuff happening is amazing as well, but I unfortunately have not heard much. Mar Habrine and Bryce Beverlin II's solo work both come to mind.
Are you performing with any other units or groups as part of this tour?
I am accompanied by the amazing lucky bone, a tape wizard from Milwaukee. He has been playing rebuilt records, field recordings and, my personal favorite, hand-spun VHS tape. Opens the top of a vcr and works the tape tape that. Makes for some incredibly glitched out pieces. Really beautiful - and very funny - stuff.
Peter J. Woods performs at the Rat Hole, 2643 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis, on Friday, August 10. City Pages on Facebook | Gimme Noise on Facebook | Twitter | e-mail us