Before moving to the interview, something really special: From May 1 through May 7, this stream of Peter Kirn’s forthcoming album, Music for Dance, will play exclusively here on Disquiet.com. Below, Kirn talks at length about the album, which collects music he wrote for choreographers between 2002 and 2011:
Many thanks to Kirn for sharing his music with this website’s readers.
It isn’t so much that on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog. It’s that on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog, as well as a philosopher, as well as a notary public, as well as an expert in early forms of Egyptian currency.
Someone at Make magazine once said that there are many regular readers of the website who didn’t fully understand there was also a print magazine, so deep were those particular readers in the digital projection of that multi-faceted publication.
This goes for individuals as much as for institutions. There are users of MeeBlip, the open source digital synthesizer, who don’t fully get that it is the work of Peter Kirn, best known as the founder of the music-tech website CreateDigitalMusic.com, whose readers might not fully get that he is also a performing and recording musician. Kirn was for a long time based in New York, but recently relocated to Berlin, adding a layer of geolocative dispersal to his already broadly distributed portfolio. A forthcoming record album from Kirn, Music for Dance, will add another dot to that constellation of activity by focusing on his collaborative work, specifically his decade-long history in the world of contemporary dance. It’s a beautiful recording, opening with snippets of broken whispers amid poised tones, and proceeding, true to its montage sensibility, through percussive experimentation, plectrum psychedelia, ominous drones, and otherworldly stasis. Kirn conversed at length about the album and the work that went into it, as well as his other activities. The result of that discussion appears, lightly edited, below.
A side note before moving on to the interview. I asked Peter about the elegant shapes that are superimposed on the photographs that accompany the album, and he provided the following explanation from the album’s graphic designer, Anette K. Hansen (anettekhansen.com), who was born in Oslo and shares a workspace with Kirn in Berlin. She said:
“The graphics are taken from graphic dance diagrams from a specific type of dance called The Hey, defined as ‘the rhythmical interlacing in serpentine fashion of two groups of dancers, moving in single file and in opposite directions.’
“I wanted to juxtapose the type of music and the type of dance that may come from that specific music with a completely different form of dance. I’ve done projects before where I’ve tried to ‘visualize music’ and love sound wave diagrams, etc. Visualizing dance graphically is equally as difficult. But I love how something so fluent can be represented by something so stationary and organized.”
Marc Weidenbaum: Dance and electronic music have a long association, both in the experimental art world — I’m thinking initially of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, and of Lucinda Childs and Philip Glass, among numerous others — and, of course, in the populist realms of house, techno, and more recently EDM. Do you draw more from one of those traditions than the other?
Peter Kirn: Well, my training came mostly from the experimental art music world, so that’s my original bias. Now, living in Berlin, I’ve been soaking up more of what happens in clubs. It’s as much fun to me to do a techno set as a fully ambient set, if I can. And populist or art aside, it’s exciting to be in a venue where the audience dances.
What’s nice about Berlin at the moment, too, is how blurred these scenes are. I’ve played a gallery and then run into audience members and danced until dawn; there are classical concerts at big clubs like Berghain and techno out in the park. I remember in school people regularly saying they weren’t making “beat-driven” music, a meaningless contortion that I presume meant they were rejecting those popular forms. And on the flipside, I’ve known plenty of people weirded out by more experimental work. It’s refreshing to see so many people being open minded.
I mean, to me, all of this stuff is a lot of fun. I don’t want to sound un-serious, but it’s such a deep, sensual, emotional experience listening to music, whether it’s some out-there experimental sounds or a four-on-the-floor dance track. And this technology easily adapts to each, so I’d be missing out if I didn’t get to embrace both, as a musician and listener.
Coming from experimental sound, it’s also wonderful to hear those timbres, performance techniques, and technologies go from the domain of labs and schools to being something approaching folk art. So, I’m always insatiably hungry for more of each.
Weidenbaum: The album appears as one long track, a little under 34 minutes in length. How did you decide on this presentation format?
Kirn: For me, it’s a cinematic approach, a sense that once you enter this environment, everything is continuous. It’s also an extension of the process I had built with the dancers, particularly working with Kathy Westwater for over a decade, where I would constantly be making a montage from previous materials.
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