This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.
What’s your name? Mark Rushton.
Where are you located? As of early 2023, I live in the Des Moines, Iowa, metro area — where I grew up. I moved back in the summer of 2022. Working backwards, I’ve lived in Iowa City, Iowa; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Houston, Texas; and Kansas City, Missouri.
I started making music on the computer after a work colleague in Cedar Rapids showed me a loop-based program during the night of Y2K. Also during my time in Cedar Rapids, in 2005, I started a “live ambient improvisational” collective called Ambient Matyk.
What is your musical activity? Starting in the early 2000s, I’ve created and independently published a lot of electronic music, mainly ambient. I also publish downtempo, beats, drones, cut-up technique / spoken word things, and environmental field recordings. These are released under about 20 different names. My catalog contains over 2800 titles.
In the past decade, most of my music has arrived from iOS apps. I started adding effects boxes a few years ago, and I usually live-mix the final recording. Every now and then I’ll put some loops and beats together on the computer, for old time’s sake. I don’t really play an instrument. I avoid MIDI and deep menus.
What is one good musical habit? In a 2011 interview in The Believer magazine, later reprinted in Salon, Brian Eno was asked about what advice he’d give if he could email himself when he was 20 years old. Eno replied, “Put out as much as you can. It doesn’t do anything sitting on a shelf.”
I first read this in 2015. Eno’s advice was a siren call for me. It gave me permission to release under pseudonyms and experiment with different genres, effects boxes, distribution companies, and see how my recordings are discovered on the numerous streaming services. It also inspired me to release the Disquiet Junto recordings I made entirely on my own.
After 20 years, my fun hobby that made no money for a long time turned into an incorporated business. Today, I can support my family with the income. I wouldn’t be where I am today without applying Eno’s advice as a general work philosophy. I don’t think Eno really practices it. Robert Pollard and Chihei Hatakeyama do something similar.
What are your online locations? Most evenings, I’m creating visual art and drinking kefir on my YouTube channel, youtube.com/markrushton. Those live videos are rebroadcast on my Facebook page, Twitch, and other video services that are tied to YouTube. I often talk about music and quote lyrics while working on paintings.
It’s difficult for me to hang out with most musicians, so I don’t do it anymore. I’m enthusiastically pro-streaming, and many aren’t. As far as I’m concerned, distribution is everything, or at least a starting point. It’s a grind to find listeners, especially in the genres I work in, but they’re out there.
What was a particularly meaningful Junto project? I really like 0393, where I made a new composition out of my favorite parts of three previous recordings.
Most of the music I create is original, but every now and then I like to combine past recordings to make something new. It’s like that William S. Burroughs quote, “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.” I’ve been a big fan of Burroughs’ “cut-up technique” since first hearing it around 1986.
Do you think cut-up technique is even more trenchant today than it was in Burroughs’ time? Cut-up, when applied to musical passages and beats, rather than strictly words, became the total basis for turntable-based hip-hop music and then sampling.
Did it take effort, after reading that Eno quote, for you to change your attitude about releasing music, or was it more like a light switch being flipped? The Brian Eno quote arrived to me in 2015 when distribution to streaming services was becoming cheaper and quicker for independent artists. When I started releasing music in 2004, it took forever to get on every digital download service. It’s not like today where you upload your tracks and they’re on Spotify tomorrow and Resso in a few days. Back then, Pandora’s process was curated, you got approved, and then you had to mail them a CD which took months to get digitized and into their system. It was like a 6 month wait.
For Eno to say this in 2011, when the interview was conducted, seems very prescient. Spotify only arrived in the US in the summer of 2011, but it really wasn’t until about 2017 or 2018 when subscription-based streaming services seemed like they were here to stay.
Even though I released more music and sounds after 2015, it took a while to get traction. There were a lot of frustrating hurdles along the way. Looking back, I think the music industry is way better for independent recording artists today in 2023 than even five years ago. People might disagree with me, but I don’t care. I’ve been through the fire.
You also sell your paintings online. Is working in painting commercially similar to doing so with music, or is it quite different? Visual art is like that AC/DC song, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock ‘n’ Roll),” because there’s no wide distribution network. And I wouldn’t say a website that hosts artists or their artworks is a distributor because discovery is a pain. Most visual artists are terrible at marketing online. It’s a hard road. I put things online, but my main focus for this year will be pop-up shows at local events. A lot of my paintings get used as cover art for my sound recordings.