What is the history of Dead Times and TRTRKMMR relationship? How did this release come about?
T: My first encounter with Dead Times took place in Providence in 2008 at what I believe was their first live performance. We had known each other in other capacities for some time prior to that. The release was in many ways an extrapolation of our friendship, shared understanding, and mutual respect.
What are the brief of history of the bands? How many releases do you have now under the names Dead Times and TRTRKMMR?
T: Torturkammer (TRTRKMMR) has existed since late-2006/early-2007. It was started in Philadelphia, but I relocated to Milwaukee shortly thereafter. Around 2008 I switched from using a broken 8-track cassette recorder to a less-broken 4-track cassette recorder. That is the extent of the project’s history.
TRTRKMMR has only one other release, a split with Husere Grav.
DT: Dead Times began as a two-piece band in Providence, RI in 2008. Early on, the project was mainly focused on the live environment, but has gradually evolved away from performance. In its current form, Dead Times is a solo recording project.
A self-titled cassette was released in 2009.
How do you describe your sound others who may be unfamiliar and uninitiated, other than ‘genre-bending’ or ‘defying categorization’?
T: I rarely describe the sound as anything more than unpleasant, semi-structured noise. People rarely ask for further explanation.
The project is meant to function similarly to those computer-generated, three-dimensional images that are composed of seemingly random dots. If one listens at one level, certain types of “music” may emerge. However, if one shifts focus to a deeper or more shallow point, the “music” is quickly lost and one can see the whole for what it really is: An accumulation of noise. Trash, through and through.
DT: Harsh electronic music with harsh vocals. It’s unfortunate that our institutional terms and designations, through sheer saturation within an unscrupulous culture of access, have all been co-opted or degraded into frivolous, un-descriptive memes. Metal and noise have been affected probably most of all. “Blackened”, “grim” and so on don’t enlighten me to much other than proximity to a blog.
TRTRKMMR provided my favorite description of Dead Times in the label write-up for this split release: “Thousands upon thousands of quarter-inch steel cubes, poured into flows…stacked into monoliths…strung onto threads…scattered into nonsensical disarray.” It’s the central idea of physical material and sound reconstituted within the digital realm, rendered into standardized units of pure information. This new material – of infinite variability and possibility – is the primordial soup of Dead Times which in the end returns back, fully transformed, to the physical world.
Many artists walk a fine line between the capture of sporadic inspiration on a recording and meticulous editing, songcrafting and perfecting ‘the sound’. How do you prefer to work? How do you know when you have reached your goal or your idea is realized?
T: TRTRKMMR is a meticulous crafting of sporadic sounds. Much time is spent setting up certain situations that are then set into motion and allowed to progress or advance per their own volition. Sometimes the situations unfold as expected, sometimes they derail entirely. Sometimes the end product is of use, sometimes it is worthless. The captured elements are then trimmed, spliced, decayed, reordered, and layered. It is an incredibly slow, counter-intuitive, counter-productive process. I might spend 10 hours creating 30 seconds of analogue granular synthesis footage or all afternoon at the range recording firearm field samples, only to discover that the result contributes the most to a track by contributing the least in the distant background. People have a desperate need to place the center of their efforts at the center of the outcome for all to see and “admire.” Sometimes that is not appropriate. Oftentimes, really. Peter Beard is a valuable inspiration in that sense.
DT: For me, inspiration in this sense is less immediate, but an ongoing, extended and diffused process of archiving over time fragments of material I’m able to capture, set down or remember, and then arranging or layering them, often haphazardly. The initial arrangement is added to, layer-by-layer, and a song is gradually built up around it. Each sound, or instrument or track begets the next, more an intuitive or analytical process to me than a purely musical one.
My operational influence in this is Steve Reich’s “Different Trains”. The piece itself is composed of sampled speech fragments and sounds, train whistles and air raid sirens, which the stringed instruments are arranged around. Reich’s childhood train rides planted the seed of an idea that was realized 40 years later, filtered and augmented by history, in this piece of music. The impact of this work on Dead Times is total; from the channeling of historical memory, nostalgia, structural ideas of collage and repetition, down to the early performative use of digital sampling and percussive, rhythmic and tuned vocal samples.
This method, in the end, becomes very labor intensive and specific, as the focus becomes controlling or restraining conspicuous elements or potent references or samples, looping, adding, cutting, treating and corroding everything and spreading out evenly the dark canopy of filth under which all wilts. So, while there’s some in the way of “songwriting” in Dead Times, its largely a process of editing.
With that being said, what ideas were in mind before writing for this split release began?
T: Structurally, the intent for the TRTRKMMR side was to present main tracks connected by shorter, sinewy interludes. Lungfish does this in an understated manner to great effect. I took a more heavy-handed approach.
Conceptually, the intent was to explore the construct of misery in unusual ways. To objectify lesser factors, to manipulate them in an oblique fashion, and to explain hidden and previously unaccounted-for variance.
DT: The Dead Times side of the split was about halfway completed when the TRTRKMMR side was sent over. It was humbling, to say the least. Most of what was finished or underway was scrapped and work was begun again from scratch. So, though I felt bad that it took over a year to complete 23 minutes of music, it was necessary in order to create something worthy enough to share a release with such material.
How does this split release differ from previous releases, or, for that matter, upcoming releases?The thematic idea behind the Dead Times material, which hasn’t changed since the beginning, is to reify the strange relationship of the positive, aspirational sentiment with its obscure antagonist: the alienation of joy, the emptiness of contentment, the estrangement in acceptance, the sadness inherent in human relationships. Dead Times attempts to embody this contradiction though the juxtaposition of appropriated cultural material and the personal archive of sound and thought material, and subsequent rearrangement, distortion and burial.
T: In overall structure, the Dead Times split is very similar to the split with Husere Grav. Distinct tracks from each project, linked by two collaborative efforts. In execution, the Dead Times split has a very different feel. The respective sides here flow along parallel conceptual tributaries. The collaborations serve as a point of confluence…a swirling pool where the digital and analogue streams of thought and sound mingle.
DT: It was a different approach, equipment-wise from the earlier recording. No guitars, mostly softsynths and two early 80s synths were used. It was a shift away from considering performance or the live environment, in favor of arrangements made in the more visually-oriented, self-contained, purely digital work space.
Is there a live aspect to your music? If yes, tell us about it. If not, why and what would it be like if it was found on stage?
T: There is no live aspect to TRTRKMMR. Its only purpose is for me to face myself in my own environment. I wish to offer substance, not spectacle. That said, the project was performed once in 2010. An associate offered to assist, and it became a technical and logistical challenge to ourselves to recreate the dozens of layers live. It was loud, abrasive, and complicated. We were relatively satisfied with the result.
DT: Dead Times was never a successful live act. It lost too much in the translation, and the performance aspect was never as considered as are the recordings. Playing out and especially touring was a disappointment, fraught with compromise, equipment issues, uninitiated and mismatched audiences and, above all a generally watered down and amateurish representation of the atmosphere and ideas contained in the recorded material. I have little interest in foot traffic or the riff raff, so for now I focus on cultivating the recording. All in all, it’s been better working alone, having more control over the experience of the listener.
Many use the word ‘soundscape’ to describe music of your style, or at least, I will for the sake of argument. If the music on this release were synced to a movie, maybe even an otherwise silent movie, what would that movie be about?
T: I would like to think that the TRTRKMMR material could serve as a juxtaposition of sorts with the bleak, restrained approach of Tarkovsky, but that would be an insult to his vision. I think a more appropriate visual representation would be something more along the lines of Tscherkassky’s “Outer Space.” A jarring accumulation of scavenged scrap footage…layered, decayed, disfigured, and mangled. Patterns mimicking storyline, but betrayed as mere artifact upon closer inspection.
DT: The sensibility that Dead Times haplessly aspires to is embodied perfectly in the final scene of Teruo Ishii’s Horrors of Malformed Men, for me one of the most enigmatic and resonant scenes ever. Just as fitting, though for reasons completely outside of the storyline, would be the recent film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. Failure and self-termination can be built into an idea or process, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Dead Times tries to account for both means.
Each of you collaborated with each other for a track. ‘An Appendectomy’ is credited to Dead Times (with TRTRKMMR) and ‘Breaking Point’ is courtesy of TRTRKMMR (with Dead Times). What separates these two, could the titles have been reversed? What was the role of each contributor?
T: In each case, one project initiated the track, transferred it over, and the other project completed it. The secondary handler was responsible for the concept and/or title. No other restrictions were established. The rhythm track I offered Dead Times bears no resemblance to what was ultimately finalized, save momentary glimpses of texture and color. They tore it to shreds. I still do not fully understand how they created what they did out of what I gave them. I find this endlessly intriguing, and it is of highest compliment to them.
DT: Using given material as a template or supplement is very much in line with my overall conception of the project, and such charged and complex material as comes from TRTRKMMR leads to unexpected and interesting places. An Appendectomy was my favorite track to work on. Over the course of work, several completely different versions were created and scrapped, because the initial given rhythm track, when manipulated in different ways and with different accompaniment, lent itself to so many good possibilities.
Can we expect more collaborations of this sort? Was the two tracks all that was recorded together?
T: The two shared tracks on the split are the extent of our collaboration. I would be honored to work with Dead Times again, but nothing is currently planned.
DT: Even if not with TRTRKMMR, future Dead Times recordings will feature some collaborative songs or elements with other artists.
I understand that members of each band are either active or past members of other projects. Can you tell us the involvement and status of any other groups you are in. How do they differ from Dead Times / TRTRKMMR?
T: I am not presently involved in any other projects. My past projects have no connection with this one.
DT: I started a project last year called Locutions to serve as a sort of counterpoint to Dead Times, thematically, stylistically and functionally. Locutions, from the outset, has been a performance-oriented project of sequenced hardware synths. I’m currently recording the first release.
Currently, what occupies your time? Are there current projects you are working on?
T: Outside of work, I spend the majority of my time reading and listening to records. I do a lot of endurance running. Most of my other projects are mundane. Working on my car, motorcycle, house, and so on.
DT: I run a small screen printing shop, which takes up most of my time. Much of the work is mindless, repetitive and solitary, so I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I’m beginning to lend more of my time to visual art, which I’ve neglected for years.
What does the future hold for your music?
T: The intent is to tighten and more fully charge the recordings. Not only layers upon layers of sound, but layers upon layers of concepts and references which both inform and inflate the sounds. Such will allow for a richer, deeper exploration of the unorthodoxies of misery and the mysteries of defilement within. A full lp is underway. Once that is complete, I hope to start working on number of collaborative split releases that have been discussed for years but have yet to be actualized.
DT: I’m working on two new tape releases concurrently. There’s a lot of ground to cover in Dead Times, even with Locutions, so I’m looking for the two recordings to end up quite different from each other. There are some split releases planned as well.
I’d like to get Dead Times performance-capable again, but under improved conditions and fully considered. I’m still figuring out how to do that.
The last words are yours.
T: “The bones go last.”
DT: That works for me. A cassette version of the Dead Times/ TRTRKMMR split, with additional material, is set to be released soon on Expectorant Recordings.
Thanks for the interview.