I want no part of it – A Q&A with Arvo Zylo (Part 2)

What follows is part two of our extensive interview with No Part of It label owner Arvo Zylo. In the first part we came the know a label that existed as a money-order label before making the move to the digital realm, a label that thrives in the personable engagement with its audiences and favours the road less travelled through music. We’ve documented most of the history of the label in part one, including some very interesting incidents with Tonetta and a foolhardy cover artists, and in part two we delve further into the community that exists around No Part of It and more of the music on the label.

These releases you sent me were the first I’ve heard from the label. Are they reflective of the label’s earlier releases too when it was a money-order label and what has been the overarching theme through it all for you?

Some of the other releases were “anti records”; manually distressed, used / recycled 7 inches, with hand made covers, manually stamped with sun-dried ink, and things like that. In another case, there was a cassette that never saw a computer in any way. It was composed on a 4 track, dubbed directly from a master dub copy, and the (collaged) cover art was hand made and unique on every copy. There was another release that was themed on having all of the source material be from Christian evangelist tapes. It came inside a jewellery box with a rosary, a prayer card, and a full color, double sided, greeting card. At that time, I did xeroxing at a little Saudi Arabian food store that had a xerox machine, so it wasn’t even Kinko’s, it was more local. Many of the pro cassettes and pro CDRs are somewhat standardised in terms of packaging, but I’m not sure if I can pin down an over-arching theme, other than the fact that, while I do engage in some “in the moment” type material, I’m generally more into obsessing over every detail until something is so over-wrought that I can’t even remember how it happened anymore. There is a brief moment of closure where I know that it is done, and 5 minutes of clear satisfaction, and then it’s time to move on to the next thing.

Printing your inserts at the Saudi restaurant, it sounds like you prefer a hands-on DIY aesthetic. Is this born out of necessity or a specific ideology of the label?

I’m not that DIY, I just went through a period of time where I didn’t want to be around computers of any kind. I’d love to have someone else handle all the details of printing and promoting, etc, so that I could continue with my work, but a right-hand man or woman is yet to be seen.

Like many similar labels, I imagine that it revolves around a community. Can you give us some insight into the community that forms the basis of No Part Of It?

Lots of mail. Mail art, post cards, xerox zines that, again, have no place on the internet, random amusing ephemera. Anonymous post cards with hand made collages on them. Some post cards I’ve received have obviously taken more than an hour to make. That is separate from “sales”. I send them things, they send me things. I write letters with a typewriter from the 20s. If I stop sending them things, they stop sending me things. I have a box of old post cards from all over the world I bought at a flea market for super cheap. Most of them are from before 1990. Many of them seem to be from the 60s, such as a post card for the inaugural opening of Lawrence Welk’s Country Club Village. I still have lots of encyclopaedia books from the 20s, National Geographic magazines, etc. I really prefer to be in control, so cover art is often about doing the collages I can’t do in real life in Photoshop, but I still try to get that magic of collage art the old fashioned way by way of little snatches at it via these exchanges. And my exchanges with people from other countries that I have never met, have kept that part of my mind busy. In some cases, these people haven’t bought anything from me in years, but we continue to exchange excess madness through the mail.

For me the noise genre as it were is very much tied up with improvisation and the recording is quite often the end result of a performance. But the pieces that who’ve sent me feel a lot more “composed”. How much emphasis do you put on revisiting the raw material for recording purposes both as a label owner and an artist?

I’m involved in the noise genre by default. I’m what I would consider “serious”, by my standards. I tend to take artists seriously who are unusual, but I don’t care for ephemeral goofy artists. At the same time, I don’t have a lot of gear, and I don’t believe I take myself so seriously that I need to have a lot of special gear to do what I need to do. I have ideas and I will do whatever it takes to make those ideas happen. I’d love to have a bevy of vintage Theremins and modulizers and whatnot, but without ideas, the content is going to be ephemeral. I spent a lot of time opening for proper music acts, and even more time crashing open mic nights with just my vocals and my sequencer (noise). I’ve spent countless hours trying to book tours at any place I can find, and in an attempt to be humble, I will tell booking people that I will play for as little as 15 minutes. Of course, some people take that as I am not “serious”. I played a small fest where I was paid $200, and told I could play for as much as an hour. I performed screaming for an entire hour.

Not having a cornucopia of gear or even a vague understanding of nearly anything in these various guitar magazines makes me devoid of “seriousness” in some circles. I feel at home with many noise people because the shows are dynamic and exciting. People don’t play long sets, and they sure as hell don’t play encores. I think that experimenting with sounds is the only real thing that is taking new directions in this period of time, and it’s still exciting to me. At the same time, I don’t feel I fit in with a huge amount of noise artists. I am not into a whole lot of “workshop” noise, and circuit benders, and things like that. I’m not into people being derivative and trying to affect a “me too” vibe onto the legacy of industrial (noise) music. I get ideas that are improvements on other peoples’ ideas, but generally, I am layering and looping and polishing until I believe it sounds like not even my own work, and not anyone else’s. People ask the influences question a lot, but I am genuinely influenced by trying to make proper music and failing horribly at it, causing malfunctions, and eventually just being really keen to listen to a single loop for several hours. I build from that until it feels like a masterpiece. I build until I have no idea what the hell just happened. I don’t have a lot of barriers. If gangster rap needs to happen, so be it. It’s not “cathartic” to me it’s reptilian. It’s instinct and intuition. It’s like brushing my teeth. It’s just time to do it. I work for hours, but it’s just one thing after another. I don’t have to think about it.

As a result, my tastes are a reflection of my personal barometer for gauging inspired work, and my warped definition of beauty. While others are “anti art” and “anti beauty”, I am just a recovering insomniac with a really warped sense of beauty, to the degree that people seem to think I am teetering on the verge of Asperger’s or something. Even if I am screaming, it’s going into something primal, something beyond simply emotional. It’s something else. I appeal to a certain kind of unemotional beauty. I’m sure there is a word for it in German, but I don’t have it in English. I don’t think aiming for beauty and truth and genius is pretentious, I think claiming to have it is pretentious. I am what I am and that’s all that I am. Criticism is nice, but has nothing to do with it. In general, some months ago I read a quote from David Bowie, that I think was in a 1976 issue of Rolling Stone that I have, where he said something like “People used to make music because they had something to share with the world, now people make music to be famous, and to have the vicarious feeling of being famous.” I feel this from noise artists as well as generally everything else that people are doing creatively these days. I don’t have a strong passion for improv as an end, and especially free jazz. No real interest in that beyond fleeting entertainment when listening to college radio, with a few exceptions. Elvin Jones was a magical man at times, Sun Ra, Mingus, blah blah blah. Generally improvisations are raw material to me, a means to an end. I use dozens of layers at a time sometimes. The notion of going into a studio and doing something live in one take with no overdubs has happened with me, but it’s extremely rare. Vocally, I am a little different; I have never recorded anything that wasn’t done in one take. I practice stream of consciousness often. That said, there are certain artists like Illusion of Safety, Schimpfluch Gruppe, COIL, and Foetus that I will gladly listen to their duds and live documents. These people have a concept and drive that seems to permeate every little thing they do.

With so much happening on the improvised music scene, from Jazz to Noise, do you find your audience expanding and which music fans are you reaching today?

I am personally getting (back) into soundtrack territory, and I’m meeting new people in and around that territory. A lot of DIY people are not only artists both sonically and visually, but also writers and radio hosts/podcasters and curators of events, so things are expanding for me, because a lot of the people I like are juggling various outlets and odd side projects. I go to about two shows a month, when I used to go out every night, so the progress is a bit stifled there, but people are kind of coming out of the woodwork as far as “new creative music” goes, just people from the middle of nowhere who are doing their thing and are kind of too old or genuinely weird to be remotely hip, but are very passionate about whatever their chosen bubble is.

In Norway I see a lot of cross-pollination between genres thanks to improvisation, with even electronic dance music artists playing along noise musicians. With Chicago’s history in Jazz and electronic music, are you experiencing the same thing there and where do you see it taking music in general? 

Norway and Sweden seem like a creative warzone in general. I would love to go there some time. I think they sparked a perfect integration of experimental/noise elements into black metal and that has made for some really exciting developments across the whole world. I have to admit I’m more informed about artists from Sweden, as far as experimental sound goes. People like Leif Elggren, Sewer Election, Alfarmania, are constantly compelling.

There is ACM, an organization that is doing things like having a several composers organize live soundtracks to silent films and perform them at the historic theatre here, The Music Box. That, I think is great. Contemporary classical artists are making experimental cassettes and performing quartets in relatively small bars. Olivia Block did something at Millenium Park, and I think it was a major triumph, a piece that was made for something like 26 channels, and released in stereo on cassette. A lot of DIY venues are getting shut down before they really catch stride, and some are gone before I even know they exist, but Elastic Arts is expanding and becoming an extremely valuable non-profit space in Chicago, especially for improv groups that kind of turn into super groups vis-a-vis electronics vs. improv jazz elements. ONO has completely changed the music scene of Chicago, it has been much more positive since they came back into action. They are an “avant-industrial gospel” band, and they have played as a trio as well as with something like 10 people. They have performed dance music with a drum machine and two drummers, or they have ranted over samples and guitar skronk, but it’s a uniquely positive energy that overall, is really about giving, not taking, which is refreshing.

As for electronic dance music, I’m much more keen on synth pop and minimal wave than I am into Techno, but an overall zeitgeist around the world is people like Bill Kouligas, Filth, Beau Wanzer (sometimes), treating rhythms in an experimental way, in a sense that it is less about being dancey, and more about being cerebral and meditative, while at the same time still being compelling.

In some cases, we see relative young bucks playing modular synths through quadraphonic sound set-ups, and in general, people like Daniel Burke, Neil Jendon, and Jason Soliday are doing great work with modular synths with a more compositional flavor, but with obvious improv elements.

LOCRIAN really made things exciting in Chicago before they separated geographically, but Andre Foisy still does some great guitar improv with other combos from time to time. And sometimes he does his “metal yoga” classes, which I have yet to attend, but will certainly be sure to at some point. I watched Locrian grow from a guitar feedback duo to a full-on metal band with their own lights and a proper record deal, and it’s still great to see their various incarnations. Bruce Lamont is mainly known for various metal outfits like Corrections House, Bloodiest, Yakuza, etc, but his solo work is still happening, and when I’ve seen it, I’m always glad to watch him play wind into several loop pedals and paint the walls with alien textures. The Museum of Contemporary Art occasionally has events with ambient artists, and it’s great to see that territory traversed, even at a Prince tribute night. Sara Heymann used to run a venue called Mortville that will be legendary in Chicago, and now she is working with others to try to get a legit venue called “Neo Chicago”. It seems to be slow going and mainly focused on art exhibitions right now, but when it gets to performance territory, I’m sure it will be great. Mortville was known for having a sort of crazy funhouse vibe, with handcrafted beach scenes and guillotines and huge papier mache garbage pail kids, and things like that, so it’s sure to be good.

Getting back to the label – it particularly seems to teeter on the edge between full-blown sonic improvised assaults like “4625kHz” from UVB-76 to more reserved melodic ambiences of something like “a masochist’s heaven” by ATARAXIC ATAXIA. But I hear them as a result of improvised performances. Is this something the label insists on with their releases, the improvised component?

I don’t know how improvised they are! If you scroll down on Thirteen Hurts’ facebook page, there are elaborate charts for how he deals with all of his pedals. He worked on UVB-76 for two years or so, he told me. Improvising is a good way to get ideas, sometimes it doesn’t need to be fine-tuned, but it’s like a sketchpad to me, not to say I won’t hang something from a sketchpad on the wall. I do know that ATARAXIC ATAXIA practiced often, but I’m not one to say whether it’s improv or not, I just know it’s refined and raw at the same time, which is ideal. It was originally a CDR limited to 23 copies, and I wanted to reissue it. I don’t know how it came about, but I have some other releases and I think it is based off of more than blind improv. At least, I’m sure there is a language of textures that are being communicated in a sequence of some level, just my guess. WILT took over a year, maybe two years to deliver something. Ilusion of Safety took two years to deliver, and played me some stuff he made from black box recordings at some point, that I think were dissolved into the over piece, to the point where I only vaguely recognize the texture he created at a brief point. He really boiled it down.

The label is about releasing material that is predicated on total belief in what the person is doing. There is no other criterion at this time.

You mention texture a lot, especially alien textures. Is this something that might influence your picks for the label?

As a person who can’t really play any instruments, I use a language that deals with time, space, tone, color, dynamics, and texture. I like plenty of music that I can’t play, but I generally appreciate it because of the overall sound of it. For instance, I like a lot of soul music, but while I love Barbara Lynn and The Coasters, I can’t stand to listen to a remastered CD of Barbara Lynn or the Coasters. It is like nails on a chalkboard. This is for the same reason I don’t often care to hear live renditions of songs from the 60s, there is something inherently missing from the sound. The overall sound is of utmost importance.

I think other people have these feelings without realizing them. For instance, most people I’ve talked to casually and had the most recent Black Sabbath album come into the conversation, they say “it sucks” outright. I don’t think it “sucks”, I just think the production is overly polished and compressed, to the point where there is no organic magic to what would otherwise be good riffs and choruses and whatnot. A guitar sound is nothing without sound design, and I mean that in customizing the pedals and amps and recording techniques etc, but at the same time, I tend to prefer gritty, noisey, and often lo-fi sounds. Music is only one component of an overall sound.

Besides being one of the few artists on the label, Arvo Zylo also seems to be the core of what’s at the label and Body of defective memories” is a particularly good example of that at work I find. It suggests perhaps that everything around the label projects out from its core, Arvo Zylo, to the most far-reaching points of your musical personality. How do you maintain the subjective label-boss view then when considering your own music for a release?

My personal releases for a long time didn’t have any label information, and if another artist has a cover art/layout concept that doesn’t allow for any text at all, that would be fine for me.

When I release another artist, I don’t ask them until it has been bothering me for over a year, usually longer. I don’t release other artists for profit, I do it because it has been bothering me for a long time, as if my artistic output is being stifled by the fact that this artist isn’t on my label. I usually drop an idea into their lap and see if they’re into it. I usually tell them that I totally trust every aspect of what their desired overall outlet is. If I don’t trust every aspect to be in their hands, for me to keep it in print and carry it around for years, I don’t ask. In some cases, I will want to meddle with something, like for instance I don’t often want to release something that is more than 60 minutes on tape or CD, because I like to encourage something more honed down, but there are exceptions.

As an artist, I don’t really consider other labels that much. If it comes out on another label, it is usually because I have met the label head and I trust where they come from. At other times I have had labels tell me that they only have some leftover c30s, so “Can I cut your side B shorter”? and other labels take two years to get to it, and even more labels just have some general standard of presentation that I can’t agree with at some point, so at this point, most of the other labels I’ve been on have been people I like and trust, because I’ve been turned off by most of the labels I haven’t met, and even more that I have met.

You mentioned there it bothers you when another artists are not on your label. Do any of the other artists, or new listeners ever affect your own musical whims or the overall focus of the label? 

I try not to think too much when I am working on something. Certainly some other artists make me wish to give people the same “next level” feeling that I get from them, but it’s never so precise that I’m sitting there trying to copy a specific thing. Sometimes I will contact an artist and ask if they will get into territory that they traversed on a certain record, and overdub something for a certain effect at this point in one of my tracks. Basically I will ask someone for a certain texture, or tone.

I try to stay humble, and in doing, I often don’t know where ideas come from, I just consider it a blessing, and know that a well-spring of ideas may not always be around.

In all frankness, I like to get different opinions from people, but to be kind; I often have no idea where they are coming from. I’m just not on that boat. Being compared to Skinny Puppy is a great compliment, but I have no clue where they draw that conclusion from, for example.

And to tie things up on this very extensive conversation we should ask the ubiquitous, where are you heading question. What should we expect in the near future from both Arvo Zylo and No Part of It?

There will be a DVD compilation, with video, audio, and surround sound pieces, and cover art by Yasutoshi Yoshida (Government Alpha). It’s in the final stages. 33 pieces. It features work by Hans Grusel, Dave Phillips, bran pos, Soundoferror (Daniel Burke’s project after Illusion of Safety), Sudden Infant, Bride and Skulsyr (members of T.O.M.B.), Vertonen, Bull of Heaven, just a lot of artists I respect.

There are some things in the works that I think are in early stages, but with enough momentum to mention them. I’m working on something with Architeuthis Dux from Austin, Texas. They work within the realm of harsh noise, but they pull off some genuinely unique industrial noise and ambient pieces. I’m also going through a data DVD with about 6 GB of wav files. Very good soundtrack-oriented, and at times what I’d call “proggy industrial psychedelic electronic” experimental music, with a group from Romania. They have a handler; I don’t know what criteria it is that they intend to give information, but it is material from an entity that has been active since the 70s, but only began to release material in 2013.

Eventually, there will be a limited box set reissue of my cassette collaborations with Kommisar Hjuler und Mama Baer. That’s one that won’t be for sale on the internet.

There are some other things that will be released “off-the-grid”. One thing will be a reissue of a cassette that was limited to 50 copies in 1981. Another will be excellent ambient work from an extremely famous person who hasn’t released it for some reason.

There are people that have been working on something I offered to release, but it has been a few years that they have been working on it, and I don’t know what the state of completion is for it, even in the slightest. There will be a CD of live Blood Rhythms material soon. Some of it was practiced, some of it was improvised, some of it was revised and overdubbed upon later.

I recorded in a studio with several people this past winter. I will be working on getting it done in the next two years. It will be very ambitious. The cover art should be done this summer, the art book may take much longer.People who want to know about certain things will have to mail a post card with a return address to the mail box:

NO PART OF IT

1002 W Montrose Ave

Box 130

Chicago, ILL 60613

USA