OM Gossip #7

An interview with Chris Duncan

Otomatik Muziek is a tape label. We normally don‘t distribute the recordings of other people because it just doesn‘t fit into the neat time schedule / spare time we have, but listening to Chris Duncan‘s „With Light“ LP, I just couldn‘t do anything but import a bunch of vinyls because there was no place to purchase this gem anywhere in Europe. And „With Light“ truly is, in my opinion, one of the best and most interesting ambient drone records of the last few years. Check our BC store for some of the LPs!
Chris Duncan is an Oakland-based artist who employs repetition and accumulation as a basis for experiments in visual and sound based media. Beneath checking out his records, you should definitely also dive into his work as a visual artist.

Chris, it is kind of funny how I found my way to you. I guess I started following you on Instagram after incidentally stumbling upon your art, and then one day you posted this pic of yourself from way back when... Around the mid 00‘s, I followed the Teenage Teardrops blog by Cali Dewitt and everything related to it, and I guess it was on the Day 19 photoblog of Claire & Jeremy Weiss where I saw this picture of a tattooed guy jumping off from a cliff into the ocean. That was you. Back then, I loved that picture for all its vitalistic glory. Looking back, what comes to your mind if you think of that time?
Ha! Amazing! I love that picture so much...and for me, life at that point felt as wild and free and new and crazy as that picture. Into the void! Definitely at a precipice...a transitional moment. That picture was taken by some of my best friends on a trip with my 4 year old daughter (who is 16 now) and my soon to be wife...when we were maybe a year or two into our relationship... LAND AND SEA was not yet a thing...I was just making art and working a bit...still skateboarding a ton. In general, looking back it felt like a very optimistic moment in time. I feel like I was in the midst of beautiful, activated energies and to witness a ton of powerful creative outputs from so many different angles. Pretty special. 

Talking about Land & Sea, the label you do with your wife, Maria Otero - I guess you release all your own recordings, but you also did albums by Bill Orcutt or Robert A. A. Lowe; you are not operating on a regular basis, and it seems more like you release things you like when the time is nigh. What is the idea behind Land & Sea?
Yeah we are very much on our own schedule and do not abide by a structure which forces us to be one thing or another. We started LAND AND SEA just over 10 years ago with the idea that we could work with and make whatever we were interested in...books, records, tapes, prints...etc. About 5 years ago we began to use our studio for art exhibitions, talks, and performances/live shows. It feels like we function on whims and whispers. We quietly release objects and share our space when it makes sense. We have hosted some powerful things and look forward to post-covid so we can open our doors again. LAND AND SEA feels very organic in that way - purposefully. It‘s not a job and it never will be. 

You don't do digital releases, right? I think it's great - besides my love for willfully obscure things, I guess I wouldn't have imported some of your recent LPs to Europe :) What is the story behind „With Light“? It works like a slow, meandering symphony, and it feels extremely organic to listen to the three tracks. Props btw for the abrupt endings - I love that!
Ha! Yeah no digital releases. We like objects too much. 
WITH LIGHT is a series of three meditations on time, the sun, the moon and the ocean. It‘s also a record about death and grieving, and in a way a memorial for several friends who had recently passed away. It‘s about feeling. The record is composed from live and studio recordings made over 2019. The record was mastered by Simon Scott (Slowdive) st SPS mastering. He did such a beautiful job. The pieces take their compositional prompts from field recordings I‘ve made in an ocean cave in northern California. I listen to the ebb and flow of the ocean and respond with the looping and layering of processed harmonica. They start to take on a life of their own from there. To me, these pieces share the same process as my visual artwork. I see WITH LIGHT as the sonic embodiment of my sun-exposed paintings.

The sun-exposed paintings are fantastic - I love how this work is like a cooperation between the you and the weather. Those natural phenomena - like day and night, sun and moon, the tides or the weather - play a huge role in the music and art you make. Is it possible to describe what draws you to these themes again and again?
I imagine I‘m drawn towards the universal reach of these things. It‘s what feels most honest. Also, having natural forces as an access point is relatable...both inclusive and exclusive - meaning anyone can connect to it while bringing their own experiences and relationships to how they look or listen. 
When my 16 year old daughter was just learning how to walk we would go wander around our neighborhood...normally a walk around our block would be 5 minutes...with her it could take an hour...I was forced to slow down. She would just meander along taking all these new things in...cracks in the sidewalk...leaves, bugs... what really blew my mind is when she discovered shadows. She quickly got interested in how the shadows moved, sometimes followed wind could effect their movement. She connected the dots that an object was having its shadow cast, and over time realized it was from the sun. I became fascinated with her astonishment of such a simple, but grandiose, gesture. Sharing in her discovery, the phenomena of the sun became paramount in my thoughts and investigations. A double rainbow moment I guess. Light and shadow and ideas of energy took over my thinking and art making. I began to equate the sun and inevitably the moon with percussion (cymbals as symbols), and slowly allowed myself to enter making sound as well as objects. Everything has just slowly coalesced into what my practice has become. I spend a lot of time in and around the ocean, we camp and hike, I try to listen and learn from what nature has to offer... to slow down and prioritize these natural systems that pre-date humanity. When it comes time to make something I do my best to honor those systems and to harness and reflect the feelings they provide me.

Word, Chris! This is a beautiful and sharp-witted way to describe that transition that happens, at best, when entering this parent thing. And I think it is a great vantage point for working with the transcendend and inclusive aspects of art.
As you mention your LP "Plaster Cymbal / Symbol" - how many records did you release? Your discogs is not really up to date, it seems. And by the way - I love the conceptual idea behind your "Out Of Step" record. Somehow, I am often drawn to other artists who come from a punk background - you really managed to translate this very special energy into your own ideas and works.

Thank you! Yeah nothing regarding the computer is up to date in my life! I‘ve self-released a tape and a 7' under the moniker -OFFING and several other records that were basically sound experiments, like the Out Of Step LP you mentioned. I also have a tape out on Aventures LTD (an imprint by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and Rose Lazar), a track on a very rad tape comp (The Plague Hymns) by Daft Alliance and the WITH LIGHT LP.
Yes - punk stuff. So important. I‘ve always quietly said to myself that the most "punk" thing i could do is make ambient music! Here we are!

Here we are. Find 20 LPs for EU distribution at our bandcamp. Hope you’re fine. Next official OM release will appear in the next few weeks. Keep your frequencies close.
End transmission 7.

Ambassador Kaputt