Sound Propositions is an ongoing, semi-regular series of conversations with artists exploring their creative practices and individual aesthetics, conceived of as a counter-narrative to a dominant trend in music journalism which fetishizes equipment and new technologies. For the first time, the subject of this installment is a visual artist, albeit one with close ties to the musical community. In addition to his own career as an artist, Gregory Euclide is known for contributing artwork to various records, as well as for his new subscription label, the THESIS Project. You can find the previous twelve interviews, as well as additional articles and features, here.
it’s about the art & it’s about the format…
as an artist the studio is like a magic place…
and a source of eternal struggle…
There have been various labels, imprints, and series dedicated to facilitating recorded collaborations between musicians. Several of these such records are certifiable classics. In the Fishtank springs to mind: Dutch distributor Konkurrent would give a pair of artists two days of studio time together, resulting in such memorable pairings as Sparklehorse + Fennesz, Low and Dirty Three, Tortoise & the Ex, and many others. In the eight years since the last In the Fishtank installment the torch has passed to RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series: Julianna Barwick & Ikue Mori, Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras Meet The Congos, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani.
The THESIS Project feels familiar in its creation of a space of musical encounter and exchange, but sets itself apart through its commitment to cultivating a particular kind of listening, one made to feel like a reverent, ritualistic practice. This is in part a factor of THESIS’ identification with its founder, Gregory Euclide, a visual artist who produces the series’ art and meticulous packaging. The label purposefully and forcefully eschews digital editions and streaming (aside from temporary previews). Each edition is comprised of a limited edition 10″ record on white vinyl, featuring the combined efforts of two musical artists. The record sleeves are each handmade and original, the design conceived of in such a way that each version is unique despite sharing a similar feel. Euclide developed a sort of modular system for working that we discuss below, however the resulting product is really even more exceptional than it sounds. Purchasing these limited edition records is required to experience these recordings, and each record is a physical object that must be handled to be heard, foregrounding the art and packaging in a way that is rare in our era of on-demand music.
To play a record necessitates a level of attention and preparation distinct from divided background listening. I personally love to pop in my ear buds and walk around the neighborhood, or get lost in a record while doing the dishes or cooking dinner. I’m not making any normative judgment about ways of listening. That said, there is something unique about the ritual of handling and listening to physical media, and vinyl in particular, and the THESIS Project is a welcome invitation in this regard. The collaborations thus far are each rather singular, but tend towards the ambient and enveloping. They invite the listener to get comfortable and become immersed in their gentle sonorities, to bliss out while taking in Euclide’s gorgeous artwork.
Euclide’s artwork seems to be inspired by the wide open landscapes of his native upper Midwest, and he incorporates organic elements of from the land into his work to explore themes of land use and belonging. You can read much more about his practice in this interview with Figure / Ground. As an artist his work is not confined to the flat picture plane, but often takes on elements of sculpture and installation. In this way his work engages with space and materiality in compelling ways.
His artwork has graced releases from a diverse collection of artists including Bon Iver, Loscil, Jason van Wyk, and Seabuckthorn. He has also had a fruitful collaboration with one of our favorite labels, Erased Tapes, contributing the cover of their Collection VI compilation, several works from the maestro Lubomyr Melnyk, and more recently the simply stunning edition of From the Mouth of the Sun‘s Hymn Binding, which was available in limited edition hand-constructed CD or gatefold vinyl accompanied by limited edition artist’s prints.
While FRKWYS has tended to pair young artists with musical pioneers, THESIS is mostly pairing artists that are roughly contemporaries, if artists who might not work together otherwise. This has lead to some really unexpected (and beautiful) music. For a label still in its first year, its list of collaborators is truly astonishing, a veritable who’s-who of our little scene. (See a complete list at the bottom of this article)
Taylor Deupree and S. Carey inaugurated the series, as Taylor spoke with me about not too long ago. S. Carey, a singer and drummer best known for his work with Bon Iver, tames Deupree’s usually free form instrumentals with a songwright’s sense of structure, while in return Deupree graces the tracks with his trademark attention to sonority and texture. The other three installments of the first subscription include Andy Cartwright (Seabuckthorn) & Scott Morgan (Loscil), Benoît Pioulard & Dustin O’Halloran (well known to our readers for his solo work and as one half of A Winged Victory for the Sullen, and recently discovered by broader audiences for his work on award-winning shows and films such as Transparent and Lion), and Takeshi Nishimoto (I’m Not A Gun) & Roger Döring (of Dictaphone). The latter may very well be my favorite pairing of the four. I was mostly unfamiliar with their work, aside from some encounters with Dictaphone and Döring‘s collaboration with Konrad Korabiewski for Gruenrekorder, neither of which tells us much about the tone of this collaboration. Perhaps this simply has to do with the joy of discovery, though I was not surprised to learn that this was the only record of the four in which the musicians met and recorded together physically. I’m also particularly partial to the bass clarinet, who breathy tones are in captivating dialogue with Nishimoto’s fingerstyle guitar playing.
The second subscription features some real stunners as well. The unique improvising trio of Insa Donja Kai (Kai Angermann / Insa Schirmer / Donja Djember ) have appeared on several Hauschka albums, while veteran musicians in their own right. Here their dual cellos and resonant vibraphone meld seamlessly with composer Angus MacRae‘s plaintive piano. Collaborating virtually between Berlin and London, they have transformed the process of collaborative recording to produce 20 minutes of gorgeous music. Anna Rose Carter (Dead Light, The Moon Ate the Dark) and Dag Rosenqvist (the other half of the aforementioned A Winged Victory for the Sullen) explores various moods, occasionally quite rhythmic and uplifting. And well, you’re not going to want to miss out on Julianna Barwick and Rafael Anton Irisarri‘s contribution, as Barwick’s looped vocalization have found a perfect partner in Irisarri’s production and guitar. And my own personal favorite from this batch is Kinbrae and Tony Dekker (Great Lake Swimmers), as Dekker’s one-man choral singing and melodic folk guitar is complimented beautifully by the twin brothers soft brass, percussion, and other instrumentation.
Attentive readers who have been following THESIS’ progress over the past year may have noted that Thesis 06 and 08 are thus far absent. They had previously been announced to be due from Sophie Hutchings & Kevin Imbrechts, and Colin Stetson & Gabriel Saloman, each intriguing pairings that are sure to be worth the wait. Keeping up the momentum, Euclide has just recently announced Simon Scott (of Slowdive) & Mike Weis (of Zelienople), and Sophie Hutchings & Julia Kent.
The four-EP subscription series have been punctuated by the THESIS Print Tracks, which comprise a parallel series in which the artists produce a track in response to a unique image prepared by Euclide, furthering the dialogue between visual and aural artforms.
We discuss these projects and more below. Read more about the label and subscribe here. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background? As an artist, and also as a music fan?
I grew up in Wisconsin in the rural area north of Milwaukee. I was very much a wonderer and loved to be alone in nature, walking the fields between farms and playing in the marshes. I developed a real love for music, like many, in grade school. The Cure, REM, the Smiths … usual suspects. I was into the music that very few were into, Bauhaus and the likes.
I was always into drawing, mostly from nature, but also very influenced by Surrealism. I went to school to be an art teacher, and ended up being the College Union director for programing as well as the editor of the Arts section of the Newspaper. I had no courses in journalism. I mostly wanted the music that would come in the mail and to be able to report on shows. I was calling Caroline records, Too Pure and Sub Pop asking for the latest releases. I found a lot of the bands I loved that way. I was getting promos for these important releases before I was even aware that they were going to be so important. Anyways… I was kind of a nut with like 2000 CDs in my dorm room.
Tell us about your artist practice, where you’re at now, how you approach a project. I’ve really enjoyed the time-lapse process vids on your instagram. [Readers, I’d really encourage you spend some time viewing these videos] Is your work generally in this vein, or are there other currents?
Since I have never spoken about the THESIS stuff I can answer those with you here.
I could not build 300 paintings for the covers of each album. I knew I wanted to design them from scratch. SO, the sleeves and jackets are cut, etched, folded, glued and printed all in my studio. I wanted each work to be unique, so, I figured I had to work with modular elements. I made stencils from the artists graphics that I made for each artist on the project – took bits of the imagery and expanded on it and used those things to create the images. I really like the grainy look of the airbrush and the monochromatic feel of the image.
As far as how I work on a project… it really depends on the project. I do not subscribe to a one approach fits all kind of model. I’m really all over the place… Pouring resin on the land, making paper sculptures, building plastic landscapes for miniature worlds to be housed… finding garbage in the land and building on top of them… as well as just straight up painting and or drawing.
I’d like to ask about the relationship between your work and music. Do you play music in your studio while you’re working? Have these artists been a direct source of inspiration for you?
All the artists I have worked with so far have been huge influences for me and my work. My work is about land and land use… how we perceive and experience land. When I am in the land… I feel/hear music. it is music for me… the closest connection to anything for me is music. I am glad I have the distance to experience something like music without really knowing much about how it is made… I just stand in awe of it. So, yeah… Basically, I make art, to get money to purchase music. I love making things that feel like music to me. In my work, there is a line and a fluidity of materials and a repetition that is obviously “music” to me… I like different types of music.
I have a range of emotions as a human being and therefore enjoy a variety of types of expression in music. I get a kick out of people who are like… I ONLY LISTEN TO … I like folk, drone, jazz, rock, hip hop, whatever… if it is good.. or does something different that makes me wonder… what the hell is that… then, I usually like it. Music is a vehicle and it can take you places and I guess as humans we all like to go to certain places. I like to melt into the earth and become nothing… I think the music I like the most does that to me. So, I tend to really hold dear the kind of repetitive, organic, drone stuff. Right now I am listening to Aaron Martin’s Comet’s Coma and I think it is one of those albums for me. It takes me to a place where I am can slow down.
In short, I took the money that I was granted from the McKnight Fellowship and started a musical project with it, be cause I get more pleasure out of music than almost anything. Which makes me sad, because I know that the road goes mostly one way. There are no musicians out there, knocking down my door to purchase my latest prints. I buy every album I can. There are certain artists… no matter what it is.. I will buy it to support them. Being totally honest, that does make me sad. All I can do is support them and give them something unique through this project.
Can you tell us more about the Print Track series? How is it distinct from the regular series?
Except for THESIS 03 they’ve all been made through virtual collaboration. Did you pair the artists up yourself, or did you give them choices? How would you distinguish THESIS from other such collaborative projects?
To be honest I gave very little thought to other projects that exist in a collaboration model. It’s not important to me to be distinguished from others, for me it’s always been about the possibility of something new. The idea essentially started when I realized that I enjoy several distinct types of music and that anytime I have heard musicians venture into a collaboration between those different types of music it sounds interesting to me. I’m not trying to create mash ups or really hell-bent on having opposites work together.
Ultimately, I think of a musician that I love and wonder “what would be really amazing to hear with this.” It’s totally selfish. I hope other people find it rewarding, but ultimately it’s my own inquiry that drives the project.
I think if there is something that distinguishes pieces from other projects it is that we are in object based, vinyl only, collaboration based imprint. It’s about the music, it’s about the art & it’s about the format.
The music and the arts are only really lock together in the final package. I create all of the artwork by hand for each release. It is a way for me to show respect to the musicians who have worked on the project. It’s also a way for that and listener to have something that has been handmade, that quite frankly needs to be taken care of. It’s a reaction to streaming culture. I don’t think art should be convenient. I think it should be difficult to own and listen to something that a musician has toiled over for a lifetime. It should not be at all times it click away no matter where you are. It’s just my opinion that when art becomes throw away that we appreciate it less. Because of my roots as a landscape painter in my understanding of how we as a culture have treated the land I understand the importance of appreciation of an object. It is easy for me to see the dangers in a streaming or MP3 platform. I love to be able to listen to music while I’m traveling, it actually is quite rewarding to me: But those albums that I have only on vinyl, I long to witness again. I want to make clear that longing to witness something and making time for that listening is more important to me than being able to have access to it anywhere on my headphones. It’s about making time to actually listen to what we have purchased… To simply respect the art.
One of the tensions I’ve explored with this series is the difference between working as an artist in the studio (producing records and compositions in “fixed,” recorded form) and in performances. This dichotomy doesn’t hold for visual arts, as visual art is already understood to be a studio art. (It’s rare to see painters asked to “perform” a live painting, though I’ve seen in done occasionally in conjunction with live music and similar.) So instead I’d like to ask you about your experience making visual works responding to the print tracks, and vice versa. How has the process surprised you?
I listen to music whenever I’m working. My work is frequently about nature and how we understand it and use it. Much of the reason why I appreciate nature or land is my experience being in it. So, from appreciation comes a desire to deeper understand my relationship with it. For me, everything in nature has a sound. Motion or the lack of motion has a sound associated with it. While I’m drawing or painting the leaves of in aspen tree there is a sound in my head associated with it. While I am in creating a river valley with tall grass there’s a sound associated with it. It’s probably somewhere on the spectrum of synesthesia… it then becomes important for me to digest those sounds and formulate some type of composition pictorially.
I’ve done this before with the creation of artwork for album covers. The idea is to synthesize the sound into something visual.
Thank you, Gregory. Very much looking forward to what the future brings!
This video segment that was done by MN Original grants some insight into Gregory Euclide’s artistic process.
The THESIS Project Discography
THESIS 01 Taylor Deupree & S. Carey
THESIS 02 Andy Cartwright & Scott Morgan (Loscil)
THESIS 03, Takeshi Nishimoto & Roger Döring
THESIS 04 Benoît Pioulard & Dustin O’Halloran,
THESIS 05 Anna Rose Carter & Dag Rosenqvist,
THESIS 07 Kai Angermann & Insa Schirmer, & Donja Djember & Angus MacRae
THESIS 09 Kinbrae / Tony Dekker / Great Lake Swimmers
THESIS 10 Juliana Barwick & Rafael Anton Irisarri
PRINT/TRACK 01 Ed Carlsen & Heather Woods Broderick
THESIS 06 Sophie Hutchings & Kevin Imbrechts
THESIS 08 Colin Stetson & Gabriel Saloman
THESIS 11 Aaron Martin & Tilman Robinson
THESIS 12 Julien Marchal & Justin Walter
THESIS 13 Andrew Hargreaves & Andrew Johnson
PRINT/TRACK 02 Benoît Pioulard & Will Samson
THESIS 14 Christoph Berg & Michael Price
THESIS 15 Marcus Fischer & Matthew Cooper