Sometimes you encounter an idea and all you can think is, “Damn, I wish I had thought of that first!” The next best thing is being able to share it with others. And so I’m honored to present Brandon Locher‘s T-30 Seconds or Less, a new mix assembled solely from MP3s that are, you guessed it, 30 seconds or less in length. Such short tracks give the mix an incredible forward propulsion; It’s all mix, all transitions, all juxtapositions. Brevity intensifies the narrative. This places Locher’s mix alongside many of my favorites from our LCNL series, mixes which transcend the usual “mix” concept and constitute fundamental creative works in their own right, such as DEEP MAGIC’s, or M. Sage’s Half-Speed Flourish.
Brandon Locher (b. 1985) is an artist and musician based in New York, and longtime friend of the site. His work first appeared on these pages in 2013 with our review of It Happens Outside from The Meets, a “created ensemble” assemblage of individual performances from 20 musicians. Stage Hands was anchored by collaborator Gerald Mattis’s dueling drum kits, while EP1 was under Locher’s own name. While unafraid to stretch out into new territory, all of these projects are fun excursions in propulsive collage, often reminiscent of The Books or Andy Dixon’s Secret Mommy. Locher’s work is precise but slightly off-kilter, and often rather uplifting.
But I won’t go on too long about Brandon’s work, as Kenneth Goldsmith has already done with the work for us in interviewing him about T-30 Seconds or Less. Goldsmith is conceptual poet best-known, among other things, as the founder of UbuWeb. Autodidacticism seems to be an important aspect of Locher’s practice, and Ubu remains an essential resource for artists and scholars interested in the avant-garde. Being of that same generation born in the 1980s who came of age along with the internet but who knew a world before cellphones and instant access, encountering UbuWeb in those early days of the internet felt like discovering lost treasure.
Goldsmith and Locher turn to this archive throughout their conversation, pointing to various precedents for the mix and positioning it in a genealogy with Hugo Keeing and RRR Records. Locher discusses in detail his personal history with the internet and the evolution of his own artistic practice. This included collaborations with his sister, photographer Olivia Locher. Here, I will just add my voice to the chorus in praise of her as well, and note that the artist Maurizio Cattelan so frequently knocks off her works that he should be drowning in invoices. And with that, please enjoy T-30 Seconds or Less. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Q&A with Brandon Locher
Conducted by: Kenneth Goldsmith
KG: Can you describe the process behind T-30 Seconds (or Less) ?
BL: I often listen to digital music in unconventional ways. I’ve enjoyed listening to albums in reverse order, and recently organizing my iTunes in multiple ‘Countries’ playlists: “Brazil” and shuffling all tagged artists. I’ve also enjoyed shuffling the shortest songs in my iTunes and hearing sudden transitions with a disconnected flood of musical ideas. Recently, I had the vision of hearing a mix using these very short MP3s I have saved over the past 25 years. Files, each under 30 seconds, surprisingly equaled 11 hours of music at over 2000+ songs! Without any planning, I started to stitch together tracks that caught my ear and began to tell a story…
I downloaded my first batch of MP3s in 1995 on AOL, logging into a ‘Private Chat’ called “mp3.” Users sharing files had these ‘codes’ you’d enter into the chat that would send you an email with a number database of all the MP3s they had up for grabs. You’d email back #’s in different subjects of an email and you’d receive emails back with the attached download. Once connected, the dial-up speed took hours, usually a single day for a whole album. By this point, I’m finally hearing what Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails sounds like in full – by downloading MP3s. There was a telephone number, 1-800-MUSIC-NOW, that would sell CDs over the phone by playing previews of albums. I’m 10 years old and calling obsessively, I remember listening to every sample I could find. I disconnectedly discovered I could open the .wav file in the AOL program settings that says “You’ve Got Mail!” to be replaced with the opening sample of “The world is a vampire…” from a CD copy of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet With Butterfly Wings [from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness], and I started to slowly dream of how recorded music and media files could be rearranged and mixed.
KG: There are precedents for this. In 1998, RRR Records did a compilation called 500 Locked Grooves, which was an LP consisting of 500 locked grooves by 500 artists – each gets about a 2 second loop. On vinyl, the only way to listen to it was to nudge the needle of your turntable every two seconds–and even then, you would usually skip over one or two. On UbuWeb, we host both sides of the LP as MP3s, which is a live recording of someone unnamed trying to listen to each of them. Every groove gets a few seconds. The great thing is that the randomness of the sound makes it impossible to know which artists’ work is playing, even though there are big names like Sonic Youth, Terry Riley, or Derek Bailey. So my question is, would you ever consider releasing all the MP3s as single files and letting the user download them as a zip file and play on their MP3 player either in your prescribed order, or in random? In other words, how definitive is your own mix and ordering?
BL: I feel like the 80 artists I selected out of the 2,000+ songs wouldn’t be enough of a survey for interesting chance results when played on random, as I highly selected the chosen artists and sequence as definite for this 18-minute mix. I limited myself to only a few from the compilation Ringtones on Touch that has artists creating short noise tracks to be used as ringtones. If I had the RRR Records compilation downloaded, I would have had many more options! I’ve realized the Everly Brother’s “Like Strangers” used in the mix isn’t a 4-second track, but ripped and imported incorrectly. I enjoyed finding transitions and creating a new musical story, using this Plunderphonics stylistic approach.
KG: Another precedent is called Chartsweep by Hugo Keeing, which presented segments of every Billboard #1 single starting with Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This” (Jan 1956) to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” (1992) in 3-4 second bursts. Keeing was a record collector and he put together this amazing collage, using the most identifiable parts of the hit. Keeing denied being called an artist, rather he saw himself as a collector or educator. It was the music community around WFMU and friends that christened this “novelty” record as art. You can hear it on UbuWeb, here.) This brings me to your work as a visual artist, which I categorize as visionary and ultra-personal. You make these incredibly precise visionary drawings out of necessity and don’t seem to care if they are ever seen by anybody. (My Feeling is that, in spite of you, they will not only be seen but will be seen as being very important.) Your audio activities are vast and very significant, from the conceptual pieces like Conversations telephone-based works to, in the tradition of somebody like Moondog, your public performances of teaching yourself how to play the trumpet in public on NYC streets. So my question to you is what is the connection between your audio work and your visual art?
BL: I work on music and visual works separately, but I always strive in both mediums for my newest work to be the most transformative and exciting to me. With each new work, my ambitions become larger and as a result I find myself working slightly outside of my own means, always hopefully becoming more technically and creatively imaginative. Every future piece comes with its own unique set of challenges and constraints, as a result of always trying to better my own practice and skills. My methods of working are generally very premeditated, ideas often come to me as fully formed discoveries and I clearly understand my point of execution in a flash. I’m basically a high school drop-out and I never went to college, I always believe nobody could teach me how to be an artist. I’m completely obsessed with my own self-education and becoming more introspective and connected to my individual creative journey. Lately, I’ve been slowly learning Bach’s Goldberg Variations, not because I’m trying to perform a piano recital, but because I simply love the music and process. For many years, I wouldn’t even allow myself the permission to paint or draw. Now drawing has a daily scheduled time and always feels challenging and fun. With my work I’m always interested in finding that new breakthrough, so with each new recording or visual work I’m always trying to expand my conversation. Oh yeah, Chartsweep is great! It makes me think of an old idea I wanted to make in 2006 called “Ambient Pop Mix,” created also by sampling little tiny segments from the current Billboard #1 singles and preparing 8 or so CDRs that would be performed by people aimlessly driving their cars around an empty parking lot with the music broadcasting into the environment. The connection between the audio work and the visual art is time.
KG: There are so many connections in your work between past and present. You began as an indie rocker. Can you cite some of your primary influences in various fields: music, visual art, performance, etc?
BL: In 2002, my high school band (I played drums) started playing out-of-state shows, and by 2004 we began touring the United States and playing about 100 shows a year. Around this time my friend Mike Miller was writing really perfect songs. His band Endless Mike and the Beagle Club was a really big influence. It was inspiring seeing his band form, it was a real powerhouse of ideas. I toured and performed with the band and have enjoyed experiencing the songs in so many different variations and forms over the years. All of my friends in bands allowed me opportunities to record them, and I recorded as much stuff as possible for myself. At the time, there was such a local, creative buzz — primarily all of my friend’s music was a huge influence. In 2007 my high school friends Ian Rummell, Jacob Koestler, and myself started My Idea of Fun, an artist collective focusing on digital releases from musicians and artists with roots to Johnstown, PA’s DIY scene. I collected and recorded days upon days of recordings from shows, parties, and everyday life in Johnstown, PA! Over the years, I’ve contributed over 80 releases to the MIoF archives under various monikers and artistic mediums. Creatively, in 2007 (5 years before Mazes to the Motherlode I) I was releasing MP3s as “ Nan Ding, ” vocal experiments with my sister, and “ Siamese Dream, ” weird weekend pop recording challenges. In 2017 I assembled “ 10 Years of My Idea of Fun, ” a 3-hour mix of mostly unreleased material spanning the past decade and beyond. It was my friend’s music that was being archived on My Idea of Fun that was my primary influence and source of creative inspiration.
KG: And so many of these activities have involved your sister, Olivia Locher, who is an incredible – and incredibly important-photographer. Can you discuss your collaborations?
BL: My sister and I are best friends and since 2015 we have lived together in cramped NYC apartments. We both have a difficult time distinguishing the difference between life & art, and usually everything between us turns into a creative discussion, or task. Since 2013, I’ve been Olivia’s photography assistant on both commercial and personal projects and help manage and oversee her studio practice. In 2019, Olivia and I had the opportunity to launch “ LOCHER + LOCHER” an exhibition of over 100 works and hours of unseen VHS videos at Space Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA. Last year, we also collaborated on the artwork and photography for Yuka C. Honda & Nels Cline’s album, Spinning Creature , released under the band name CUP.
Speaking of music collaborations, in 2017 our Mother discovered a lost hard drive that contained raw tracks and session files for an entire full-length album Olivia and I conceived together circa 2006-2007. Over the past three years, life has been too busy to reassemble this puzzle, but lately we have been remixing and assembling these files into a forthcoming release A Decade lost: The Golden Years .
KG: To finish, what are you working on next in terms of visual art, music, performance, photography, and all the other various things you do?
BL: My creative plans over the past two months have been slightly derailed because of Covid-19 and social distancing. I eventually plan to record eight NYC-based musicians improvising as soloists, in response to an outline of a drawing, for a full-length album, tentatively titled Assemblage Manifesto . I think it will be interesting how each musician will interpret the exact same visual information differently, therefore creating the groundwork for eight individual, new tracks. The music and production techniques will be a continuation of the ideas presented on my 2013 LP It Happens Outside by The Meets. Since I was unable to start the recording sessions with my collaborators, I am currently finishing a solo set of recorded music that will be released eventually as EP2. Everyday I’ve been religiously working on new Mazes to the Motherlodedrawings and I feel like my ambitions for the work are expanding constantly. Since I’ve started working on this drawing portfolio eight years ago, I’ve always thought of the effect of seeing the entire body of work – a piece of time – in relation to each other and in relation to themselves. I’ve been looking at the whole picture recently and completing new pieces of the story that are missing, or haven’t been fully explored. I’m always looking into the future and visioning how I can hopefully transcend with my drawings.
Thank you, Kenneth, it’s been very fun and rewarding talking with you about these subjects that are very important in my life. To conclude, what are you working on creatively? Your projects and output are some of my all-time personal favorites!
KG: I’ve just published a memoir that is the history of UbuWeb from Columbia University Press called Duchamp is My Lawyer, which coincides with the fact that next year UbuWeb is 25 years old. Oh Brandon, what were you doing 25 years ago as UbuWeb was being born? Please… don’t answer…
Artists (in order of appearance):
The Books, Miles Davis, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, The Red Krayola, John Hudak, Basil Kirchin & John Coleman,The Stooges, Aphex Twin, Arthur Russell, Brion Gysin, Fred Frith, John Zorn, Milan Kymlicka, Technical Plyers, This Mortal Coil, Richard Nonas, Robert Ashley, Senor Coconut, Scott Walker, The Shangri-Las, Robert Schumann, Nonkeen, Modest Mouse, Minutemen, Kurt Schwitters, Johann Sebastian Bach, The Cinematic Orchestra, The Caretaker, Butthole Surfers, Gerald Malanga, John Leach, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Metallica, Pink Skull, The Roaches, Shelley Hirsch, Signal, Spiritualized, Virgil Thomson, Aksak Maboul, Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Daphne Oram, Gen Ken Montgomery, Squarepusher, Tara Jane O`Neil & Daniel Littleton, Wild Man Fischer, Tiny Tim, Lolita Nation, Nicolas Collins, 3rd Bass, Half Japanese, Charles Ives, Mobb Deep, Cardinal, Yo La Tengo, Blackstreet, The Juggaknots, Janet Jackson, Wyclef Jean, Curd Duca, Heitor Alvelos, Johannes Bergmark, John Baker, The Olivia Tremor Control, Painkiller, Paul McCartney & Wings, Snd, Sonny Rollins, The Doors, Erik Satie, The Everly Brothers, Mike Kelley / Scott Benzel, Philip Glass, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Soft Machine, Vic Chesnutt, Yoko Ono, Sharpshooters, and The Beatles.