Sunday, June 8, 2014

Alan Licht 13 Questions

Alan Licht, guitarist, composer and music writer was born in New Jersey on June 6th 1968. He remarks in an interview with Paris Transatlantic magazine that 'What made me want to play guitar was that painting of Wings in concert in the gatefold of Wings Over America. It looked so exciting... I wanted to be part of it.'  Later, in school, he listened to punk and no wave bands like Mission of Burma, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth.

However, his musical trajectory was set when his guitar teacher gave him a copy of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, which would lead to his discovery of other minimalist music.  Since the late 1980s, he has been a key member of the bands Love Child, Run On, Blue Humans, Mandarin Movie, Text Of Light, The Pacific Ocean, and Lee Ranaldo & the Dust… and has also played and/or recorded with Tom Verlaine, Arthur Lee, Loren Connors, Brokeback, Papa M, Arto Lindsay, Royal Trux, Plush, Phill Niblock and Jandek. Alan participated as drummer 42 in the Boredoms 77 Boadrum performance which occurred on July 7th, 2007 at the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park in Brooklyn, New York.

He has released seven albums of compositions for tape and solo guitar, starting with 1994's Sink the Aging Process (Siltbreeze) and  2013's Four Years Older on Editions Emego label. Other projects include a trio with Michael Snow and Aki Onda, another trio with Oren Ambarchi and Tetuzi Akiyama, the audience participation project Digger Choir, and scores of improvisations with the likes of includes Zeena Parkins, Ikue Mori, Lukas Ligeti, Charles Curtis, Nihilist Spasm Band, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Keiji Haino, Glenn Kotche, Doug McCombs, Marina Rosenfeld, Okkyung Lee, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Noël Akchoté, Anton Fier, and many others.

With Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo, he founded Text of Light, an ongoing ensemble which performs freely improvised concerts alongside screenings of classic avant garde cinema. The Text of Light group was formed in 2001 with the idea to perform improvised music to the films of Stan Brakhage and other members of the American Cinema avante garde of the 1950s-60s (Brakhage's film 'Text of Light' was the premiere performance and namesake of the group). The original premise was to improvise (not 'illustrate') to films from the American Avante-Garde (50s-60s etc), an under-known period of American filmic poetics. Members of the group have included  Christian Marclay and DJ Olive (turntables), William Hooker (drums/perc), Ulrich Krieger (sax/electronics), and most recently Tim Barnes (drums/perc).

Alan Licht & Michael Snow
Licht's music draws on a wide range of different styles, from tape-loops, to prepared guitar, to pure pop music, like a complex conceptual combination of Derek Bailey and LaMonte Young. His sound and video installations, like 'Today I Am A Fountain Pen', Studio Five Beekman, NYC (1998) and 'The Downsizing of Don Dokken', part of 'Constrictions' exhibition at Pierogi 2000, Brooklyn (1996), 'City Geese, Country Geese' and 'Twilight of the Idols' (2003) have been exhibited in the U.S. and Europe.

Licht was curator at the famed New York experimental music venue Tonic from 2000 until its closing in 2007, and has written extensively about the arts for the WIRE, Modern Painters, Art Review, Film Coment, Sight & Sound, Premiere, Purple, Village Voice, New York Sun, Time Out New York, and other publications. His first book, An Emotional Memoir of Martha Quinn, was published by Drag City Press in 2003; other books by Alan Licht, Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Media, the first extensive survey of the genre in English, was published by Rizzoli in fall 2007; the unclassifiable Spring without Alan Licht, published by Publishing the Unpublishable/ubu editions in 2008, and the edition of Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy, wonderful book-length interview published by Norton in 2012.

What's the first sound experience that marked your memory?

I don't remember it, but my mother has told me that when I was a baby I would only stop crying if she played the radio or ran the vaccuum cleaner

What do you need from music?

As a player/composer: I want to surprise myself. As a listener: in the best-case scenario I want music to confirm and alter my perspective at the same time--to make me feel both rooted and transported--but it can fall far short of that and still be of value.

Which is the main pleasure of the guitar?

The low E string

What is its main limitation?


Which work of your own are you most surprised about?

When I first heard the mastered version of the Text of Light CD on Starlight Furniture, I was surprised at how different it sounded from the final mix from the studio (I was happy with that final mix, but the mastering by John Golden was incredible)

Where are your roots?

1970's suburbia

What are your influences?

Too many to list

How do you experience time in music? How do you experiment with time in your compositions?

At one point when we were recording the Blue Humans album Clear To Higher Time I asked Rudolph Grey what the structure of the next piece was, and he said "Five minutes." Good answer!

Angela Jaeger and Alan Licht Photo Jeffrey Herman 

   6. Alan Licht and Angela Jaeger (20'21")
Pianoless Vexations (Erik Satie) 
Alan Licht, Electric Guitar
Angela Jaeger, Voice

Define the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.
I like it when an electric guitar sounds like anything other than an electric guitar

How would you define the present time in musical terms?

Lee Ranaldo, Ulrich Krieger and Alan Licht, live score to the films of Stan Brakhage. Cinefamily, March 10, 2010

What's the importance of technique in art, in your opinion?

As a means to an end, not an end in itself

A valuable advice that someone has gifted to you in the past?

What gear do you prefer to use?

Signal me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music.

 "It's A Wonderful Life" by Henry Kaiser.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

An album of guitar instrumentals, but not avant-garde and not using effect pedals.

Selected Discography

Sink The Aging Process Siltbreeze SB31 1994

Gerry Miles With A. Licht / H. Keiji - Gerry Miles Atavistic ALP071CD 1996

The Evan Dando Of Noise? Corpus Hermeticum Hermes022 1997

Rabbi Sky Siltbreeze SB 76 1999

Plays Well Crank Automotive Car 09 2001

A New York Minute XI Records XI 128 2003

ClineGiffoniLichtRanaldo - Nothing Makes Any Sense No Fun Productions NFP28 2007

Alan Licht & Aki Onda - Everydays 2 versions Headz

Michael Snow - Alan Licht - Aki Onda - Five A's, Two C's, One D, One E, Two H's, Three I's, One K, Three L's, One M, Three N's, Two O's, One S, One T, One W Les Disques VICTO VICTO CD 111 2008

YMCA Family Vineyard FV63 2009

Four Years Older Editions Mego eMEGO 166 2013


Singles & EPs

A Handful Of Dust / Alan Licht - Crank #4 Crank Automotive C1 1994

Calvin Johnson Has Ruined Rock For An Entire Generation 18 Wheeler EWR-009 1994

DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid + Alan Licht - Backwards Forwards Manifold Records MANV29 1999

He Moved Through The City On Speed Tu M'p3 none 2003

Tetuzi Akiyama / Oren Ambarchi / Alan Licht - Willow Weep And Moan For Me Antiopic AN009 2006



Alan Licht / Tamio Shiraishi - Our Lips Are Sealed 2 versions Pure (4)

Alan Licht + Tamio Shiraishi - Open For Kevin Drumm Freedom From FF103 Unknown