A Conversation with Lee Blalock following the Second Sexing Sound Symposium event “A Concert with Lee Blalock, Jen Hill, and Jenna Lyle & Deidre Huckabay” at Experimental Sound Studio
J: What was the name of the work you performed for SSSS! at Experimental Sound Studio? And who were the other performers for your piece?
L: “sy5z3n_2: Ohm / Respiration for Guided Medi(a)tation, 2017.” My performers were fellow artists Lori Felker and Rebby Montalvo (aka TNKRT). Lori was part of my ensemble for a piece I performed at the MCA as part of the programming for the Bowie Is exhibit. She’s so open to experimentation. I see it in her own work as a filmmaker and I don’t get to spend enough time with her, so I was happy that she was part of the work. Rebby was one of my grad students at SAIC and has her own new media practice which includes making and performing experimental electronic music. It was important to me to include people who would not only be excited by my description of the piece as a meditation performed by the “weirdest band ever,” but who understood my references without needing much explanation.
J: Your piece included these beautiful leather neck pieces, connected to some sort of electronics, and lights. Did you make these yourself?
L: Yes. They were made of vinyl fabric that is used for furniture actually! I needed something sturdy that would hold the components. In a previous “life” I was a designer – graphic and fashion. I had a label and sold in boutiques. I’ve missed that part of my creative practice lately and wanted to include some small part of it in this piece.
J: What role does clothing and other electronic accessories play in your work?
L: The wearables actually solve some practical and aesthetic problems. I’m attached to the image of the cyberpunk who is plugged into a customized system or a network, so I made the system inputs wearable. I know that I’ll be playing skin or tissue based instruments at some point, but for now, the electronics have to be worn externally so they were installed on the body through the collars and cuffs and also installed on the microphones to provide some mechanical beats.
J: What I found particularly beautiful about your piece was the way it included lights, visuals, physical movement, text, and a rhythm that served as almost an electrical undercurrent. Can you talk a little bit about the process of creating something like this? How do the pieces all come together?
L: I wanted to convey this idea of the body as a source of input and/or control voltage. I’m building a system based on the model of the modular synthesizer, but for interactive media performances. So I have 3 of many modules built already. One of the modules is a 16 step solenoid sequencer which is installed on the microphones. Another houses sensors that are wearable. The fronts of the collars are outfitted with LEDs that worked simultaneously with the sequencer and added the element of flickering in and out of space. The backs of the collars hold motion sensors that trigger samples. The placement of the sensors dictated the choreography, so I was able to include movement and gesture as part of the system. I also created a matching cuff that held the pulse sensors for the oscillators. The collar and cuff tied the whole aesthetic of the piece together along with all of the cords that were between us and the modules.
J: Did you write the text, or was it inspired by or taken from someplace else?
L: I wrote it. My work almost always begins with text that I’ve written to convey a very specific image. That practice comes from a love of science fiction as well as stories told through lyrics in music or in nursery rhymes (the darker the better). The text was sparse in this piece, but referred to the 4 movements in the piece:
- emptying the old breath
- filling the void / overwriting the world with noise
J: As someone who performs their own work, do you find yourself in a different head space performing than in creating? How does it feel to perform your own work?
L: Oh definitely. When I’m making the work, I’m fabricating the equipment and I’m designing the objects with the goal of having them stand on their own. In most cases, I’m not even composing yet. Maybe I am composing a little, but in fragments. For instance, I want this particular sound or action or behavior to happen so I should design the hardware and software in this particular way. But I only begin arranging the performance once the systems are all fabricated and working. That way, the performance bodies are working in concert with the technology. When performing the work, I’m really thinking of the image and of really exploiting the opportunity to behave in a way that isn’t quite acceptable in the performance of everyday life. I don’t even really like using the word performance for my live work. I prefer to use the term behavior. Performance feels like it’s better suited to describe how I need to move in the world to be a productive member of society. In the end, the art should allow me to behave authentically. How many times are you allowed to scream at the top of your lungs? That’s what the live work should be for my own sense of balance.