In our email conversation Helga talks about her activity with Metal Rouge and as Yek Koo, her childhood musical influences, her love for Dead C and much more. Check out her HOME PAGE to find out for yourself about what she does, has done and check out some multimedia. You can also find out more at Emerald Cocoon.
Decayke: So let’s start out with recent events. How did you hurt your wrist? Do you think you can twist that into a metaphor for broken music?
HF: Oh geez, must we start with that? I can move my hand now which is such a relief, forget the pain. I don’t wanna admit that I’m a klutz. Maybe due to the fact that I act before I think sometimes or act more with gut and less with my brain…its messy, anxious, and ungraceful like broken music I suppose, like my music…
Decayke: Both John Cage and Gerald Ford were klutzes. They were the 20th C. king klutzes. And Dick Van Dyke and Lucille Ball, too, but you can never be too sure about them because they may have been faking it. So you play more from the gut, then? You seem to operate from a concept. What’s the idea behind the Dead C record and isn’t that part of a bigger concept?
HF: Funny you should mention John Cage…we do share the same birthday. Its comforting knowing I’m not alone in the world of klutzes. A klutz can also be so thought engrossed that they trip over invisible objects (not that I do that!). My approach is gut, concept, gut. If you don’t feel strongly about something why do it? Hard thing is remaining passionate about the concept, enough to execute and follow through without loosing the gut part. Performing an idea over and over again can kill it for me (touring)…but that’s why remaining open enough to allow the idea to be shaped by the moment, and why spontaneous play is so significant to how I operate. I can never follow a script and my memory sucks. So I have to rely on feeling and gut…spacial and emotional connectivity to the present. But you can’t kill the past. I love the Dead C and the Dead C LP is just what its called, ‘A Love Song’ for them. Its part of a larger art series that involves creating visual hagiographies of my musical idols. The first one was the Dead C and the album was part of a greater exhibition where I transformed the gallery space into a simulacrum of 1980’s Dunedin…the Empire bar, where the Dead C would often play. The series has to do with fandom and the idea of deeming musicians as Gods and saints, band worship, and viewing a scene through rose tinted glasses…you can read more extensively about it here: http://helgafassonaki.net/2012/04/07/544/. The bar felt more real than anticipated and I couldn’t get folks to leave after the last call.
Decayke: That’s pretty interesting. Usually when we think of pop idol worship we immediately turn our minds to when we were younger and liked horrible music, before we realized we were just a link in the chain of commodity, but it really does carry over to a certain degree, doesn’t it…that act of putting people we admire up on a pedestal, of transferring their status from that of tendons, faulty parts, gas and mistakes to myth? That link you mention, it says, “In painting her idols in an unfailingly positive light, these hagiographic portrayals also reveal how mass glorification can hide the real facts, truths, and dark areas of a culture. But this is a glorification that also leads to a pulsating energy from within, and an urge to destroy in order to create anew.” There’s always the process of identification in the evolution of an artist. Who and what else has influenced you?
HF: I love myth despite all its crime…its heartbreaking when its challenged, don’t you think? Part of this Dead C hagiography for me, since the majority of artists in LA have no idea who the Dead C are, was creating a scene using what I knew and imagined this past scene to be like – the greatest place to attempt this is a city like LA where it lacks its own identity. The performance series that took place on the stage I built to represent the one at The Empire was meant to activate a presence and also cross pollinate artists and musicians. I have a funny history with music and influences…I grew up in various canyons and valleys in the greater LA, not the city. Pre-Internet and isolated from hip culture and no where around to see cool anything. I didn’t relate or connect to what I saw or what other mates listened to. I knew plenty of what I didn’t like but didn’t know what I liked. Because of my upbringing, I heard a lot of Turkish, Persian, and Azeri psychedelic and pop music. And my older sister turned me onto New Order…so till my late teens all I listened to was that combination. I think that’s responsible for my strong hatred towards keyboards and Casios. But the way I use my voice was definitely influenced by Azeri and Turkish singers…a more hip one is Selda. It wasn’t until the internet and getting away from the backstreet boys and kids on the block valley of boo-hoo that I started to find what I liked and inspired me. And over time and through connecting the dots…Patti Smith, Patty Waters, Kim Gordon, No Wave, Sainkho Namtchylak, Gate, Dadamah, Albert Ayler, Sonny and Linda Sharrock, Eric Dolphy, Yoko Ono, Kang Tae Hwan, Don Cherry…the list goes on, but this gives you an idea.
Decayke: Yeah, you can hear all of those in one way or another in your music, but I hadn’t made the connection to Azeri, Persian and Turkish music until you mentioned it. Now that you do, I can hear it in there. It adds another layer of intrigue to the sound. And what you say about L.A. not having an identity, that seems to mesh perfectly with both your music and your idea about myth being challenged. Did your parents immigrate to the States? As for me personally, I dunno if I’m heartbroken when myth is challenged. The world is changing in ways it never has before – economically, culturally – does the world need new myths to accommodate its collapsing borders?
HF: Yeah, my parents immigrated to Los Angeles from Northern Iran in 1972 to go to college, but the Iranian Revolution broke out the year I was born and they were told by their folks that there’s no point in returning.
What I’m specifically talking about as being heartbreaking is the elimination of mystique and poetry in something we may only know about through stories…something mysterious and energetic that creates more energy and intrigue – a transcendence extending outward. These days energy is trapped inside people and the internet….it doesn’t feel real, shared, or connected. I feel like younger generations don’t have enough timeless stories….or they do but it comes in the form of 30 sec u-tube videos. None of it really engages your mind beyond the time you’re watching it (if that). If we’re talking strictly politics, break that myth right down to the bare bones, as no one should still believe that the US is the world super power, especially if we think that freedom means having the right to own guns. I feel more like a prisoner in this country than the many times I’ve traveled to Iran, post revolution. These myths need to be challenged for sure. But what I miss about the mythical obsessions of yesterday is the excitement of getting a record or going to a concert…I haven’t really felt that excitement since I lived in New Zealand…though when I toured there in 2010…sitting in a cafe in Dunedin, listening to Peter Stapleton and Nathan Thompson from Eye/Sandoz Lab Technician tell past-time stories of NZ music folks, including Michael Morley made me drool! Then playing a show later that night at Chicks cafe and Robbie Yeats walking in drunk as hell and playing the piano in the dark corner of the room while Michael Morely playing ping pong in the other (I hadn’t met the dead c members then) threw me in a spasm of excitement….its rare these days that I experience that same thrill. We can’t lose human told stories!
Decayke: So does Yek Koo and/or Metal Rouge forge a mythic narrative in your mind? A conduit to reconnect? What’s the differences between Yek Koo and MR (beyond the fact that Yek Koo is solo Helga)?
Both as Yek Koo and with Metal Rouge the music is simultaneously ascendant, beautiful and intensely anxious. In context of what we’ve been discussing, the sounds seem to mirror the conflict between our decreasing ability to freely communicate with one other (that loss of human stories and basic contact) and our ceaseless electronic connectedness. It can produce both anxiety and hope. Would you say that’s a reasonable impression to get from what you do? The music seems to function like an air-raid siren, as a warning, but also as an ecstatic experience. For example, Metal Rouge’s Ephemeroptera is magnificent, gorgeous, but it’s about the disappearance of insects, vanishing species.
HF: Hmmm, don’t think so but, please define ‘mythic narrative’. (I think I had a contact high from the guy spray painting his cat down the street – ed.)
Metal Rouge (my project with Andrew Scott) and Yek Koo have a similar approach to playing – always inviting free expression and spontaneity into every rhythm, non-rhythm, concept and structure. The present moment is volatile and effected by present emotion and energy. This provides space to be radical with little space between thought and action. Maybe the main difference is process. In Yek Koo, I do a lot of pre-composing and conceptualizing while in Metal Rouge, when Andrew and I are coming up with new material, we often just play and something manifests. Its because we really connect musically and can play off each other. I sometimes bring in ideas and he’s really great at reinterpreting and giving it shape and form. I’m often the loose cannon when we play …he’s better at keeping rhythm and time. In Yek Koo, I compose songs but I break it all down when I perform. In both projects, I’m really interested in physical movement and stretching my vocal chambers to evoke transcendence.
If you hear anxiety and frustration, its because there is all of that….there’s tension….it’s the world we live in. Neither project commends fake positivity and there’s a lot of to be anxious and angry about in our political, cultural and social climate…why not acknowledge that? Neither of us care to entertain, but we’re always saying something whether you get it or not…and I don’t mean literally. We hope to have an ecstatic experience when we play and if folks listening also experience ecstasy, well that’s pretty positive. An altered state of consciousness could really help us and this earth.
Decayke: I’ll get back to mythic narrative in a few. I’m glad you brought up the thing about altered states of consciousness because, in one sense, that’s part of the point of this whole webzine. I’ve always thought that we should be up front and out in the open about what we do, so I’ve always been honest about my enthusiasm for hallucinogenics. That’s not to say you can’t alter your consciousness naturally, as with meditation, but substances like LSD, mushrooms and DMT all have real value. It goes directly to what you’re saying about the anger and frustration of this world, of the nature of power, the fact that we live under the heel of an economic system that is crushing life. Hallucinogenics provide a way for us to see through the lies we’re told and the confusion they inevitably bring with them. They also help us to hear in different ways, so that sounds we may formerly have considered to be noise now rearrange themselves into an alternately ordered expression. Music. Were hallucinogenics formative for you personally?
As for the mythic narrative, what I mean relates to the above and just about everything we’ve discussed so far. To live in this world means that you are always having to parse misinformation in order to return to the timeless, human stories that bind us together as humanity. As strange as it may seem, we often have to do that in way that’s totally unique to ourselves. So to clarify, is your music your language that plugs you back into the continuum of what it means to be human? Does it transform the bullshit noise of everyday life into an order and provide a means of communication for your that supersedes ordinary language?
HF: Definitely…sensibilities are aroused with hallucinogenics – allows us to be more sensitive to each other and our environment which is a rapidly deteriorating thread in our culture. Unfortunately we’ve gone too far in the direction of evolved mechanized humans, that to return back to appreciating and enjoying art and pure expression may require some conscious altering. Neither Andrew nor I require drugs to have the ecstatic experience I’m speaking of when we play …playing the way we do induces its own mind altering. Not to say we don’t encourage it. In Metal Rouge we (each in our own way) embrace ‘Muga’. Andrew introduced me to this term – used in the Japanese martial art of kendo, meaning ‘no space’ – more specifically ‘no space between thought and action’ – he described it as no space in which the world of language, culture and societal instructs can intrude upon ‘this fleeting eye-blink of sound’. The concepts and beliefs we think about before and after we play naturally seep into our music, but while we play we strive for the thoughtless formless now…it’s uncultural.
When we play and when I play solo, we actually enter an almost inhuman state…unconcerned with music culture and language. And ‘play’ should be just that, as animals play. A joy in the action and movement itself. I’m not necessarily trying to transform the outside noise or culture but through communicating what’s inside, you are transmitting pure energy. That’s really all it is – its taking the energy within and outside and transforming it into performance poetics, into movement. Many musicians before us and still have the ability to transcend energy inward and outward, like Patti Smith…this energy can be transformative and powerful and definitely ‘supersedes ordinary language’. That’s not to say that I leave my beliefs and ideas behind when I play. With Yek Koo my ideas are what compose the songs and playing/performing them is what breaks them up into crude non-form. Perhaps to understand what it means to be human, we need to be unhuman because being human today is just disgusting. Ha, I’m sure I just contracted myself. In terms of more human connection and stories…I’m just not sure we can save humanity. We can only be genuine about what we create and doing that means letting go of all the human barriers that everyone’s always hung up about, like language, culture, and societal constructs and just be.
Decayke: I was mulling these ideas of myth, progress and your music after watching Tarkovsky’s Solaris last night and it brought to mind a David Jackman quote:
“Change is inevitable. One’s beard keeps on growing. I do not think about development and progress in music, art or anything else. They seem to be phantoms, somewhat like those visions beloved of our religious fanatics, professional politicians and other deluded people, all of whom bother our world severely. How can I put it ? There is nothing which this music has to do and there is nowhere that it has to go.”
In context of this, I really like the idea of Muga. It puts a lot of things into perspective and frames the idea of improvisation nicely. Since you’re going to be leaving to tour soon and I just got out of surgery, I guess it’s a good time to wrap the interview though I feel like I could talk to you forever about music, art, politics and pretty much anything else. So here are a couple of last things.
I noticed that on your 7″ record as part of Emerald Cocoon‘s Alone/Together series there’s a bit of a different approach going on. A drum machine (or is that more drum samples provided by Corsano?), maybe a little bit more structure in a neue Deutsche welle vein. Are you moving more in this direction? And should we expect more and more emphasis on your vocals in the future? I know you’ve alluded to them and they are a prominent part of your music. And finally, you’d mentioned that you liked that I really hated this idea that all this namby-pamby diluted new age music was being passed off as relevant underground sounds these days (often from unexpected sources with so-called “underground” cred) – Is that why you made the move East, to get away from that? And how is that move treating you?
HF: “There is nothing which this music has to do and there is nowhere that it has to go”
Ah, there is nothing that resonates more radically clear. This is the mindset exactly.
Think I’ve used samples in some form or other on all my yek koo releases so far. In the Alone / Together 7″ I sampled some ’23 Skidoo’. There’s probably more structure on that one in a ‘neu deutsche welle vein’ – well put. But both of those songs were ideas I sketched down and then tried out on a four-track and that was it – landed on a 7″…it was never ‘played’ before it was recorded. I used some Corsano and Milford Graves drums on the ‘I Saw Myself’ cassette (Corsano didn’t provide it, I stole them and told him afterwards when I gave him a copy – bad form). I used some Dead C in the ‘Love Song…’ LP on two of the songs…no drum machine. I’m touring new unrecorded material which I think is pretty minimal. I’m not using any drum samples or other samples….just guitar and vocals. I can’t really say what direction I’m moving into really or that there is a direction. I am moving though. I got this pocket trumpet that I need to muck up. My art ideas are shaping my music more and more it seems.
I treat vocals like another instrument that I’m learning to push and pull. I feel like there’s so much unexplored territory there for me and its deep cause for one its unique to my own make-up and like learning about the body/mechanics of your instrument, learning about your own body’s cavity and how to push these breathing, feeling chambers is pretty thrilling.
Ha, yes, new age music just can’t be underground. I mean first of all, why would you do that? There’s a whole genre of it already out there and its popular. Why would take that, water it down, vomit all over the top, and present it as something outside? Basically I don’t like anything watered down. And if you’re taking an already existing genre and watering it down, then that’s just unimaginative and lazy. I could elaborate but that could be a whole separate essay. It’s not really why I moved East though. I’ve always just related more to the vibe, landscape, changing seasons, music, art, folks in the East coast…When Ornette Coleman left LA in 1960, he said LA is “a city where millions of people make their living from imitating words and images, and yet there’s no other creativity that has the same status as that. L.A. is just a harsh city for creative music”. I know a lot of people who would disagree, but having grown up there and living there again as an adult, I couldn’t agree with Coleman more. Not to mention, free jazz musicians rarely stop there…I was pretty fortunate to see Coleman play in UCLA Royce Hall in 2010…beyond memorable! I had to move to see the music I want to see play regularly! Ha, bottom line is you got to live in the place that inspires and supports what you do, otherwise you become bitter. I’ve been introduced to winter – BRUTAL, but I sorted out some coping remedies thanks to