I sat down with Jules Gimbrone on January 5, 2014 at a nameless café in Bed Stuy to talk about the upcoming performance of G-LOC Infinite Loop at the BOMB benefit at Issue Project Room Saturday January 11, 2014. Really, this interview was an excuse for me to ask Jules questions about composition, architecture and sound that arose from the performance-installation OUTER EDGES, which took place at the Aux Performance Space in Philadelphia in November during my Curatorial Fellowship there.
Marissa Perel When you were performing at Aux Performance Space, I saw many histories at work, and yet you were making something completely your own. Tell me about your relationship to minimalism and sound.
Jules Gimbrone The term minimalism is deceiving: it implies a stripping down, which I think is something I do in my work, but it’s not coming from the history of “Minimalism.” It’s about an emotional or psychological root that I want to get to and that root is actually really complex and messy.
I don’t think you can talk about minimalism without talking about Buddhism, and the effect of Buddhist practices on Western art. I started studying Buddhism six years ago, and what I want to clarify is this mythology that Buddhism somehow implies an erasure of, or removal from, the messiness of life, when actually it’s about focusing on the messy, juicy, qualities of life. It’s very dynamic. When I’m listening to very virtuosic sound, I get lost in the metaphor, in the melody, that sugar-coated emotional place, but with a minimalist approach, I can access what is really happening.
MP How do you create the parameters to access what is happening? All of the elements of your piece seemed very deliberately placed to frame an experience, an experience that was also about perception of the body with and through sound.
JG Well, the first thing I think about is space. The architecture of the composition—its literal, physical space—is most important. Even here now, we’re sitting at a café, and we’re doing things that we wouldn’t do in a bodega. I’ve become more interested in that than in any narrative arc. I have all these forms, but I don’t know where they’re going. For the show at ISSUE Project Room, there will be two trombonists in blindfolds, but I don’t know how they’re going to find each other in space, or if they will!
MP Would you say that you’re creating a structure for chaos?
JG Yes, definitely. I think of myself as an artist more than a composer because I’m fundamentally not interested in upholding a proscenium-based hierarchy to experience sound. I do think there is a lot of beauty to be had with that kind of formalism, but it doesn’t make for a total experience.
MP But it occurs to me that you do value formalism. You are still at work in your performances, as some kind of central figure orchestrating all of the elements.
JG Right, I am still totally controlling, making things move, lifting heavy objects that could crush me, engineering the chaos. I’m like this tenuous dictator. I think it serves to highlight this aspiration for control as an artist, and then the very real potential for failure.
That’s exactly what it’s like in my studio. At any minute a piece of metal or rebar could fall on me and no one would know. I’d be pinned under it and that would be it.
MP A real Serra-like liability!
MP It seems like there’s a large pendulum swinging between control and loss of control in your work, between orchestrating the elements that might also fail, and exerting actual physical effort that also might end catastrophically. What is it about these extremes that interest you?
JG It’s about carrying tension, and that there is always this potential for catastrophe. Most sound performances I go to are very clean and tidy. I think there’s some kind of psychological imperative for composers to be as anal as possible.
MP Your way of working now seems like a departure from your earlier work, where you composed pieces for ensembles and everything had a place.
JG Yes, the Wrest work was very much like that. But working with Jen Rosenblit really started to change the meaning of sound for me. It was a departure from the ensemble experience, and by the time we did Pastor/Pasture in 2012, my relationship to space and structure had changed. We were both coming up with ways to compose movement and sound. So I started to care more about sound architecturally.
MP That’s really the magic of dance. The body in space cannot help but draw your attention to architecture, the way it activates attention to your surroundings. Speaking of attunement to your surroundings, I understand that you are particularly interested in Pauline Oliveros’ work. Can you tell me more about your research?
JG She is just one of those artists who has done so much, and started doing it so early. She lives a life that is based on her philosophical and artistic practices, like the Deep Listening Institute. She was also utilizing electronics when it was very hard to do that. It took technique to splice tapes and create delays, whereas now it’s a different set of criteria. I’m not interested in staring at a computer for hours to make sound.
MP How do you choose the materials that you use in your work? Is it a reaction to the digital?
JG No, it’s just what I’m interested in. Right now, I’m working on an overtone series that has to do with the sounds generated by an airplane taking off. I took the frequency of that and made a score out of it. The piece is about the effect of gravity on the body, and G-LOC: Gravity induced Loss of Consciousness. Fighter pilots experience this and end up having out of body experiences and lose all differentiation of their bodies. So I’ve used this idea and this frequency to create a whole psychological space. So there’s a duality of the self vs. non-self, but it functions in a loop, where the self is always being lost and then re-established.
MP Does this duality refer to or touch on how you experience gender?
JG Yes. If I felt more normative maybe I wouldn’t so clearly experience that disconnect sociologically. I also have night terrors, I hallucinate and see things that aren’t there. The idea of losing the body and losing the self is always lurking there for me. It’s a really strong fear that I experience. So, for me the sense of self is very tenuous. In my attempt to build spaces and structures, I am seeking to pair down emotional and psychological experiences to their essence to find an internal architecture for them, as in Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. What does G-LOC look like as an internal architecture?
I think sound is radical by nature. It affects solid forms. It can manipulate objects. I want to explore that more.
For more on Jules Gimbrone, visit their website.