I made a lot of music in the COVID times. Some of it vocationally, most of it avocationally. Or rather, lodged in that dank mildewed space between vocation and avocation, where you sink a bunch of money that probably would've been better spent on paper towels into making records that at best a small handful of -- let's face it -- weirdos (and I say this lovingly as you'll soon see) will appreciate, knowing full well the money is gone forever and yet each time self-gaslighting until you almost believe that THIS will be the record that actually recoups and perhaps even... gasp... turn a bit of a profit.
Now rest assured, no one makes blackened glitch-prog-doom-jazz-mime music thinking they are on the gravy train. There is no gravy, there is no train, we know this.
At the same time, there is certainly STRANGER art out there that has proven to be at the very least self-sustaining for its creators and in some instances quite lucrative. David Lynch will probably spring to mind for a lot of folks, or at least Salvador Dali, but also add to that a great deal of the more "celebrated" literature, art and music that came out of the mid-twentieth century.
But lest you think this is just wistful nostalgia -- pining for a better, weirder time of ye olde when LSD grew on trees and you could have consequence-free sex in the Woodstock mud pit -- there's plenty of weird art to be had right now -- in August of 2022 -- that is absolutely modern, viable, and not at all fringe. Some of it is even dare I say mainstream. It's all over hip-hop world. It's entrenched into the bleeding edge of electronic music. Check out Tyler the Creator, FKA Twigs, Arca, SOPHIE (RIP). None of these artists were forced to choose between three square meals and making the art they envisioned, as they envisioned it, no matter how strange.
Which is to say nothing of high fashion and gallery art, where weird ebbs and flows but never truly goes out of style.
But metal world? It's pretty fucking conservative, to be frank. In some cases, literally; Iced Earth aside, it's frightening how many bonafide white power idiots get a pass strictly because they wear corpse paint and burned down a church that one time. But even in the none-literal sense, metal really really really likes to find its lane and stick to it forever. Subgenre is sacred. And if you dare to make a record that isn't adequately similar to your previous records, the fans will drop you quicker than a burner phone during an FBI Mar-a-Lago raid. Metal is a lot of things, but it is rarely "out there."
Some of this has to do with the regressive, juvenile tendency of "men of a certain age" to want their childhoods permanently encased in amber. See also comic books and a lot of shitty 80s toy-infomercial-cum-cartoons.
But some of it is also straight-up fascistic conformity. See also the post-MAGA GOP.
Weird is, by its very nature, anti-fascist. It can't be controlled, it can't be tamed, and it certainly won't fall in line. And it is intrinsically anti-authoritarian. So when you see fascism on the rise, it's a safe bet that weird will be on the decline.
Just look at The Internet.
Is it weird? Well, it used to be. And you'll still find pockets of weird out there. Obviously there will always be the schadenfreude flavor of weirdness -- where we find some uninhibited stranger who's being full-on THEMSELVES no matter how bug-fucked, thrust them into the zeitgeist and grant them their Warhol 15. But this is detached-irony weirdness. We are laughing AT not with. And this found-art weirdness will never go out of style, partly because it is often cruel, and the internet is fueled by cruelty.
But long gone are the days where true, visionary artists bukkaked their weird-ass make all over the trippie-dubs (us olds used to call it the "world wide web") because it offered them unfettered freedom. Now it's just an old-tech data mining tool used by a very small cadre of billionaires who sell that data to other billionaires who turn around and sell it to other other billionaires... like a Ponzi scheme of personal tics and subconscious behavior.
Which is not to say that The Internet is ALL bad. Shit, if you're reading this, you're probably doing it via a web browser that is transmitting your predilections to Elon Musk as we speak. And during the COVID times (which by the way we're still smack dab in the middle of, even though we've collectively decided to pretend it no longer exists, probably thanks to one of those billionaires controlling us via our smart phones) it was really the only way for many musicians -- myself included -- to do that thing we compulsively MUST do... which is music. Some of us live-streamed. Some of us made impossibly dense records without having to worry about how we'd pull it off live. And it was freeing, for a while anyway, to dislodge ourselves from the record-release-tour-rinse-repeat cycle many of us were trapped in. To just "be," ya know?
Which brings us back to the subject header, "Alabaster." Wander over to our Bandcamp page and you'll see it there on the splash. I made this record -- mostly alone though with a bit of attributed help -- during the post "hey what if we just live-stream?" phase of the pandemic, after we all figured out we'd be in lockdown mode for the long haul.
It's the sort of record that I've always wanted to make but needed the time to figure out exactly how to make it. I was never a "producer" in the modern, samples-and-soft-synths sense. I made records in studios with engineers and mixing boards and analog outboard gear and other musicians, some of whom could actually play. I could lead a session, I could shape a song or performance via words spoken into a musician's or engineer's ears, but I was never a "expert knob twiddler" in the Aphex Twin sense. Though I'd often wondered if I could be. And occasionally even believed it could be so.
So "Alabaster" was my chance to test that theory and I'd say, as modestly as I'm capable of, that it was a "success" in that regard. I made the record that I wanted to make, incredibly weird though it may be, and it's a record that I'm quite proud of.
But is it a Circle of Sighs record? I'm still not entirely sure.
This project, CoS, started off as a self-declared "anonymous kollektiv" (faux Balto-Slavic spelling mine) -- though mostly it was just me asking friends to contribute bits and pieces to songs I'd pretty much already assembled. I did this not so much to jump on some Ghost Bath/Sleep Token bandwagon as to ensure that the band could continue on with any lineup, in any form, at any time. I'd had issues with lineups before. Still do, in other projects I'm part of, where there's the perception that the "band" is not comprised of songs but of people, and that if you remove or replace any one of those people it is no longer the same band. Also add to that the conceit that bands should be democratically run. And look, I'm all for democracy, flawed as it often is. But there are very, very few bands that have managed to exist past a few weeks operating like a true democracy and 99% of those bands are Rush. As an ideal it's great, but in practice that's just not how bands are run, especially when drummers (Professor Peart aside) are involved.
However in the quasi-post-COVID days something strange and rather wonderful happened. Namely, an ACTUAL collective emerged from the shadows of the Circle of Sighs "kollektiv." The anonymity was dropped (mostly for practical reasons -- it's very hard for nine people to hide their identities on stage without looking like a Slipknot ripoff). And a group of welcomed co-contributors rallied behind the cause of weirdness. Musicians, artists, performers, and yes, MIMES... working together to put on a show. A weird show. But a show nonetheless.
All this to say: "Alabaster," the record, will probably be dropped from the Circle of Sighs oeuvre at some point. It's a great record, one that I'm enthusiastically proud of, but I don't think it really embodies what Circle of Sighs has become, which is more of a team effort than a tortured artist's singular vision. That might be why I intuitively released it as an extremely-limited run of "Fluxus boxes" in the first place. It was an excuse to experiment with alternative media formats while paying homage to the Fluxus Movement that was/is very close to my heart (I'll tackle this topic in greater detail in a future post). But it also allowed the record to plant its foot outside of the canon.
If you own one of those fluxus boxes that I and my artsy friends (and my artsy daughter) made, well... maybe some day it will be worth a shit-ton of money. Though more than likely it simply clutter up your garage or storage space. But I hope you can at least appreciate the weirdness of it.
Circle of Sighs
Los Angeles, CA
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