Sunday, July 31, 2011

5 Minutes With Judy Nylon

Judy Nylon is an American artist who moved to London in 1970. She was half of the punk act called Snatch, which also featured Patti Palladin. Only those who lived in New York and London during the era that spanned glam rock, punk and no wave are likely to appreciate her importance, most of which isn't preserved in print, vinyl, or CD. In terms of cultural significance, she has been ranked with Patti Smith, The Raincoats, Chrissie Hynde, of The Pretenders, The Slits, Lydia Lunch, Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees and even Nico.

Q1. What was the first record that you bought and how did it change your life?

For me it was never about records, it was ‘live performance’ and it was ‘broadcast’. I was in ‘foster care’ so I had no allowance or adults to coerce into buying records. My income was what I shook out of cards on birthdays and holidays. But the place where I lived the longest was a home with a lot of music. The foster father played keyboard in different bands at night and worked as an engineer by day. I was allowed to touch an amazing floor console radio with all the bands for international shortwave broadcasts. I spent a lot of my childhood kneeling on the floor in front of it spinning dials, listening to sound from all over the world. Static and feedback were part of my audio universe early on and I was really lucky to see music performed and lived when I was that young. My favorite uncle had a Western Swing band that played ‘live from the bandstand’ on KXLA, for the Squeekin’ Deacon (Moore) show out of Pasadena. When he would pull into town, I got to see him in his Nudie’s western shirts surrounded by guitars and hot rod magazines. Later he went full-on Rockabilly and sported a haircut he described as a ‘balboa with a waterfall’. I took it ALL in. When I saw The Duchess (Norma-Jean Wofford), in the sixties play a low-slung Gretsch in a long silver sheath, I wanted to be cool as that. I didn’t buy records, didn’t care about them. I never had a record collection, even much later when I started having friends give me copies of their recordings; it was more of an accumulation than a collection. It wasn’t until I saw and heard Nico with the Velvet Underground at The Boston Tea Party that ‘my time’ began. It was pretty much there, in the dark under the Joshua Light Show, with my bones vibrating in a cloud of smoke that I shape-shifted from receiving to sending.

Q2. You work spans the worlds of music, contemporary art, video storytelling and sound montage/cut-up techniques. Would you classify yourself as an artistic revolutionary or an evolutionary?

I don’t know. I’m intuitive about my choices, but I have no big plan. Every time I have tried long range planning, the universe has thrown a spanner into the works. I learn about what interests me, process it into my own voice and let it out. It only seems like a straight path when I look back. I suppose it is reasonable to say that I connect to a line of self-taught artists whose work is based in personal experience. Some of the obvious early ones like, Kerouac or Melville or Ella Fitzgerald, were certainly not ‘outsider artists’ and there seem to have been a high percentage of people who lived, picked up their own influences, then turned up in the arts. Originally art rock/punk/no wave music was an open door for a lot more people like that, now this too seems to require self-funding and a university background. In my tribe, speaking of a New York long gone, if I think about who was self-taught and cross-disciplined, John Lurie springs to mind, Lydia Lunch and Alan Vega. There are probably a few more. We all started when nobody needed a last name or an academic resume. It has become easier to evolve in the pursuit of art, information is less hidden, but it is hard to be an artist revolutionary if you don’t die young. I didn’t die so I have a shot at a long artistic life that will be classified different ways at different stages by other people. It’s not my call.

Q3. You are credited as being the muse or originator of Ambient music. Can you elaborate on the backstory to this?

I even read the word ‘muse’ and I feel the safety deactivate on my internal Glock. The word ‘muse’ comes up whenever someone wants to divest themselves of partners. Nobody is a muse if you get too close. The credit for having the insight to see an opportunity with the Ambient Music LPs goes to Eno for being able to sell his idea of presenting a series of extremely low budget records to David Enthoven and John Gaydon (E G Music Group) which would subject contemporary composers, languishing in a small genre world, to rock n roll exposure. Their work would make money for Eno and EG and introduce Brian, a self-trained composer, into those circles. You will have to ask artists on the label how the arrangement worked for them. This is not the sort of thing that is fascinating reading unless you are in the business and aware of the pie chart of royalty breakdowns, so his version of the inciting incident was printed on the back of the first sleeve instead. I stand by my version of how I offered comfort to Brian, in the way I had been comforted as a child. He was lying immobile with a collapsed lung while I balanced the sound of the driving rain outside the windows 1.5 meters away, on his right with the harp LP I brought, playing it on his turntable very softly, on his left, also 1.5 meters away. My memory of what happened was only published more than 30 years later in 3AM magazine, and then it blasted around the net from blog to blog. To this I can add that the long ago deceased musician who first played Martin Denny very softly, with the arm of the turntable pulled over so it would repeat, washing over me crying sleepless in the dark, was the same man who opened the door to worldwide sound for me with his shortwave radio. “Quiet Village” was a huge hit in 1958 and the first ambient music success in the purest sense of the word. I don’t think anyone ever played “Quiet Village” loudly.

Q4. New York City has certainly changed since the early 1970's. Is it still the as a 'creative petri dish' it once was?

NYC has always been electrifying; really… even now I feel like I have my finger stuck in a socket the entire time I’m there. I haven’t performed there in a long time. I do my work home alone or in a virtual landscape but I still hit the streets to pump up swagger and just to feel that amount of electricity and radio waves. There’s no place else I have ever been where the cultural substrata runs so close to the surface of the mainstream. There’s a virtual favela of ghosts that surrounds the new high-end New York. They are immortalized in every song, book, street sign etc. and upcycled constantly from the most obvious billboard to the almost subconscious meme. At all times you can see the city through their legacy. New York keeps the ideas even though it has no mercy for the flesh and the stones. I can’t be in New York all the time now. As I get older I care about different things; I can pass on most of the opportunities to do it all again. New York is easy to arrive to and hard to leave. Yes, it’s still the ultimate crucible for creativity even if the business side is on a down cycle.

Q5. How do you think the Internet and online and information exchange is influencing artistic expression?

I have access to so much now that I am less dependent on other people immediately around me and concerned more with establishing my own personal filters. I think we’ve all become smarter now that we have a worldwide group memory. I feel like I am part of a pack of collaborators, building something. The challenge is to keep adapting to override all attempts to make any part of the world cut off from the whole. Remember the nights when you were up late and looked out, across the cityscape, for other windows that were lit up? Now I can see the green Skype lights of my friends who are on-line regardless of how many time zones apart we are. It has the same cozy feeling. In the project aether9 that I was involved in, we rebroadcast live traffic cams even though we didn’t control them, within our 9 frame streams to locate the story we were telling. Once I learned how to hack into live public cams, I watched the riots in Athens by jumping from traffic cam to traffic cam as if I were running in the street. In all the arts now, the whole spectrum of experimentation you can expand upon, from the extremely intimate to the universal, has become far more subtle/nuanced because everything is archived from many angles. Almost any moment can be re-examined, and almost as it is happening. Making art can seem spontaneous, but the thought process is disciplined, otherwise you’re just gaming.

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