Jeff Gordon, The Per Contra Interview with Miriam N. Kotzin
PC: How did you develop your interest in the visual arts?
JG: I was always drawing, constantly - when I was way young, I was doing portraits and figures. They were the works of someone much more mature, older than I actually was. I can't explain it, they were like what you call 'master' drawings and I don't have a clue how that happened, it just did. The only books I looked at were art books and when I was maybe five or six I was always taken to visit The Metropolitan Museum and I never stopped visiting there.
PC: In music ?
JG: Well, that's a bit different, you know I grew up in the mid to late 1960's and you just naturally soaked up everything that came out, especially when vinyl records reigned supreme and you could look at great 12" square album covers. And being in Manhattan, by the time I was fifteen I was basically in the Village all the time, and you walked in one door and saw The Byrds, you walked into another and saw The Fugs, into another and there was Allen Ginsberg, or Bob Dylan, or Ritchie Havens, so you were getting your senses blasted and massaged, and maybe with the addition of certain natural or unnatural substances, further enhanced. And I always found it easy to pick up an instrument and play it, and I started writing songs and decided I would be in music somehow and that's what I got into, so when I was going to Music & Art High School I had a publishing contract with the publishing wing of Columbia Records.
PC: How long have you been making art ?
JG: That's all I do, make art - everything I do is making art. I can't do anything else, I'm not interested. Nothing holds me like that, nothing is as mysterious. Even when I'm doing nothing, even when I'm just thinking, that's making art. Do you know what I mean ? Some people are politicians or diplomats, some are President, some are actors and actresses - I'm an artist and that's cause I accept only my terms and definitions.
PC: You work in both visual media and sound ?
JG: I came up with a way to do both, where art is the sound and sound is the art, and that's by recording and producing painters, conceptual artists, and other visual artists in the recording studio, having them record whatever they want, to express themselves by experimenting in sound, and combining their recordings with limited edition prints they create which reference the sounds they make. So I have a way to do both things I do, which is making art and sounds. I've been doing these for twenty-five years and since I'm the only one who does what I do, I have no rules or formula to have to be concerned with.
PC: What sort of evolution have you seen in your work ?
JG: The word evolution is linear, and I don't restrict myself to linear confines. You can't compartmentalize the projects I've done because each visual artist I record is different from the previous or successive. I mean, my first double album, Revolutions Per Minute, included Hannah Wilke, Josepb Beuys, Chris Burden and Vincenzo Agnetti. Some of their recordings were music, some were spoken word, some were unorthodox sounds. The next double album, Artsounds, included Larry Rivers, Connie Beckley, Philip Johnson, and Yura Adams. Again, each recording was different from the other. Last year I did solo CDs with Path Soong, Eric Fischl, Daniel Johnston, Carter Ratcliff. Each different, tho in this particular series, the artists chose to work with spoken word. From the first RPM album, to Artsounds, to last year's series, and everything in between, including Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Dennis Oppenheim, Ida Applebroog, William Burroughs, Philemona Williamson, etc., I don't know if the word 'evolution' applies. Each is a different trip, a different voyage.
PC: How did you get to compose for Harkness Ballet ?
JG: It's all who you know, isn't it ? I knew someone who was involved with that company and I had seen a few of their rehearsals and performances. I was never classically trained in music, and since doing things by the rules are repulsive to me, I just asked this person if I could speak to the music director of the Company, which I did, and I was asked to work on a solo piano piece for two dancers, which I did. When the piece was performed for the dancers and music director and choreographer, they had their pianist perform the music. I thought, this is cool, I like this, I don't even have to play the thing, I can just sit there looking reflective.
PC: And they liked the music...
JG: Loved it. Included it in their reportoire and it was performed worldwide. I then went on to do a commissioned piece for the great choreographer Rhonda Martyn, for her modern ballet Witchmoth and I used sounds of elevators, winds, etc. I love doing that, it's fun composing for choreographers and dancers.
PC: How did the double album Revolutions Per Minute come about ?
JG: When I came up with the ida, I had to do something with it to make it a reality. Nothing more boring than talking about something forever and not doing it. Being that I co-owned a recording studio in Soho, the natural thing to do was to call gallery dealers and see if someone could be interested. I made two call - one wasn't to Ron Feldman, the other one was. Ron got very quiet and I could sort of tell that he was interested. He invited me over and I was familiar with some of his artists like Hannah Wilke, Chris Burden, Joseph Beuys, Tery Fox, Eleanor Antin - real thought provoking work, conceptual work. The kind of thing I love. I asked him if he thought a few of his artists would be interested in doing a record, and he told me he'd ask around, and give him a couple of weeks.
So two or three weeks later he called me and said he had a bit of news. He told me every one of his artists wanted to be on the album. I thought he was putting me on, but he wasn't. Then the fun began !
Ron and I met constantly, and it became apparent that in addition to each artist doing a recording, that each would also do an 'album cover proposal' - a print. You have to undertand that Ron is a very unusual art world person, because, in a sense, he is an artist himself. It becomes obvious when he speaks about something he's into - his passion rules. To this day, I'm glad the other gallery, a photo realist place, said no !
PC: How many artists participated ?
JG: Well, since each of them were and are extraordinary, here goes: Hannah Wilke - Joseph Beuys - Chris Burden - Douglas Davis - Eleanor Antin - Piotr Kowalski & William Burroughs - Terry Fox - Jud Fine - R. Buckminster Fuller - Todd Siler - Edwin Schlossberg - Komar & Malamid - Helen & Newton Harrison - Conrad Atkinson - Les Levine - Ida Applebroog - SITE - Margaret Harrison - Thomas Shannon - Vincenzo Agnetti.
Each recording went from 30 seconds to 7 or 8 minutes. Chris Burden did a chilling vocal piece called The Atomic Alphabet, which combined his shouts and foot stomps. You play it today, sounds like it was done today. Hannah Wilke co-wrote a song with me called Stand Up and she sang on it, which got her into all the UK music press and BBC Radio play. Not enough space here to go into every one, but one day, we have to bring it out again - it becomes a barometer of art world dynamic, history, adventure. Some sessions took an hour, others took months. Whatever it takes is what we do.
The 12" x 12" b&w prints which accompanied the two vinyl records are great, and again, each artist worked extremely hard to bring what their imaginations beckoned them to do.
PC: And the album packaging is minimal, elegant.
JG: The double album cover was done as an inside-out piece, with the cardboard showing, and very minimal type on the front, back, and there were linter notes inside as well, written by Robert C. Morgan. To the point, and intriguing.
Any others on RPM ?
JG: Of course I have to include the recording by David Smyth, one of the greatest recordings ever done by any visual artist anywhere !
PC: What did he do ?!
JG: David brought four typists into the studio with four large electric typewriters on rolling desks. He set them up as a chamber music concert placement, and then proceeded to conduct them in performing Pacabel's Canon In D on the typewriters. It was truly great. You could actually tell (if you had any sense of rhythm) what they were typing, because the beats and tempo are so ingrained into everyone's consciousness. The typists were cool - they worked hard on getting through the performance. Worthy for Lincoln Center, I say.....When the album was released in Great Britain, and the exhibition got into The Tate Gallery for six weeks, the most visionary DJ of eclectic and unexpected music, David Peel of BBC Radio, got a hold of the album and would play David's Typewriter In D constantly, till it reached the point that people wanted to kill him - it was beautiful. Each time he'd play it, he'd do this reverant, serious, low-voiced intro to the track - sublime !
PC: Tell us about the RPM exhibition....
JG: Well, it took about a year and change to do all the recordings, get all the signed prints done, do the album cover, and for Robert to write the liner notes. Then me and Ron figured out the way to simply 'show it' so people could walk in to the space, put on one of twenty headphones, each playing a loop of each individual recording, and placed near each corresponding framed artist print. Very minimal, very beautiful, and in the early 80's. very ahead of the curve. It was a great show. Ron extended the shoe for three months and it was always jammed. The opening night, you couldn't get near the gallery on Mercer Street for two blocks - as we pulled up I thought someone was doing a Warhol or Picasso Retro show ! Amazing....people had a great time. And then the show toured - and toured - and toured. It ended up travelling for roughly five years around the world, and at each exhibition, both editions of the album were sold. And they sold out.
PC: What were some of the places that exhibited RPM ?
JG: It ran the gamut of museums, galleries, college and university galleries. Some of them were Tate / London, MOCA / Oxford, Basement Gallery / Newcastle, Bluecoat / Liverpool, Centres Pompidou / Paris, Bloch Galerie / Berlin, Watari Museum / Tokyo, Gross McLeaf Gallery / Philadelphia, Neuberger Museum / NY, Chicago Art Institute, Washington & Lee University, dozens of others that I can't remember. The beauty is that the show is simple to travel and can actually appear in two cities or more at the same time. Later album projects included The Whitney Museum / NYC, Haime Gallery / NYC, June Kelly Gallery / NYC, Moore College / Philadelphia, Univ. of Michigan, Ohio University, etc.
PC: So do you recall the actual inspiration for coming up with RPM ?
JG: Vaguely, but I remember thinking that if I could do this, then I wouldn't have to find a job, you know, like a real job. You see, this stuff is intense work, it's exhausting, there are all of these facets in each project to make sure everything is going right, but they involve the recording studio, which I know, and art, which I do. At first I remember thinking, wait a sec, this is too simple, the idea is too easy, something is wrong here. But nothing was or is wrong - I like working with visual artists, they enjoy the challenge of doing sound, and people who respond by buying seem to like what we do also. I mean, it's different enough to make each project an unexpected surprise, if they ever become ordinary or tedious, then I'm out. But so far, chances seem remote of that happening.
PC: What's your most recent project ?
Last year I chose to do solo albums with seven art world figures: Eric Fischl, Path Soong, Connie Beckley, Daniel Johnston, Carter Ratcliff, a re-release of the Andy Warhol, and a conversation I did with legendary art dealer and owner of O K Harris Works of Fine Art in Soho, Ivan Karp. All seven chose to do spoken word with very intriguing results. The painter Path Soong, known for her large and meditative paintings in black and white, write and recorded a long original zen poem called Hillside Meditation. Very beautiful. For the figurative painter and sculptor Eric Fischl, I asked art critic Barbara MacAdam to have a conversation with Eric in the recording studio, and they discuss his work, the collectors and art market, art advisors and other hypsters, and it really is an eye opening glimpse into the 21st century art world. I have worked with NYC performance artist Connie Beckley before, she is extremely interesting and inventive. On this CD, Mined Out Of Time, Beckley offers a fictional narrative concerning obsession, memory and lost love.
Art critic and poet Carter Ratliff is someone i've known for a long time - when the RPM album was released, Carter's interview with me for Warhol's Interview Magazine was the first major press score. He is a great poet. I re-released the Andy Warhol CD uh yes uh no because people either hate or love it - it is a conceptual loop piece in Andy's voice, monotonous, dull, sublime, repetitive. I had to get Ivan Karp on CD because he is an example of art obsession, whose love of art and artists has enriched the art culture of the world today. Ivan is frank, funny, provocative, and you learn a hell of a lot by listening to him speak. So this is the latest series which I call Crossing The Line - I packaged each CD into a tin metal case and each includes an 'artcard' which is a small card of a painting on one side and text about the artist on the other. I call them 'artcards' cause that's what they are. Last summer, June Kelly Gallery in Soho hosted this exhibition - very beautiful, small, and we used ipods / headphones for the exhibition, and the artists each did a new original limited edition signed print.
PC: Is there a site about the new series and other info:
JG: Yes, if you go to www.artvoices.org and click on any of the artist photos, it will bring you to the information and ordering info for each CD and print.
PC: We understand your next project is going to be called RPM 2 and will be a double album released with black and white 12" x 12" prints and two vinyl records - inspired by the first RPM no doubt....
JG: Exactly. I miss vinyl records, I miss 12" x 12" prints in a box, I miss that stuff. So I'm getting back to the format that I did originally. I'm excited about the artists so far who have signed on.
PC: Can you give us an idea?
JG: Sure. He is a painter so I'm delighted to have Bob Dylan on the next album, he and his managament are excited also. Path Soong has just finished a new sound piece, startling. Robert C. Morgan offers a great recording called Purgation For Nike. Connie Beckley will do a sound / music piece. Tom Wolk offers a very different sound / concept piece with one of his portraits for his print. Yura Adams, intriguing performance / elecronic music artist is on board. Painter Joanna Pousette-Dart will do a recording and print. Painter Susan Breen will be on the album. I am going to include an excerpt from my Francis Bacon In Conversation CD as there was or is none other like him. And a few minutes from the Warhol uh yes uh no project which would be unthinkable not to have on there. And other surprises.
PC: When do you think this will be released ?
JG: 2010. In two editions, both boxed. The Limited Edition Box will be of 200 copies with all prints signed and numbered by living artists. The Regular Box will have same prints unsigned. The Limited Edition Box will each be a lithograph printed by one of the country's top lithographers, Maurice Sanchez of Derriere L'Etoile Studio in NYC. There will be liner notes and photos of each artist.
PC: And there will be
exhibitions of RPM 2 ?
JG: Yes. Getting inquiries presently, including three or four offers from NYC, and others, so the show will tour internationally. There may be a few surprises regarding the national and international distribution and marketing of the next three double albums, which will be called RPM 2, RPM 3, and RPM 4. But I've done these long enough to make sure that the prospective distributor 'gets' what I'm doing. It could be very interesting because the company I'm speaking to is an international brand marketer, very bright. So we'll see how it works out, tho I'm not concerned in the least about the albums getting out there and exhibited.
PC: When you do these projects, are you an artist, or producer, or curator ?
JG: Artist really, because I'm bringing my sensibility of what's possible to the table - I mean, I can't let pass something if I think it's either weak or not intriguing, and I guess that means I have my own visions of what each artist is capable of doing, and that reach is very far reaching indeed. I've also decided to include my own track and print Picasso's Fool on RPM 2 because I'm entitled and also cause it's reach is up there, so why not ?
PC: So you don't know what will happen at any recording session, is that correct ?
JG: Basically. No one has any idea. I mean, it's not like we're going in to do a formula record, y'know, this chord comes after this, then this, and that kind of thing. If I knew how these were going to turn out, it would bore me and then I wouldn't show up. I know the recordings will be eventful because the artists are eventful and they each have something to say. But it really is like being Columbus on any of the four journeys - you have the studio, you have the ship, you have the engineer and staff, you have the crew - but you never know if you're gonna see land again. Maybe you will, maybe you won't.
PC: What do you do to relax ?
JG: My wife, Path Soong, and I, moved from NYC to this small rural place upstate NY a while back, and we have some barns on seventy five acres outside of town, road is quiet and peaceful. We converted a large barn to a loft and Path's painting studio. I collect ancient Egyptian objects and read all the time. We don't own a television.
We basically live like monks, simple. We've each lived four or five lives. We're content to be content.
PC: Can someone write to you ?
JG: Sure, email is email@example.com and that's the best way to hear from anyone, and to check out Art Voices.
PC: Thank you very much.
JG: Thank you, appreciate your interest.
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