Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Q&A with Sound and Visual Artist Casey Deming by Cody Yantis

I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Casey Deming, the Twin Cities-based visual and sound artist, back in November 2012. He designed the LP jackets for Tilth's Angular Music (Soft Abuse, 2012) and also organized a release show for us at Madame of the Arts in Minneapolis. Tilth (Joe Houpert, Nathan McLaughlin, and Cody Yantis) shared a bill that evening with Visions of Christ, Deming's tape collage project with John Jerry, and I was really impressed with their sound.

In addition to Visions of Christ, Deming records and performs with the noisy, improv trio Squid Fist and under his own name, collaborating recently with Justin Myers on a wonderful tape from Tone Filth (North of the Quarry, 2012). Deming also designs album artwork for labels such as The Old Blackberry Way, Insidesmusic, and Soft Abuse, as well as the posters for the twice-monthly experimental Tuesday Series in Minneapolis (which he co-curates with John Marks). Deming's sounds create unique and beguiling environments that recall the organic sci-fi of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1978 film, Stalker (in fact, North of the Quarry could be an alternate soundtrack to the film, with its echoey atmospheres that subtly build tension and culminate in synth squalls lasting but a brief moment). These sounds are mirrored in his visual art, which can have an almost steely, industrial feel thanks to the geometric shapes, strong lines, and frequent use of muted palettes. Yet, by working in the formats of silk-screening, drawing, and, like his tape work, collage, this art is far from cold but, rather, comes across as organic and inviting, if a bit mysterious (again, not unlike the Zone in Stalker). Throughout his visual and aural output, Deming's voice is singular, which, combined with his tirelessness in creating and championing music and visual art in the Twin Cities, explains why he is in such demand these days.

I've been happily wandering around in the world of Casey Deming since returning from my trip to Minnesota. Thus, I was excited to have the chance to swap a number of emails with him, cobbling together the interview below.


Are you from Minneapolis? If not, where are you from and how'd you wind-up in the Twin Cities?

Born in Owatonna, a smallish town in southern MN, I moved to an even smaller town after my folks split, New Prague, where I spent my formable years. I attended the U of MN from 2002-05 and have stayed in the Twin Cities ever since.

What came first for you, visual art or sound?

I liked to draw growing up: nothing serious, lots of doodling, no real direction. I took an art class and remember enjoying it. For some reason I chose choir over band, so not much music-making as a kid. I definitely listened to lots of things, but what kid doesn't? I studied English & Cultural Studies in college - heavy amount of reading, writing & theory - but, again, no art or sound work yet. The Tuesday Series acted as a big catalyst in both of these worlds; I started volunteering to make flyers for shows, while also collaborating with the musicians in the free improv / weird music scene (this was 2004 or 05). The large ensemble, ever-changing, free improv group, Brown Rainbow, were very supportive, that's where I met a lot of my current musical cohorts. Soon after that, I lived with graphic artists / printmakers Dan Black & Daniel Luedtke, both of whom have had a huge influence on me, technically and stylistically, and my visual work really got going from there.

How do these two aspects of your art inform each other?

The bulk of what I do is collage-based, the simple layering up of textures. Most of my tape samples are real sounds, no effects or flair: people waking, a campfire, a tuning fork, animal sounds. Even my visual work derives from "real" things, mostly fragments from fashion and nature magazines. But in both forms the contrast and interplay of the source material confuses the whole of the picture, familiar things are made unfamiliar. Negative space and silence are vital to both my sound & imagery.

What would you call the palette you utilize in your screen prints? There's a consistent sensibility in regards to the color throughout. 

Most of my prints are a CMYK process, so I'm taking a collage on paper and rending it in print form. I lean towards more muted colors, though I think the palette gets a little flattened or more in sync when you are using four base colors to compose the image. Outside of CMYK, I also like doing simple two-layer prints with one key color (i.e. black) and another split-fountain layer, so I'm able to include up to four colors but with only two passes through the press.

What do you do for your “day job”? Does it in any way inform your art and/or share similar motivations?

I work two days a week with a talented visual artist, Dietrich Sieling, who has autism. We enjoy some workout routines at the YWCA together. He's equally fun and inspirational. It's great seeing him constantly turn out these wonderful drawings with playful subject matter and bright colors: African mammals, buses, dense textures and writing. I also work for a green cleaning business called Two Bettys, which is mainly comprised of artists. The whole independent contractor aspect of it is good practice for my own freelance work, while the organizational and space-changing part of the job carries over nicely into my art & music. I have a few regular design gigs, too: package and print work for record labels (Old Blackberry Way, Insidesmusic, Soft Abuse) and poster work for bands here and there.

How did you come to work with tape?

First and foremost, tape is cheap and accessible and requires little to no learning curve. I lived across from a Salvation Army for a year and went there every day! Outside of the normal nostalgic cassette finds, I consistently found portable tape decks, the best of which was a Library of Congress player. I bent circuits on some of the older ones and they ended up sounding like squawking drum machines, much of this was vital to the early sounds of Squid Fist. I just like the texture of tape, especially with high frequencies (tuning forks). There's a certain charm to its malleability and sloppiness. For Visions of Christ, John and I acquired a big stack of TDK pre-made looped tapes, metered at one, three, and six minutes. They provide a subtle sense of rhythm even if the source material is atonal or abstract, and their sound quality have deteriorated nicely with overuse.

Will you shed a bit of light on Visions of Christ's processes (in terms of composition, performance, etc.?

It sometimes is a painstaking nightmare and other times a smooth-sailing experience. We both keep our ears open for things to record, meet up and hash something out. I think it works best when we have more control; making it work in performance is difficult (we use a cheat-sheet sometimes). I'd say only about 50% of our performances were really good. Part of that is because we have tried to do improvised sets, wherein we have a giant stack of samples but no clear sense of where we want to apply them. We've had luck with recording and performing more planned out shows. We opened for Growing at the 7th St Entry, that was a good one. In the recording process we are able to do trial runs to see if the material works together, it's very important to keep it restrained to the point that things don't get muddled up. Contrast is key.

Squid Fist seems to be a project focused on live performance. Do you approach performance differently than recording? Do performance and recording inform each other—are they closely connected—in your sound projects?

Performance & documentation. Bryce Beverlin II and I had been doing some collaborating, weird electronics and small percussion stuff. The Organ Haus had it's first show and we ended up playing with our friend Tim Glenn. It was magical. We felt the energy and the crowd really responded to us. We became a trio after that. In the band's onset we got together quite a bit to play, we did some recordings on the beach of the Mississippi River, hung out at each other's studios, etc. Through time (we've been playing for 7 years now), we got together less and less but still played shows regularly. Bryce has been good at documenting the performances, but we have only had a few purposeful "recording sessions." If you are going to get together to make a recording, why not invite your friends and make a show of it? Hopefully we'll get another package ready to release for this year; I think it's time to do a 12". I've been joking that we should do an anthology release with excerpts from all of our recorded material.

Tell me about the Tuesday Series in Minneapolis that you co-host with John Marks. Talk a little bit about your personal involvement with the series and why it's important to you. Maybe you could discuss a bit of how the series got started and how you got involved?

Now over a decade old, it has gone through a handful of organizers & venues. Not being around during its onset, I can't make claims to all the details, but I do know that it has been held at Gus Lucky's, Acadia Cafe, Art of This, two shows at the Open Eye Theater, a few transplant shows at Franklin Art Works, and is currently hosted at Madame of the Arts. Started by Davu Seru, then carried on by Andrew Lafkas, Nathan Philips, Bryce Beverlin II, and now myself and John, it has always maintained a certain core group of local improvisers that have contributed greatly to it's current vitality. I happened to live by Acadia Cafe when I was 2 years into my U of MN program. By proximity and through some friends, I started regularly attending the Series, which at that time was organized by Nathan, who plays trumpet. We hung out, played chess, and made some fun recordings. From there, I met the family, so to speak, all the Brown Rainbow folks: Jaron Childs, Davu, Charles Gillette -- that was my entry point into the scene and I have not subsided yet. I made flyers to reach out to a bigger audience, then went on to host most of the evenings (the dirty work), this was when Bryce had taken the reigns, and he was super busy with his Physics graduate program at the U of MN. I offered to take over completely, we joined forces with Art of This, who were huge advocates of what we were doing, and started doing shows there, 15 blocks south of Acadia. John Marks got involved there, as he and David Petersen were running the AoT gallery. He also happened to be a huge fan of this music and ended up coming to every show, handled recording and general AV stuff that was over my head, and now also handles more of the economic/fundraising side of things. The physical gallery space eventually closed and AoT became more of a free-floating, creative entity. We moved into Madame of the Arts, a queer community arts center in south Minneapolis and have been there for just over 3 years. In that time we have received a MN State Arts grant and had two successful Kickstarter campaigns, all of the proceeds going to the musicians and Madame. I think the mission statement of the Series has morphed from curator to curator, but most importantly I value its ability to build a community around a sort of "outside art." John and I like that it's stayed informal yet respectful at Madame, I feel no need to explain what it means to the community at large, you'll just have to come and find out for yourself!

What's in store for the Tuesday Series in 2013?

Not many touring folks solidified at the moment, though Jacob Felix Heule will be playing on April 2nd. He played (maybe still does?) in Bay area band Ettrick, a skronky sax & percussion duo. Squid Fist played some shows with them, and we are always happy to host Jacob's other improvised projects (he'll have a couple of guests for this show). As always, I'm most excited for the locals, we have a lot of talent in this town. Word is that Peter Brötzmann & Joe McPhee will be touring this summer, hopefully we can play a role in making sure they pass through Minneapolis.

Any upcoming projects, solo or otherwise, that you'd like to highlight? 

I have a joint art show with Landland (Dan Black & Jes Seamans) that opens on March 9th at Honeycomb Salon, which is right next to Art of This' old location. Visions of Christ will be involved in the Soap Factory's biennial show this summer, part of which is organized by John Marks. We'll be collaborating with Nathan McLaughlin for a 12" that will be released in conjunction with the biennial, and John Jerry and I will also do a day-long residency of sorts as part of the program, that should be interesting! As always, I will continue working on stuff for local labels and hopefully get a few more art shows organized through the Spring & Summer.


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