Philip B. Klingler
During the heyday of Cassette Culture I don’t remember having that much contact with PBK. Somehow I received a few tapes and later some CDs so I think we must have been in at least peripheral touch. I always admired , respected and enjoyed the work I had heard by him over the years. For the first few years I didn’t even know his real name although it was embedded, but shrouded in his releases. To me there was a type of mystery in what he did because the sounds were so far out, alien -like and strange. It kind of scared me in the way The Haters, Minoy or some other noisemakers did. I was insecure in my little world of home taping rock music and felt it to be shunned by “experimental” artists. However, Phillip B. Klinger is not only an intelligent, articulate and eloquent spokesman for his art but is inclusive and a genuinely nice and engaging fellow. He has also made some of the most outstanding and creative work in the experimental, home recording field.
Phillip has graciously assembled a collection of his sound works for free streaming/download.
Above, a boxset of early works. PBK’s collaborations have been many over the years. Examples below of a few of them.
More collaborations above. First, Dutch artist, Vidna Obmana. Then below that, Government Alpha, and then amt.
In addition to his work in audio, Phillip has also worked in visual arts. An example above, “Huracan” from 1994.
When did you first hear about the tape scene? And were you already recording your own music? Were you in rock bands or other group projects in younger days?
I wasn’t in a band in school, I was a DJ. Our high school had a radio station and I started on-the-air in my sophomore year until I graduated in 1978. After high school I DJ’ed on the radio and also in disco clubs. A failed stint in the U.S. military took up a couple of years and by the time I began college in 1981 I was focusing my creative endeavors more in the visual arts and concentrating on painting, all the while, of course, extremely interested in music. Throughout the 80’s, when I lived in California, I used to go to record shops in L.A. to buy vinyl and music magazines that caught my eye. OPtion Magazine was very important, also essential was Sound Choice. Even the punk ‘zine, Flipside, would review cassettes. It was through those cassette review sections that I started buying tapes from independent artists/labels such as Dino Dimuro(Dimuro Tapes), Jeph Jerman(Big Body Parts), the We Never Sleep label, and so on. I’d begun recording my own music, privately, sometime in early ’85, rough oddities recorded on a Casio SK-1. In 1986, I purchased a four-track recorder and started working on both rock-oriented pieces and also more abstract, “outside” compositions, but only started sending my own works around the following year.
I was looking through an old issue of Option magazine, from 1987. In this particular issue I circled in ball-point a number of cassette reviews and though I didn’t manage to obtain every tape I had circled, I did acquire the tapes listed below:
Al Margolis, Rafael Flores, Bogart & Yutaka Tanaka – International
Mail Music Group (New York, NY)
Minoy – Landscape With Serpent (Torrance, CA)
V/A (Mark Hanley, Etc) – Camera Obscura Sampler, Vol 1 (Los Angeles, CA)
V/A (Greater Than One, Maybe Mental, AMK, Etc) – Insomnia, Vol 1
Boxset (Denver, CO)
These four tapes showed a very interesting cross-section of the U.S. Tape Underground and I made contact with many of these artists. Scattered about the country everywhere were musicians and DIY labels producing and distributing self-created cassette albums. The crazy thing is that for every tape I circled in that issue, fourteen in all, there were ten I didn’t, and there were probably a hundred others that never even made it into that month’s review section! There is a tremendous magnitude to all this creative activity, made even more extraordinary when you consider that all this music is still mostly unknown to this day!
In the 1980’s what kind of gear were you using to create your sound? What do you use now?
In 1985 I bought my first instrument, a Casio SK-1. My interest in making music growing, I started acquiring more instruments: a drum machine, bass, guitar, trumpet and a Realistic Moog synthesizer. I liked the possibilities of the synth a lot, so I started buying more of them, rather inexpensively, from music stores and pawn shops. Within a couple of years I had a Minimoog, Moog Source, Yamaha DX-100, Casio CZ-101, Korg MS-20, Roland SH-101 and I would run these through analog pedal effects(spring reverb and delay) and a couple of Digitech Echo Plus units which I used for making loops. I used two digital sequencers, synced together, and could trigger my analog synths with a midi-to-cv controller. I also made use of an early rack-mount Roland sampler. I can’t remember ever using distortion pedals, I programmed all of my grungiest noises on the synths and also ran a lot of sounds directly through the MS-20’s external input. Over the years, I guess I decided that I didn’t need so much equipment to make sounds, my studio is significantly smaller these days. Currently, I use an Alesis Micron and a Dave Smith Evolver as my real-world synths. My turntable and Numark iCDX cd player run through my Korg Kaoss for effecting and creating loops. I have six different analog and digital FX pedals, but still no distortion! Last but certainly not least is the laptop on which I have numerous soft-synths and VST effects.
Do you play keyboards?
I have no competency on keyboards at all, or any instrument for that matter. I always use instruments in very crude, unskilled ways. I remember one day, talking to Dave Prescott and he was complaining about somebody and said “that guy can’t even find middle c on the keyboard” and I sort of stifled a laugh because I certainly could not find it either!
Who were some of your first tape trades with?
Zan Hoffman, Big City Orchestra, Dave Prescott, Minoy.
How did you get your vast network of international contacts?
Networking activities were very difficult in those days, all done by mail, maybe an occasional phone call. You gave info out to like-minded individuals, you suggested contacts and albums you’d heard, you sent your tapes to magazines like Option and hoped they would be reviewed, just so you could meet yet another eccentric artist. Because the audience that bought or traded for my music, well, they were sound artists too! We all knew how much work it took to lay out ads, pamphlets, folders, brochures, catalogs, tape and lp covers, etc and I’d say there was mutual respect for those who put such effort into their craft. It certainly would’ve been easier if we’d had the Internet in the early days! But we were all dedicated to the concept of networking and the usual thing was to send every person you wrote some extra catalogs, or announcements, or cards, stickers, buttons, and that person, in turn, would send them to people they were writing. This process over and over for years somehow resulted in my work getting known even in Eastern Europe and Russia!
Although it is obvious what PBK stands for, why did you use it as your moniker as opposed to your full name? Was it just easier?
Yeah, I guess it was easier, and since I had started signing my visual art works with “PBK”, I decided to continue using it for my sound works. It seemed natural.
In addition to creating music you also contributed to the publication, “Electrogenesis” . How did that come about? Len Wiles was the person responsible for this magazine. Did you ever meet him or know him well?
Minoy introduced me to Electrogenesis, I ordered a subscription and asked Len Wiles if he was interested in publishing an article I had written about the correlation between cassette networking and Gibson’s cyberpunk concept. He agreed and I wrote a couple of things for him. I lost touch with Len for a long time, and then about two years ago I found him again on YouTube and just as quickly he dropped out of sight again.
Did you ever contribute to other mags like Sound Choice or Option or others?
I’ve been a frequent letter writer and had my letters published in several magazines. Most important were the letters published around 1990 in EST (http://media.hyperreal.org/zines/est/articles/freedom.html), and an exchange I had with Ben Gilbert in his magazine, Chemical Castration, regarding fascism and racism in the noise/industrial music underground. I also did some articles for Hal McGee’s “Electronic Cottage”. Most recently I was writing music reviews for the e-zine, Heathen Harvest, before they folded.
You have done a tremendous amount of collaborating over the years. What is it about this type of work that excites you?
I’ve always been very interested in applying my creative approach towards different styles of sound expression. I enjoy challenging my own concepts, and have had ample opportunity to do so considering the wide array of artists I’ve worked with. As an improvising musician, it is particularly important for me to collaborate with other artists “in-person” and I try to do that whenever possible.
When you get collaborative tracks did you listen to them intently many times before you start working with them? How do you then begin working? Improvising?
With audio sources I rarely listen to them before working with them. I like to work very spontaneously with the sounds and let ideas flow freely without preconception. I work very quickly when in this process, I try to keep my critical faculties at a minimum. Then, after the pieces are finished, I listen to them obsessively and sometimes I can tap into the subconscious meanings behind the creative process and begin to form a concept of what the compositions are about, what they represent, and how to title them.
When you create collaborative tracks for others do you try to sculpt them to the person you are sending them to? Or do you challenge them to work with whatever you’ve done?
I usually collaborate with artists whose music I know very well, so maybe yes, I can anticipate what type of source material that person may enjoy working with. But it’s really sort of random. I usually mix it up, I send sources that I feel the other person will have empathy for, and also some surprises just to see what might unfold.
Have you done many live performances , either solo or with others? Have you traveled outside of your local area to perform?
I have performed some concerts over the years, I wouldn’t say a lot, maybe two or three times a year. I’ve been based in Flint, Michigan for about 15 years now and in that time I’ve performed on the east and west coasts and some of the central U.S., and also in Paris, France. My preference is to perform in a duo, or group situation. I like the live dynamic of two or more musician pushing each other towards more inspiring improvisation.
Here’s some names, can you give brief comments about each with some personal observations or connections?
Minoy was one of my first contacts in the cassette network and very eccentric person! He had a fragile personality condition characterized by extreme mood swings. At times, he’d seem to thrive on lack of sleep and could stay up for days on end recording music. Other times there was no way to reach him because he would be out of it, laid up in bed depressed and not moving much. I am one of the few people, apparently, who met Minoy in person, we collaborated at his house in Torrance, CA on several occasions. He had a vast knowledge of art history and was a very good artist himself. He taught me a lot and introduced me to many of my early contacts in the Cassette Underground. We worked very closely together through 1987. Minoy had a strong drive and sense of competition but he could be petty and jealous at times. Even though he had asked me to keep the hoax project, “Disco Splendor”, our secret, when the project started to get some attention and positive reviews, he abruptly switched us over to using the name of “Minoy/PBK”. After we stopped working together we had no further contact, which is sad. But I still have a lot of good thoughts about him, and I respect what he did creatively. He is one of the originators of Mail Art and Cassette Culture, and an extraordinary composer whose work needs to be better known.
Artemiy Artemiev is another prolific electronic composer, mostly for Russian films and, of course, has a strong lineage in that direction what with his father, Edward’s, work for genius film director, Andrei Tarkovsky. His music is cinematic and imaginative with vivid imagery. Artemiy’s endless activities on behalf of the Eastern European and Russian experimental music scenes are exceptional. His label, Electroshock Records, known for it’s emphasis on dramatic electronic and electroacoustic music, has brought many artists to the spotlight, such as Antanas Jasenka and Anatoly Pereslegin, and he has also helped document the important works of the elder Artemiev.
Conceptually, the purest, most elusive, yet most prolific of noise artists. An enigma.
Al Margolis, well, here you have a cat whose efforts on behalf of Cassette Culture, are simply inestimable! Al’s open-ended policy towards releasing experimental music via his label, Sound Of Pig, was a way of capturing the WHOLE cassette underground scene, like taking a snapshot, and I think that makes his label especially important. He essentially documented an entire sub-culture from it’s infancy through to adolescence. About that time, early 90’s, he started to receive flack from Option magazine, where they lambasted Sound Of Pig for putting out too many releases, and it’s true that every crazy experimental noise project was put to Al’s attention as a possible release on his label. He, in fact, documented the scene so extensively, there were over 300 releases! Pay attention youth of the noise culture, Sound Of Pig’s cassettes are still available, the catalog is online here: http://www.pogus.com/catalogue_sop.html
I corresponded with Chris in the past, but we never met and I really don’t know him too well. He ran a damn fine label, Harsh Reality, with a bunch of crucial experimental releases and also put out some of his own music under the name, Mental Anguish. A fine artist, gentleman and a family man by the look of it.
Hal Mcgee and I have had a somewhat tumultuous relationship over the years. We are both strongly opinionated and have clashed on occasion. But I respect Hal a great deal. This is something I came to realize over time, that Hal McGee must be considered one of the greatest of the first generation of noise artists. His heaviest works, the things he released under the name Dog As Master, are some of the most powerfully violent noise works ever released! And another cool thing about Hal is he’s been an open book, sharing his knowledge, it’s evidently a compulsion for him, he is a teacher at heart. We were lucky to have Hal there to document the Cassette Network’s activities at a time when nobody else was, and to have it come from an insider, a person who was so deeply involved in it, made his efforts that much more authentic.
How is making a personal expression, or autobiographical approach, possible in experimental music? I guess what I am asking is about instrumental or noise works specifically. Is it even important to you to do this?
Yeah, you and I were talking about this earlier… To me one of the dilemma’s of creating noise music, because my work relies a great deal on chance over practical method, how then do you create a unified style that is original and belongs to you since the variables are so unpredictable? Many jazz musicians with brilliant technique are easily identified: John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cecil Taylor and so on… When you get to John Cage, who is dealing more conceptually with chance elements, randomness, silence, acoustic spaces, etc, well, where is the style? Take it even further to people like Chris Watson(former Cabaret Voltaire), or Dale Lloyd, who release field recordings? How do you identify the artist?? It seems the more separated we get from the actual hands-on creation of a set of sound parameters which we can control as expressionistic devices, the less identifiable to that artist the music becomes. This argument has no bearing whatsoever on the beauty, or aesthetic quality of the music, only on this one identifiable aspect of “style”. I definitely hope to create a music that is unique to me, that like a painting, would be recognizable as being created by my hand, but technically speaking, because of the way I work, I can only approximate what might be my own sound because I never rely on the same set of performance parameters in the creation of the pieces.
You have a wide ranging knowledge and interest in many types of music from rock to jazz to experimental and much more. What draws you to the type of music you make yourself?
My technical limitations in the actual hands-on performing of music have a lot to do with it. I came from a radio DJ background and was already on-the-air at 14 years old working at my high school radio station. I became very well-versed in using tape, turntables and effects to create commercial spots for on-the-air. But, as far as performance of music, I never had the patience, I suppose, to learn how to play instruments properly. Later it occurred to me that I actually could use even very limited techniques instrumentally(as long as they were expressionistic) with what I already knew about recording and overdubbing and find a relatively close sound to what I was hearing in my head.
What are some primary influences?
Listening to the music of John Coltrane inspired me a lot. The brilliance of his technical approach, the restructuralist aspect of his work with standards and stage/screen music, the sheer unrestrained beauty of his compositions, all made his music extremely important.His new wave jazz recordings like Meditations, or Live At The Village Vanguard Again! showed how “universals” could be expressed in very emotional, noisy and primal sound settings.
Burroughs and Gysin, are very important, their various methods of creative transformation will continue to infuse the works of artists, musicians and writers for a long time to come. Through them, I learned the value of chance juxtaposition.
Early SPK were obviously a huge inspiration for many of us, exemplifying the strong and abstract use of noise elements that, even though lo-fi, have authentic emotional strength and grittiness. I didn’t discover SPK until maybe 1987, so it was after the fact, but hearing them made me understand better the path I’d already chosen.
In the late 80’s, I had been working with sound already but I was looking for a model of some sort and found Klaus Schulze. His early works and the one thing he did with Tangerine Dream were fascinating. As a solo performer using synthetic sounds to create long, slowly evolving soundscapes (which, to me, were “sonic paintings”), I definitely felt something in common with him.
One other I must mention is Sun Ra. I have grown to love this man’s music more and more. His work is, for me, on the same great level as that of Coltrane. Sun Ra’s search for different sounds and combinations of sounds, his use of modified keyboards predates the circuit-bending movement, his solos on the Minimoog could often be as cacophonous as anything you might see at a noise concert today! The conceptual basis for his art, the sociopolitical aspects, and the self-production of music outside the mainstream all make his work very important on many levels. From large-scale works to solo piano recordings, Sun Ra is essential studying for listeners in the 21st century.
How have you been able to balance family needs with your own need to express yourself through your music? Has your family commented much on your music?
Music and art always belong to their own time-frame, it doesn’t matter how futuristic the may seem, they could only be made at this time, in this place. So, what we have today, in the U.S. music underground, is a bunch of people who cannot make a living with their music. They can hardly buy a new instrument with the money that they make. Everything comes out of pocket! The fact that we cannot make a living at it, does that make us hobbyists, or dilettantes? I think the answer is “neither”, for experimental musicians, noise artists, etc it’s simply the paradigm of their experience in the music underground of this time period. There is no money here, so it’s up to the artist to define for themselves just WHY they do it! Are we all ego tripping? Our families have to be involved with our music, because any of the hours I take to pursue my art, I take away from my children, my wife, my friends. For me to do that, because of this compulsion, knowing that the result will not bring any money, well I’m either crazy or inconsiderate! But the people close to me realize that I can’t stop this obsession if I wanted to, so they, as much as possible, have embraced it… Their graciousness has been my greatest gift!
There seems to be a healthy involvement of women in the underground music scene now. Why do you think there were so few women in the “early days” of Cassette Culture?
If you ask me, I still don’t think there are enough! In the Noise scene anyway it’s still mostly a bunch of guys.
Do you think Cassette Culture has a legacy? And what would it be?
My question would be- does the institution deserve a legacy? Wasn’t Cassette Culture simply the propagation of more products, the egoistic manufacture of more me and you? In reality, weren’t we simply reproducing our music and selling these products on a small-scale version modeled after the indie labels which were modeled after the mainstream labels? It was important to make our reproductions “professional” looking, not so much as a matter of pride, but to establish that we had successfully aped the ways of corporate marketing and created a product which justified commodifying our music. I remember Minoy saying that he would price his cassettes high because to do otherwise would be selling himself short, in effect saying his work wasn’t worth anything. And for Minoy, who hand-crafted every tape with his own artwork, he also felt every cassette he made was an artifact, a collectible. That aspect of Cassette Culture, in the present tense, has become even more prevalent, with ultra-limited edition releases, artist-created packaging, all designed to appeal to the collector, another method for commodification. There is another thing, most artists in the tape underground would trade their work, in fact, I remember a lot of catalogs indicating “Trades Welcomed”. I strongly believe that the one who is really taking steps in the right direction, currently, is Hal McGee. He sells his albums as cassettes to those who wish them, and also provides free downloads of the same releases in both mp3 and lossless format, plus he’s an incessant trader. His dedication to the true legacy of Cassette Culture, which was always dedicated to a strong trading/giving away for free ethic, is immeasurable and he is the one to study on this.
The internet is great for self distribution and immediacy. What do you think is the downside? Flippancy? attention deficiency? Lack of depth of personal relationships?
No downside as I see it. I read some things today about how music is being digested differently now, attentions spans are shorter, we are devolving from AOR back to hit singles- or so they say. The corporate powers-that-be would love for us to believe that, they always made their money off the single anyway! But the enlightened listeners I know still listen to the album all the way through! How a person discovers music, how a person walks any path of knowledge, can’t be dictated by me or anybody else. In my life there were many things I shrugged off as a younger man only to discover later how wrong I’d been. The internet is like a huge book and the oft times convoluted discovery process for internet users (which, incidentally, other than porno sites, is still baffling to the corporations) leads just as often to the obscure and esoteric as it does to the mainstream.
What drives you to keep creating?
I am alive. The same thing that drives me to want to live another day, a profound curiosity.
What are the plans for the future?
I am trying to live present-tense right now, I’m running behind on a lot of project and have so many things on my plate currently that I don’t want to think too far ahead!
What’s the best URL for people to explore your work more?
Thanks Phillip, good luck with all.