Opening Performance
Les Rencontres Internationales
Nouveau Cinéma et Art Contemporain
La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris, France
December 1, 2014

Excerpts from a 40min screening
Music by Stephen O'Malley
Video by Gast Bouschet & Nadine Hilbert

Sulfur, the nutrient of thunder;
Its black whirlpools swirl [in the innards of the earth]
Salts, niter, tar;
The mixture catches fire, rumbling;
Their struggles heightened by winds;
And their collision, signal of tempests,
Makes the heavens thunder above our heads
And Hell howl beneath our feet.

Tempestarii is based on a multiplicity of interferences. Various systems exert their power and mutually influence one another. Through the perception of slow fluctuations and a constant shifting of form and content, we invite the viewer to engage in an inner experience with the performance of natural elements. Tempestarii aims to initiate a process of alliance with the daemonic otherness of storms, blizzards, air and sea currents, solar radiation, and geological formations.

In Deep with Stephen O'Malley
Text by Ron Hanson and Nick Yeck-Stauffer / Translation by Yining Shen
The Subconscious Restaurant is a publication by White Fungus Magazine
See more at:http://whitefungus.com/

Stephen O’Malley is a composer, designer and guitarist best known for his project Sunn O))) with Greg Anderson, the group which most conclusively broke heavy metal through the gates of high art. Seattle-born, Paris-based O’Malley has performed work by Alan Vega and Alvin Lucier alike, and with Sunn O))) he recently released a critically acclaimed collaboration with legendary iconoclastic vocalist Scott Walker. His autodidact education through the world of extreme music was begun in earnest by self-publishing the metal magazine Descent from the age of 19, conducting interviews with the convicted murderers and church arsonists of the Norwegian black metal scene via fax, and sharpening his graphic design skills that would later craft album art for some of the biggest names in the underground. He has woven blackened drone compositions into the works of several contemporary artists, and he has found his sensibilities well met in Venice Biennale veterans Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert of Luxembourg, in whose tenebrous projections the machinations of human civilization collide and dissolve into the vertiginous expanse of geologic time. Their O’Malley-scored installation, UNGROUND, opened this year on September 11 at TheCube in Taipei, where O’Malley performed a live accompaniment to a screening of their film, Tempestarii. After meeting at the exhibition, Ron Hanson caught up with O’Malley over the phone in New York. Here is an excerpt of their conversation:

Ron Hanson: It was great meeting in Taipei. I really enjoyed UNGROUND and your performance at The WALL, and I enjoyed our conversations in and around that, so I’m glad to have a chance to chat with you more in-depth and get some of this down. One of the things that really struck me about UNGROUND was, for a collaboration with three artists, two visual artists, a musician and the curator, there seemed to be such an incredible unity of purpose there, and you seemed to be on the same
page. It just seemed so focused. I was wondering, how did you get to be working with these guys, how did that get started?

Stephen O’Malley: Actually it took a little while to come together. I was contacted by Kevin Muhlen, who was curator of UNGROUND, about working on a project with these two artists from Luxembourg, who live in Belgium, who were Gast and Nadine. It was an email kind of contact, and it is very easy to reach out to people by email, as you know, and it is great because you can make contact with people quite quickly, but at the same time, to get a sense of who these people are right away, it’s always much better to meet before agreeing to do something. I feel lucky personally because the music I have been involved in has inspired a lot of young film-makers and artists who have contacted me about collaborating on things, doing music for their films or art exhibitions and stuff. I usually want to be very careful about that activity because working together with people is so much about chemistry and so much about just personally getting to know someone as well. With Sunn O))), for example, which is a band that has had quite a few different musicians and also visual artists involved with the project over the years – and we’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with some incredible people – we’ve been able to make really strong friendships, to collaborate on external things with a lot of these same people, and to make a community around that project, around Sunn O))).

RH: So these guys have been familiar with your music for quite a while before you got to know each other?

SO: They were, yeah, and they’ve seen a lot of concerts, actually, in Brussels – I’ve played there a lot over the years with Sunn O))) and other bands. They have been really interested in the music, but at the same time it was the curator contacting me on behalf of an artist. That’s a whole other thing too. It’s like, ok, a curator is trying to put us together maybe, so it’s a little, honestly, like, “I don’t know, could we meet?” you know, “I’ll meet these people. I don’t want to just work on something impersonally”.

RH: So you did meet up?

SO: Yeah, eventually. It took about a year. It just all worked out, and we did meet up, and spent time together, ate meals together and looked at other things and talked about our ideas and what we do – music, of course, and their films, and yeah, I had a good feeling about it but it still wasn’t stable, but when it came time, the decision was made to have me provide some audio for the UNGROUND short films and also to perform at the opening of the UNGROUND exhibition at Casino in Luxembourg. When that actually happened, when things came together, it was really strong. We had been careful on all sides to make it something extraordinary for us.

RH: And was it something whereby you were already pretty well on the same page independently of one another or did this communication you had let it evolve to a different place?

SO: Well, both of those things. And the other thing that was really strong was that Gast and Nadine, they have been doing art on their own terms for a long time, they’re not working on a big commercial level, and they’re not relying on a gallery to fund them or a big agent or something like that, whereas some of the artists I’ve worked with in the past, in fact, have, and that’s been a different experience, which is not necessarily better or worse, but it just works in a very different way from New York – working with Gisèle Vienne and other things on that scale, with these guys, they’re really self-sufficient, self-producing artists. They spend a lot of time in the remote areas of Iceland making their films, but also just staying in the space to really be in the natural energy of those places, which they then bring to their films, I can really connect with that. It’s sort of identifying these undercurrents that involve things like ideas about magic or ideas about ancient ritual and criticism on the modern sort of ritual magic of the finance industry – a little bit of a parallel in choosing to have this kind of perspective, in choosing these topics.

RH: One of the things I enjoyed about the exhibition and our conversation was that it’s really dealing with probably the biggest issue on Earth, which is this confrontation between human systems and nature. Most of humanity, when they deal with this, they are using quite a narrow frame of reference, and they certainly don’t look outside of capitalism for answers, whereas I appreciated your ability to look back so far and also to look forward so far. And to think of this on quite an epic scale, which is really quite different – just to position this moment in that much larger context. But this is a pretty incredible time when we are alive, when we are facing this kind of confrontation and this conflict between these natural forces and this system.

SO: There’s something about it though that is not confrontational – it’s confrontational from the human side, but the natural side is not in a confrontation; it’s more of a parasitic or invasive level of human occupation of the natural side, and with this work we could tap into things like a feeling of elementalism, a feeling of the metaphysical, a feeling of – as opposed to the very physical rational state of the human side – for example, capitalism and the need of consumption and production. The way Gast and Nadine position a lot of their videos, to me it seems to be oriented more around the glory of nature, the beauty of it, of course, but also the idea of matter being strong energy and a strong source in itself; just feeling that part of it within their context it has such a different – it’s almost a surreality, I guess, the way they present their film, at least for my eyes. I mean, you see these beautiful images which may be completely straight shots of melting ice, for example, in a glacial cave – this is the thought that comes to mind – but if you allow yourself to open your eyes a bit more and not view it completely pragmatically, it takes on whole different sort of presence, and I think that’s one of the things that made me want to work with these guys, because I also feel that I’m always working on that – ok, it’s music, and I’m playing guitar and using electronic instruments and amplification, and it’s in a venue, and there are all these modes of performance parameters, but at the same time the music is very useful if people want to have a different kind of experience, their own subjective psychedelic or surrealistic experience, and you could be in a very normal situation, like in Taipei in a club, in a black box club, but if you allow yourself to focus on it, and you are in that type of head space, it could be quite a different sort of experience – plus time, like you are seeing in the film, how these things connect with your own memory, your own acoustical space, because sound is almost like a tonic – if it’s used in the right way a tonic for ideas – and it can allow a lot of subjective experience that could be profound if you’re a music fan or if you’re willing to let yourself go into it somehow. I’m saying this just as my experience of playing music, but also over the years I’ve developed some kind of communication with the audience of my music, the music I’m involved in, including verbal communications – as we have been talking a lot about what experiences people have with it – and It seems like one of the purposes our music has for people is allowing that type of experience.

Scott Walker + Sunn O)))

Herod 2014

The artwork was designed by Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley, featuring photography by Gast Bouschet.