Interview w/ composer Jace Clayton (DJ/Rupture) / by Liquid Music

By composer JP Merz

Jace Clayton is an artist who exists between the cracks of DJing, art music, media art, and theater, among other disciplines. The themes of his projects are specific as an obscure, experimental musician or as grand as the U.S. terrorist threat level system to thoughtfully weave together issues of politics, identity, and the role of technology. If you want to get a better sense of of the breadth of Jace’s work - you can hear him speaking about it in a beautiful, concise way in his Creative Capital artist talk:

In this interview we touch on some of the most inspiring aspects of Jace's work while learning about Jace’s brand new piece for Saul Williams and the Mivos Quartet to be premiered at the next Liquid Music show on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 at 7:30pm at the James J. Hill Reference Library in Saint Paul, copresented with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature.

JP: How did you first get involved with Saul, Mivos, and Liquid Music?

Jace: I actually used a Saul Williams track on my first mixtap–mixed live to cassette back in the day! The one where he's rhyming over a kind of mournful cello line, that begins "I will not rhyme on a track--niggers on a chain gang used to do that." I have yet to meet Mivos or Saul personally, but am very much looking forward to working with them. This is the second time I participate in a Liquid Music event. The first was my 'Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner' performance.

JP: You often work with a huge variety of musical genres which will often exist side by side within one piece, placing familiar sounds in unfamiliar contexts. What interests you in this recontextualization and in drawing on such a broad musical palette? 

Jace: Genre guidelines are increasingly irrelevant and ideas of historical lineage are falling by the wayside. It's a fascinating time to be making music. The question is: what to do with this freedom?  And at a very pragmatic level, the question becomes: who comes out to hear your work, and how?  Music isn't political (unless it's propaganda like anti-war sing-a-longs or jihadi rap) but the site of its production always is, because you're talking about gathering bodies and manifesting in a place.

JP: Politics, social justice, surveillance, power structures and identity are topics that are common throughout your work. Do you see your music as a response to these issues, do you feel like music can actively influence politics, or does your music do something else entirely?  

Jace: Something else entirely! One way to put it would be: people doing the hard work of organizing for social justice is a very necessary, very particular thing. Music is something else entirely. It is a meeting ground and a place where the past and future share a moment. If politics asks the question 'how are we to live"  music slips in at another level, wondering "how much can happen in a moment." So it is sensual and philosophical all at once. Basing a politics on identity is just as bad as basing one's music on some identity. Music interrupts tidy edges. The idea is to stay plural. To stay as open and flexible and tender as a folksong.

JP: Text is often an essential element in your work. How did you approach the use and role of text in this piece? Does it differ than the ways you’ve approached text in previous works?

Jace: I'm asking both Saul and Mivos to speak the texts, which I'm excited about. I love incredible world-class vocal performers, and I also love asking people who don't read in public at all–gathering different voices with different relationships to vocal authority is fascinating to me. Part of the text is from N.H. Pritchard, an experimental black poet from late 60s/early 70s NYC. I'm treating a few pages of his highly idiosyncratic poems (that play with typography and layout) like scores, in part because you can't simply read them aloud without adding layers of your own interpretation. Like with my Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner performance (dealing with Julius Eastman), I do value engaging with lesser-known artistic figures from the recent past whose work has a certain restlessness and power. It's good to add complexity to the historical record.

JP: You asked the musicians for the first piece of music that they memorized as a child and composed using that material as a starting point. I see this process as relating to your work as DJ: discovering a fixed sound which can carry so many cultural associations and implications and then placing it in a new context, through the lens of your own musical voice.  Do you see this process as relating to your work as DJ and how do these musical memories shape the sound world of this piece?

Jace: I'm interested in rethinking classical composer-ly structures.  In the classical world it's fully expected that you'll write music for musicians you haven't met, who will have to play it whether or not they even like it. That's quite alien to my way of working. I prefer dialog and negotiation. I actually don't like giving commands to musicians. So a simple beginning for me was to ask musicians for their earliest memorized piece, and use that as little DNA fragments that seed my creation.

JP: What are you listening to lately and what do you find interesting about it?

Jace: My essay on Vince Staples for The New York Times Magazine last month is a good place to begin!

JP: What’s next?

Jace: This summer my debut book will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It's called Uproot: Travels in 21st Century Music and Digital Culture. I can't wait for you to read it! I'm curating an event series this summer that I'm extremely excited about, but that's hush-hush until we finalize the schedule in a few weeks.... And of course, I'm working with another string quartet for a performance at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art this May, for a festival called Medialive.

JP’s next project is also at BMoCA’s Medialive where he is making a series of computer-controlled, musical massage chairs - attempting to create an intimate human experience mediated through technology.


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