| Todd Gautreau:|
Tear Ceremony Interview
(AmbiEntrance© - 1998)
As the mind behind Tear Ceremony, Todd Gautreau and his Dallas, Texas-based Simulacra label, is responsible for the AmbiEntrance favorites Film Decay and Resin. It was our pleasure to meet with him. Special thanks to Nancy at Simulacra for her assistance.
(Photo contributed by Todd)
Link: Can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do? (I'm
guessing you're not a "stereotypical" Texan... y'know, the big, garrulous fella in a cowboy hat and boots...)
Gautreau: Well, I've only been here for the last 5 years. Simulacra (the label) was actually started some years ago, back in Chicago. But I try to steer clear of the geographical stereotypes, granted most of the music here is awful but some areas such as Denton and Austin have respectable artists who are trying to break that mold. I don't feel part of their particular community, however. For my own part, I rarely play live here and Tear Ceremony is far better known in circles outside of the state. But overall, I don't think where you are is too important, everyone should live in their own head anyway.
Link: And how would you describe the "living quarters" inside your head?
Gautreau: Hmm. I suppose that's best revealed through the recordings.
Link: Did the summer's Heat Wave affected your musical output at all?
Gautreau: Hmm, I hadn't though about that but I suppose it has. It's been very hot in my studio which has an enormous window. It has kept me restricted to recording during later hours.
Link: You, as Tear Ceremony, seem to have come out of nowhere to bring us two stunning ambient excursions. What's your prior experience?
Gautreau: Tear Ceremony began in 1990. After several cassette releases, we did a CD for Machinery Records in Germany in 1994, then finally we began releasing things on Simulacra. The earlier material was perhaps more industrial but has gotten progressively more ambient. Of course, the very definition of ambient has evolved considerably since that time.
Link: You say "we"; I thought Tear Ceremony was just you... can you clarify?
Gautreau: Yeah, I tend to use we sometimes speaking collectively for myself, the "band" and the label. Less lonely that way.
Link: Are you part of Simulacra, other than just an artist?
Gautreau: Yes. I'm the force behind it with the assistance of a few other people who help with day to day activities, promotions, etc. It's likely that as the label grows, the roles of others will increase.
Link: Anything particularly significant behind the naming of Tear Ceremony?
Gautreau: The first cassette was released without a proper band name and I knew I needed one. "Ceremony" came from the Joy Division song which I had in my head that day and someone remarked the music was really sad, thus Tear Ceremony fell into place.
Link: What are Tear Ceremony's musical "goals"?
Gautreau: As far as the work itself, I just want to create something that moves people or momentarily provides an escape from the mundane, however briefly it may be. I want to continue releasing as much material as possible. There is a considerable amount of older material to be issued on CD, in addition to a couple of side projects which will be released soon. I'd like to eventually do some scoring as well.
Link: Can you give us more details about your side projects?
Gautreau: Usually when I'm about a third of the way through a recording, I'll start something else entirely, an antidote of sorts. So lately I've accumulated a lot of material which isn't really Tear Ceremony material. The first to be released will be Sonogram, later this year, which focuses more on electronic, analog sounds and less on ambience and atmosphere.
Link: Resin and Film Decay both seem (to me) to have an especially skewed, surrealistic sense about them. Is that intentional, or do these recordings sound perfectly normal to you?
Gautreau: Well, I've always been greatly influenced by surrealist film and literature and I think I've just developed this approach that produces a very surreal sound. It's not necessarily done intentionally, it just now naturally comes out that way.
I've been more inspired by Cocteau and Desnos than any particular musician. For instance, "I Dream of You Endlessly" was directly inspired by the Desnos poem "I Have Dreamed of You So Much." The work these guys were doing over half a century ago is just amazing. That sense of the marvelous that their work conveyed is something you don't see much of in any artform these days, which is ironic considering all the technology we have at our disposal. Of course, I suppose it could be argued that the technology is the problem, imagination is no longer required.
Link: Speaking of surrealism and technology, have you visited any of the Dada-ist websites, like the Surrealism Server? What would the original surrealists say about today's world? What about today's music?
Gautreau: Yes that's a great site, especially the poetry links.
The surrealists would probably thrive in today's world because they would have even more to lash out against. I think they would approach electronic music with the same curiosity as they did film and would probably have incorporated into their work, if not musically then at least as a backdrop. If the surrealist movement would have occured 20 years later, I'm sure they would have been more involved in electronic sound.
The whole idea of sampling and cut and paste techniques can be traced to DaDa. Artaud certainly recognized the importance of sound in theatre in his efforts to assault all of the senses. He talks about this extensively in "The Theatre and its Double." Miro was into Cage and Stockhausen and many of them were into Satie who was also an important, if often overlooked influence on ambient music. So I think the seeds were there, but the movement was essentially over by the time electronic music began to take off in the 60s.
Link: What can you tell us about the behind-the-scenes of your work? What are your primary instruments?
Gautreau: The earlier material was mostly heavily processed guitars, eventually adding samples. The evolution of the sound can be traced according to what equipment I was acquiring, but it was good to work within limitations. Lately, it's been mostly synthesizers, made to sound as organic as possible. Often samples of a nonmusical variety will provide the backdrop for the rest of the song. Delay always plays an important role for its sense of suspension.
Film Decay has more samples and loops and less sequencing than Resin did. I think it allows you to better absorb the frequency and tonal relationships. With each release I try to add or remove something from the equation to keep things interesting.
Link: What are some favorite non-musical sample sources you've used?
Gautreau: I'm fond of ecological ones from the Resin CD, also the mechanical sound on "seismograph," the source of which I don't recall. Once I begin recording they tend to all get blurred together.
Link: So it's *not* a seismograph recording? Whatever it is, it seems very slowed down... Is that a Geiger Counter I hear "Resurfacing"? Is it real or sampled?
Gautreau: I don't think it was an actual seismograph, but it may have been a geiger counter on "resurfacing. I really don't recall the origin of either, they were both samples from an old broadcast files which I worked on a few years ago and had not found the right tracks to use them on until now. I seem to recall them being of a more automated factory machinery origin. But I try to avoid defining the sources too precisely, for fear of dispelling their charm. Like a dream you don't want to analyze it too much, just experience it.
Link: What were some of the ecological effects used in Resin? (They're either too mutated or too blended in for me to recognize...) Do you record your own samples?
Gautreau: Mostly insects, some frogs and birds were used. Those types of samples were taken from recorded sources (nature libraries) and manipulated beyond recognition. I don't go out with a portable DAT or anything. As far as musical samples, I'll often create delay loops of a guitar or synth sound, then sample that for later use. I don't use any of the commercially manufactured sounds. Sample discs and stock sounds on synths are always very sterile.
Link: Much of Film Decay follows a "photographic" theme; is there a story behind this?
Gautreau: When I begin a record, I usually have a number of song titles first. This time tracks such "Jean Seberg, circa 1958" "Zapruder Frame" and "Dissolve" seem to suggest a connection, so the idea grew from there. This really grainy feel began to develop. I always tend to visualize a song, almost like a short film rather than a musical piece. Each piece suggests a different image. For instance, Bergman's films were always more about the faces of the actors than any particular linear story, that's what I try to do musically, especially with this release.
Link: You said you might like to do some scoring; what sort of film, by whom, would be your dream project?
Gautreau: It seems there are fewer interesting filmmakers these days. No one like Cocteau, Bergman, Godard, Jarman...... who really understood the importance of sound.
I did enjoy the recent Vincent Gallo film. It would be fun to do something like that, or to rescore something like Cocteau's "Blood of a Poet" or one of the earlier Anger films. Some of Anger's most gorgeous films have horrible scores and I have to watch them without sound. I think in some cases the scores were added later when they went to video. In any case they are horrific.
Cocteau was not a filmmaker as much as a poet with a camera. That's why his films are so beautiful. They just absorb every bit of his soul because he never learned any kind of technique. That's why I don't wish to learn anymore about music than I already know. You forge an identity through your handicaps. But in today's climate you have few filmmakers who make it very far working this way.
Link: You also contribute to the your CD's package design. (BTW - the green/gray colors are perfect!) What is your background in graphic arts?
Gautreau: Pretty much self-taught over the last few years. I got into it mainly to do the artwork for the recordings and it developed from there. Even from the standpoint of a music fan, I've always considered artwork to be a really important component of the work as a whole and a lot of thought should go into it.
Link: How about Simulacra's website? Is that your work we're seeing there as well?
Gautreau: Yes. I figured I should do that myself as well, to keep a consistent identity. One thing just seems to lead to another.
Link: What are your personal feelings about the Internet?
Gautreau: Well, there are socio/political cautions about loads of unverified information sometimes being distributed and opinions being asserted as facts, but that works the other way as well. It can provide a means of free speech to voices that might not otherwise be heard.
As far as music is concerned, I think it's great. It's helped to break down the old barriers of distribution and promotion. The fact that anyone can visit a site and hear or purchase your music is extremely important for independent artists.
The internet has already changed the world and will continue to do so. It's great for the economy and education. It has phenomenal education potential. Hopefully, it's development in that area won't be stifled by politics. Classrooms should be full of computers. It will be much more important than the telephone or television. Unfortunately, we will probably get to the point where we can't live without it.
Link: You said you rarely play live "here", meaning you do sometimes play live? Where? As Tear Ceremony?
Gautreau: For awhile there were about 4-6 shows per year but it eventually tapered off as the sound became more dependent on the studio. The best ones were in regional areas such as Houston and Austin or nearby college towns. Not surprisingly, the shows in Dallas always had poor turnouts. I don't feel the need to do it anymore.
Link: When you're not concentrating on your music, what are you doing?
Gautreau: Wishing I was concentrating on music, sleepwalking.
Link: What advice can you offer to beginning ambient/electronic musicians?
Gautreau: Be prepared to do everything on your own if necessary. It will be more rewarding that way. Start your own label, get a website, make sure your music gets heard even if it means losing money, and it will. Don't be under the delusion that a record company is going to come along and take care of everything. There are lots of artists out there and very few labels. Even if that does happen, it will only be after you have done a lot of hard work on your own. If your material is good, you will find support and encouragement out there. Be patient, but be determined.
Link: What does the future hold for Tear Ceremony?
Gautreau: More sound, more dreams.
Link: I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more. Do you have any closing commentary?
Gautreau: Thanks to all.
This interview posted September 20, 1998