music: interview: Lucky Dragons
Lucky Dragons are a duo (Luke and Sara) from Los Angeles who use Max/MSP
to mangle found sounds and create atmospheres that have
brought them both media attention and a very full
touring schedule. Here, we chat!
And there's a Lucky Dragons podcast here!
First of all, congratulations - I can't remember the last time a band that could reasonably be described as "out there", got so much media attention ... and so many gigs! Do you feel you've put your finger on something fairly basic, or are you not questioning it and going with the flow?
we do a lot of questioning, usually with the intention of figuring out what is really basic. maybe the most interesting things happen when you shoot for that and miss...! there's a lot to be said for going with the flow though!
When you started Lucky Dragons in 2000 did you have the same broad idea for it that you have now?
i think around 2000 we had a lot of very optimistic ideas about gangs and collectives and groups that did things in many different ways... lucky dragons was a name for the container we could put all those ideas into and see what came of it. the fact that it's grown up as a band that puts out records is mostly due to how easy it is to distribute things packaged as music, as opposed to other kinds of activities--like cooking or politics or going for walks--that don't lend themselves so easily to packaging and distribution... but anyways its that very ease that keeps us wary of being a band, and makes us hold onto the more difficult things. when it becomes so easy to buy and sell something, i forget about what the thing really is, separate from the buying and selling, just in the world with no wrappers.
The story goes that your name comes from a Japanese fishing boat that was caught in the radioactivity from US nuclear tests some years ago - is this an ironic comment on the word "luck", an anti-nuclear statement, or something else completely!?
well, i think we were inspired in two different ways by that story. first was the way something simple like the name of a fishing boat can become, through the news, a symbol of something much bigger, like worldwide anti-nuclear sentiment. the second was the way popular opinions can lie dormant for years and then suddenly explode at specific moments... the lucky dragon incident happened 10 years after hiroshima and nagasaki, in those years all the hugely traumatic feelings against nuclear warfare were pretty much kept buried... sometimes having a symbol to point to gives a voice to things. maybe that's the whole reason things have names to begin with...!
You use loops of found sounds and recordings of instruments. What do you combine these with and what do you use to organise, play, and mangle the loops?
...interview continues below ...
we've done a few projects that used all found sounds + field recordings as source material--one record used exclusively 45's of norteño music found in the variety stores of east LA, another stripped all of the words from anti-war protests and remixed the remaining sounds into songs... we even tried to make a new nirvana record out of all the old records ground down and re-constituted...! but usually we are using sounds we record ourselves, around the house, walking around... and treating them the same way as found things, as material, as ingredients. we write alot of software to process the sounds, or to reorganize them in time, using MaxMSP.... it's a visual compiler that lets you build software synths or plug-ins or whatever you like using little bits of code written by a wide community... it's pretty basic but you can really do pretty much whatever you like with it.
You've also been involving your audiences in various ways... in a hands on way. Could you tell us about this?
one of the synthesizers we've built uses skin contact as a way of changing the sounds. we've been using it at alot of shows because it totally requires a certain level of equality to exist in the room...! audience members pick up a carrier signal by touching a piece of conductive material, and can pass it to other people by touching them on the skin. as more people touch, and in different ways (firm grasps, gentle brushes, tapping fingers, pressed palms, etc) the entire sound changes in response. it's a huge experiment in shared responsibility, and its going pretty well so far!
One thing about being "out there" is that if you actually want an audience, you need to have handles that people can grasp onto - which might be friendly harmonies or beats. Have you made efforts in the accessability way?
we do think very much about dancing... what sounds reach out to you and grab you and shake you into a dance... sometimes we play with what these sounds are at the most basic level, in the sense of editing what you write until you get down to exactly what it is you want to say, in the simplest way possible. in terms of harmonies and melodies, its no different... sometimes a melody becomes a piece of information that gets embedded in something else, as a basic material that we can use to build other things entirely. in terms of accessability, i think we have this very optimistic point of view that individual people will listen to anything they want to, and that whatever spectrum of in-there to out-there that might exist is just a result of what people expect, not what people are capable of.
On your myspace page you put your description as 'trance, trance, trance' which might confuse people who've only been exposed to super-cheesy and formulaic commercial Trance dance stuff. Define your trance!
ok here's where we get into trouble! i think i have a dangerous tendency towards purposefully ignoring accepted definitions of things. this can happen with specific things, like the genre "trance", or with very general things, like the idea of "genre" , or even "music" itself. there are new ways to be guided towards the music you like, outside of a system of genres. as a way of making sense out of taste it makes no sense to me. it's like political parties, or religions. maybe i am suspicious because these all seem like ways for people with power to group together people with less power into manageable clumps. but when you consider all of the different forms religion--or one's political point of view--can take, and all of the very positive ways it effects very different people, t's difficult to deny that it's a part of who we are, and we are each capable of defining religion or politics for ourselves. wouldn't it be great if music was the same way?
really, i think the idea of relating music and trance is a pretty open-ended thing, and i'm into aligning ourselves with it... but it could also be "funk" or "tropical" or "devotional" or "regional" or any other genre that suggests something broader which is difficult to include inside of the idea of "music"...!
Do you consider yourselves to be part of any sort of scene in L.A.? Are there bands about that you like?
yes totally! LA feels a lot like a billion very small towns that overlap and shift into one another all the time... there are so many great places to play, and people coming up with totally new ways to think about what a band is and where it should go... or even just about how something like putting on all ages shows can be sustainable for everyone involved. its a fertile time here! There is a special place in downtown LA called The Smell, a venue / gallery / all-purpose all-ages center--it is the realest solution to so many questions posed in the last 30 years by bands, fans, people that put out zines, people that organize shows... just about everything there from booking to cooking is done by volunteers, many of whom are in the bands that play there all the time. i just started a free-music (as in no money involved) label with my friend brendan fowler (BARR), so i've been coming up with lists and lists of bands i would be honored to make something with.
it turns out of course that they are from all over the world, not just LA, but that kind of reflects one of my favorite things about the LA scene--there's no "here" here... everything is spread out to the point of oscillating wildly in the world, bringing in, turning out... no limits, no borders. it is a very inclusive, calm, and flexible scene, but also totally awkward and fractured and never completely aware of itself in all of its many parts. but to answer your question, there are bands we like: hecuba, abe vigoda, no age, BARR, mika miko, foot village, david scott stone, the sads, etc etc... but really it's the people in the bands, and the way they go about doing this stuff... that's what we like the most!
You've got a lot of gigs coming up in L.A. and then Chicago, and after that down in Australia and New Zealand, where I think you've been before. People down there, especially musicians, complain about the dearth of places to play if you aren't twenty years behind the times. How do you find it?
we look for it--we look for the cracks in the non-functioning system that's in place, and we look for the people that are coming up with ways of breaking through that system, or replacing it entirely. we definitely learn alot by going on tour, by seeing the ways things are done differently in different parts of the world. it seems like everyone everywhere is having to very actively learn new ways of making the process work--its that experimenting with the whole structure of things that we really like! when you stop taking the structure for granted, you wind up bearing alot more accountability for the state of things... and things do change very quickly, often through the actions of just a few people. so! rent a generator and have a show on top of a parking garage. or in the woods. or plug in to the car stereo and open the doors! or play in an apartment through headphones so there is no noise for the neighbors. or try to convince the city to give you money to put on a festival! these are the gigs of today, you know?
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