Arto Lindsay composed and recorded ‘I Had a Fever When’ with participating musicians exclusively for Edition Dur.
Arthur Morgan “Arto” Lindsay (born in Virginia in 1953, raised between the US and Brazil) is is a guitarist, singer, record producer and experimental composer – a pioneer of the frantic, dissonant ‘no wave’ style in late ‘70s New York. He has resiliently resisted categorisation since, turning his hand to contemporary electronic music and Brazilian Samba with a characteristic diligence and idiosyncrasy.
He is a founding member of the 1970s No Wave band DNA, he performed on albums by the Lounge Lizards and The Golden Palominos. With keyboardist Peter Scherer he formed the Ambitious Lovers perfectly balancing noise music tendencies and traditional Brazilian music influences.
He has collaborated with both musical and visual artists, including Ryuchi Sakamoto, Vito Acconci, Laurie Anderson, Animal Collective, Matthew Barney, Caetano Veloso and Rirkrit Tiravanija just to name a few of his projects in his career up to 202
Arto Lindsay in conversation with Max Dax
Max Dax: What is there to say about this new album that you recorded for the Dussmann vinyl series, Bertolt Brecht said about the world we live in that it has come apart at the seams, and a world that has
come apart at the seams can only be described in fragments in art.
Arto Lindsay: You know how subtitles are used in silent films and in Godard‘s films? A black frame appears in the film, and a quote from, say, Walter Benjamin is superimposed on it while the audio track might continue or the quote on the black screen can be read in silence. Another example might be Godard‘s approach to working with visual leitmotifs that repeat and interrupt the film narrative in what seems like an imitation of musical form.
Max Dax: For example, the trains of the Paris Métro crossing a Seine bridge in Prénom: Carmen. Or cuts to the neon signs on the rooftops across the street in Détective?
Arto Lindsay: That‘s what I‘m talking about. Or cutting to the headlights and taillights of cars on a street, or to the ocean … I recorded a record in which the musical phrases are juxtaposed. Instruments appear in sequence, never playing at the same time. I invited musicians, Skúli Sverrisson on bass, Ölygur Steinar Arnalds, electronics, and John McCowen on bass clarinet and piccolo flute to sit in a circle in a studio in Reykjavik, and I suggested that each of us individually play something on our instrument, and I that
would subsequently cut these recordings together as if I were editing a film.
Max Dax: On top of the music you quote literature, but you are also monologuing, as if – let‘s stay in the picture – Godard had filmed you sitting in a circle with the band in the studio. One Plus One. What is said during the recording is as important as the music that is heard. At least in the film.
Arto Lindsay: Not in our case. I very casually quote Charles Baudelaire at the very beginning of the record, referring to his poem À une passante, from his collection of poems, Fleurs du mal. This poem is about glances that cross. Two people meet on a street and look deeply into each other‘s eyes for one moment, knowing they will never see each other again. Had the two of them spoken to each other, that moment could have changed the course of both of their lives. Anything could have happened. A love story could have happened. Or a murder. As we know this brief pause in a generalized anonymity can also be quite romantic when it is cast in verse.
Max Dax: So a whole world opens up. In the second spoken word sequence you are talking to yourself. You‘ve forgotten something. Where did you forget it? At home? But it doesn‘t seem to be a thing that you‘ve forgotten, it‘s as if you are talking about an idea that has slipped your mind.
Arto Lindsay: I like this overlapping style of storytelling. The image shows something, the film sound says something else, and the subtitles say something else again. Chris Marker worked similarly with La Jetée. And let‘s not forget Fassbinder.
Max Dax: Fassbinder died in Munich in 1982. What influence does he still have on you
and your music.
Arto Lindsay: Rainer Werner Fassbinder has always been present in the international music and art scene. Right now everyone in New York seems to be reading Ian Penman‘s fantastic book Thousands of Mirrors about Fassbinder. A few years ago my friend the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija made a shot-for-shot, word-for-word remake of Angst essen Seele auf – with Karl Holmquist in the role of Emmi Kurowski, the female lead. Fassbinder seems to have possessed a kind of key with which he can open a door – the door to the end of the self. With him, it‘s as if the self bursts into flames, and as viewers we are drawn into this vision of glamour and oppression, melodrama, hatred and cold love.
Max Dax: One parallel between your work and his seems to me to be that you both
emphasize the artificial. At least you are emphasizing it on I Had a Fever When …
Arto Lindsay: An artificial that doesn‘t even bother to pretend to be real. It‘s plainly
made up. I‘m not about naturalism. And what might connect the films I adore and my
new record is the cinematic approach I tried to take in Reykjavik. On I Had a Fever When
there is no tension building, nothing builds vertically, everything takes place horizontally.
Max Dax: Like in a timeline? Like in a time-based editing sequence of a film?
Arto Lindsay: A record is always a timeline but here I guess more explicitly so.
Max Dax: On the cover of the record there is a drawing that looks like a rough architectural sketch. Does it have a deeper meaning?
Arto Lindsay: It‘s a sketch of a model of the Casa Malaparte in Capri. At a parade I
made in São Paulo, I had parade participants carry small wooden models on poles of
the Malaparte house on a rocky cliff and of the Teatro Farnese in Parma as if they were
totems in a religious procession. It’s just here as another reference.That makes more
sense to me than using a portrait photo of myself on the cover.
Max Dax: The music as it can now be heard on the record was preceded by ideas that
you then discarded. You originally wanted to make a record that was only complete when
you played both sides, the A and B sides, on two record players at the same time. That‘s
not a new concept, but again it would have been an interesting listening experience.
Why did you discard this idea?
Arto Lindsay: Actually no, that wasn‘t the original idea. I had planned that I would sing
at one point on the A-side and then I would place a noise guitar moment at that exact
point on the B-side, with the effect of the voice and guitar being „above“ or „below“ each
other through the vinyl … But I soon lost interest in that idea. I liked the new idea much
better. I liked the analogy to film, even though it‘s a bit of a stretch. In film, too, you
shoot one scene after the other and cut them together, so that over time a film emerges
from their juxtaposition.
Max Dax: On I Had a Fever When there‘s a track that could be called a song, You Have
What it Takes. Did you want to counter the conceptual superstructure of the record with
a simple song?
Arto Lindsay: I hadn‘t wanted to counter anything particularly, just to include a song like moment. In some sense my song is like a close-up where you feel you know who is speaking. But I guess the way I used my voice through out this record is also sort of in close-up … The close-up of course came into its own with Greta Garbo. I feel like that‘s the moment when cinema became aware of the power of the close-up. I‘ve always been a huge fan of hers. I love how she managed to project desire to the masses with her face alone. Her close-ups are some of the the most effective shots in cinema for me – the moments with the most power. The close-up is so large …Of course in cinema the small fragments of speech have also been magnified so that you hear a whisper very loudly in a movie theater. Once again we are talking about the power of the artificial.
Musicians: Arto Lindsay: Guitar and Voice / Skúli Sverrisson: Bass /Ölygur Steinar Arnalds: Electronics / John McCowen: Bass Clarinet and Piccolo Flute
Verdict: Putting aside the narrative of the artist and their intentions on what the music should represent, what do we have? We have an exploration into sound and the power it has to create a listening environment and an emotional tone. Although listed as basically two tracks, each track is a collection of sonic experimentation created by the human voice and instruments, both natural and manipulated. As with all projects dealing with the the experimentation of sound, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or should that be of the listener, and with this particular release, personally, I dig it. The appreciation I felt myself is the bringing into existence music and sounds that can only come from accomplished musicians pushing boundaries and not performing to entertain but enlighten the listener and what can be achieved by doing so.
A: I had a fever when (1)
B: I had a fever when (2)