Beyond the Celestial Din: A Conversation With Garek Jon Druss

Posted by on September 9, 2014


Seattle’s Debacle Records has cast a mighty shadow over the city’s experimental music scene, from the noise, drone, and glorious weirdness that comprises the annual Debacle Fest, to the wild and bleary techno that comes out of the regular MOTOR nights. Many groups in the area claim affiliation with this label, though Garek Jon Druss has been with the label since nearly the beginning. A multimedia artist who’s comfortable playing in both art galleries and noise venues, Druss makes music in groups such as A Story of Rats, Dull Knife, and under his own name. For his latest record, Music for the Celestial Din, Druss pared down a work that premiered at the Hedreen Gallery (on the campus of Seattle University). Celestial Din utilized “the frequencies 396HZ, 417HZ, and 528HZ based on their reputed human response” (more on that below). The LP, which includes the original plus two excellent remixes from Pete Swanson and Ben Chisholm, is an engrossing ambient/drone record that highlights just how emotional and powerful Druss’s music can be, whether in the original gallery setting or on vinyl. As Garek prepares for the Sept. 31 release of Music for the Celestial Din, as well as a fall residency in Vienna, he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his career, his relationship with Debacle, and his upcoming projects.

Jason Cabaniss: Your work, whether solo, in A Story of Rats, or as an artist, is varied and showcases your talent for noise, ambient, drone, modern classical, and visual art. What’s your musical and artistic background, and when and where did you first begin to play music?

Garek Jon Druss: I’m from a family of creators, with two artistic parents, a sister who is a graphic designer and a brother who performs, composes, and acts, I was lucky enough to be raised with the notion that self-expression is vital and relevant to the individuals existence.

In the spring of 2004, I received a Bachelors of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in mixed media from the University of Idaho. I first started performing as a vocalist with hardcore bands many years ago. With no formal musical training, I have always been fanatic about music but have always considered my self an artist, and never a musician. So being apart of these bands gave me entry into a world that I had always wanted to be apart of, I was yearning for sonic creation but I not know how to generate it.

Growing up, my parents had offered me music lessons but due to my hyperactivity and immaturity I was never able to follow through on my end. I do have vivid memories of drawing with my father, mother, and older brother. Each of them shaped my creative existence with their support and teachings. I think drawing was the first thing that calmed me down and gave me so level of tranquility. I am sure it was noticed and fostered.

JC: According to your CV you performed in Europe last year (Antwerp, Prague, and Vienna). Is there a difference between U.S. and European audiences, in terms of their response to your work?

GJD: There are differences, but not necessarily in the audiences, although those do exist. The main difference I experienced was with the structure of the venues, how they were run and how they approached and treated the performing artists.  Overseas, there seems to be an implied understanding and value of the work that the artist is creating, the intuitions have the proper funding to extend hospitalities and support, which can empowers the artist to do their best work. Because of this, the interaction feels more significant for the artist no matter where they are on the social or economical ladder. Like most performers, I have had my share of degrading experiences by way of the audience and or venue. But with my limited experiences abroad, the audience and their attentiveness has been fairly similar to those in the States.  Obviously you get different receptions and levels of awareness, based on the environment you choose to display your work in.  The US crowd at a bar/ venue is going to be much different then a gallery space in Brussels. In Krems Austria, while preforming with the Saint Genet theater company, there was a gentleman trying to force his way into the performance, I could see the young man trying to wrestle past the security/ door attendant. He kept pushing back until they finally escorted him out of the museum. That was something special and I will always cherish that image. On both sides of the Atlantic, I have had the pleasure of asking people to be quiet and take their chatter outside; People are people, wherever you go.


JC: The community surrounding Debacle Records seems like one of the city’s most creative, vibrant, yet underground music scenes. How did you first get involved with Debacle?

GJD: Oh my gosh, I have been lucky enough to know Sam (Debacle head & heart) since maybe 2006 and probably earlier! One of my earliest solo releases as A Story of Rats, was maybe released in 2007, it was number 10 in the Debacle catalog. Number 9 in his catalog is another project I was apart of for many years called Dull Knife. There was a really wonderful energy during that time in Seattle’s experimental/ noise scene, probably eight years ago when the record store Electric Heavyland was this hub of activity and friendship. I met Sam around that time; before I was even performing live as a solo artist. Sam and his wife Wendy have always showed me such love and support for both my visual and audio work. In fact, that ASOR cdr that he put out all those years ago came with a booklet of sound drawings. Debacle was the first entity that provided me a platform to combine those mediums in the public sphere. Right now Seattle is so vibrant, there is a lot happening, almost too much. The city is growing and with that there is more artists, more support, and venues opening their doors.  I’ve been here for 10 years now and I can feel the enthusiasm and eagerness of the community rising. It seems like a lot of things that people have been building on are really starting to hit their stride that in turn gives birth to new outlets and continues to empower the community and the west coast in general.

Bobby Power: Do you have more installation pieces in mind for the future?

GJD: Recently I have been sketching and researching for a larger sound installation that is based on a sort of walking meditation, having the participants address their own physicality while interacting with a prerecorded audio. I have been asking people to sit still a lot lately so I’m thinking of other approaches, in order to keep my work progressing and anti- stagnant. The concept is still in its infancy but that will be my next gallery oriented sound exhibition. I have also been working on presenting my sonic work and the works of others in a new manner that focuses on attentive listening environments fostered through discourse, and live performance.

BP: The piece’s title is a music writer’s dream, perfectly describing the elevating mass of drones. How did you settle on the title? Did you know the piece would be performed at the Hedreen Gallery, and did that location influence the title?

GJD: I have been carrying around that term as a conceptual phrase and descriptor for a few years now. The concept of an astral or cosmic cacophony that in my mind isn’t unpleasant but uplifting and liberating, touches on so many of my interests, both artistically and personally. When I approached the curator (Amanda Manitach) of the Hedreen gallery about presenting the exhibit, I already knew the title of the exhibition. The exhibit was a multifaceted event and from the beginning, I had planned on releasing the music as an LP and that’s why I approached Sam about the collaboration. Location did influence the installations’ footprint as well as the live performance, but it did not have any effect or presence on the title or the concepts within.

JC: Can you elaborate on the origins of Celestial Din, and if/how you incorporated the space into the piece’s composition? 

GJD: I wanted to present the Celestial Din exhibit at the Hedreen Gallery because of the buildings layout and the support they offer via the Seattle University. As far as I know, it’s the only gallery space in Seattle that also contains a black box theater. Having the opportunity to present my visual work, and a place to stage a live concert is really a dream situation for what I do. Amanda and the Hedreen staff, including the lighting and staging mangers in the theater, were so supportive and open to my needs, it really crushed me. My heart was smiling for months.

GJD_Decoder_Installation with Resonance_MMXIII

JC: Your press sheet highlights an enthusiastic write-up in The Stranger upon the installation’s debut. Given the frequencies utilized in the piece were based on eliciting an emotional response, how was the overall response to the work?

GJD: For the most part, the response was very engaging; one of the reactions that has really stuck with me was an experience that was shared with me some months later, after the exhibition had already closed. An individual attended the opening and the live performance with a close friend. During the live presentation, her friend became very agitated and uncomfortable; I believe she might have even left while I was playing. As her friend, who for her experience, felt very connected with the work and the frequency range described it to me. The physical discomfort that her friend had was seemly out of nowhere, she mentioned to me that some time after my performance that very friend had been diagnosed with a fairly serious condition. Nothing terminal, but at the time of my performance, her body was not present with its own well-being and overall health. I do not make any claims to what will or will not happen, but the individual did make it very clear to me that she believed her guest had that sort of reaction during the concert because her body was not well and under attack from an outside infection, as if the healing tones were being rejected by a poisoned entity. I was quite stunned to hear this account, I told her that sound is a powerful medium that can work in a curious manner. I cannot speak directly to her friends’ experience because I am not a physician or a sound therapist but I do believe that there are limitless possibilities and one of those could very well be something as tangible as a sick bodies physical reaction to harmonious tone played at a distinct volume.

BP: The piece is also reportedly based on “frequencies 396HZ, 417HZ, and 528HZ, based on their reputed human response,” while the title brings to mind extraterrestrial themes or moods.

GJD: If you knew me personally, you would know that I am very interested in extraterrestrial themes! I chose those frequencies as the tonal foundation for this piece because I wanted to experiment with that reported belief was and if it would make an impact on my audiences. The music I create is very visual, I was and am interested in how that would translate if I was using these specific vibrations that already had so much baggage attached to them. It was a really exciting challenge, building and maintaining those frequencies, patch wise with analog synthesis, and from a compositional standpoint. 528Hz is a higher range then I normally work in, to my ears, the deeper, rounder tones are more comfortable.  But that’s why it was such a great plunge; I had to move outside of my normal tonal habitat to build a shelter with new materials. It wasn’t easy for me, and there is still a lot of work to be done in that realm, I continue to explore those areas and how they impact my work in regards to scoring and audience reception.

BP: The Celestial Din appears on the recent Debacle LP in a much briefer form than the original 30~ minute piece. What hurdles did you overcome when editing it down to fit onto a single side of an LP?

GJD: There are always sacrifices when it comes to that, especially with atmospheric music and for me, it’s a pretty interesting part of the editing and mixing that happens in the studio. I love the way vinyl sounds, the feel of it, it has always been my first choice.  I often think how different the outcome would be if I was working with a compact disc as the final product. I have compositions that I would like the audience to sit with, for 15 minutes even, a tone or a drifting of tones, before the actual sonic piece begins, I don’t get to do that with vinyl. It’s like drawing and paper size restraints. In my head, the graphic work exists in a 6ft.-by-10ft. space, but sometimes I don’t have access to reel of paper that large or a studio space to facilitate that sort of work. So you draw, you do what’s needed for the work to exist while always being aware of the physical boundaries you are creating in. I edited down the work for the Debacle release, moved some transitions around so the expression still remained true but in a reliable format. I would love to release something in a MiniDisc format. So obscure and ridiculous but with a two-hour playback time! Imagine what could happen. The Celestial Din piece began as a five-channel sound installation that was a 30-minute looped work. The live version was performed for 25 minutes, and the recorded version was then edited down to a little less than 18 minutes. I love all the different lives that the work is able to live, from gallery all the way to the remixes, it’s beautiful that something can have that many forms but still maintain its heart and original intention.

BP: The remixers involved (Pete Swanson and Ben Chisholm) are quite different but emphasize aspects of the piece. How did they come to mind for this project?

GJD: I respect both of those artists very much, as friends and creators. I had a list of individuals I wanted work with for the remixing of this piece, Pete and Chris were at they very top it. I reached out to them and they agreed to collaborate. There is so much talent between those two it’s almost unbelievable, I ‘m deeply moved and inspired that I had the chance to work with them. I wanted their new interpretations of the work, I am very aware of their output as creators and they delivered far beyond what I had imagined.

JC: You’re about to head to Vienna for a residency. Can you tell us a little more about what you’ll be working on and what you’re looking forward to in living and performing in Europe?

GJD: I’m so excited and thankful for the Wolfram Residency and the Mo.e performance space. Christian Bazant Hegemark and Siolo Thompson (residency directors) have been a real blessing. They have showed me such patience and support, even in the little time that we have been working together.

I will be using my time in Vienna to develop a new listening program with an intimate group of participants from the Viennese community as case studies; I want to create direct interaction with sound and attentive listening through a unique experience that addresses the significant elements and techniques required for dynamic listening and aural meditations. We will be developing a new presentation that is part lecture, live performance, and meditation. With the participant’s critiques and feedback I will be able to outline a discourse that will become a new manner of presenting listener focused compositions. I’ll doing a few live engagements and I will also be finishing the initial mixing and structuring for my next solo record.

JC: As you get ready to leave Seattle, what will you miss about the city and its music scene?

GJD: Well I’ll only be gone a month! The only thing I’ll miss will be my sweet heart, I like hearing her voice and seeing her everyday.