John Duncan is a master of minimal sound-scapes and harshly intriguing collages of noise. He’s been creating sound and art projects for nearly twenty years now (since he was 15, he says), and he’s worked with everyone from Chris Keefe to Elliott Sharp. Some of his projects are painfully beautiful in their simplicity while others border on the absurd in their extremism. They often suggest that, if he thought there was something to be learned from it, he wouldn’t have a problem taking your life.
His performance events have included such things as disguising his identity and firing guns point blank at friends (with blanks, of course) to examine their reactions (“Scare,” pictured above), and being molested by multiple women after exposing them to pornographic films (“For Women Only”).
“I was trying to find out more about myself,” says Duncan casually. “‘Scare’ was done in LA, in response to being attacked on the street. In the span of a split-second, wanted to give opposite senses of total helpless ‘cold’ fear and reckless ‘hot’ anger to unsuspecting recipients, people who I knew would be able to appreciate it as a learning experience. ‘For Women Only’ was an attempt to reverse an accepted situation; to arouse an audience of women with erotic images normally targeted for men, and then to give that audience a male (myself) to use in private to vent their arousal.”
Duncan and his friend and frequent collaborator Max Springer recently released a new CD (available from Soleilmoon Recordings in the U.S.) called The Crackling. The Crackling was recorded at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center where they bash atoms together at fractions of the speed of light. One can imagine which category of sound this recording falls under…
Max Springer had the following to say about his work with Duncan:
In the membrane separating the sundry and more interesting studies is a great, red lodge. I met John Duncan in a cheap cafe there, or maybe… it was the Melkweg. I was a little upset with how gallery/museum shows of my paintings and sculpture were static. I was sniffing out something that had oscillation. I wanted to have intercourse with another artist that understood painting and sound. Pseudo-friends introduced me to Mr. Duncan… who immediately asked me to go out and physically challenge his audience that night. John’s performance was dark. Some young dudes were pounding industrial waste under strobe in black, John shot fog from a fog gun at the audience, and around eight of us pushed and concentrated the audience, to peak claustrophobia and anxiety, to help expand the awareness of the emotions. I liked him. I was delighted to find out he’d worked with McKenzie (of The Hafler Trio), whose recording work always fascinated me. My college studies were devoted to Electronic Music and Music Concréte, so my interest in the challenges of John’s work has gone on a while. I’d been using computers for my own work for years, so I got John to look at programming as a natural way to build on his existing, rather severe musical ethics. He has shown me the meaning of the colors of his sounds, which we’ve now been composing together into various audio and multimedia projects. John’s added a lot to my love of tone poetry. When we work together… it feels like sharing the flying of a plane. The sound room is a small cockpit, noisy as hell, the computers glare until your eyes burn, you forget to eat. You know the direction of travel, but the ground isn’t familiar. It’s like you know you’re on course in your hidden places and you can’t stop. Our next CD, Change, is now underway and again the hum has started… please stay tuned…
Other upcoming projects include an installation called “Icons,” which Duncan describes as, “an installation with macro-photos of the vaginas of six women printed 12 ft. high and drawings of these images made in my blood.” And as for sound projects, he and Bernhard Günter (Trente Oiseaux label head) just released Home: Unspeakable on Trente Oiseaux (TOC 964), which Charles Powne at Soleilmoon describes as, “either the most brilliant conceptual work ever created, or else it’s just ‘unlistenable.'”
“Giuliana Stefani and I just recorded Charge Field to be put out on Touch/Ash, a remix of the Disinformation CD they released last year,” explains Duncan. “Max, Benzene and I are working on Change, going further into a track I recorded in August ’96 for the Mind of a Missile project on Heel Stone.” If this schedule of events and projects sounds a little cumbersome, it’s normal for Duncan. He’s always busy pushing some limit to it’s breaking point, learning what he can from it, then passing the knowledge on to others through one medium or another.
[Wow&Flutter zine, January, 1997]