Ludwig van Beethoven never had Ableton Live. Along with other historically relevant deaf musicians (of which there have been at least 18, according to Wikipedia), after he lost the majority of his hearing, his experience of music likely consisted of a combination of sight-reading notes and the physical sensation of sound vibrations. But if Beethoven had somehow gotten his hands on even a pirated copy of Reason, “Ode to Joy” could have been a total club banger.
For artists working in the age of laptop music-making, the experience of cutting together a song in Ableton or Reason is way closer to cutting together a movie in Final Cut Pro than to noodling around with a guitar in your dorm room. The end result is still music, but the process requires so many different sesnses and skill sets that it feels like it should be an entirely different art form. It wouldn't be at all surprising if a laptop musician with a good eye could put together a compelling song without ever actually hearing it.
Ashley Capachione, who performs under BATHAUS, is not at all deaf, except in the “def” way (which has thankfully not yet made a comeback). But from listening to her elaborately crafted dark electronic songs, composed of snippets of conversation, chopped beats, and layered choral fragments, it becomes clear that her work is closer to painting and collage-making than to jamming out with buds in an Allston basement.
For a feature in this week's Phoenix, I spoke to Capachione about her music-making process, connections between electronic music and visual art, and witchy New England vibes. Here's what we're calling the extended wing of that discussion.
How did you come to Boston?
I went to Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire -– I studied painting and printmaking up there. I'm from south of Boston. I got a job at a gallery on Newbury Street so I moved down here for that. Then I got laid off. Now I work at the ICA part time.
The ICA is one of my favorite spots in Boston. They have so much good contemporary visual art but also performance art and multimedia installatinos.
Performance art is really awesome in Boston. You should check out Vela Phelan. All these people used to be affiliated with Meme Gallery, which is a performance spot in Central Square. It closed two years ago but they're still all sort of working together, which is cool. I do a lot of stuff with them and the Anthony Greaney gallery.
So you perform under BATHAUS but you're part of a larger art collective called the Bathaus. Can you talk a little bit about that?
It started a couple of years ago in my house, which is in Jamaica Plain, with my roommates and friends. We all would make work individually and then we decided to start of make work collectively. All the stuff we were doing individually was on the same plane, on the same astral plane. It just made sense to bring it together.
It was very performative. I do sound and music, which gave it this sort of foundation.
We still have performative events in our house in the basement and invite artists from all over the place and collaborate with them. It's mostly music, sound, and performance.
Did all the Bathaus artists live there?
Dead Art Star, who is Nathan Mondragon, was living there, but he just moved to Brooklyn. Maggie Cavallo (MagZilla) always lived in JP. Never at our house, but she's our best friend. We met at the ICA. She never really started music until we started hanging out and doing it together. She was always into hip hop music so she started writing songs and we would start messing around in my bedroom.
You said you studied visual art. How did you start making music?
I started making sound art in school, sort of collecting sounds. so I started off making found sound pieces, recording on stuff like this *points to my handheld recorder* and videos from my camera. It was mostly sounds that were in churches and ritual spaces. I went to a monastic school so there are a lot of abbeys and churches and little chapels and things like that. So it was words and speaking and I would sort of integrate that with something from a video or bits of conversation and start composing things.
I have always been obsessed with Bristol, UK, music, like trip hop, so I would always make these beats and sort of combine them and as it progressed it started geting more compositional and that's how I really got into making music.
That's almost a visual approach to making music. What do you edit in?
There's a software I had from the '90s that was really shitty but really cool. It was called Music Maker and I could manipulate the sounds. I could make it something else, and that's the language of it. And now I have a whole spread of shit that I can't even... I have two groove boxes which are Electribe samplers and keyboards all in one. I play both of them at the same time. Then I have an old really awesome Roland box sampler that has all my old samples on it and it plays underneath all the music. Then I have another vocal manipulator that I use for Maggie. It's also a drum machine. I have a thing TC-Helicon [for vocals]. Karen from the knife uses that.
It became more performative and sort of real to touch these things.
After I started making music I stopped painting and making prints. The way that I use my hands is now on these instruments.
Creativity is pretty fluid. Sometimes people think that you can only be a musician or only a painter or photographer or filmmaker but it works through all these different outlets.
The way that I make music is the way that I always painted or made prints. It's a layering process.
How did you learn?
You research something, purchase it, and play it. I research what would be best to make these sounds that I've always been interested in. It's like painting in a studio - you do it every day. And then making a spread that suits you. So like, putting things together that might be weird, but they make the right sound. That's how I do it. Like circuit bending.
And how does that translate to live performances?
A lot of electronic musicians now use computers and software to do that. So like Ableton or Logic or something. When you have basically one solid foundation for a track (usually drums are in there) and they have a controller that you can play live keys over, that's where the live element comes on. For me, I don't use a computer at all for my live stuff. The performative element comes out of timing -- I'm constantly doing this *makes motions* twisting things. It's like stirring up a little potion or something.
So you build it up live...
Do your live shows still have the visual element?
I'm always making videos, always. Whether or not they're videos for sound pieces that I still do or a music video that I mix. I'm always collecting footage and making these things. For my live shows, for the most part, other people project theirs.
It sounds like it's more about creating an immersive experience.
It's not just a show. You're not seeing a band. I mean that's cool but this is not the space for it.
Speaking of art and music, you're also doing a gallery show in Seattle soon.
(Via email): The Seattle show at the SEASON gallery [called Nothing and No Thing, running October 14 – December 30] is another show showcasing "The Bathaus". I'll show some video and sound works. In addition to the gallery show at SEASON, I'll be headlining a show with BLVCK CEILING and TEEN GIRL DIES AT RAVE at a venue in Seattle which was set up NOCTUM CARO, a group of dark electronic purveyors. They really set up some awesome shows, I think Xavier Glass Teeth is playing a show for them soon, too.
Was there a moment you realized this wasn't just a thing you were doing in the basement with your friends but part of something larger?
When Mater Susperia Vision, the owner of Phantasma Disques, contacted me. I was just making music and recording video pieces on the web and he found it and contacted me one day and said, so you wanna do a CD?
Cool! And how's the reception for this dark electronic stuff on a local scale? Boston's kind of a big goth town. CVLT is jumping off in a big way.
The reception is great. [I started this] without even knowing the CVLT people or anyone in Boston, but it's almost like we're working on the same thing in a sense. I've performed at some of their nights. It's one big good thing
Goth has been here forever.
It's funny, a staff writer from a magazine in Seattle asked if New England inspires me and if Salem is a huge part of that and I'm like, “Yes! Of course!” You're just always surrounded by the old ghosts of Boston or old New England. Old buildings and spaces and energy.