Black Dice: Blood & Guts
- Words: Eric Smillie
Can you see the music? From Bjorn Copeland's collage, drawings, and sculpture to Aaron Warren's video art, the members of Black Dice have always had their fingers in other media. Small surprise, then, that the group's latest release, Gore (Picturebox Inc.; softcover, $29.95), comes in ink and paper. The book gathers nearly 130 pages of psychedelic collage spliced with the photographs of Jason Frank Rothenberg, a friend of Bjorn (and his bandmate and brother Eric Copeland) since their early teens. Like Black Dice's music, Gore mixes the ecstatic with the disturbing; its bright pages suggest the sublime aspects of the imagination and nature but return to material corruption via scrawls and jumbled images, empty candy wrappers, and unflattering snippets of body parts. Eric helped us connect the eye and the ear from the road on the band's European tour.
XLR8R: How did the idea to make a book come about?
Eric Copeland: We had been thinking of doing a longer book for a long time; [San Diego hardcore label] Three One G put out a handmade short book [of ours] with a single a few years back. I guess we just wanted to work on something a little different, a bigger project of some sort, try something new. But Bjorn and Jason started to talk seriously about it between them and the whole thing sort of snowballed.
How did you go about making Gore?
Because we were collaborating with Jason, it took a long time to figure out how that relationship would work. In the end, we worked together physically on a lot of the pages and often we worked separately with each other's work, and some of it is just singular work that fit with the project as a whole. A lot of the work is collage with straight photos as well, but, again, just figuring out how to work visually together seemed to [become the focus of] the project. It took almost a year for everything to be out of our hands.
How did the visual collaboration compare to the way you make music?
[We had] lots of similar ideas and methods of working, at least [around] the time of [2005's] Broken Ear Record (DFA/Astralwerks). We all felt comfortable enough and [that we had] a lot of support to try anything we wanted. [It was] like we had shed some role and could try a variety of new working methods and projects. Bjorn, Aaron, and I have a pretty long-standing working and musical relationship, but the whole process visually felt somewhat surprising at times, getting to see everyone shift their strengths to something wholly different.
Did you split up the work, with some of you doing collage and others doing digital stuff, or did you all have a hand in everything?
For the most part it was cut and paste. There was a lot of laying out on the computer and some work was digital only. It was pretty much however someone had to work, [depending on] location, money, time, skills. And for us, sometimes the strength in something is a direct result of how it was made–somewhat incorrectly or improperly at times.
How visual is your music-making process?
Sometimes the sounds find a visual language that is often playful and personal. Sometimes we do have to draw what a song will look like or find each other through visual rather than sound terminology. And I think that our ideas of songs are sometimes privately visual as well.
There are some notes in pencil and pen in the book. Is any of that material stuff you've used to compose music?
A lot of it is, one or two found things, some notes or working lists...
Have you considered other mediums? Video, for example?
We tried to include a flexi-disc as part of the book but couldn't find a manufacturer. I think we will definitely work in other mediums, and I know that video is one that we have talked about often, though maybe down the way a bit.
What would you say if someone decided to use a page of Gore as a musical score?
Gore Vital: Inside the Making of the Book with Jason Frank Rothenberg.
Photographer Jason Frank Rothenberg has known Black Dice's Eric and Bjorn Copeland since high school, but that didn't prepare him for the surprises that ensued when they got to work on Gore.
"Working together was a new kind of relationship," says Rothenberg. "[The band has] a really developed aesthetic, and they're uncompromising in their artistic practice. I'd been around it–taking photos while they made their last few records–but that's different than being in it. I didn't realize just how serious these guys are about their art, but it makes sense when you look at their body of work."
Of course, the process wasn't all furrowed brows and glue-stained palms. "Those dudes are so funny, so it was a lot of fun," recalls Rothenberg. "And there were a lot of synchronous happenings, [such as] the way the photo on [page 69] works formally with the collage on 68. Also, the photo on pages 100-101 as well as page 78... They're sort of standard documentary images from our time together in Australia (when they were making Broken Ear Record), but they're so flat, they almost look collaged. On top of that, in a very literal way, both images represent collage (scissors, magazine), so it was nice to see the context give them new life."
Rothenberg says the toughest part of Gore was juggling everyone's disparate schedules and locales, and paring the material down to the final 128 pages. "There were moments where our aesthetic sensibilities conflicted," he offers. "It could be hard to swallow editing things out, but in the end it made the book more interesting. In the end, it's kind of about where our aesthetics overlapped and even more so, [how] they evolved."
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