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An Interview with Eric Lunde – Prolegomenon

Eric Lunde: 33 Years of Assault & Chaos –
A four part serial conversation with TQ’s Aram Yardumian and Wisconsinite Eric Lunde.  We talk about nonlinear dynamics, noise systems, auto racing, and the roots of the Industrial scene in America. We do not talk about Ed Gein.

Serial Three-Part Interview
Part One: Assaults on Culture, Part Two: The 80’s, Part Three: The Aesthetics of the Crash

Aesthetic violence and assaults on culture have a long, deep-reaching history among both tyrants and the alienated. Destruction of iconography and memory, depictions of suffering, and staged assaults on institutions and values with intent to expose, displace, and destroy them. It is possible to argue that violent practice is counterproductive, and linked, sociologically, to the death drive. It is also possible to argue that, like a virus, it works both to destroy the individual host and become part of its genetic makeup, replicating itself generationally, and by virtue of drift and selection, ensuring more successful cultural production. As Burroughs reminds us, ‘From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus.’ Most art-mediated assault fails to get us beyond arguments on cultural difference, semiotic change, or an interest merely in the generalized assault on norms. These things are to be found anywhere art is sold. But there are also those who strategize and make art more than theoretical, more than template, nor merely Anti-art; with both greater and more specific concerns than spontaneous and impulsive destruction, concerns with a greater kind of realism. Strategists of this kind are rarer, their threads hard to follow.


To trace a specifically strategically violent current in cultural history, a good place to look is painting, specifically German Expressionism, more specifically Kokoschka and Schiele, who made brutalization and empathy a single practice, and thus the distinction between these things harder to find. By exaggerating features of a subject (even commissions were self-portraits) in a grotesque isolation, the self could be portrayed completely and un-theatrically, alienation could be salved by portraying its extreme state, the solitary, non-normative, contradictory—but still logical—self could emerge. The kind of preturnatural, contradictory violence was inspiring to Dada, which for all its virulence, is now collected by the galleries it sought to burn down, and thoroughly theoretically schematized by the very institutions it worked to turn inside out. Why this denotes, as some critics have surmised, its ultimate failure is hard to say since its influence has otherwise been significant. Lettrisme and the numerous it spawned, in spite of their disagreements, were united by the principle that the life of an art movement has two phases: la phase amplique et la phase ciselant. Isou positioned Lettrisme as the blueprint-drafter for a re-encoding of art for new aesthetic goals, post-atomization. This, following the creeping but powerful cultural assault of Modernism on Enlightenment values, courtesy of Nietzsche, Dada, et al. Although this re-encoding was strategic in its way, Isou’s concerns were more formal than for its content.

The Actionists’ assault on values—destructive in strategically, political-driven ways, Dionysian, and painfully tangible—is closer to the bone. These were willfully violent men performing violent and transgressive rites with no boundary between performers and audience. Often they went to jail or otherwise ran afoul of the authorities they pretended to want to piss off. Knowing, not caring, that art reaching for a specific reaction exhausts itself sooner than more expansive, exploratory work, they reached a kind of theoretical stasis. Out of which the values they assaulted grew anew. The violence and damage of Otto Muehl’s ‘Pissaktion’ and Hermann Nitsch’s Orgien Mysterien Theater events did predicate modern performance art and transgressive body practices (Chris Burden, John Duncan, COUM Transmissions, and thus Throbbing Gristle, et al), as well as contemporaneous movements, including Fluxus and Gustav Metzger’s Auto-Destructive Art. Of those involved, only Rudolf Schwarzkogler’s work was Appolonian in its strategies, but even he, in his tableau images, sought to re-encode nothing. Most of these things were public discourses, art strikes, media-bating, sepsis orgies which rose below the high-water mark of good taste, and the even more theoretically impossible but fiscally expedient category ‘Outsider Art’. None of them (well, maybe John Duncan) employed violence with quite the refinement and private interest they might have.


What was wanted all along was nothing more than an appeal to solecism, which, as Cioran has said, is the only way to approach verisimilitude. And it has to be violent, controlled, and more than tangible, in the way Genet decided his art would become life as he walked out of prison. The assault should be strategic, the re-encoding viral, and the scope geographic, and, like Francis Bacon’s Black Tryptics, a grope, or elegy, for rough trade. Of one sort or another. The onslaught of audio and visual material released by Eric Lunde since 1982 has evolved from experiments in etiological and topological re-encoding to a measured deliberation on man’s relationship with technology. His first recordings were made with Boy Dirt Car, a Milwaukee-based unit otherwise consisting of Darren Brown and Keith Brammer (also of Die Kreuzen), occasionally others. After a brief tour of guitar rock in the shadow of Sonic Youth, and a hiatus, BDC emerged with their first cassette, Gravel on Urine (1982). The instrumentation on the cassette was entirely, or nearly, power equipment Lunde had borrowed, or stolen, from work. Air compressors, generators, pumps, propane gas cylinders, Skilsaws and other assorted power tools, hammers, and crowbars — the same basic ensemble as Einstürzende Neubauten’s, though the two were operating completely independently of one another. They convened regularly at industrial and metalworks sites, such as bridges, which they used as auxiliary instrumentation. BDC shows appeared like machine shops, the performers as operators creating what would, in retrospect, be called ‘industrial music’. According to Lunde, the portrayal was, on one level, accurate: both he and Brown and the other band members were from working class backgrounds, from families who got up early and went to work in the cold and knew little else. But the image is ironic, a protest from artists who would escape the home/work routine so culturally engrained in the region.

In or around 1983 BDC began a project called Series “L”, in which anyone could send the band money and receive a 60 minute cassette tape in the mail. Working this way was creatively draining, but also galvanizing in that the need to make more, unique music on demand led them to new sound sources, specifically tape loops and explosives, and to a musical philosophy based on chaos—something that has always remained vital to his style. Boy Dirt Car released four cassettes and as many LPs between 1984 and 1988, during which time they played legendary shows around the American Midwest. Subsequent BDC releases have appeared in recent years, though without Lunde’s involvement.

Before BDC broke up—even before it formed—Lunde had been working with ideas of his own, many of which he continues to mull and develop today. In 1986(?), he produced Impositions of the Viral Element, a Linoleum print cycle depicting the transmission of unspecified sexual diseases. Given the decade it is not difficult to guess which ones. Following the maxim ‘Disease demands an exchange of value with the body’, the theme of the cycle is predictive of the eroticization of these illness and its signs. ‘Lesions become beauty marks’ typifies the concomitant biological and cultural changes he foresaw: adaptations to new physiological and social environments in which sex can be—and will continue to grow more—fatal, and more combative in the redefinition of sexual allure. The feedback loop of changes in human sexual life since the 1980s is now globalized, with disease speaking louder than the human voices which would mitigate the impact. We hear Bataille’s voice: ‘Eroticism, it may be said, is assenting to life up to the point of death.’


The following year Lunde released Expositions of the Virus, a cassette in three editions, all of which contained images from the Impositions booklet, as well as added text. Three more cassettes came out the same year, each with a physiological undergirding, and a reorganizational strategy, but also an increasing interest in topography. Scatter (1987) was Lunde’s first attempt at recoding his physical environments in the way the virus recodes its host environment. With this tape we are introduced to another persistent theme in Lunde’s work: Wisconsin, the Wisconsin of Ed Gein and Wisconsin Death Trip, the one place Lunde knows upside and down. Scatter is a project formed around the atmosphere and social feel of ordinary places that he frequented for work, places with an especially Wisconsin oppressiveness. Sounds representing the atmospheres were recoded and projected as if back out in an assault on the environment, as he put it, ‘like a bomb directed toward things that were invading me.’ Lunde says the cassette itself is the instrument, and the contents should be thought of as ‘operations’ or ‘communiques’, not music per se. Two more releases, both 7” records, Aztalan / Camp Douglas Quadrangle (1988) and N3845 W10452.5/.5 (1989), continued to shape the strategy of environmental counter-attack. One could imagine these works at full volume as soundtracks to Survival Resarch Laboratories events. Both were released by the pre-eminent noise label of the day, RRRecords.

Sounds and images are made personal. By re-encoding texts—that is by capturing field recordings and voices on cassette, burying and suffocating them—re-recording and re-recording them until their voices are decomposed to a tone and rebroadcasting them—they are emptied of predicate, and thus of their content and power. It is a Burroughsian project par excellence, in that information is mulched until something new emerges. Though the unpredictability of the results recall cut-ups as well as the various Surrealist games, it is not really an aleatory technique, and a great deal of subtle control is possible. It is also a project connected to Lettrist-Situationist critiques, through which effects of urban geography and architecture on human emotion and travel are negated through focused exercises (such as traversing the streets of one city by following the map of another). And it is a kind of neuro-habitat (to borrow a phrase from Maurizio Bianchi) in which information is re-introduced to its cultural environment, like a lab-virus engineered to carry an altered message whose subliminal meaning cannot be or avoided, or gleaned, without the cipher of its method. Though the idea of re-introducing virulently decomposed sounds into the landscape was present in Catalyst (a BDC cassette from 1984), Lunde’s 1987 tapes Operative and Scramble further the experiment. Form’s Forced Surrender (also 1987) is a work dedicated to how murderers communicate themselves to the world both via the individual acts and the ‘Morse code’ of lines left across the territory they rove—the semiotic spectacle, if you will; the patterns of deep intimacy, power, and possession reduced to a semiotic array.

The sounds on these cassettes are expressly low-tech and coarse—parcel to both its methodological solecism and DIY aptitude. There are long passages of persistent electronic violence whose abstract and formless procession perfectly express the uncluttered terrain and ideas Lunde is working in. It is difficult to call the material personal even though it is more personally shaped and sedemented than it may sound. Its process is more purity than culinary, more signature than special. The instruments, rather devices, are available at any electronics supply house: cheap condenser microphones and speakers, cassette decks, maybe a scanner or circuit-bent radio. Some of the devices are unique and handmade. There are found sounds whose obscure origins widen the exact poverty of the decomposition. A $12.95 Radio Shack biofeedback monitor was used as an instrument on the 1988 cassette De Sade, wherein texts by this author were used as a catalyst. Side A captures biofeedback frequencies generated by Lunde engaging in sexual activity while listening to a recording of de Sade’s 9 Days of December and the 45 Complex Passions, as narrated by Champville. Side B, the biofeedback rhythms of an unidentified female while listening to a rendering of, and reading, the subsequent 9 Days of December and the next 45 Passions.


Between 1990 and 2002 Lunde entered what he describes as ‘a deep vegetative state’, during which he produced no audio work for public consumption. Prior to this he released what is probably the culminating project of these early years: XCHdX: On The Terrain Of Prophecy, a work both brutal and subtle, and one in which most of Lunde’s interests at the time appear: topography, culture, spectacle, technology, and decomposition. It is a work consisting of two long tracks, and an etching on side B of the record. The mystery and color of this record seem more varied, and the logic more clarified than ever before. A variety of works have emerged since 2002, including several collaborations (with Jeph Jerman, Kommissar Hjuler, and others) and limited audio art objects. The variety and flow of ideas would seem to pick up about where it left off, with perhaps a heightened emphasis on human-technology encounters. But there is also an artistic maturity leading to an, oddly, more intimate coldness and range of epistemic possibilities, and something chaotic that feels almost mystical.

Since his return from total obscurity to relative obscurity he has also published at least twelve books (maybe more). Two are novel-length incursions into cut-up (or at least non-linear) methodology, three are photo books, another five are prose poetry (also involving some kind of chance composition techniques, evidently): one of these is accompanied by a CD/DVD and screened insert cards; another features woodblock prints. There is also a volume of aesthetic philosophy and imagery in the spirit, you might say, of both John Berger and William S. Burroughs. The books continue investigations of the perennial topics: technology, specifically cloning and duplication, the American Midwest, and the human organism. Eric’s most recent book, Short Bursts of Light, which he was kind enough to send me in the mail, is a kind of fictional science narrative (though not science fiction) in vignettes ranging from stream-of-consciousness to concrete poetry to palimpsest.


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