For the past decade, Nolon Ashley (aka Cult of Zir) and Ogo Eion (aka An Exquisite Corpse) have been gracing the pacific northwest with their audio experiments. Now the two have release an album together: Shortwave Ministry for Theatre Noir (available for free, I might add).
The duo talked to me from an undisclosed porch in Portland. Hit play on the embedded album above, kick back and do whatever you do to get into that special headspace, and read what they have to say about their latest work.
Left: Nolon Ashley. Right: Ogo Eion. Photo by Gabriel Schroder
Klint Finley: How did this collaboration come about?
Nolon: The material itself was requested by a man named Nathan HG who is putting together some theatre noir pieces with a troupe of dancers he’s assembled. He came to me and wanted the central theme to be “white” noise, and the first thought that hit my head was Ogo’s impeccable shortwave radio toys. It was an easy decision. Ogo and I have been friends for years and have worked together in several different ways.
Ogo: Yeah – Nolon asked me to bring my shortwave radio over to the Octopus Templi (his house) and we sat down and he recorded some samples.
Nolon: I did a bunch of work for other performance troupes last year, probably more than I did as Cult of Zir itself, and this time I meant to at least make sure more folks heard it than those who just went to the performances.
What equipment and/or software did you use? How was it recorded?
Nolon: We used a lot of SCIENCE. It’s all done in Ableton. No plugins.
Photo by Gabriel Schroder
Ogo: I brought my “trademark” shortwave radio, which i scored at a thrift store some ten years ago maybe – it’s seen much use since then. It’s a Sony FM/AM multi-band receiver ICF-5900W. It never breaks and keep battery charge for years. And I’ve always been quite impressed by the variety of sounds I can conjure up from this little beast.
Nolon: For this volume of the Shortwave Ministry, I gave the radio sounds the lead, and all my synth/vocal/guitar work is more or less there to reinforce the textures that came from that. Volume 2 will be more focused on abrasive sounds, with pianos instead of guitars.
Is the shortwave radio modified in any way?
Ogo: It’s not circuit bent, no. Though it’s seen some wear over the years that has seemed to affect it.
Nolon: I ran it through the same filters and delays and reverbs as everything else. There was some ham radio christian we tapped that night a few times. Something about homosexuality, a real bigot.
Ogo: Right. Mostly I ride those “sweet spots” between channels – static frequency sweeps and whatnot. But there’s some real interesting stuff that happens when a channel starts to bleed through and intermix with that. Sometimes I swear it’s channeling alien transmissions.
Nolon: He’s playing it right now, in fact! I thought we were listening to the album. I went “Wow it sounds so different than it does thru my system!”
Ogo: It’s the remix.
Was it recorded on the porch?
Ogo:It was recorded on the porch inside Nolon’s bedroom.
Nolon: Chez Cephalopod is a porch inside a bedroom built into an attic, in the bottom of the ocean, floating in space…
Ogo as his character Zero in Bogville. Photo by Chrisopher Perez
Some of it reminds me a lot of Bogville [a live musical that Nolon, Ogo, and several other PNW artists were a part of].
Ogo: Well, the radio made its theatrical debut in the Bogville series. It was both a ‘prop’ and an instrument for the Prophets of Doom contingent of the swamp.
Nolon: I loved that. He used it to find the dead reverend at one point, like Ghostbusters. ‘Cause his character was blind.
Ogo: Recordings of it appear on the Bogville soundtrack compilation for chapter one.
Nolon: Yes, please buy that. Several copies.
Actually, my wife and I each bought a copy of it not realizing that the other was buying it, so our household has 2 copies. I hadn’t realized his character was blind. So he used the radio as both a means of expression, and as a way of sensing the world.
Ogo: Right. That and the static noise emitted had a forceful sonic quality, so it was used to intimidate/indoctrinate our “cult followers” (in the play, not the cult in “real” life).
Nolon: I’m pretty sure it worked in real life, too, right? Like, my character didn’t, but I certainly joined the cult of doom, at least privately.
Yeah, it convinced me too. I’ll sign up for the Prophets of Doom.
The Prophets of Doom. Photo by Chrisopher Perez
Nolon: The Prophets have their pitch down damn well.
Ogo: Heh. I think we disbanded last year. But feel free to start your own Doom Cult, please.
That’s sad, so we won’t be seeing the Prophets of Doom on stage any more? That was a great outfit.
Ogo: Well, I suppose I can’t really say anything with certainty. But the myriad of creative creatures involved in that outfit have sort of gone different directions now. I mean, some of the stars of the show don’t even live in Portland anymore.
We’re all still collaborating together though, in different forms and times. Myrk and I have some experiments we are conducting.
I was hoping Prophets of Doom would do more shows independent of Bogville, actually.
Ogo: Oh totally. We did toss that idea around. Scott’s up in Olympia these days and seems pretty busy revitalizing Hall of the Woods at the moment.
Nolon: I’d like to see them take over city hall
Then the state building!
Ogo: P.O.D. initially came about as sort of a theatrical parody of pre-existing projects at the time anyway. There was also this real life cult that inspired a lot of our imagery: Do Not Seek the Light. Though I don’t really know much about the group’s origins or extensive history.
Ogo, you and Scott were working on another project together weren’t you?
Ogo: I performed with Scott, and at times other collaborators, as Blood Seeks Blood for a time, yeah.
Nolon Ashley. Photo by Petr Sorfa
I thought the first track from Shortwave Ministry had a distinct krautrock flavor. Was that deliberate or did it just happen? (Or am I crazy?)
Nolon: I’m not going to say you’re not crazy. I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m a mad artist. The album kind of made itself. I’m inspired by that movement though, yeah. Terribly. It’s the first time I’ve used a guitar on a Cult of Zir recording if that’s what you mean.
Was it actual guitar or was it sampled?
Nolon: There’s actual guitar. The shortwave really lended a sort of analogue synth and/or theremin feel that reminds me of early psychedelic stuff, and I balanced that with some virtual analogue synth work in the software domain.
It also reminded me a lot of musique concrete, and that was definitely the radio.
Photo by Gabriel Schroder
How did the two of you meet? What was your first collaboration?
Nolon: Oh shit, I guess it was the first CACOPHONY. I was in a band called Autism for a minute.
Ogo: I booked Nolon’s first show (right?) as Cult of Zir for CACOPHONY. After getting to know him over various porch sits at Doll House.
Nolon: Oh that too!
Ogo: Oh right, I forgot about Autism.
Nolon: It was porches, whatever it was.
Ogo: That was really the first CACOPHONY, in the vacant space that became Someday Lounge.
Nolon: Autism. It was spearheaded by Guy Tyler who had done work with John Zorn and still plays with the Portland Opera. He’s an incredible cracked academic musician and Autism was his way of shrugging that all off in favour of getting out of his brain. A kind of throbbing sound. He played bass and sang. Noah Mickens played scrap metal in Autism, and Andrew of Sonic Alchemy and Stalking Jane played synths.
Ogo: Then later you played the first CACOPHONY as Cult of Zir, in Someday Lounge once it had become an actual legal venue and everything. So you were there “at the beginning”, both times.
Cult of Zir at Pocket Sandwich in Portland 7/11/08
Nolon: Ogo lured Cult of Zir out of the basement.
Ogo: Totally, that was one of the goals of the series: luring noise musicians and other audio/performance experimenters out of their basements and getting them out in front of people.
Nolon: That show was on Friday the 13th of October, the anniversary of the Knights Templar execution (at least mythically,) and Maya Deren’s death as well.
Ogo: Autism played May of 2005. Then Cult of Zir was October (Friday the 13th) of 06.
With this album in the can, what’s next for the two of you?
Nolon: There’s another two on the way. This is a series. If you notice, the tracks mark out the major cardinal quadrants on the compass. The next one will fill in the other four: SE, NE, NW, and SE. And the third release will be above, below, and center. I basically want to get Nathan as much material to choreograph to as possible and exhaust my need to obsess on these gorgeous shortwave samples ever again.
Cult of Zir has two more records in the works too, now that I have lots of free time. One is the material I made in the last two years, mostly experienced on stage. The other is a release of all the other stuff I’ve already done for performance troupes. One being the Bogville material, perhaps reworked a bit, and Meghann Rose’s Mirror Milk being the other. Lots of great stuff got made outside of Cult of Zir last year, as I was saying.
Cult of Zir live at the Seattle Occultural Music Festival
So it will be released as a Zir record?
Nolon: With appropriate hat tips to the projects the material was made for.
Ogo: I’m trying to put out a solo album as An Exquisite Corpse this year, but I said that last year too.
What about live work? Will both you be performing, or are you focusing on studio work?
Nolon: Nothing booked right now. I’m unemployed and taking advantage of the time I can spend creating. Thanks mostly to only having time to perform outside of the office grind, I’m pretty prepared to record the material that mostly only Portland has heard now. Seattle and Olympia seem to like it though.
Exquisite Corps at the Oceans Within event at Christoff Gallery in Seattle, 11/16/07.
Ogo: My process has always been focused on performance. Getting out there and making something in the moment. It’s only recently that I’ve even thought about studio work. But it’s a definite goal, though a different yet useful process. More mediated. Spontaneity vs process of Refining. Actually, all the recorded tracks I have released have been one-take recordings.
Nolon: Seems the “responsible” thing to do, anyway, no? For that matter, Shortwave Ministry was done pretty one-off. Every track was done in one take. It took a single evening to produce, once the samples were taken down.
So the radio samples were recorded before that session?
Ogo: Yes. I sat down with Nolon and we spent maybe an hour recording samples, I gave him some different dynamics. Slow sweeps and more active spastic channel switching. How he put it all together, up to its release date, was all a surprise to me.
Nolon: Yeah, there were some minor directional cues or whatever but mostly I wanted Ogo to do his thing. The production process happens pretty naturally at this point. I mean, you can map any function to any knob you want then get into an altered space and intuit the direction in the moment. That’s pretty much how it all happened, an immediatist process.
Ogo: Totally. Like the hardware as a sensory extension of your body.
Nolon: The album made itself, I almost want no fucking credit for it.
Ogo: Nolon gets all the credit.
Nolon: But I’ll take the money, all zero dollars the record costs. I think it’s just that we’re that comfortable with the process at this point this is the way we live, we breathe this stuff. It’s second nature.
Tessellate (Ogo’s clothing designs)
iokaos (Ogo’s graphic design)