The Listeners: With Primary Information's James Hoff

SA Editor Nate Wooley talks to and listens with James Hoff

I have often perceived Primary Information cofounder James Hoff as a kindred spirit. We are both motivated to do a specific kind of work—outside our own musical creative impulse—that is defined by a passion for dissemination. The trait with which I identify most with Hoff and everyone at PI is their self-identification as a tool for presenting to the world the ideas that excite them most. Pure enjoyment of art or music is one thing, but to get pleasure from sharing that work with a broader audience is nothing short of missionary zeal.


This desire to present, to champion, to remind is propaganda in its finest form. It is the role of the artistic/aesthetic cheer squad or the shady man on the corner dealing vials of contemporary art and lateral thinking to impressionable youth. Hoff sees value in the dialogue that comes from the juxtaposition of artwork from the past with contemporary work, and, even though we’re approaching different topics in different ways, so do I. We’re both propagandists, and this discussion is ultimately about our favored way to make our point.



Since its inception, The Listeners has aimed to be an intimate portrait of two people getting to know each other over music. This episode may feel slightly different, but it contains those same basic elements. Instead of sharing passion for the work of our favorite artists that has helped us develop our own art, Hoff and I are obsessed with the work in itself and the ways in which we can digitally and personally introduce as many people as possible to it—for no other reason than an overriding intuition that it simply cannot remain hidden in history. And, so, our discussion, as Dieter Roth plays in the background, revolves around what Hoff calls “secondary information”—the work based around presenting the artist’s original idea. It’s a stretch, but “secondary information” is akin to the idea/tool dialectic that has been central to our definition of propaganda. Questions about digital versus physical presentation, how to reach a wider audience, and how to pay for it all are at the forefront of our chat, while our own artistic work is barely touched upon. On the surface, this is the unromantic administration of classically beautiful ideas, but, to people like James Hoff, this is the important bit: How do you get people to listen?