From the Editor: I have a confession to make.... The idea of organization has always frightened me. I've had an aversion to anything that seemed hierarchical, or merely organized since I was little. Although I think of myself as a “plays well with others type”, I have always gravitated to those situations in which the possibility of leaderless, organic solving of a problem is the highest. I’m convinced that it is why I enjoy improvising the most. It provides a high level of group consciousness and cooperation towards a common goal with the least amount of discussion. One possible explanation of this general distrust of any group with membership cards is the community I was raised in. When I was a child, if there was a problem, a group of people seemed to just appear, think about the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, drink a beer, experiment with possible solutions, drink another beer and find the one answer that, even if it wasn’t the most elegant or efficient, solved the problem the quickest. There was never any thought given to having to present the problem to a higher authority, have it debated at a distance and the solution blindly accepted. It never crossed their minds. The problem was handled as a group, a community, a gathering, and never as an association, organization, or coalition. I'm not a naive by-stander jumping on a Occupy X bandwagon, however. I understand the need for hierarchy in society. The use of the word “utopia” in talking about egalitarian anarchist structures is apt for a reason: they would take a miracle to put into practice. However, in the small spaces of our daily lives, we tend to over-organize, over-structure, and over-stratify our mundane human dealings. This creates a situation in which we lose, as individuals, our desire to take charge of our lives, as well as the ability to think creatively and critically. Once we lose that, it's a very short step to misplacing our identities as human beings. The place where strict hierarchical thinking is the most out of its element is in the arts. While funding, presenting, and artist rights organizations are absolutely essential and a vastly underappreciated part of any arts landscape, the tendency exists to set up very specific, stratified grassroots “artists collectives” under the direction of charismatic leaders, self-styled promoters, and well meaning fellow artists that are trying to band together to fight a common evil (in the case of music, usually the exact organizations they should be trying to find ways to collaborate with….funders, presenters, bookers, etc.). The result ends up being confrontation and misunderstanding more often than not. Not all of these organizations are counter-productive, but there is a tendency for them to fall prey to the loudest voices in the hierarchy usually those with the least amount of ability to work toward the common good. This promotes more stratification, more concentration on individual personalities, and less energy toward the ultimate goal.....MAKING MUSIC. It is not these organizations that we are concentrating on in this issue of Sound American. We chose the term networking as our focus for a reason. Instead of organization in a specific sense, all three of the featured groups of people have found themselves drawn together, due primarily to their physical proximity, to deal with a common aesthetic or attack a common problem. A certain amount of hierarchical organization has come and gone with each of them, but in general they have maintained enough flexibility in the way that they approach each other and their goals that they have been successful in their endeavors and have withstood the test of time. It’s our desire to celebrate their existence, their philosophies, and of course…their music. Shinkoyo is probably the collective that most actively exemplifies the ideal of artistic organization laid out above. Since 2002, when they were having their first long, town hall style meetings on the campus of Oberlin Conservatory, the collective’s members have experimented with the concept of “free” content, run three successful performance venues on two coasts, released 41 recordings by its members, and have consistently created some of the most interesting and individual electronic music happening in America today. I sat down with three of their members living in New York in the spring of this year and we talked about how they managed to meet, organize and maintain such a multi-armed beast for ten years with absolutely no set hierarchy. The results are presented in this issue in written form. We’re also incredibly excited that each of these organizations generously agreed to allow the streaming of certain tracks from their recordings. Bundled together as “mix tapes”, each group is presented separately on their own page, along with a brief description of the group and what makes the music special. I think this is an invaluable addition to the text and podcast. After all, Sound American is about music…yes, the ideas are interesting, and we can talk about hierarchy and utopian ideals of organization, but if the music isn’t interesting then it’s simply empty words. I think you’ll agree that there is nothing here that does anything but add to the strength of the argument that brilliant music can be made when a group of people come together because of their mutual love and respect for what it takes to make it.


Doron Sadja: Residuals I

Mario Diaz de Leon: Oneirogen

Peter Blasser: Prelude and Prostasimon

Severiano Martinez: Clocks

Skeletons: L'il Rich

Zeljko McMullen: Initiation

Skeletons Big Band: Pencilneck

SHINKOYO: NETWORKING FROM DAY ONE Shinkoyo is a collective of composer/performers, all of whom met while in college together at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. In the past 10 years, they have successfully released 41 recordings of some of the most cutting edge electronic noise, rock, and composed music in America, run multiple venues for experimental music on both coasts, and been at the forefront of the idea of "free". During the ups and downs of various aesthetics, business models, and personal interests, the collective has maintained it's core membership, it's philosophy, and it's drive. In May of 2012, we sat down with three of the founding members of Shinkoyo, Matt Mehlan, Doron Sadja, and Mario Diaz de Leon in the basement offices of the Roulette Arts Space in downtown Brooklyn. We talked about the genesis of Shinkoyo from the early days in Oberlin's TIMARA program, how they've managed to maintain a non-hierarchical structure for 10 years as their members spread out over a continent, record labels, manifestos, and where Shinkoyo is headed next.
Sound American: The first thing that I want talk about is how everything started; just a brief history of how this all happened, where you came from individually, and how the collective came together. Matt Mehlan: We all went to Oberlin, to the conservatory of music, and were in the Technology in Music and Related Arts Department; the TIMARA Department. There were only five of us in the program in our year and it happened to be Mario, me, Doron, Severiano Martinez, and this girl, I can’t remember her name. She dropped out in the first semester, so it ended up just being the four of us in the program in our year. I met Doron on my first day at Oberlin on my way to the cafeteria, and we immediately hung out and two days later we played a song at the… Doron Sadja: ….freshman talent show… MM: yeah (laughs) the freshman talent show…and I think I met Mario like two days later at the sex ed presentation on campus (all laugh)…because, it was the first day of college in a small place so everyone was trying to find other people that were their major or whatever. And, we all started making music together pretty quickly I feel like. It was an exciting time, being 18 or 19 and being thrust into a situation where you are learning all this stuff that you had barely touched the surface of… like how to make music. So that, being combined with the fact that we all got along right off the bat sort of created this insane circle of people pushing each other. Mario Diaz de Leon: ….sharing ideas, sharing projects, doing concerts together… DS: We had all come from very different backgrounds musically; I think Mario knew the most out of all of us, but I didn’t know anything about academic electronic music. We were futzing around with technology and making pop songs, but they were kind of like failed pop songs. We got to Oberlin and were thrust into this conservatory, into an academic setting, but we didn’t know so much about the music, and all of a sudden we were expected to start writing tape pieces and using technologies we had never worked with, so it was exciting. We were kind of figuring everything out together…all coming from such different angles. MM: …and rebelling immediately. (laughs) After we were told that we had to think about separating the music we wanted to make in our dorm rooms and the music we were making for class, it turned into this war between each other and within ourselves that I think we’re still fucking with (everyone laughs)… SA: So was there a feeling of banding together against a common enemy? MD: That would be an overly strong way to phrase it. I think it had more to do with finding identity together and sharing ideas and discovering new things together DS: The faculty of the TIMARA program were really open, but also really hands off, so it’s like you could kind of do whatever you wanted, which gave us a lot of room to explore. SA: Oberlin, as a campus, is fairly geographically isolated being a decent drive from Cleveland and Columbus and far from Chicago as the next city with a large experimental music scene. How much of that isolation fed, not only into the kind of experimentation you were doing, but the need to find other people that were dealing with the same things. Would it have been different if you had all met in New York or the Bay Area or Chicago where there was a much larger pool of resources? MM: I think it would have definitely been different, but that was part of it. We started this series of shows because we didn’t have any way to play our music for people. There were house party shows and stuff, but that was sort of owned by the older …the juniors and seniors who could live off campus, and the concert board was basically run by the radio station, WOBC, which was still more of an indie rock scene too, because that was separate from the conservatory. So we found out how to reserve the concert hall to do our weird concerts and as soon as we knew that we could do that and it didn’t cost us any money, we just started doing it. DS: We were also in a weird position in the technology department because we were in the basement of the conservatory. We were part of the conservatory, but we were kind of outcasts. We weren’t those people who were going to the practice rooms eight hours a day. We didn’t have the background in classical music in the same way and we were kind of the weirdos in the basement and then we also weren’t in the college [separate from Conservatory] so it was kind of like we were in a disconnected place in the school. MM: …and Oberlin’s a total bubble. None of us had cars, so it’s like nobody takes the bus to go to Cleveland to see a show…Seve [Severiano Martinez, pronounced Sevee] had a car, so he used to drive us around. We used to go to Bent Crayon, which is a record store in Cleveland, and that was a huge resource for us. SA: You had to travel, though, to get to resources. MM: Yeah. SA: …but it’s interesting to me, growing up in a place where I was isolated in a similar way that the meaning of having to go find resources is much deeper and, almost always, you find a group of people you go do that with, because it’s not really a normal pursuit. So, when you find a crew that comes together for a certain cause, whether it’s official or not there are often these similar kinds of stories like “We were all in place x and we all liked this specific stuff, be it music or art or whatever, but all of it was at place y, and so we got together because one dude had a car and we needed to get over to place y to get what we needed to do what we do back at place x”…So, what was the point that that kind of story turned into something as official as a collective Shinkoyo? You guys had been hanging out and doing shows…you’ve been putting things together and at some point it has a name, not to say your filling out 501c3s, but it’s an official thing. Do you have a feeling of when that was? MD: 2002 SA: Was there a conscious decision of “this is what we’re going to do?” MM: Yeah, Seve and Peter and I had all made records and from sophomore year on, once we had had a little more time to develop our individual things, we were all making stuff. I remember going home after Sophomore year with a CD from Doron, a Stexx CD, which was Mario’s band at the time, Seve’s record, “Sound of Doves in a Cave” (which was Peter’s record) and the Gongs 7” which Peter had made, and it was like….”holy shit…this is awesome”. And, I was super inspired by Peter’s music. Peter’s always been a hugely influential dude on our whole crew, because he has such a different way of thinking about his music and music in general.. MD: …and he’s had a very distinct vision from the get-go. He hasn’t flip-flopped. MM: Yeah, and he had made this record [Sound of Doves in a Cave] and he did this really great performance of it at the student union and it was just really exciting. So, I feel like we got back the next year and Seve and I started talking about it. We both talked to our parents and they gave us each 500 bucks (laughs) and we started doing the research on how to press CDs and we came up with this packaging scheme and started making these real handmade CD packages and finally sent away and got Peter’s record, the Skeletons record, and Seve’s first record pressed, and then did the research on how to send it to college radio stations, tried to get shows in Cleveland, all that stuff, you know, send it out to Splendid E-zine, all the early websites that were writing about this music. We started organizing these meetings where there would be eleven of us around the table in Blue House, which was this house that four of the dudes lived in, and we’d have these long-ass meetings that were just insane in retrospect… MD:…painful in retrospect (all laugh)…because there was no lead decision maker. Everything was done by collective, so it was quite chaotic. SA: What would you talk about at the meetings? MM: Ideas for shows or how we were going to do packaging…what we might do for the next record…how to get the word out…how to try and get press…the WEBSITE. The website was always this thing because we never had any money to hire someone to do a website and were all tech savvy people, so every incarnation of our website has been us trying to learn something new about doing web programming and putting it into play without anybody actually knowing how to do it, so it’s this long drawn out ridiculous process… DS: …and always trying to start from scratch (all laugh) SA: So, what happened after you got those first records out? MM: I came to New York for an internship in the spring of 2003…tried to get shows in New York and totally failed. (all laugh)But, it was really important because it sort of got me out of that bubble and I pushed to put things in other places and booked a tour for the next summer for Skeletons. Then, Mario came to New York in 2004 and worked at Roulette in an internship MD: ..but, even before that, while Matt was in New York, people who weren’t there with us since 2000 came into the fold that we still work with today like Carson Garhart and Zeljko McMullen. They both moved into our house and while Matt was in New York we all became really close with them. MM: They were transfer students into our program. DS: They were second generation… SA: So how many people do you think have been loose parts of the collective over the years? I always think of the three of you guys as the center, but that’s because of my New York-centric view. You’re the three guys I know from here but obviously it sounds like there were a lot of people coming in and out that were involved…for example I didn’t know that Peter Blasser was involved. DS: He’s been a big part of the family, but not as much organizationally…but also, Zeljko McMullen, who’s in New York, has been heavily involved at times, and Severiano Martinez, who’s out in Oakland and LA right now. MM: Yeah, Seve’s still super involved, but it’s hard now because he’s on the other side of the country. He’s always been a loud voice in the crew. SA: And, he’s been pretty involved in the performance spaces you’ve run, right? DS: We’ve had various performance spaces over the years like we had Silent Barn and West Nile and then there’s East Nile which is in Oakland which just closed down… MM: and Seve ran that space out there. SA: This has never been a label then about people submitting work from the outside. It’s more like if someone has a relationship with the collective and has a project, the project comes out on the label. I’m sure you get submissions from people outside the collective. Is the collective membership model something you’ve kept an articulated vision of from the beginning like “we’re going to put out these records by these people that have this level of involvement with us …was there ever a manifesto? MM: (laughing) YEAH! That’s what we did at those meetings. We wrote a manifesto. Man, I wonder if we have that. SA: So what was on the manifesto? MM: One big thing was no retro-fetishism (all laugh), which I don’t know if we’ve stayed true to, but I think maybe we have…trying to make something new and different…that was one…I can’t remember what else was in it MD: Well, electronic was always huge. MM: And, we’ve actually tried a couple of times to put out other people’s stuff, but we don’t have a business infrastructure at all. I mean we do, but it’s not like we all work for Shinkoyo one day a week…it’s very much a collective. We all have our own lives, so when we put out something by somebody that’s not a part of the crew it can sometimes just totally disappear because they’re not a part of the collective and they don’t have access to the business infrastructure, or their just thinking we’re like a label so they’re expecting us to do the work that a label does for them instead of doing it themselves…so that can be kind of strange… MD: Yeah, but there’s also been a lot of different eras of this thing, and there’s kind of two things to talk about: Shinkoyo the collective and Shinkoyo the label. Shinkoyo the collective has always been present, but there was a period of about 2 years around 2006-2007 where the label was much much less of a focus, though it was still discussed, and things have really changed since 2010 when Matt and Seve and Doron really decided to revamp the infrastructure of the whole thing, and now there’s a lot more agency than there was before. MM: When we were all in Oberlin we had that bubble keeping us safe and we had the luxury of being in school, and having time to devote your energy to this idea, so it was very much like a launching point for all of us I think as far as ways to move out and, when we left school, to go do something. SA: And so that’s kind of where you are as a collective now…working to reap the benefits of that early work. MD: No question MM: When we got reviews for the first Skeletons record, that got us gigs, and it would have taken a lot longer for us to get gigs if I hadn’t put that time in while I was in school to make that happen. And, then on the first tour after school Skeletons got signed to a label, and so I was just focusing on Skeletons, and outside of demanding that the Shinkoyo logo be on all the releases and reserving the right to continue to release things on Shinkoyo if we wanted to, I wasn’t doing anything [for Shinkoyo]…I left it alone for awhile. DS: The torch gets passed over time. There are certain times when one person doesn’t do any work, and there are other times when they’re doing all the work. That’s also how things morph. Like right now, we’ve decided to be more of a record label and have everything paid for, but there was a period of time, like when West Nile was first getting started, where I revamped the website. At the time, West Nile was very much about free music and a free experience and so Shinkoyo became much more of a free, donation based website where you can listen to everything online, and then that died out…and like that, things just keep moving around. SA: Yeah, but I think it’s an interesting point that Mario made in that there’s the collective then there’s the label, then there’s West Nile, then there’s touring, then there’s the idea of free and those things have come and gone, but you have this strong, stable base that everything kind of comes out of and comes back to. And, as an outsider looking at that, what’s interesting to me is that the base doesn’t seemed to be predicated as a hierarchical system, so it’s ever changing and adapting as well. Have you ever put any thought into that? Were you attempting to make the collective follow the idea of a completely democratic, egalitarian micro-society, or did that come about organically from you all being friends? MM: I think it’s kind of both. We made a point to say this is a group effort, but also just the nature of the way that we interact with each other has really had a huge impact on what our output has been as a label. One person will get really passionate about something for a short period of time, and if he can get the other members to be passionate about it for the same period of time then it might come out the tunnel. But, if say Doron and I are having a conversation about putting something out, and I’m really psyched about it and Doron thinks it kind of sounds like shit, then it’s not going to happen. And, you know pretty quickly…now we know each other pretty well, we’ve known each other for 12 years. So that makes something really different, and we seem so much steadier now. This past year and a half has been really great for us…all three of us have put records out on Shinkoyo and I think we’re realizing that we could all have some other label put our stuff out if we tried hard enough, but in my experience, dealing with that (releasing on a label) is not always worth the trouble and we’ve worked hard to get that kind of infrastructure in place for ourselves. MD: The timing was really right [to move the emphasis to the label]. When Matt said he wanted the next Skeletons record to come out on Shinkoyo , Doron and Seve and Matt put a tremendous amount of effort into putting it all together. For me, it had been two years since my Tzadik record had come out and I had some projects that came and went and got put on hold and since I knew that Shinkoyo was there and available and Matt had just put this record out, I thought if I did the grunt work we could at least get distribution and reviews and all these types of things so that was a huge relief right there. I didn’t have to wait to get in some labels big long queue or even send stuff to anyone. I just made a record, pressed it, and it was out. That was incredibly empowering. Doron’s record came out just three months after mine, so it’s all changed very quickly SA: How did that affect you, not only releasing on the label, but operating performance spaces and the other aspects of the collective, to know that you have this base of support? Do you think that being able to put something out that quickly and knowing that this is the music you’re making right now and is valid at the time of release affects the decisions you make? DS: I feel like it’s liberating in a way. It’s empowering. When you spend so much time in your studio, you can move pretty fast through things, and develop quickly and it’s like if you have to wait two years for it [to be released], you have to be married to that certain style or form you were working with, so it’s like you can work faster, work through things faster, and develop faster. MM: I think our artistic growth has been stunted a bit by dealing with the business end of things, and needing to work within another person’s guidelines… SA: meaning record labels outside of the collective? MM: Yeah MD: That was why this whole new edition of the label got going… MM: We have a label that released the latest Skeletons record in Europe, but it doesn’t always seem worth it to have somebody else managing whether my record is at Other Music [a Manhattan alternative record store] or not. It didn’t make sense to me any more to go through somebody else to deal with something we could deal with ourselves. We’re not making 5000 copies of a record. We’re making 300 or 500, so that changes our relationship with a distributor as well. And, I think for all of us the waves of the ripple after a release don’t go as far because we don’t have the capital to hire a press agent, or we don’t have the same relationships with press as a label that has been around a long time. But that’s cool, and it’s exciting in its own way, I think, because you know that you can reach the people you want to reach at this point and anything after that is icing on the cake…and I think this is true for a lot of people making experimental music right now MD: If you think about just the last year and a half, all the press for our records we’ve done ourselves outside of what Shinkoyo does which is e-mail blasts and stuff like that…it’s been amazing how much has been accomplished. SA: Okay, let’s talk about this last year, year and a half though because, at least for me personally, this year was the year I became aware of Shinkoyo as a power, not just the label, but also West Nile and all the composers’ separate work from the collective. What were some of the things either planned or unplanned that happened in the last year that makes it feel like it’s rolling under its own steam and jumping up a notch all of a sudden after all these years of work? MM: A big thing about it is just physical distribution. It’s actually shocking to me. Mario’s record got record of the week at Aquarius records and then they sold 50 copies of it. That’s when I get really excited because it actually reminds me of why we wanted to make records in the first place which is the idea that we can get them out to people we don’t know because they just went to the record store and bought it. And, I was shocked by that because I thought no one cared about records anymore and no one would care if Mario’s record was record of the week at a record store, but then something like that happens and it gives you hope….then Doron had his record release at Printed Matter and he made this beautiful packaging that seems so congruous there. That kind of thing is really cool and exciting and makes me want to continue to do it. Then, by people buying the records we have a little money in the bank and we can make more, so everything just funnels back into making more records for someone in the group or having the resources there so that if they put the money into making their record it will get released and supported….and we’re getting there (chuckles) SA: Do you feel like now the main crux of what you’re doing, as a collective, is the label, or are you still involved in a lot of live performances? DS: We don’t have a performance space any more…West Nile, East Nile, Silent Barn…all gone. I feel like there has been a big shift and that’s come from just putting our efforts into Shinkoyo and putting out cds. When we had performance spaces we were just a lot more interested in performance. I hadn’t released a solo cd in years because I had kind of lost faith in the idea of a physical product, but I think when Matt released the Skeletons cd a year and a half ago, it brought back faith in the object and just how it means something completely different to put in the money and time to make the it. SA: So beyond the business aspect of the label, do you still feel like you have the connection you all started out with in those first days at Oberlin as far as being a support group of artists and musicians and emotional people? MM: I feel like everybody’s voice, as they had it when they got to Oberlin, is still a part of what they do and it’s super cool to see how it’s changed over the past twelve years, but I think the imprint of our time at Oberlin is still very apparent in the way we interact and the work that everyone does. MD: At this point, when you’ve known someone for 10 or 12 years and you still deeply appreciate each other’s work there’s nothing that compares. The way you know them and know their work and what they’ve been through is so invaluable. Even with me, the sound of what I do has definitely changed and gone through different phases over the years, but I still think there’s a tremendous amount that ties us together, just in terms of shared history and understanding DS: We all have radically different styles…now more than ever…but I still feel like we’ve been each other’s biggest influences in so many different ways and I don’t think we can ever escape that. MM: Before Oberlin, my high school friends were the people I learned to be a human being with, but we’re so deep in our own universe now that I don’t even know how to be nostalgic about what it was like to be in high school…I’m way more nostalgic about what it was like to learn something about music or art together…about ourselves…like I feel closer to these guys than a lot of the people I grew up with.