Artist of the day: Jesse Thelonious Vance
Jesse Thelonious Vance is a champion of the Florida noise scene. If he isn’t busy setting up a festival, or working on his record label, he’s sure to be found performing, collaborating or recording with one of his countless music projects.
His musical output ranges from sample-driven danceable pieces to (depending upon the endurance and tolerance of your eardrums) the almost unlistenable. He has his toes dipped in many electronic pools — his current endeavors include, but aren’t limited to: Great White Duck (nu-jazz jam-funk band), DC9V (his solo project), ∆ (a collaborative circuit-bending/toy noise project with Lester Jack Gessley III) and collaborations with Miami’s minimalist synth-goddess Jackie Ransom. He is also the creator and head of the Pangaea Project, a open-invitation experimental concert series which is celebrating its two-year anniversary Friday in St. Pete. Click here for info.
I sat down with Vance for a bloody mary-soaked Sunday afternoon.
First off, what is noise?
Noise is an abstract approach to sound. Noise is performance art, noise is innovation, noise is the sound of the dump truck picking up the dumpster next to your house when you’re trying to sleep in on Sunday morning and you’re hungover. It can be very calming; it’s the CDs with the river and the waterfall your mom listens to go to sleep. Noise is to music what Jackson Pollack or Mark Rothko is to visual art.
A majority of artists who make “noise” seem to have little to no sense of musicality, and do so due to inability. What is your take on the matter as well as your personal approach?
I’m trying to advertise it as sound art, because that’s what it is. Like you said, there’s those people that do it ’cause they don’t know how the f--- to play their instrument, which can be interesting and fun, but that’s not sound art. Sound art can be very random, but also could involve chance probability. A lot of times it’s very well thought out.
Are you familiar with Harry Partch, working outside of the 12-tone scale? The best people that make really good noise really know what they’re doing. There are a lot of people doing it who love it and know their craft. Good noise musicians are real musicians. They have an understanding of music and tonality in the standard sense. Good musicians will make great noise musicians.
As a noise artist, do you feel tonality has a place? Is it even a consideration?
Absolutely, but it’s also at the discretion of the artist. What I like, personally, in noise, is when stuff comes together and there are moments of beautiful harmony, and then it’s deconstructed into utter chaos, then eventually it comes back, almost by chance. Tonality used in contrast is some of the most beautiful stuff to me: Jazz piano with noise.
What do you feel is the importance or validity of noise?
For any valid music scene to exist — and I’m talking about rock, pop, normal approachable structured music — I think somewhere there has to be the underground as a counterpoint. We’re talking lower Manhattan in the 1960s, all these great movements and great artists that did other things, play in normal bands…
Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler…
Exactly! I think that it’s really important for there to be a forum of the complete and utter avant garde. When you allow that to exist, everything else flourishes because of it. People don’t even have to know about it, it’s just important that it’s there. It embellishes creativity in the visual artist’s world and in the regular pop music world.
Tell me about your role in the Pangaea Project.
Pangaea is not about me; I’m the figurehead for it. I’ve made myself into this cartoon character with a gas mask and hat, and I have this whole shtick. People think I’m narcissistic, self-centered, and a showboat, and they’re right, but they missed the point. It’s about the audience and the performers. A lot of these people are shy and this and that, so I’m the person that can get up there on the bullhorn and be all showy and introduce them and bring a sense of legitimacy to something that’s otherwise chaos. I am merely a conduit through which these things are being enacted. I just seem to devote a lot of my time and money to being said conduit. It’s all because I feel it’s important.
-- Aaron Lepley. Photo courtesy of Anna Funk.