In the very special genre(s) commonly known as “noise music”, The Rita is somewhat extra special. Having spent decades refining the art of translating personal obsessions, special interests and what some may call perversions into deconstructed soundscapes of varying degrees of intensity, The Rita has managed to both become one of the “founding fathers” of the HNW genre and to develop his own sound and conceptual framework in a strictly original, idiosyncratic way. This mammoth of an interview touches the topics explored, the artistic means to explore them, and just about every process connected to the marvelous peculiarity which is The Rita. If it’s not enough for you, and it shouldn’t be, you should proceed at once to Lake Shark Harsh Noise: Home of THE RITA, and begin further investigation. Now, without further ado: THE RITA.
First off, could you introduce The Rita as a project to someone who has absolutely no idea what this is about? How would you describe it, how would you explain it?
Firstly, the title directly references the boat called THE RITA taken up the Amazon on the film ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’. The title allows me the referencing back to various thematic tag lines from the film such as ‘Terrifying monster of the ages raging with pent-up passions! …with every man his mortal enemy …and a woman’s beauty his prey!’ which ultimately brings to mind the arts – the writings of Emile Zola, the realist films of Jean Renoir, the Lustmord movement of the 1920s, the Old Dark House / Whodunnit films of the 1930s, the Krimi films of the 1960s, the Giallo films of the 1970s, and most recently for me the feminist ideologies that surround the early classical ballet into early-mid 20th century contemporary ballet. The genres listed above all portray the harming of women and the themes that surround the societal problems that create the tragedy that is misogyny – the more serious nature of the Lustmord and French realism representations extending into the more exploitative aesthetic stylizations of the later 60s and 70s films. Women deconstructed and abstracted in the fine arts circa the late 1800s / early 1900s paralleled with societies’ deconstruction and abstraction of the woman via heavy make-up, opaque nylon stockings, bodycon dresses, etc.; these details all culminate for myself into the apex – a woman’s stage portrayal in the classical ballet. The fascination for all the genres above I’ve used as source sounds trying to garner the various dynamics from each genre into abrasive sound.
As I’ve also mentioned before elsewhere, I love the fact that the project is a woman’s name, constantly providing influence from the project title itself, bringing to mind pre-code vamp, flapper and European genre film actresses and over the last few years various classical ballerinas, etc. who I now basically base my life around.
You have a background in the “fine arts” in a sense, going back to before you got into noise. Could you elaborate a bit on that? How does it connect to your work with The Rita?
I have done illustrations since I was a kid, drawing shark attacks and horror film situations continually. The interest in abstraction, like most of us, began to develop in high school, eventually reaching it’s ‘pinnacle’ interest in Malevich, Serra, Reinhardt, etc. in first year of University. I took a break after my diploma to run a skateboard store, and that’s when the interest in harsh noise began to become primary. All through grade school and into high school I was into subversive music, getting my first FEAR, SKINNY PUPPY, etc. tapes in grade 5(!) from a good friend’s brother who was a college radio station DJ. The interest in harsh noise was cemented after the line was followed via BIG BLACK — RAPEMAN — ZENI GEVA — NULL — MERZBOW, etc. This was the early 1990s. After finally hearing more specialized crunching harsh noise such as DEAD BODY LOVE, MACRONYMPHA / OVMN, BACILLUS, etc. the interest in beginning my own project begun in around 1995. After releasing some tapes, becoming more familiar with the scene, etc. I went back to University to get my BFA. Going back to school was my full immersion into the world of conceptual art, minimalist painting, installation, and 1800s Canadian landscape painting, all the while surrounded by instructors that represented Canada at the various Biennales, getting personally introduced to Richard Serra by one of my professors in New York, etc. – definitely some heavy experiences that then directly influenced my abrasive sounds works into the 2000s.
You’ve covered diverse topics during your career, with the two most obvious being sharks and various sexual fetishes, or fetishes in a broader sense. How important are these themes to you? I know someone like Vomir thinks it’s all about the noise, and basically lets his labels and collaborators decide the themes (within limits, I guess). Am I wrong to assume that you think otherwise about the “extra-musical” aspects of your work?
All of my various interests and obsessions that I have worked with I try to directly transform into the various textures of abrasive sound. No matter how deconstructed the original sound is, be it sharks banging against an anti-shark cage and the hull of a boat, spoken word, film scenes, skateboarding, women’s physical movement, a fishing lure down a fish’s throat, etc., I believe firmly in the fact that the subtle nuances of the the various sounds directly effect the final work. Even if its at a subconscious level, I imagine that an hour long re-mixed, deconstructed and distorted version of the women from a classical ballet will be very different in the end from an hour long track of very similarly processed ocean snorkeling sounds. I consider Vomir a close colleague, and believe strongly in his directive toward his work, but even if my work may fit loosely into the same sub-genre sometimes, it comes from a very different place of processing various lifestyle fetishes and obsessions directly into the resulting sound.
Speaking of your conceptual themes, has anyone ever taken offence with something you’ve done live, or something they’ve seen in a release of yours? In the echo chamber of the noise scene, obviously anything goes most of the time, but what of the “normies”? Have someone taken something like “Pure Ass Worship” and misunderstood, or perhaps understood, in a way that made them hostile to you?
Some years ago for Kier-La Janisse’s earlier Montreal location of her MISKATONIC INSTITUTE OF HORROR STUDIES I did an artist talk on the direct influence of genre film on my abrasive sound work. I made an accompanying video that included extended scenes from films such as SO SWEET SO DEAD, LORNA THE EXORCIST and SPIKED HEELS AND BLACK NYLONS to name just a few, all the while providing a live commentary on the films and how they directly effected past works, even pausing some of the scenes to discuss the aesthetics, etc. The talk was virtually an admission that THE RITA may be nothing more that a harsh noise expression of the objectification of women. While obviously immersing myself often in the ideas and the aesthetic of women, often in a shameless fashion thus not trying to hide intention, I also do as much homework as I can to attempt the understanding of the societal constraints that women have experienced for millennia, thus paralleling the themes and aspects such as make-up and nylons, two tangible commercial items that deconstruct and emphasize the feminine form. This deconstruction I can look at as a preliminary for my deconstruction of the generated sound from mic’d physical acts such as applying make-up, walking in nylons and most recently the various movements of pointe shoes. I’ve never experienced direct hostility toward the project, but I have definitely been in many discussions with various women artists about the various thematic directions of the project, again my fetishistic shamelessness guiding the way as I make no apologies for what I do, but I also make sincere efforts to back up what I portray to audiences through study. Three of the most powerful examples I can think of in regards to the ideas above are:
1. My collaborative work with installation artist Megan Miller on the THE RITA double LP Queen Sheets. The material on the LP is informed by women’s nylons, but in accordance to utilitarian themes that were adamantly brought to the forefront by Megan’s contribution. I was incredibly happy to immerse myself in the more realistic and tangible elements of nylon stockings.
“After weeks of intimate discussion and expansive research of nylon it was decided that the collaborative result would not be centered in themes of fetishism, but would also expand utilitarian themes around the use of nylon. The final structure speaks to female force as the sheet of fabric sacrifices itself to the elements to protect the bricks beneath. This interior/exterior role reversal parallels themes of gender role reversal, especially in relation to male nylon fetishism.” – Megan Miller
2. The various writings by and collaborative work with Kristin Hayter / LINGUA IGNOTA whose written commentary and collaborative results frequently give me a new understanding of my own work through her vivid contemplation of the themes vs. the deconstructed abrasive sound.
3. Working with Arlo Doyle – discussed more below.
You’ve done a few collaborations (Alo Girl among others), but probably fewer than many other productive noise artists. Do you prefer to work alone, or is this just the way things have turned out?
I have been very lucky to be able to work with many similarly-minded peers throughout the years with resulting projects such as BLACK AIR, KAY LAWRENCE, TOTAL SLITTING OF THROATS, EDWIGE, ZENTA SUSTAINED, VICE WEARS BLACK HOSE, ZENTA SUSTAINED, RORITA, etc. Working with different colleagues’ sources and vice versa displays the ideas of the sometimes subtle different dynamics of sound discussed in question #3, but via using the personal work of a colleague rather than a direct audio sound source from a certain theme’s media.
2016 was an interesting year for me as I worked primarily with a partner in THE RITA, Arlo Doyle, who was integral in the ideological workings of the various projects, the various recording procedures and the large scale European live shows. Arlo’s performative talents and sense of stage timing/drama with the various sound sources coupled with their talents with analogue gear gave the project something I’d wanted for some time as we could escalate the dramatic and socio-ideological nature and understanding of THE RITA. Arlo has been working again with their own long-running and solo harsh noise project BURROW OWL in 2017, making our collaborative works as THE RITA less frequent, but still active when applicable.
You’ve done plenty of splits, though. Dead Body Collection, Mutant Ape and the above mentioned Ass Worship 7″ with Mania springs to mind right off the bat. Do you have any particular favorite, where the end result (yeah, I went there) was particularly pleasing?
The Ass Worship 7” will always be important to me as it was my first vinyl, and gave me the opportunity to work again with someone who’s work I’ve worshiped for years before – TAINT. Some other stand-outs for me would have to be my work with Carlos Giffoni, CALIGULA031, CLIMAX DENIAL, the ever important and influential Richard Ramirez, IMPREGNABLE, NAUGHTY, MASTURBATORY DYSFUNCTION, POWER MONSTER, THE CHERRY POINT, Gordon Ashworth, PRURIENT (there is a powerful and violent dynamic in the final mix that Dom did with the ‘Women Pissing’ 7” that is so gratifying), to name a few.
When I think of collaborative efforts and splits, I also like to think of the amazing opportunities I’ve had to write notes for or even been directly involved in re-issuing the albums that have directly informed the sound of THE RITA for years. Namely, DEAD BODY LOVE, IUGULA-THOR, ULTRA, OVMN, WEREWOLF JERUSALEM.
Your sound has developed, or at least changed, quite a lot through THE RITA’s existence. Compared to much of your earlier work, I found Ballet Foot Positions extremely “choked” in a way that fit very well with the theme, and even if Stage Arrangement of Women is a bit more “old The Rita”, it has a similar vibe. Since I understand that your work is quite planned and methodical in some ways, I’d like to know a bit about the process behind your sound and its development throughout the years.
Some of the methods are discussed in question #3, but one key ideology I try to follow is no matter how violent and layered the crunching textures are versus the more minimal investigations of airy crackle textures – they are one in the same and cannot exist without one or the other. The concentrated and drawing of lines in the various abrasive textures and/or the loud snapping of sparse crackle – one is simply the objects that fill the spaces of the more mountainous versions of the sound. It’s the revving of the top fuel dragster engine versus the idling. The different years of concentrated sound are simply me dissecting the sound and really trying to figure out what I like exactly about the crunch and crackle. The common epiphany I have is the fact that THE RITA is a translation of various obsessions and interests into the raw, PERFECT sound of a top fuel dragster engine or a vintage two-stroke dirt bike engine. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being able to try and translate the feeling I have watching Agnes Letestu perform the role of ‘The Siren’ during the Balanchine ballet LE FILS PRODIGUE into a sound so visceral, invigorating and life-affirming as a top fuel dragster engine.
Have you done any releases you regret, or consider failures?
I try to learn something about the varying directions of drawing abrasive sound directly from the various themes I work with, so it’s difficult for me consider any complete failures. The most important thing I’ve learned is that the obsessive deconstruction of a visceral interest can definitely stare back at you from the abyss – and that’s when things can start really shaking via avalanches of cracking sound.
Will we be seeing you in Europe any time soon? For live concerts, that is (though you’re welcome either way, of course).
I have the distinct intention to see the Paris Opera Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, the Teatro alla Scala Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet in the coming year(s), so I also want to parallel thematically the various overseas trips with various THE RITA live shows.
What is next for The Rita?
Further reading and understanding of women’s character make-up, costume and movement via the classical and early 20th century contemporary ballet and attempting to translate the various themes into sound.
Eg. tracing the illustrative art that defined the look of the some of the ballets – fervently trying to find the original drawings that directly influenced The Siren’s costume from Balanchine’s LE FILS PRODIGUE.