PGR Interview

Originally printed in Spinal Jaundice #11 – 1990


A wide spectrum of noise can be yours with ownership of any PGR (formerly Poison Gas Research) release. And for that matter, on any of the lovely releases on Silent Records. There’s ample calamity, haunting ambience and the integration of silence from time to time on their various compilation appearances and more. Kim Cascone has run the gamut of styles and has provided them on his home-based label, Silent Records. An idiosyncrasy that we here have admired is the playfulness of sounds (bells, chimes, rollicking voices) that also create a sense of ‘distance’. Not to say everything by PGR is skittish in nature, but each provides an environment. Whether their releases tailor to your activities or subvert them is up to which product you’ve got, and ultimately the frame of mind of Kim Cascone.

MJ: The apparent genre for PGR’s music seems to be experimental, though with a definite aesthetic value. Could you shed some light on your own process?
KC: If you listen to each release by PGR you will recognize certain sounds that I tend to use over and over…I have a vocabulary that I have developed over the years and I am still in the process of building…I don’t consciously think, “Okay, now I want to use this sound because it was on the last LP.” I just move from what my interests are and since they all originate from me there is some sort of thread throughout my releases. Since PGR was one of the innovators of the Ambient Industrial sound I’d have to say that my sounds fall into one of two classifications: Ornaments or Beds. I have developed various techniques of obtaining these sounds through manipulations such as extraction, and accidental imbrication but I hear everything in my head before it goes onto tape…I am constantly memorizing sounds and ambiences I hear…my compositions always integrate these sounds.

MJ: Who are the active participants in PGR?
KC: It has been just me for the past four years…I do ask friends to come into the studio to make certain sounds according to my specifications…it’s a similar situation to how Steve Stapleton of Nurse With Wound used to work…the last two CDs I have recorded, “A Hole Of Unknown Depth” on Noctovision/Japan, and “Fetish” on Silent Records, have been my contributions entirely…I give friends parts to play or ask them to contribute sounds they have but ultimately it is my work. I have a very strong sense of curiosity and working with other people has to bring out that quality in me or it just doesn’t work.

MJ: How did you land the musical chores for the “Twin Peaks” TV program? What was it like working with David Lynch?
KC: I started out being an assistant sound effects editor on “Twin Peaks” and worked in that position until the music editor came on the crew. He had less than two weeks to cut all the music for the pilot and needed an assistant…so I was chosen since I have a musical education and could do things like “group a bunch of ‘stings’ in ascending pitch while putting all the octaves in a different group.” So I became the assistant music editor by default. I got the job because I had been working on a feature called “Blood Of The Heros” and I was asked to work on the Lynch film because I had an unorthodox aesthetic. David Lynch is one of the nicest people you would want to meet…he is very aware of sound and knows exactly what sound goes where in his films. I got the chance to work with him a bit closer on “Wild At Heart,” and I watched him work very closely in the mix. I learned a lot by watching him work. It’s funny but a lot of what I picked up from him has been showing up in my work lately.

MJ: What has been your favorite of Lynch’s varied works?

KC: My favorite of all his work will always be “Eraserhead.” That film laid bare a new language for artists working with sound…the other filmmaker that has influenced me greatly has been Tarkovsky. I have a cassette dupe of the soundtrack to “Solaris.” It’s absolutely brilliant. I am sure Lynch was influenced by him.

MJ: Could you provide some insight on your own creative process when setting out to record?
KC: I have an artistic process much like a painter…I do a great deal of artistic research into various areas that interest me and then I set out to express my ideas in an intuitive manner. I love to read theory and criticism but my work is much more poetic and not very scientific…I just follow my artistic sense and it leads me through this process of discovery. I read a great deal so most of my work is influenced by reading…I am currently reading a book called “The Tuning Of The World” by R. Murray Schaefer which is a fascinating view on how society’s aural landscape has changed and how it has effected people and culture. Very interesting reading for people working in experimental music…people very often get locked into thinking of music as ‘having melody.’ This is as absurd as thinking that all painting has to be realistic or representational. Music is whatever talks to someone in a non-verbal way.

MJ: You manage the Silent Records label. What are/were the aims for founding the label and distributing other people’s projects?

KC: I founded Silent Records because I love sound and I wanted Silent to reflect my aesthetic in sound. There are a few artists that I run across that I think need to be heard…I have very specific tastes but I know when something has ‘that quality’. In the beginning I didn’t want Silent to be a vanity label so I made it a point to release records by other artists and to release my own work overseas. This was fine until I started to want more control over my work and it came time to stop putting out other projects before mine…so I try to keep it 50/50. Silent has built a good reputation for itself because of the choices I make as to what we release. I want Silent to be known for releasing exceptional work.

MJ: Do you have certain ‘set’ recording equipment?
KC: No, I don’t have any set gear that I use all the time. I do use certain types of processing in order to achieve my sound but I use whatever I have to in order to get the sounds I hear onto tape. I have been using my EPS sampler a lot lately…half the PGR pieces on “Fetish” (split CD with Arcane Device on Silent Records) were done primarily on the EPS. I sampled all the sounds and then have them shaped in the sequencer. I found this to be a very interesting way to free myself from having to use an expensive recording studio but I still have to interface with one in order to mix and produce my work.

MJ: I think American ‘industrialists’ often view San Francisco as a good area to launch musical ventures. Do you view it as such and does PGR do live playing?
KC: I moved here from New York City in 1983 where I had been involved in a court case with my landlord. We lived in a loft on West 19th St. and a situation was taking place throughout NYC similar to what had happened in SoHo. So we decided that we had to move once we settled our legal dispute and figure it was either Hoboken or San Francisco…the choice was obvious. I knew nothing about industrial music and learned about it by chance through Reyvision (ex-member of PGR). I did find San Francisco a lot easier to launch projects in…NYC is too damn expensive and competitive to do anything unless you have a lot of money…in the space of two years after moving to San Francisco I recorded three cassettes, and LP and was starting to perform with PGR and Thessalonians. San Francisco had the reputations as being a renaissance city…it’s strange, but right after I moved here all of that died. I think it had a lot to do with the onslaught of AIDS. All that great stuff that we kept hearing about San Francisco in NYC and then saw a bit of when we visited here in 1982 had vanished right after we moved here. The city became very conservative for a while, and I found it difficult to work in this atmosphere. Luckily things have been loosening up in the past few years. There are places to play and interesting bands forming again but for a while there it was horrible. PGR does perform on occasion but doesn’t make it a point to since performing certain pieces live is sometimes problematic…plus people don’t want to sit and watch minimalist music being performed, this is something they would rather put on and listen to in their home.

MJ: Do you consider avant-garde music to be within a finite realm of possibilities?
KC: That’s a difficult question to answer…human existence is finite so our realm of perception must also be finite at this point in time. Avant-garde music is just a small section of the entire spectrum of human creativity…but I think your question addresses the issue of ‘originality’. I think postmodernism has dealt with that issue very realistically…and I always find it humorous when people hold on to try to be ‘original’. This is an outmoded concept…it’s mythology.

MJ: Could you talk about your affinity with Musique Concrete?

KC: I have always enjoyed music and been stimulated by the sounds around me. I became interested in Musique Concrete while I was still in music school but hadn’t started composing in the medium until I moved to San Francisco. Before then I was mostly composing with instruments and electronic sounds…I was more into synthetic sounds and building my own synthesizers and creating patches on my analog synth. I have released two pieces from that period but most of what I was doing at that time I considered to be student work…I struggled long and hard to push my work into more sophisticated areas…so from Musique Concrete I moved into minimalism because I wanted to reduce the amount of information in my music…but I wanted to retain the use of concrete sounds…so I combined my interests in film sound with minimalism and that’s what I’m doing today.