by Jett Black
Make yourself comfortable. Sit back and relax. Dance in the
dark, too if you wish, as you will want to explore each and every rarity, every
sampled intonation, every primal expression of vitality that Gaia and the
modern electronic media that is Zoar unfold. Cassandra, the latest CD by Zoar,
unfolds like a starlit night above a solitary campfire. Heavenly hosts of
mythology, above and below, compete with the majesty of creation that humans
now have all but forgotten. Almost immediately, modern primitives clad in black
can be seen, or imagined, charting the music of Zoar against a backdrop of
shadows and flashes of light. If the concept doesn't grab you, then the true
depth and elegance of the music on this CD will. In the first three tracks,
themes of Cassandra, creatures of darkness collaborate with these fine
musicians to bring you the most eerie and yet soothing soundtrack to date for
any Halloween moment. And beyond this initial stage, in "The Passing of a
Plague," the ever-present primitive and the super-imposed modern industrial
influences collide and rip asunder mortal conceptions of order and stability.
Enough prelude. In the midst of it all walk the musicians; ordinary people
(aren't we all?). One of these is Michael Montes, a present-day Bilbo Baggins.
An anachronism of sorts... a Hobbit torn from Middle-earth and sent into the
heart of New York City. Listen now as he begins to unfold a portion of the
mystery that is Zoar.
Who are current members of Zoar and what roles does each
The main musical components of Zoar are myself (keyboards),
Peter Rundquist (guitars) and Erik Friedlander (cello). Peter and I share most
of the compositional and production duties. Erik brings his classical and
improv/noise techniques into the process. The visual components of Zoar involve
filmmaker Bill Morrison and lighting designer Scotto. Both of their aesthetics
contribute greatly to our live performances. For our third disc we are
considering some guest vocalists, TBA.
What forms of instrumentation does Zoar utilize?
Generally we have been using guitar, cello and keyboards.
The keyboard parts include rhythm programming, chordal pads, walls of thick
noise and specific samples of nature and technology.
Tell us about "In the Bloodlit Dark."
"In the Bloodlit Dark" is a much darker disc than Cassandra.
The cello emerges, taking on a much bigger role. The guitars are moving toward
a more abstract area. We are continuing the attempt at making very original
music. Our attempts do not always succeed, but "In the Bloodlit Dark"
represents a strong move toward the development of the kind of sound we're
striving for. Industrial wasteland atmospheres transform into deep underwater
melodic fantasy into a nightmarish sexual serial-killer soundscape into a
sub-basement torture chamber, etc.
How did Zoar come to form a relationship with
award-winning film director Bill Morrison?
Bill was working with The Ridge Theater, NYC's renowned
underground multi-media theater group, making beautiful high-contrast black and
white films for their performances. His work had a timeless quality that we
really liked: ancient grainy photography in a futuristic context. After many
beery think-tank sessions (including a night with absinthe he brought back from
Prague!) he decided to come on board. He has made two new films for "In the
Methods of cinematic performance employed during Zoar's
live shows appeal to audio-visual interactive sensations. How is this
When the lights come up after one of our shows we want the
audience to feel as if they were awakened from some sort of mysterious and
complex dream. We try to accomplish this by submerging the room in our musical
world, painted with Scotto's lights and Bill's films. It's like watching some
strange subconscious movie.
Beyond the upcoming release of In the Bloodlit Dark, Zoar
is already composing a third, and as yet untitled, recording from within its
New York studios. I read that this next recording will be reflective of the
Serengeti Plains of Tanzania and further of Costa Rican rain forests. What
motivations prompt you to record in such exotic locations? And, more
importantly, how can I hitch a ride? :)
More and more often our music is trying to reflect the basic
conflict of our times: Nature vs. Technology. This past December in Tanzania I
was able to capture some of the eerie night ambience of the Serengeti, the time
of fear and predation. I dream of making pieces which juxtapose these pure
sounds with the sharp destructive teeth of human technology. (It also makes for
a good write-off! Jett please join us next time!)
First explain the relationship between Zoar and Scotto
and then tell us a little about what it has been like working with him.
We met Scotto a few years ago. A great guy, a true artist.
He is known as one of the founders of the rave scene here in NYC in the early
90's. We approached him not only for his talent in generating unique lighting
effects, but also because of his knowledge and passion for new lighting
technologies. He has taught us a lot. He was looking for ways to expand beyond
the dance club scene and dove into our experimental dark world with great
Tell us about Nine Days North (1996), and then next about
Bill Morrison also does a bit of traveling. Both "Nine Days
North" and "Nemo" were shot in many locations around the world: Italy, Croatia,
Geneva, Ecuador, Northern Canada, Arizona, Louisiana, etc. He creates
photographic dreams, vast landscapes devoid of humanity. He spent a lot of time
painting before moving into film and it seems that he is able to find textures
in various settings that go well with the tempo and mood of our pieces. "Nine
Days North" is almost like a Viking saga, travel on water, past bleak and rocky
coasts until the lonely citadel appears. "Nemo" takes us through desolate
time-lapse urban scenes, floating swans, cathedral candles...
Reflecting back upon the first weekend of April '99 and a
multitude of opportune events available during Convergence 5 in New Orleans,
Louisiana, what do you most remember? And can you share any details?
The whole experience was exceptionally wonderful. I was
particularly struck rather deeply by the joy of being involved with a thriving
scene that exists completely outside of the mainstream. There is an idealism
there that is hard to beat. Let the corporate powers be damned! I was also
really happy for the bands. What a great opportunity to expose one's work to an
appreciative audience! The musician's struggle is long; the joy, fleeting.
Now you are packing to visit Paris, France. What awaits
you there across the water?
Travel is always the best education. How horrible it would
be to die without experiencing as much of the planet as possible! I'll be
meeting some pen-pals there as well as visiting some old friends. (Chopin is
buried in the Cimetiere Du Pere Lachaise!). Also, a vampire ball is happening
at "Le Cave" on May Day. (http://perso.cybercable.fr/premo/goth.html)
In what ways will Zoar's live performances differ from
Besides the visual aspect, the sound is probably a bit more
raw. Also, we often try to add new material.
How are your musically hallucinatory landscapes achieved?
Many, many layers of samples. Often the approach is more
like painting or sculpture, adding colors, changing shapes. Also the structures
can sometimes take more narrative forms as opposed to the more usual verse -
chorus - verse - chorus - bridge - chorus format. Dissonance plays a part. I
love thick dark clouds of surreal texture combined with the stark reality of
cello or guitar.
Describe how you view nature as a "brutal" and
"unforgiving" force against which humanity struggles.
Yes, but isn't humanity 'brutal' and 'unforgiving'? Humans
are the dominant species at the moment. Nature is obsolete. And technology is
only beginning to show us its huge and dark potential.
Describe in detail how you prepare and manage to capture
slices of natural life using DAT recorders.
It is getting more and more difficult to find places where
the influence of humans cannot be felt. Here's an analogy: you go out to the
middle of some deserted area somewhere, miles from any humans, you set up camp,
lie down on the dirt to look up at the stars and satellite after satellite pass
across the sky. Anyway, I use a pretty good stereo mic, a portable HHB DAT
machine, some big batteries, lots of bug repellent and let it run. You can
record for hours just to get a few precious minutes of really good stuff. Much
When not completely focused upon Zoar, what do you do to
As you know, society doesn't really care much for musicians.
We are feared, ridiculed and disrespected on a regular basis. But, can anyone
imagine a world without music? Anyway, I stumble through the corporate world,
prostituting myself like pretty much everyone else.
Recent tragedies have prompted misguided mass media to
assault the gothic community with countless versions of bad press.
Consequently, readers everywhere have turned their angst against individuals
perceived to be members of an undefined gothic community. What suggestions
might you offer to individuals seeking pro-active ways to express their support
and appreciation for the overall integrity of gothic interests?
My biggest fear is that people will trade in all their black
clothes for beige. We must continue to live our lives the way that we want to
live them. It's not our fault that the corporate powers that be have built a
society where both guns, boredom and a sense of futility are all plentiful. The
overall integrity of Gothic interests is growing. Let's keep communicating and
What changes in the music industry have caught your
attention most during the '90s?
The implosion of the big record labels has certainly caught
my attention. Long may they rest in peace. Sooner or later the music mafia will
have to give in to the idea that fewer and fewer musicians will need them in
order to get by. Since so many major execs are now out on the street however,
it will be interesting to see how they adapt as they build the labels of the
future. I suggest that all artists demand a LOT MORE AUTONOMY than has been
granted to them in the past, or else just simply put up a web site and make a
go of it on one's own.
What images illustrate your visions of a "New Dark
Kosovo, Littleton, Rwanda, McDonald's, Y2K, National Parks =
Glorified Zoos, TV MIND CONTROL, Kraft, Sysco, Bill Gates, Suburban Sameness,
you know: the usual. I read in Harper's that major pharmaceutical companies are
some of the biggest contributors to Partnership For a Drug Free America.
Evidently they would like to eliminate their competition.
How do environmental and social stimuli of New York City
influence the developments of Zoar's compositions?
NYC is a wall of noise and energy that keeps us compulsive
types good and busy. The high stress melting pot is a continuous source of
inspiration. This place is the crossroads of the planet. Besides, as John
Lennon said: "During the Fall of the Roman Empire where else would one live but
Reading through some of your previous interviews, I find
that you prefer to begin a la Tabula Rasa and then build up from ground zero.
Describe some of the processes involved in composing and evolving soundscapes.
Very often we begin with a title and let all the sonic
imagery emerge from there. Certain passages from literature can also provide
narrative threads which allow us to plot sonic "story lines." Sometimes I sit
down with the express purpose of creating source material, collages of various
samples, which later can be placed into the context of new pieces.
Sands of time are swiftly expiring in the remaining
months of this millennium. What will Zoar hope to accomplish before the new
Never enough! The "In the Bloodlit Dark" release, completion
of the third disc, possibly some kind of tour in the fall, planning for a
fourth disc, a new film with Bill, the list goes on
Special Subject: Powaqqatsi (1988) & Koyaanisqatsi
When I read about and contemplate concepts expressed
about a "New Dark Age" as conveyed by Zoar compositions, I think of these two
films. If you know these two films please comment on your reactions and perhaps
how these films may have influenced your conceptual evolution of Zoar
It's interesting that you brought this up. I am more
familiar with "Koyaanisqatsi" so let's talk about that. When I saw that film it
completely blew me away. Here was the perfect merging of music and film. Both
are equally represented and equally powerful.
The whole concept of "Life Out of Balance" really interested
me. We have created a structure of living based upon the consumption of
resources and the acquisition of wealth. This structure is complex and powerful
and more importantly it now exists beyond the realm of our control.
Furthermore, the world of GAPMcDonaldsSevenEleven is a rather impersonal world,
a world that denies the idea of the individual, creates sameness, pushes us
away from a unique life experience. Now that this great machine is in place, it
is only a matter of time until it grinds itself into the ground. Technological
"accomplishments" may continue to accelerate this process. Within this
deterioration the "New Dark Age" may possibly flower: an age of chaos and,
Also, I've had the chance to meet and have more than a few
drinks with Godfrey Reggio, the director of Koyaanisqatsi. He happens to be a
good friend of Bill Morrison's! Currently, I believe that he's trying to get
another film off the ground. He has been to a Zoar show and given us really
How can fans order releases by Zoar? How can fans
communicate best with Zoar?
"Cassandra" can be found at the usual internet shops and
also at Kevin Dunn's catalog site:
http://www.middlepillar.com If all else fails please contact
us through our website: http://www.zoar.com.