James Ferraro

James Ferraro’s ‘Burning Prius’ reviewed

8 February 2016

The heady buzz of Los Angeles’ fair weekend attracted a healthy crop of gallerists, artists, indie rock musicians, tumblr fans and European collectors to the front gallery of Château Shatto with Jean Baudrillard’s photography still adorning the walls. As this is the time when most of the contemporary art world descends on Los Angeles for Paramount Ranch and the more blue chip Art Los Angeles Contemporary, the evening crowd is chatty and especially eager to blow off some steam once Nguzunguzu takes over the basement with a night-long DJ set. A performance like James Ferraro’s ‘Burning Prius’ within such a trafficked weekend presents a kind of intervention.  It’s the work of someone whose predominant medium has recently been the hypercapitalist detritus of West Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire and Santa Monica; places dubbed the ‘Miracle Mile’, that refer to pets as “companions” and characterize an evangelical gratitude to Lifestyle with slogans such as “Fortunate People in a Fortunate City”. The impulse to play on these signifiers is irresistible, and have been plucked before as elements of other LA-focused performances including Steven Warwick’s REENGINEERING VILLA AURORA.

James Ferraro, 'Burning Prius' (2016). Courtesy Château Shatto, Los Angeles.
James Ferraro, ‘Burning Prius’ (2016). Courtesy Château Shatto, Los Angeles.

Ferraro’s domain of absurdity can be somewhat opaque, if not completely indecipherable. Much of his more recent corporate muzak contrasts with his earlier tape work with The Skaters, where odd ecologies of loops are built toward random cacophonies, or simply droned along until their point of expiration. Since then, he’s ditched the rawness of analogue audio and produced under the monikers Bebetune$ and Bodyguard, as well as eponymously, morphing into a more recent phase riffing directly off of banal commercial MIDI arrangements. ‘Burning Prius’ is unique amongst the pile of silica gel, iguanas, Dubai and the other references that Ferraro brings into his work, extending his focus onto an overlap between digital and classical arrangements, as well as opening up his work to performative composition.

On January 29, Ferraro is hidden amongst the crowd, acknowledged by a few close friends but largely clandestine. About fifteen minutes past 9pm a quartet of cellists in SWAT gear walk into the dull roar of conversation and take their places as a soundtrack of police sirens, surveillance helicopters and diffuse traffic patterns begin to roll off the speakers. Beginning with a police blotter and then proceeding into annunciations by a talking Prius computer, the performance builds up with the background drone for some minutes before the cellists play their first note. The sounds are angular, distinct and sharp, acting as punctuation as the babble of the cold, synthesized hybrid car voice recites phrases like ‘Destination’, ‘Traffic’ and ‘Los Angeles’. This uneasy pattern between the cellists and the Prius continues until the droning background Angeleno street ambience grows precipitously more unruly, leading to a crescendo that tastefully unifies the three strains of sound. Only the Prius is left audible at the end of the performance, naively and incessantly requesting destination input.

James Ferraro, 'Burning Prius' (2016). Performance view. Courtesy Château Shatto, Los Angeles.
James Ferraro, ‘Burning Prius’ (2016). Performance view. Courtesy Château Shatto, Los Angeles.

Ferraro’s performance obviously points toward the early ‘90s post-Rodney King tumult where both Los Angeles’ society and ecology were in crisis. Entire neighborhoods erupted over myriad social and economic inequities, followed two years later by the Northridge earthquake, all of which was then quite figuratively echoed by Hollywood’s depiction of volcanoes emerging out of the La Brea tar pits. As Mike Davis concludes of LA’s urban cauldron in Ecology of Fear, “Seen from space, the city that once hallucinated itself as an endless future without natural limits or social constraints now dazzles observers with the eerie beauty of an erupting volcano.” With Ferraro’s performance, this discord is reimagined, forcefully folded into the greater narrative of LA’s zenned-out lifestyle.

The hybrid link between society and ecology in Los Angeles encapsulates the very real day to day ubiquity of green juices, affirmation classes and tantric meditation overlaid with evening sunset Instagram filters. Ferraro’s method over the past few years has been to pick and choose from these varying lifestyle signifiers and present them raw, unfiltered and frustratingly naked. In a similar vein as Parker Ito’s painting, where torrents of symbols and internet imagery are spread across canvases with sprawling, complex layering, Ferraro’s nonlinearity presents social and consumerist signifiers absent of any comprehension. Ito characterized his work in Artforum as like when people who don’t read Chinese get Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies”. Ferraro, too, doesn’t care about recontextualization. Instead he bankrupts his constituent symbols of any real narrative and, in the case of ‘Burning Prius’, shoves them all together in the foundry of Los Angeles’ ever-confused and displaced human and natural ecologies. **

James Ferraro’s ‘Burning Prius’ was performed at LA’s Château Shatto on January 29, 2016.

 Header image: James Ferraro, ‘Burning Prius’ (2016). Performance view. Courtesy Château Shatto, Los Angeles.


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Brian Kokoska + Loyal Magazine launch @ Loyal, Nov 27 – Dec 19

27 November 2015

Brian Kokoska‘s solo exhibition Hush Hook is on at at Stockholm’s Loyal Gallery, opening November 27 and running to December 19.

There’s little information on this particular exhibition, except that a previous exhibition by Kokoska at Paris’ Galerie Valentin, titled Poison IV, presented a kind of “total environment” within a reconstruction of a “three-dimensional image”. 

Alongside the exhibition will be the launch of Loyal Magazine Vol. 2, Issue 1, edited by Kristian Bengtsson, Amy Giunta and Martin Lilja, and featuring contributions by Zoe Barcza, Sascha Braunig, Nick DeMarco, James Ferraro, Spencer Longo, Sandra Vaka Olsen, Britta Thie, Brad Troemel, Keith Varadi, Quintessa Matranga and many more.

See the Loyal Gallery website for (limited) details.**

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Consider it coined.

Stockphotocore. Consider it coined.
25 March 2013

One of the most exciting things about music writing is discovering a common language between artists and, as a result, tracing a style in the making. The speed of the Internet accelerates this process, causing genres to become increasingly micro-, and in many cases, evaporating before they have the chance to fully develop. 

'Stock hands up happiness man'. Image by soygcm.
‘Stock hands up happiness man’. Image by soygcm.

Continue reading Consider it coined.

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Perceptions of the ‘New Age’ revised

3 March 2013

I genuinely enjoy ‘dolphin music’: those inexpensive, largely anonymous cassettes, which promise to synchronise your alpha waves, permanently reduce stress or miraculously make your fortune. I’m particularly drawn towards those encouraging you to relax, close your eyes and breathe deeply; their covers most likely depicting a dolphin jumping through a prism or a rainbow, bisecting a serenely smiling head. Despite their holographic naiveté and positioning on the fringes of charlatanism, I manage to listen to them entirely without prejudice. This has nothing to do with the concept of ‘guilty pleasure’, nor a cooler-than-thou defence of the kitsch and tacky. There is something more to these releases, a surprising gravity, which makes them worthy of closer inspection.

During the 1970s and 1980s, synthesizer music developed a more saccharine, decorative branch. This subgenre was the less sophisticated neighbour of minimalism and deep listening, the ambient sounds of Brian Eno (especially his works with Laraaji), and kosmische space exploration. From a little of each, together with the echoes of wallpaper music from earlier decades and postcard ‘world’ influences, a synthetically updated mood music was born; lavish exotica for the computer age. While 80s technocrats would grease their high-end audio systems with smooth jazz and glossy adult pop, their more mystically-oriented contemporaries chose the imaginary east of Kitaro, the rippling harps of Andreas Vollenweider, or Gheorghe Zamfir’s pan flutes. In the 1980s, these mild, ethereal compositions, often referring to noble incentives (e.g. world peace and the brotherhood of nations), matched designer ‘natural’ furniture, fashionably exotic food and aspirational lifestyles – yet were simultaneously criticized as modern-day Muzak -mere tasteless reverie.

“New Age is often little more than background music for tired neurons. Doctors should prescribe it with caution: Whatever you do, don’t listen to it. Music is food; New Age is a drug”, bemoaned pianist Keith Jarrett in 1994 (whose ECM label releases, ironically, are considered one of the most influential sources of what would later become New Age music). That this professionally produced, commerce-friendly soundscape steadily gained popularity can be attributed to many factors – its unobtrusiveness served a role, as did its relaxing qualities, promising an effortless, instant pause for breath, which the successful consumerist generation welcomed as their wholly-deserved reward. Stylish New Age music was primarily a lifestyle accessory which appeared at the right moment; lest we forget, the zeitgeist of the time saw the rise of eco-friendly attitudes, a Gaian, back-to-nature approach and heightened environmental consciousness affecting both mainstream and underground culture towards the turn of the millennium.

There was also a far more interesting DIY undercurrent to matters; amateurish and easy to dismiss as the height of naiveté but intriguingly full of genuine good will. Musically, the 1980s and early 90s had a strong quasi-occult resonance, and New Age synthscapes – contrary to the likes of Current93 and Coil – served its more superficial, safe, ‘white magic’ side. Its content and iconography suited the ‘Californian’ strain of modern, eclectic spirituality, evolved for the needs of grown-up hippies: crystals, chakras, hypnotherapy, Reiki, Feng Shui and dream catchers, offered by serene people with symbolic jewellery, wide smiles and very, very shiny teeth. Contrary to Kitaro or Vollenweider, whose CDs were a stylish element of interior design, these budget tapes lacked big names, and were based mainly around an anonymous ‘best relaxation music’ tag. Their main difference from sophisti-New Age resided on the level of purpose: while the pleasure of the ‘new quiet music’ was its mild, inoffensive mood, designed to accompany meals, the rustling of Filofaxes and afternoon coffee, the role of ‘dolphin tapes’ was strictly functional. Relax, close your eyes, and breathe deeply: they actively offered the listener their desired outcome, whether inner peace, a brain-boost, love, luck or heightened self-esteem.

This type of music, distributed via esoteric shops and mail order rather than regular music stores, had its small moment of revival circa 2010-2011, as the secondary echo of two interlaced movements: fashionable interest in all things occult (raised by ‘witch house’), and mellow nostalgia for the idealized, perma-sunny 1980s, served by chillwave. The ‘New New Age’ fitted somewhere in-between, satisfying the need for mystery (albeit in sanitized form) and for a rainbow-coloured memory lane. The rehabilitation of relaxation music may be read as the last gasp of cliché recycling and its unfashionable stylings – especially given its use of blatantly mawkish, childlike tropes (there’s even a record called Dolphin Music for the Inner Child), made the genre an obvious target for trendy irony. Thankfully, things didn’t turn out to be that simple. Self-help tapes were either thoughtfully used as an element of clever social and cultural critique (the path chosen by James Ferraro and Transmuteo), or in other cases – treated with defiant earnestness. Belgian composer Dolphins Into The Future (aka Lieven Martens) admits to being fascinated by the work of cetacean researcher Joan Ocean and when asked, in an interview with Tiny Mix Tapes, about a potential streak of irony in his music, he replied in a disarming manner: “I’m afraid that element is not present in my work. I deal with a complete adoration of beauty in natural environments, and with the romance of these metaphorical power spots, these islands of insight”. Simon Reynolds, who devotes a few pages to the ‘New New Age’ phenomenon in ‘Retromania’, suggests that there is an element of risk-taking in reviving what he calls “unfashionable Hallmark mysticism”. It’s a sense of pushing the limits of obscurity, yet, in the case of Dolphins Into The Future, he revises his standpoint on his blog. “Perhaps Martens is trying to locate the buried utopianism in New Age, reactivate its psychedelic potentials? In which case, the title of this lovely album–The Music of Belief–lays it on the line. It’s a dare to the listener: suspend your cynicism’.

In fact, ‘dolphin music’ never actually disappeared. It had its loyal followers, surprisingly far from stereotypical aging hippies. A short excursion into the world of file-sharing suggests that the audience of these tapes is entirely average; those who collect relaxation records alongside mainstream pop music and films, adorn their computer desktops with cats and kissing lovers and, last but not least, buy self-help books. A friend of mine, a professional fortune teller, once told me that it’s not ‘hippies’ but rather corporate employees that make up the majority of her clientele. It’s hardly a revelatory outcome; according to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2009, 25 per cent of Americans believe in astrology, while 26 per cent admit they’re certain of the spiritual powers residing in trees.

‘Dolphin tapes’ respond to this layer of hidden vulnerability. There is a leap of faith in this music, which makes me keen to defend even its most kitsch manifestations. New Age music and the purposes it serves reveals yet another aspect of the rich tapestry of contemporary mythology, stubbornly prevalent in the technocene era. Despite being a skeptic myself, I welcome it not only as another field of ethnographic research, but also as an admirably sober antidote to the modes of irony or cynical ‘new rationalism’.

Obviously, the New Age industry itself is as profit-oriented as any other enterprise of the late capitalist era, and it succeeds on that level, often bordering on the edge of exploitation. But still, there is virtue in deliberate suspense of the prosaic, in declining to accept mundane solutions (“screw you Mr. Dawkins, you’re probably right, but I choose not to care!”). This choice is, in itself, ultimately human, and more worthwhile than the sardonic sneer. It’s the decision to buy a cassette in order to actually deal with a problem, even at the risk of running up a dodgy alley, as opposed to merely scoffing “deal with it!”. The existence of the industry, however mercenary it may be, exposes the needs and shortcomings that our culture doesn’t sufficiently meet. No self-help book or fantasy reverie will provide as much as the words of the greatest psychologist ever known, Dostoevsky – but the existence of tools such as ‘dolphin tapes’ are a peculiar reminder that, beyond their awkward aesthetics, they are chosen in response to very real needs.**

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Failed utopias explored

17 December 2012

The human condition, being disappointing, unpredictable and overly dependent on accidental factors, may often appear undesirable. Hence the need to put things in order. If one leaves the mess aside and begins anew, according to clear guidelines, shouldn’t everything begin to work logically? Halciion investigates

Although the term itself was coined by Thomas More in the 16th century, ‘utopia’ became a specialty of the modern era. In the 19th century, Charles Fourier suggested that providing optimum living conditions would prompt city dwellers to cooperate for the purpose of common good; his notion of space as the motor of progress and cradle of harmonious society was then developed by the visionaries of modernism. Yet, none of these attempts proved to be successful; some would argue that the principal one is the inevitable doom utopia brings upon itself. “Utopias have something to do with failure”, wrote Frederic Jameson. Emile Cioran, disenchanted and pessimistic towards utopias (along with almost everything) found his own diagnosis:

“utopia is the grotesque en rose, the need to associate happiness – that is, the improbable – with becoming, and to coerce an optimistic, aerial vision to the point where it re-joins its own source: the very cynicism it sought to combat. In short, a monstrous fantasy”.

Katowice Superunit. Photo by Kris Duda.
Katowice Superunit. Photo by Kris Duda.

New dwellings for new humans

Central and Eastern Europe was, for a number of decades, an arena for a grand utopian experiment pursued by the authority-endorsed followers of modernist ideas; from the concept of raising an industrious, collective-minded ‘New Man’, through to the reorganisation of space for these improved citizens. Over the years of Communist rule, the towns and cities of East Germany, Russia and Poland were increasingly covered with neat rectangles, carefully measured to meet the demands of an average resident. By ‘average’, designers meant ‘everyone’. One of the most movingly naïve pursuits of modernism was the assumption that human beings need a precisely measured amount of space, fresh air and access to nature in order to thrive – a belief that ‘one size fits all’. Le Corbusier’s ideas of a functional living space covering all basic needs were enthusiastically adopted in progress-oriented countries. Due to the entirely mundane reasons of time and money shortages, these brave new urban spaces turned out in practice to be less Unit d’Habitation, than literally ‘einsturzende neubauten’ (‘collapsing new buildings’). Utopia had cracking walls and crumbling balconies. It filled the lungs with asbestos and painted the landscape in monotonous greys. Available space, instead of optimum, barely covered the minimum: in Poland, government planners enforced norms of living space per person which were suitable for hand-to-mouth existence only – a family of three had to fit into 38 square metres.

Yet surprisingly, even the visionary strain of architectural modernism eventually crashed not because of physical limitations, but rather against the obstacle of its inhabitants. Polish architects Oskar and Zofia Hansen were known as parents of the ‘Open Form’, a concept in which architecture and wider urban space is not a finite construct, but may be available for modification. Hence their projects – settlements in Warsaw and Lublin – contained open spaces for encounters: courtyards, piazzas and corridors, designed for inhabitants to freely roam and enrich the ‘inhuman’ concrete structure with the spirit of spontaneous community. Soon, however, residents divided the corridors with grilles, locking themselves away in their own compartments. This scenario seems to reoccur throughout the history of modern architecture – once the ideal location is prepared, it surprisingly lacks participants. Utopian constructs seem to run contrary to the expectations of the proposed inhabitants – Egyptian visionary Hassan Fathy designed the model village of New Qurna in the 1950s, combining respect for traditional building techniques with modern urban planning, and yet almost no-one was interested in moving in, as potential residents preferred locations more convenient for the souvenir trade. New Qurna became a monument (or museum) of visionary thinking, before it even had the chance of coming to life.

Empty building in Amsterdam's Bijlmer area (South-East). Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk.
Empty building in Amsterdam’s Bijlmer area (South-East). Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk.

In other European cities, utopian settlements took unexpected directions. Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer district, originally designed as an exemplary functionalist ‘radiant city’, was supposed to appeal to the orderly, suburban middle classes with its high-rise, spacious blocks and convenient pathways. Rejected by the original target group, the Bijlmer soon became home to the underprivileged share of Amsterdam’s population, in particular immigrants from Suriname. Unemployment, poverty and distance from the city (causing gradual social exclusion) turned the district into a dystopian satellite, and only recently has the Bijlmer gained new life as a thriving multicultural neighbourhood. This eventual success runs parallel with the removal of utopian high-rise structures and their replacement with cosier, smaller ones. A similar turn of events was observed in Berlin’s modernist suburb Gropiusstadt, which gained notoriety via Christiane F. and her Wir Kinder von Bahnhof ZOO. ‘Ideal’ settlements, one may read between the lines of the book, are desolate enough to make their children go astray and seek a softer, chemically-induced utopia elsewhere.

Frederic Jameson believed that modernist utopias were wrong in their claims because of an inherent dehumanizing quality which proclaimed a mass, undifferentiated approach to humanity. Underestimating variety provides the deathblow. When utopia fails, its empty shells offer shelter for a swarming diversity of distinctly human qualities: imperfection, trial-and-error, makeshift fixing. In Central Europe, futuristic concrete halls were either left empty, occasionally haunted by masked graffiti bombers and drinking youths, or crowded with tiny business owners, hastily concocting their kiosks out of cardboard, scrap metal and fruit crates.

The actual virtual

The most recent embodiment of utopian thinking, and the latest disappointment, isn’t related to urban planning, architecture, or a particular society per se; when we look back at the 1990s, we begin to recall visions of the Internet as a source of common enlightenment. The early days of the World Wide Web carried a strain of anarchist idealism (the belief in innate human responsibility and goodness) and a hint of Libertarian values, Robert Anton Wilson style. “Here science and art, media and mind combine in a cyborg frenzy to create this replicant cousin to cyberpunk and hacking”, wrote John Frost in the Cyberpoet’s Guide to Virtual Culture. Douglas Rushkoff’s key mid-90s opus Cyberia optimistically predicted that the Web would become a tool which empowers people to speak up, act and create. Since then, the once-foreseen ‘virtual’ world has come to mirror the mundanity of the so-called ‘real’ world, and instead of offering an alternative has become another facet of the offline, overtaken by the manipulative presence of mainstream companies and media, along with the gossip, urban legend and superstitious matter of everyday anthropology. Nothing summarised the state of things better than the multiple meaning of the word ‘virtual’ – both referring directly to the ‘actual’, as well as to the computer-generated simulation of reality. The very same Rushkoff, formerly a starry-eyed proponent of virtual culture, recognized the danger as early as 1999, warning of the Internet becoming a manipulation tool for coercive marketing purposes. Observing Webspace being taken over by a multitude of incidental messages, banal memes, pop-ups, spam and irrelevant links brings to mind the fall of the 20th century’s precisely-measured urban spaces. When oppressive political order and official propaganda fell apart, a new type of persuasion quickly found its way in. First – shady cults, miracle therapies and financial pyramids, later the shiny world of advertising, increasingly sly and cunningly disguised.

Cracovia Hotel, Kraków. Photo by mononukleoza.
Cracovia Hotel, Krakow. Photo by mononukleoza.

Utopia is here

Nowadays, nostalgia reaches back towards the utopias of yore. Central and Eastern Europe, where until recently the legacy of modernism was dismissed as the unwanted memorabilia of a former regime, now reclaims it as part of its own identity. This turnaround is noticeable in protests against the removal of iconic 60s and 70s architecture, the theme of exhibitions such as Sounding the Body Electric in Łódź Museum of Modern Art, or the work of artists like Nicolas Grospierre, who examines the legacy of past dreamers and the discrepancy between idealist visions and their application. On an international scale, multidisciplinary genres such as hauntology, or the renewed interest in the past-decades’ science fiction and futurology – most recently the 1990s technoparadise (apparent in current electronic music – see James Ferraro, Maria Minerva and Fatima Al Qadiri), seem to explore the same notions. Susan Sontag once wrote about utopia and nostalgia as two extreme poles of the contemporary condition. A closer look may lead us to the conclusion that they are not so distant after all. **

Header image by: Andreas Levers.

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An Interview with James Ferraro

27 February 2012

James Ferraro is very much a product of his time, or not so much a product of it but its logical outcome. The fragmented, rapidly changing motion of the digital era and the possibilities it offers appear to suit him perfectly. It’s unclear who or what is being influenced by whom (or what) but that is also part of the point. The blurring of borders, disappearance of distinctions, is something credited to that ‘great democratiser’ of the Internet. Ferraro’s musical, creative, cross-platform output is reflective of that. The only thing is, there’s a lot that’s troubling about modern culture and he gets that too. In fact, he gets a lot of things.

James Ferraro, Far Side Virtual (2011). Album cover artwork. Courtesy Hippos in Tanks, Los Angeles, Miami, NY and London, Los Angeles; Miami; London.

Full of ideas and a wealth of information, it’s no surprise that Ferraro has been releasing music as prolifically as he has. He’s worked under a surplus of project names (including noise duo The Skaters with Spencer Clark) since his teens, most recently becoming the cream of the niche-industry crop with 2011’s Far Side Virtual, released on Hippos in Tanks. That album is a fabulous and unsettling microcosm of our synthetic universe, comprising automated voice responses, mobile ring tones and utopian ambience –as seen on your online store app.

To meet the wildly ‘switched on’ (to use an appropriate tech-metaphor) artist is to be shocked that James Ferraro comes in flesh and bone –wearing a Suicidal Tendencies t-shirt, no less. His scholarly analysis of modern life and popular culture is punctured by endless speech disfluencies and linguistic fillers (“like, you know”). He’s had no sleep since leaving LA for London following a four-hour delay but he assures “it feels good”. He’ll go on to sound-check, perform and go out late in London, before heading off to Berlin’s Club Transmediale Festival at 7am the following day.

But, for now, the irrepressibly chatty and friendly artist is more than forthcoming about everything put to him. There are the strangely logical comparisons between the work of video artist Ryan Trecartin, comedians Tim & Eric and global soul-pop phenomenon Adele. He has almost equal esteem for power electronics pioneers Whitehouse as hip hop producer Kanye West, while his new collaborative project, Bodyguard, will be a way to channel his more visceral creative inclinations with an LP release set for the coming summer. All this, without ever losing perspective as he responds to the suggestion of his still very underground celebrity: “yeah, on the Internet, you know.”

Bodyguard, Silica Gel (2012). Mixtape cover. Courtesy James Ferraro.

**You’ve done all this work and from what I gather you’ve got an endless store of ideas. Do you feel like the Internet helps with the way you work?

JF: The Internet definitely facilitates a rapid output. The way I look at it, I would otherwise be doing things in a similar way but at this point there’s no way of telling. I’ve been pretty much making and recording albums since I was a little kid and I feel like the Internet is pushing forth production.

**You seem pretty switched on, obviously, when it comes to what you’re doing. Where do you think you can go from here? Are you just going to evolve with technology?

James Ferraro: That’s probably a part of it but I’m actually focusing on my band right now. I started a band called Bodyguard and I’ve been really focusing that as my main musical outlet. But for myself as a solo artist, I’m going to focus on more involved musical projects. I really want to write an opera and I also want to focus on visual art, sculpture and large-scale installations. That’s pretty much where I’m heading right now.

As far as technology is concerned I haven’t even explored everything that’s available now, besides really cheap consumer software programs, like Fruity Loops, Ableton, Logic and then different synthesisers and samplers. I definitely want to get more involved in that but I think, musically, I want to be relating that to the band, which is me doing most of the writing but also having some members to collaborate with. I don’t want to have complete creative control over music anymore.

**With Far Side Virtual, the way you create music seems so concept-heavy that it feels like it’s more cerebral than visceral.

JF: I think it’s impossible for music writers to wrap their head around it because it’s simultaneously an art object and music piece but it just ended up evolving that way. When you try to analyse Far Side Virtual as just a musical object, you really can’t because it doesn’t actually address the conceptual nature of it.

I do see that difference there, of the less visceral and more conceptual, but it’s really just those works that people have paid attention to; Last American Hero and Multitopia, especially. It’s sort of departed further and further away from music to the point where it’s not even really music anymore. That’s why I felt this split to focus on my band and my music and then on my solo output as a visual artist, or even musical ideas that are a little more evolved than what a music journalist universe can build on.

James Ferraro (2012). Courtesy the artist.

**I felt like you’ve totally capitalised on that though –however unintentionally. Journalists love something, like the noise of The Skaters, where they can apply their own abstract ideas.

JF: That’s what I do with music. When I listen to something, I have a million ideas about it, so I guess I end up producing that myself without really knowing. This sounds crazy but I really relate to bands like Whitehouse in my thinking towards making Far Side Virtual. Obviously the style and method is totally different but I feel like the concept for the record, the only thing I can vibe with, is like Whitehouse records.

For me, the record was trying to cut through a lot of layers of social interactions and culture and find this core and essence of the human spirit right now, which has been altered by the introduction of consumerism and things like that. I just wanted to find the modern western soul. That is my thinking and other artists that have done that are noise, or power electronics artists like Whitehouse. I don’t find it much of a departure from that but I guess it’s open to interpretation.

**What are your thoughts on being compared to US video artist Ryan Trecartin?

JF: We’re basically a part of the same generation, so I can see how these things manifest themselves in both of our work, or any artist’s. I relate to performers, like Adele, who capture things that Ryan Trecartin and artists like him are commenting on. A lot of his stuff is like a really overt expression; at least I find it really overt. I can really interpret the same things in an Adele performance.

I was talking to people about that Lana Del Rey performance [on Saturday Night Live] upstairs and it was weird because it makes so much sense. People were really upset about it but it makes sense though… I think it’s beautiful. It represents the change and the time we live in. I just respect realism. Part of her schtick is frailty and failure; it’s a part of her ultimate message as an artist. Personally, I’d like to see more positive roles but that’s just part of our history, it’s building up and this is what we’re experiencing now.

**It’s like comedians Tim and Eric and how they represent the flaws, imperfections and ultimate farce of free-to-air TV.

JF: Yeah totally, except they are overtly satirical. I love that and a lot of my own work is satirical but I don’t think Ryan Trecartin’s work is satirical, really. I think it has deeper value. But when you see [Lana Del Ray] on stage under these really expensive lights and cameras and her humanness spilling forth, we need to embrace that. Maybe don’t go out and buy her record but we just need to reflect on that and be like, ‘that is a Ryan Trecartin piece’.

**I think where him and you differ is you don’t really express much of an opinion, in terms of being negative or positive. You’re searching for the ‘Western soul’, as you say. I feel as though Ryan Trecartin has already decided that there isn’t one.

JF: That might be my flaw as an artist that is trying to communicate an idea but I like these ambiguous statements. You have to give the listener more freedom to find the meaning behind something.

**You would have seen a time pre-internet, right?

JF: By the time I hit high school, it was just getting integrated into schools. I mean, I remember life without it but very young. Surprisingly a lot of my memories as a kid are really vivid though.

**Maybe that has something to do with memory degradation.

JF: You mean your short-term memory fading? Yeah. Probably. Definitely. It becomes an unused organ that just dissolves and you’re, like, ‘have a USB drive’. **

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