Stone Age HAA The Holy MAA

Stone Age HAA The Holy MAA

Writing - Noise - Magic

Monday, July 22, 2013


David Russell Stempowski (b.1977 - Lorain, Ohio) is an experimental Musician, designer and art preparator. He is absolutely one of my favorite performers, who considers all aspects of expression in his work.

You can find his work here:

ARH: What are you working on now? Please describe current projects you’re most excited about. Are they collaborations or solo work?

DRS: This past year my focus has been on my "hard goth" band MURDEREDMAN, where I'm the singer. We are a rehearsed band that incorporates performance art elements into our live shows. Sonically we're descendant from late 70's goth punk and 90's Amp Rep / Touch & Go style bands. MURDEREDMAN is the band I've been waiting all my life to perform in, the musicians are all veterans of the Cleveland rock scene and they provide me with an alternating palette of heavy and melodic songs on which I can express myself through vocals, visuals and body language. Beyond my voice I like to use an assortment of lights, mirrors, flowers and eccentric outfits. However, as much as I've been in an "only one band" mode I seem to find myself being called upon quite often to perform under my solo moniker, Collapsed Arc. I actually prefer to play with other musicians, I greatly enjoy collaboration whether improvisational or rehearsed. Playing solo is mentally taxing on me but I must say that it does generate an exciting outcome live. Beyond my band and solo project I frequently collaborate with Wyatt Howland (Skin Graft) in a number of forms. Wyatt and I have a highly developed musical language that relies on texture, pattern and volume rather than on chords or measures. 

ARH: When and how did you get into performing? Feel free to discuss any influences and early experiences.

DRS: I started playing the drums at age ten and quickly found myself playing in school bands soon after. I've always been attracted to a life on stage. I went to a small elementary school and then a small high school where, at times, I was the only drummer so I ended up playing in a wide variety of academic musical groups. It was in my high school marching band where I felt the most satisfaction though. The combination of musicianship and physical showmanship excited me. I also enjoyed the fact that marching band situated itself within football and cheer-leading to create an amalgamate of cultures. I love the cross pollination of cultures, I suppose this is why I combine aspects of visual and performance art, ritual, music and non-music into my artistic endeavors.

ARH: Since you’ve started performing, have you noticed repeating cycles in terms of style and energy of experimental music? How would you describe the current zeitgeist? What interesting regional differences have you noticed from traveling?

DRS: The cycle that first comes to mind is that of the generations, of youth and of aging. I am currently 36 and watching young artists in their early 20's discover experimental music. At the beginning there is a purity, an excitement, possibilities to be explored. Discovering what a contact microphone does as opposed to honing what you yourself do with it. The younger generation is inspired by the scene that proceeded them and in turn they often lend renewed inspiration to the older generation. This is a cycle I am curious to experience as I move into my 40's and 50's.

The current zeitgeist I experience in northeastern Ohio and the surrounding American midwest and east coast is one of innovation. There are two directions I see my peers moving in, one that embraces modern technology and one that rejects it for a backwards dystopian exploration of things. But regardless of whether an artist is exploring modular synthesizer or junk metal harsh noise I see a lot of ingenuity.

To be honest I haven't experienced too diverse of regional differences on this side of the country. But when I spent some time in San Francisco it seemed to me that musicians out there paid more attention to performance, to their bodies, their costumes, their physical movements and expressions. Many of the cities between the midwest and east coast see the same acts touring through and listen to the same musicians growing up, the real diversities happen when geography separates the influences or when the actual geographic environment varies greatly. Within the midwest and east coast the differences I've picked up on are in attitude not necessarily in technique or style.

ARH: What qualities excite you in performances of others? What takes you by surprise and keeps your interest in experimental music?

DRS: I respond to visual ingenuity, movement, feats of physical endurance and the use of non-musical elements. Some of my favorite artists (like Ryan Jewell, Headboggle, Bee Mask, New Pledgemaster) utilize atypical approaches and objects in their practices. Overall I think that experimental music and "noise" music has kept my attention because it is filled with outsiders searching for new techniques and new sounds. The fact is that experimental music, most of the time, is not music at all, it is sound art.

ARH: How does language factor in your creative process? Does your inspiration often begin with words or sounds – how do these interact? Does crossing of the senses factor in your work, such as sound and image?

DRS: Regarding language, as a singer, I typically begin to write a song by creating rhythmic patterns through scat syllables before attempting to construct sentences. I've always been most comfortable approaching music through rhythm so I often find myself using my voice to lay down a foundation first even when I'm creating sound outside of my role as a vocalist. I remember my first drum teacher telling me "if you can't say it, you can't play it", we would begin reading through sheet music vocally before letting the sticks hit the drum heads. Regarding the crossing of the senses, when I first moved from the drums on to keyboards, voice and various noise generating devices I composed music as a series of gesture drawings, I found it very easy to interpret visual marks into audio expression. I love incorporating visual elements into my sound performances with video and slide projections. I feel that experimental music, especially when it is instrumental in nature, lends itself heavily to visual companionship.

ARH: Do you feel performing is a spiritual act and/or ritual? If so, how does that work – how do you use ritual awareness in your work? If not, how would you describe the performing process in terms of mental, physical and emotional transformation?

DRS: This is a difficult answer to put into words. Spiritual? Eh, no. Ritual? Absolutely. I have different modes of mental preparedness I go through depending on the situation. Before I perform with my bands MURDEREDMAN or Jerk I go through a period of getting into character much like an actor would do before a play. Sometimes this requires a period of no social contact before the performance. When I am playing experimental music I go through a process of channeling my overall non-verbal perception, my emotions, into a cohesive connection between my hands and mind. When playing solo the entire performance is a series of ritualistic motions where each movement informs the next choice. My solo equipment consists of an assortment of pieces of metal, glass and hand percussion instruments along with non-sound generating objects for visual effect like baby powder and flowers. I have very ritualistic motions I make with each object, some of them overt, some of them intimate and unknown to the audience. I was heavily influenced by the rituals of Catholicism as a child, I always loved the structure of mass, the blessing of the hosts and the swinging of the incense. Catholic mass and marching band both offered captivating structure and pageantry to me in my youth.

ARH: What do you think the future holds for you as an individual artist and experimental music generally? What is the relationship between local and global experimental music now?

DRS: My future will always be to continue walking the line between chord and discord. No matter what genre of music / sound I am applying myself to I find that I always take a sideways approach that incorporates something beyond what the ear perceives. My professional career installing art in museums and galleries continues to inspire me to bring visual elements into my personal endeavors in the audio arts.

The future of experimental music is no different than the past history of experimental music. Artists who find themselves outside of the accepted constraints of their medium will always continue to explore new ways of thinking, listening and handling the tools of their trade. There are infinite sounds to be made and recorded.

It seems that throughout the world experimental musicians often come to similar simultaneous end points given the technology available at any point in linear time. These end points take on different flavors when they are informed by specific regional cultures, having the opportunity to listen to music from around the world cross pollinates these local scenes and we all become a little bit closer as we influence each other throughout the decades.

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