Robert Turman at RCNCAVE, 5/12/11
photo by Leonarda Beal
Robert Turman was a member of pioneering industrial band NON (alongside Boyd Rice) and has been a prolific member of the underground industrial/noise music scene since the 1970s, playing alongside artists like Aaron Dilloway, Boyd Rice, Timothy Hendricks, Jandek, and others. Robert now resides in Oberlin Ohio, and recently I caught up with him before a live performance at Akron Ohio's Rubber City Noise Cave to talk with him about his recently released double-LP Flux (Spectrum Spools) and his upcoming double-LP Beyond Painting (Fabrica Discos).
So the first thing I wanted to talk about, I'm actually confused as to the history of Flux, I read somewhere that it was a reissue, but I was actually under the impression that it was never before released material, so which is it?
It was a very very limited release. Originally I started putting cassettes out in reel to reel boxes, and the very first edition there were, maybe... not even 10 copies, and then I made it with the colored cover like it turned out to be, and there were... not even that many more, and then I made some after that in 5 inch reel boxes with black and white art on different colored paper, and there might have been 25 of those or something, and that was all over a few year in the early 80s.
So altogether less than 100 copies?
Okay. So how did John [Elliot, curator of the Spectrum Spools label] find out about this, did he have a copy or was this something you had told him about?
No, he probably heard it from Aaron Dilloway (Hanson Records). Aaron talked about putting it out on Hanson, and that was taking too long, but Aaron had transferred it, and done cleaning up on it, and that's probably how John first heard it, on a CD from Aaron I would imagine. Aaron had sent me, when he was still thinking about putting it out, he had sent my original cassette, which I had mixed onto a really cheap, used, low noise cassette, that was the master and so that was the only copy ever, he had sent it to a guy in England who was supposed to master it, and this was like... a year and a half ago, and the guy did a little bit on it and sent it back. [During this time] I had been gone for a while and came back and Aaron had these rough mixes and I only heard, maybe, part of the first two tracks, one of which sounded really good, and the other sounded horrible, and Aaron was supposed to make notes and send it back to the guy and... Anyway it kinda got neglected, and when John got more interested in it and he got the label he said "well let's just put it out" and so he ended up getting the tape from the guy in England. And Rashad Becker did and amazing job. I had tried with a friend of mine... cleaning it up, and just ended up making it worse, though I had done some transfers myself that I thought were pretty good, with a little bit of processing, but he (Becker) made it sound really good.
I also recall reading that you had said you recorded it (Flux) while you were having trouble sleeping and it was the only thing that helped you sleep at night. Is there more to that story?
Um yeah, I mean there was a period where I was having trouble sleeping and it was the only thing that would help me sleep.
So is that the only recording from that period, or is there more?
Umm it's hard to say, its been so long. I'm sure I have other stuff from that period but from that exact time period, that's probably about all there is.
Okay and the reception so far has been generally positive, now looking back that it has been released, is there anything you wished you'd done differently?
The only thing I wish I had done different was, there was another piano piece that was done probably right around that time that would have been nice to include on the CD. It MIGHT have made it too long, but it might have just fit. I think as it is, it's just over 60 minutes, so it might have just fit on the CD.
So is the recording just piano, or what other instruments did you use on it?
Well the first side... The first three pieces are xylophone and kalimba and one of them has a tape loop, and one of them is just xylophone. And the last three pieces are just piano and one of 'em has a very crude little drum machine that I play with the tempo through the whole track, so it's a constant speeding up and slowing down through it all.
Okay cool. So what about your new double-LP, Beyond Painting, that is coming out on Fabrica? What can you tell me about that?
That was, from what I can remember, about 1990 and was some of the last recordings that I did by myself. I ended up, shortly after that, getting into a rock band and didn't do any recording by myself for a long time. Well pretty much. I was still doing some things but it was side projects and stuff, so it was different. Like country western reggae and some stuff like that, and that was all recorded after the Beyond Painting tracks and it was always some of my favorite stuff, and I finally decided I was going to do something with it so I did the CD-R and now the double-LP.
Cool. So are people who have Flux and really liked it going to be kind of, shocked at what Beyond Painting sounds like, or does it fit within that same theme?
It's a lot different. It's um, I'd say a lot heavier or darker, and Flux is more... sombre. Beyond Painting is fairly dark. As far as instrumentation, it's a lot different, also in overall sound, but I don't know if someone who didn't know me or anything about it, if they were to hear it and say "oh it's the same person", I really don't know. But it's mostly all just this cheap, crude sampling keyboard that I had for a long time and a lot of it is just samples of my voice.
So what are you going to be playing tonight then?
What I've been doing lately, live, is... well, most of the stuff I've always done is kinda loopy and repetitive, and what I've been doing live lately changes a bit more, still loopy, but more abstract, not so much like a piece where it has a basic sound and it's that way for the whole piece, it's sort of ...extended. It goes through a lot of changes.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Uh, no that should be about it.
Robert's set that night was, as expected, a shifting, morphing trip full of cut up tape loops of vocals, strings, and god only knows what else. Robert's record Flux is available now (and highly recommended), and Beyond Painting should be available in the next few months.