JOHN GULLAK a short biography In 1957 at the age of four one of my paintings was selected for a show of young painters exhibited on the UCB campus. Since then my work has more often than not been in the public eye and ear inside and out of galleries and museums around the world.
Some Shows. BAY AREA ARTISTS -- California Legion of Honor, S.F. -'74. CALIFORNIA PRINTMAKERS -- Oakland Museum of Art -'75. XEROX -- La Mamelle, S.F. -'76. NUDE & EROTIC ART -- Richmond Art Center, Ca. -'80. WESTERN FRONT / CALIFORNIA DREAM -- FNAC, Paris -'80. Wm ANDERSON, DAVE CAROTHERS, J.F.C. GULLAK -- Works, S.J. -'84.
Some past and current projects 1977-84. Original and active member of San Francisco's infamous performance group the MUTANTS.
1979 - ? . Co-founder/publisher/editor of the alternative arts/music magazine ANOTHER ROOM. Our next issue will be published mid August '84.
1980-82. Organized three environmental sound events (ANOTHER ROOM PUBLIC HEARING) featuring exclusive works of over 100 international artists.
1981 - ? . Produce the NO OTHER RADIO show for KPFA FM Berkeley. A bi-weekly program of hardcore (not punk!) new and unusual music. There is no other radio like NO OTHER RADIO.
1983 - ? . With partner Jeff Brogan formed A.R.P.H. Tapes. An in house real time audio cassette duplicating service. We also commercially release album length cassettes by artists who work in the experimental, post-industrial, cold wave, etc. genre of new music.
1640 18TH ST OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA 94607 USA
UNSOUND: How did you become involved within the music realm?
JOHN GULLAK: The Mutants was the first real expression of a public level, and that was just real simple. All of my life I've done visual arts, and then right around '77 I was getting really tired of trying to deal with galleries. The whole art scene seemed to be real stagnate and I was looking for something different.
I had a party and the Mutants (before they were the Mutants) were there, and they were agreeing with me and said it would be nice to do something different. They had done a lot of performance before, so we began by doing performance-type things, and one thing led to another and then the band started. We used to sit around and listen to records, and try to find somebody who knew how to play instruments. I bought a cheap guitar and we started playing until we found this guitarist, Brenden, that could actually write songs.
Originally it was going to be more of a performance band, experimental-type music, but then it progressed into what it was and got caught up in it. It got to the point where people were starting to talk about getting on Solid Gold, and things like that, really removed from the original idea behind the band. That was not what I wanted to be doing so I got out of it.
US: What is some of the background on Another Room Magazine?
JG: Well, once again, I've always been involved in some sort of publishing. When I was a kid I used to write something like a family newsletter. I used to go out and interview my dad working on the car, or recap some relatives visiting, just a newsletter that I could show to people. And then I worked at high school on the school paper.
Around '78 or so I was thinking again it would be nice to do something like that. I saw Stuff magazine from Los Angeles and it was one of the first adzines where you would buy a full page for fifty dollars and it was just advertisements. It was pretty interesting at the time and I realized by looking at Stuff that it was possible, you don't need a lot of money to put something out. So we got this idea to do an art's magazine where people would buy pages to display their artwork. The first few issues of Another Room were just ads and artwork. Then we had some extra money left over, so why not use that to put articles in, and one thing led to another.
US: How many issues now?
JG: We are starting our fifth volume, I don't know, I guess easily a couple dozen issues.
US: How many people are involved in it?
JG: Originally Lucy Childs and I started it, and we put it together in her kitchen at the last minute before it went to the press. Then it got up to maybe a dozen people on the staff a couple of years ago, and once again it was finding good people to work with, people that are dedicated and want to work. That was hard so we went down to just Lucy Childs, Michael Mallory and myself as a nucleus, and other people would help out. Michael and Melanie Sumner helped with the last couple of issues as well. Now it is just basically Michael and myself and we are starting to put a temporary staff together again.
US: What got you started into doing cassette reviews? Was that from the beginning or later on?
JG: It came about when we did the Public Hearing events. I realized at that point that there was a lot of really good music coming out and most of it was on cassette, and I realized that there wasn't anywhere or anybody talking about it. I figure that it would be a good place for exposure for people who are working with cassettes.
US: How did the Public Hearing events come about?
JG: That came about through different elements, but working with music at home, you know, 'home tapers'. At that time there was not any way of getting any exposure, there weren't many people playing that type of music on the radio, it was a real closed thing. So I thought, 'why not broadcast it?' Make it more of an event that would give it more of focus to the music, and also I got the idea just because it was a sound event.
I was once walking down the street in New York and I heard this incredible noise -- like metal being mashed and mangled, and it was really loud. There were these people standing there looking at this garage door on the street and I thought the sound was coming from the garage door because they were looking at it. I thought, 'god, that's weird, whats going on in there?' And then I turned the corner and realized that there was this dump truck unloading a dumpster, its just those acoustics put that image together for me.
But I thought it would be neat for people to broadcast these sounds into the environment and people could either take them for granted or not really know where they are coming from.
US: So the Public Hearings were just the playing of cassettes over a p.a. system?
JG: Yes, what we did is put a p.a. up on the roof of our building and played tapes. The building is right in an industrial area in Oakland (CA) and there is a metal salvage yard right across the street, so it went perfect. It was pretty exciting, there would be catering trucks out there selling hot dogs, and the people waiting around at the Union Hall for their next job, and all the metal being crunched next door, and then these other sounds coming through like helicopters and jets taking off from the air station.
We did them just in the day time, actually there were three of them, the first one we did had twelve tapes and the second one had 80 tapes.
US: How long would they last for?
JG: The first started at 6 am where we played ambient sounds, and they'd go into the afternoon. The last one was actually on Halloween night.
US: Did you have it planned in any way to play everything that came in or did you decide in terms of the environment?
JG: We didn't want to play things that really sounded like music because it would be too obvious. We picked things that would fit more into the environment so that it would fit in and people would wonder where the sounds were coming from.
US: Why did you stop doing them?
JG: originally I did them to be kind of a show case for independent music people, and we did the events and then we did something in the magazine talking about the artists, and then we were supposed to do these compilation cassettes of the music, which are still in the making. I think that within the next issue we are going to have them out. I plan on doing some more once I get the cassettes out.
US: Didn't you tell me once that the construction workers complained about the Public Hearings?
JG: Yeah, the police came and we had to shut if off one day, but we only had about fifteen minutes left to go. It was great because the police came and they said,' we've got some complaints about some noise you are broadcasting', and at the time we weren't even broadcasting, it wouldn't be constant -- every ten minutes or so. But I couldn't hear the police because the salvage yard was making so much noise, so we had to go inside and talk about it.
US: How did the radio show, 'No Other Radio' come about?
JG: The radio show came about the because of the Public Hearings. With the second Public Hearing Don Joyce and Jane Hall, Mark Hosler got some space on KPFA to do a little Public Hearing special to play some tapes over the air, that went over pretty well.
Charles Amirkhanian liked it and realized that there was a real good outlet for music. I had already developed this kind of network and he was looking for something like that for KPFA. He asked me if I was interested in taking over this time slot that was opening up. I guess Tim Yohannan had something to do with it also in terms of encouraging him to ask me, that was in '80 or '81.
US: Has the show changed?
JG: Yes. At first I did just strictly real underground music. A lot of it was really hard to listen to but I thought, 'this is great, these people are here and why shouldn't they have their moment on the radio?"
US: How did you choose what tapes to play?
JG: I chose them from my own personal taste. I try to find things that are just really unusual in terms of what you normally hear on a radio station.
US: Although, now there is this history and there are all these people doing this and you have to look at it on another level.
JG: That's true, but the basic idea is that you still don't usually hear that music on the radio. I like things that are interesting, that somehow conjure up different emotions, things that are emotional, or make you think of certain images. It's really hard to talk about. The program's changed now to where I play records, as well as the cassettes, but it turns out that a lot of the people that I used to play who did cassettes now have things out on records.
Now I'll play more historical pieces, things that were maybe done twenty years ago, or more and they sound contemporary. I don't have a good experimental background in terms of all the different composers, but people will give me records and tapes that they think I'll enjoy, and I usually do. It's become more educational instead of being a curiosity attraction, or a refuge for things that have now where else to play. It seems to be so much better now because people are getting out more and writing to each other, trading tapes, etc.
US: Do you see a major difference between the music that is being produced here in the United States, and what happened in England...Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, etc. etc.?
JG: Not really, unfortunately a lot of the music seems derived from TG or other established industrial bands, but it definitely has that American type of attitude. I think the subject matter is different. The subject matter seems to deal with suburban-type images that are taken to extremes.
But otherwise, there seems to be a pretty generic vein, I mean, it's pretty limited in the way people approach it. They hear something they like, it seems, I used to say that you could pick any tape out of the tapes that I have and you could put it on and I could tell you what tape it was, but its getting harder now because there are so many of them. I can tell what the music is because I've hard it and I have something to relate it to, but people that aren't familiar with that type of music would listen to it and say that it all sounds the same, and it probably does. Do you agree with that?
US: I totally agree.
JG: It's hard to write reviews, and it's getting harder and harder because how do you describe this music...?
US: You describe it like how you describe punk -- it's generic. You can say, it sounds like industrial music...it sound noisy...Do you do tape work yourself?
JG: Yes, and it sounds like everybody else. (laughter) I don't have very much equipment, like everybody else, and I record sounds and manipulate them and put them together. Actually, I'm going to be releasing a tape soon, and I adopted the name 'Ear Witness', which comes out of Maurice Shaeffer's 'The Tuning of the World'. It talks about the sound scapes, the sounds from the world, and 'ear witness' is one of the terms in the bibliography.
US: What do you plan to do with ARPH Tapes? (Another Room Public Hearings)
JG: Well, as you know, we keep putting tapes out. We've got ten out right now, and the next two are going to be Michael Peppe and a Minimal Man tape. And then we've got a lot of really great tapes coming out -- there's D-D Downer Science Project from Alameda (CA). Every week of the show he drops off a new tape and it's really good. And then Matthew Sommerville under the name of M. Standish.
The idea behind all of this is that people take sounds for granted, within their environment -- what sounds mean to you. When they listen to stuff, they want it to be entertaining and exciting like within rock and roll music. They approach it with such an easy, lazy attitude just taking what ever is given to them. There's enough money going around and enough personal taste, but people just don't realize that there is anything else.
So ARPH Tapes is trying to do, along with many other labels, is just to say that you can make your own music or find something that relates more to your life. I see that sound, just listening to things, is really important and people don't realize that.
There is a lot of things that can happen with sound, like when I was a kid and I was in my crib lying down I'd hear this beat like a bass drum but with a little more of a brush effect, and in my mind I always saw this woman from the waist down wearing this mid-length skirt, silk stockings, and high-heeled shoes. She'd carry this little shopping bag and be walking, and the shopping bag would be brushing against her leg to that beat. That was a really important image, and of course in later years I realized that it was just my pulse going through my neck, but that image would be a springboard for all sorts of other things to happen and it was all based on sound. It came from within myself.
I think that there are sounds that people just don't realize, it's just like seeing. But people get so ingrained when they are going to sit down and actually listen to something, it's always just the same old stuff. They're so conditioned to listen to a certain type of music, always trying to get the same type of feeling and it's kind of sad because there is so much more.
Typed by Cheryl Vega 6-8-95