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Tuxedomoon: Freedom from politics

Blaine L. Reininger broke out of his own band Tuxedomoon in the mid-80 to become a solo artist. Now he and all the other original members are together again, and on Sunday they play at Rockefeller.


In the first half of the 1980 century, the American band Tuxedomoon made its mark across Europe with its original mix of avant-garde, new wave and cabaret music. Especially the albums Desire og Holy Wars was much listened to and guided by the artistically oriented part of rock. The band held sensational concerts, including at Vikateateret and at the Norwegian Opera. Tuxedomoon has long kept a low profile, but is now back with the original crew. In 2004 came the record Cabin in the Sky, DVD Seismic Riffs, and the band is now on a European tour. On this occasion, we spoke with the founder Blaine L. Reininger.

- What is the main difference in playing in Tuxedomoon today, compared to the early 80s?

- The main difference is, of course, that we are all in our 50s. It makes everything completely different. The effect of this is not only the obvious, that we wear sunglasses on stage and things like that, it is also a maturity in ourselves, and in how we relate to our art, which is essential and which gives results. Naturally; the world has changed in many ways. Traveling by plane is increasingly annoying these days, for example. I now find it absolutely incredible that we used to travel with all the equipment of the band on planes: luggage, amplifiers, drums, mixers, and what you can imagine. Now a days we only travel with our instruments and even that is expensive.

- What about the audience?

- Today's culture is not so dependent on generational differences. In the 1960s, and well into the 1990s, people tended to choose the music and art they liked based on their age group. Today, digital media has flattened the field of time, so that people pick and choose freely from almost the entire field of human creations – with personal taste as the main guide.


- Did the availability of cheaper and better synthesizers have much impact on how you made music for your first records?

- Tuxedomoon has always been a low-budget company. We have tended to use the instruments that have been available to us. This has led to an intelligent ad hoc use of old and inexpensive equipment, which I have always had a flair for. If you analyze our music, you will find that the use of synthesizers makes up a fairly small part of what we do. Instead, we tend to focus on the instruments we really master: violin, clarinet, guitar, trumpet – and then we filter and process them in wonderful ways. What you might think is a synth is probably a transistor radio, or, let's say: processing a rainy storm.

- Steven, Peter and I have always worked from a base firmly rooted in the principles of composition discovered by people like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, even though we have used these principles to achieve completely different results from them.

The beginning

- How and why did Tuxedomoon come together to begin with?

- Tuxedomoon was formed in 1977 in San Francisco. Steven Brown and I both attended classes in electronic music at San Francisco City College. We had seen each other's exam compositions, which stood out from the other students by being original and weird. I decided that I wanted to continue this type of work after school ended, so I organized a show at a local cafe where many of our friends were employed. I did this before Steven had agreed to work with me. When I finally got hold of him we did the show and decided we would continue to work together. It was one show after another, and before we knew it, we were part of the punk/new wave scene in San Francisco. Not long after, we were suddenly on European stages, and the rest, at least for us, is history.

- Would you say that Tuxedomoon has a creative or artistic advantage over other bands because you are classically trained musicians?

- I would not say that it gives us any particular advantage. Knowing music from the technical side gives us the opportunity to draw on our knowledge of composition and notation technique. We can write down what we don't remember. This schooling is also applicable when we work together with other musicians, be it for example a choir or an orchestra. We are also aware of music history, and follow the ideas of our heroes from historical "academic" music.

The avant-garde story

- I have always had the impression that Tuxedomoon's expression is in a tradition we know as 50s and 60s avant-garde art. Is this a tradition you consciously relate to?

- I would say that the "avant-garde tradition" characterizes what we do to a very large extent. I don't want to limit our inspiration to just the 50s and 60s, if that would exclude the earlier romantic or avant-garde tradition. There are many figures and ideas in the modernism tradition in Western culture that lie behind everything we do; from the Dadaists, Surrealists, Modernists, to Fluxus and performance art. And of course we are not only concerned with music: philosophers, painters and actors have also occupied us. I would say that there is an extensive movement in Western culture that goes all the way back to the Renaissance, and that extends in the direction of a visionary metaphysical art centered around the expression of the self; where human freedom is the supreme ideal; an ideal that opposes control from above by massive institutions and ideologies such as governing bodies, religion or corporate power. We subscribe to this tradition unreservedly, as do most artists in 21st century postmodern Western culture.

- Important writers such as Knut Hamsun and Ezra Pound, the philosopher Heidegger, the literary theorist Paul de Man, and the Italian Futurist movement, have all supported fascist movements or systems of government. Doesn't this show us that Western ideas and Western art can go...both ways?

- Yes, it does. I have largely given up the notion that art needs a political agenda. When I begin to believe that great music and art must ennoble people, I remind myself of the photograph of a concentration camp commandant relaxing after a busy day of gassing people, by listening to some Mozart or Bach. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how inspired art is, it is mainly entertainment. As Duchamp said: “Like religion; art is not even on the level of religion.”


- You live in different parts of the world. So: How do you work? Do you meet, or do you exchange files via the internet?

- We keep in touch via the internet, but we don't do a lot of file sharing. The most important question before we start a project is: "Who will pay for the plane tickets?" Once we figure that out, we need to find a place to work. For example, we worked with Cabin in the Sky first in Cagli in Italy, as Real Artists have always done, then in Brussels where we still have many friends and contacts. Last spring we worked in San Francisco, and after this tour we will be in Athens for a month.

- Have you ever tried a hardanger fiddle (with four lower strings)?

- No. But it sounds interesting.

Kjetil Korslund
Kjetil Korslund
Historian of ideas and critic.

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