An Interview with Jason Sloan
by Matt Borghi
the course of the past year, Ive had the luxury of meeting, not
only, one of the finest composers working in Ambient music, but quite
possibly one of the most gifted and brightest shining young artists working
on the contemporary scene today. The man that Im speaking of is
Jason Sloan, aka J. Sloan.
Jason Sloan is a Baltimore, Maryland-based visual performance artist,
and an excellent composer/ sound, video and installation artist, a true
renaissance man, and if all of these endeavors arent enough, hes
also a part-time professor teaching in various university departments
all over the Baltimore area.
Ive had numerous conversations with Jason by email and by phone
and not only is he a great artist, hes a provocative and insightful
individual who has provided me with myriad ideas and insights into art,
aesthetics, music, and life as a whole.
As a music journalist and artist Ive had the misfortune of working
with quite a few artists that certainly dont reflect the inner goodness
or richness that they like to create as an image for themselves through
their work, this is especially true with some of those artists that are
working in the Ambient/ Space/ Atmospheric music genre, as a lot of the
music has quite a transcendental feel, yet, often times, the folks creating
these majestic sonic sculptures of spirituality, meditation, and inward
thought are ego-maniacal, self-interested, narcissistic, and uninterested
in anything that doesnt yield something exclusively beneficial to
themselves; I think its these last few points that really make Jason
profound to me as a human-being and artist. Jasons a humble, and
extremely creative artist that cuts right to it; hes the genuine
article, a real artistic thinker, the likes of which we dont have
enough of these days.
Perhaps I should get into how I first heard about Jason and his music.
As I mentioned above Im quite active in the Ambient/ Space music
community, of which theres a large constituency on-line. I was reading
a post on one of the mail groups that I belong to, I believe that it was
the Spacemusic group hosted this time by YahooGroups, but in four years,
its seen nearly as many hosts. Somebody posted something about Vidna
Obmana having some interest in a guy by the name of J. Sloan. At the time
I was writing for my own Web review ezine The Organization of Sound.com
and was always searching for new artists. I emailed Jason about getting
some of his music for review, and to use a burned out cliché, the
rest, as they say, is history.
Jason and I corresponded back and forth for a long time via email, but
everything changed for me when he sent me a package that included the
twenty minute version of his A Shoreline of An End. The work started with
children playing similar to the opening of Kevin Kellers 1999 work
Pendulum, but from there it moved into something majestic and beautiful.
I could say easily that Jasons work is a lot like Steve Roachs
earlier stuff, ala Quiet Music, and Structures From Silence, but Jasons
work isnt derivative, he does his own thing.
should probably say a little about Jasons music. Jasons music
is lush, ethereal, transcendental, and profoundly consonant. His music
evolves slowly, and while he claims that his music is only a small part
of his artistic output, his music blows most of his contemporaries out
of the water. Theres a lot of stuff being released right now with
Hypnos Recordings, Green House Music, and some of the other labels since
this music has seen a bit of a growth, but theres a lot of derivative
stuff, and rarely anything where you can actually trace the music lineage
that preceded it; you just cant do that with Jasons music.
Hes his own man, and it comes out in every endeavor that he undertakes.
I conducted an interview with him via email, rather I sent him some questions
and asked him to answer them. When it comes to inspiration, Jason says
some things that probably need more investigation, but rather than getting
too specific, Ive found that vagueness provides a bit of a mystique,
something that Jason is the master of. Jason is generally inspired by
memory, non-dogmatic spirituality, Catholicism, nature, and
as any true artist would say necessity. This last point is
something that is profoundly resonant, and a point that I would like to
underline if you want to understand some of the inner workings of Jasons
Artistically, Jason has too many influences to list, but hes
listed a dozen or so, some of which Ive heard of, and some of which
I havent, including Christian Boltanski, Joseph Beuys, Hermann
Nitsch, Pipilotti Rist, Carolee Schneemann, Ana Mendieta, Ann Hamilton,
Brian Eno, David Tibet, Vidna Obmana, Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni-Tutti,
and John Cage. Its interesting to note that weve had
extensive conversations about the work of Christian Marcaly, but Jason
doesnt list him here, nevertheless, I would say that, Marclays
process, if nothing else has some influence on his work.
When asked about his musical training, Jasons humble, and he makes
no bones about the fact that hes not, in his words, a tool
bag. This is a funny way that hes come to refer to those that
are really into technology, users of, and the like. I have no formal
musical training. He says, but I can play things by ear and
have done so since I was small. I would hear a song and play along with
certain parts on the piano as a kid. I then started messing about on this
old guitar and tried to write songs. I cannot read music and would not
know a middle C if I heard one. I like to think of my musical work as
sound collage. For me thats what it is, bits and pieces that work
together to form a much larger work.
This last point really gives a little more insight into Jasons process.
Its my belief that a good interview doesnt reveal too much
about the artist and the process, but reveals just enough to generate
some kind of emotional or artistic response, both to artists, and non-artists.
When pressed further about his musical work, Jason wastes no time emphasizing
that music is not his primary art, Music, to me, is just a small
part of my work. I will always consider myself a visual artist first.
I realize this sounds silly because creativity is creativity, but there
is something about just getting into the work, getting dirty, feeling
the substances... its a very visceral and tactile experience...
so the visual side of my work is a very large goal I want to keep exploring
and creating a language in.
In the world of Ambient music and sound art, the process, history, and
technology behind these things, are often, for whatever reason, more important
than the work itself, so I asked Jason some questions about what got him
started, his process, and what kinds of tools he used to create his work.
it wasnt until about 10 or 11 years ago I had the urge to record
or make music. As a kid I always had the rock-n-roll fantasy
of living off a tour bus and the screaming fans, but who didnt.
In the late 1980s I remember hearing the Hearts of Space program on the
radio and loving what was being played. I couldnt find any of this
music in my local store because the area I grew up in was Twisted Sister,
mullett and tractor country. I was able to mail order an HOS compilation
CD and my favorite track was Steve Roachs Quiet Friend.
that point on for whatever reason, I wanted to create my own sounds. But
it wouldnt be until many years later I could gather up what I needed
to do this.
Jason had this to say when I asked him what his process included, Making
sounds I like that fit the mood I want to create. Its different
each time. I honestly Dont think I have ever approached recording
something the same way twice. It is very unorthodox, and a sound guru
would probably pee them self, but it works for me. Again, though, there
really isnt a formula. Im pretty low-tech. I really enjoy
rigging: things if necessary to achieve a desired outcome. Its
all in the challenge. You dont need $10, 000 worth of equipment
to make great music. My studio set up is pretty minimal.
Jason continued to elaborate on what it is that he uses, the set-up
and what gets run through what always changes but I have a Yamaha V50,
Yamaha DX7, Roland JV1010, Digitech S400, Behringer 16 channel mixer,
Yamaha MT400 Portastudio, Charvel electric guitar, e-bow, various mics
and acoustic instruments. I sometimes record to the Portastudio then import
into the computer or vice versa. I use a MAC with Pro-Tools if I opt to
layer or record there (great app!!!) and some other programs.
At the time of this interview Jason has a lot of things in the works.
He elaborated on this a little bit through our correspondence. Im
trying to finish up a couple of new sound works for this upcoming compilation
CD titled Sink. Not sure if my work will be picked but I was
invited by the label owner to submit a track or two. Im also finishing
up three new video pieces for a gallery in New York as well as a new performance
work I would like to do sometime in November.
One of the last things that I wanted to know about Jasons work was
what he had planned for the future, or whether or not there was some kind
of work that he planned on doing, but hadnt done yet. He said The
other side of my sound work (none of which has seen the light of day)
is very noise/experimental. I love the
wall of sound, Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse, Sonic Youth,
Lee Ranaldo, Alan Lamb, K.K. Null etc. I just dont know what context
to place that work into. For right now, its something that I just
do for myself. I may put it out there, I may not. I also am very interested
in straight vocal work. Meredith Monks work is simply amazing. I
would also be interested in experimenting with the human voice at some
point in the future.
One of the last things that we got into was whether, or not he had any
performances, musically, or otherwise on the horizon. I am planning
to put together an evening of performance art with some other local (Baltimore)
artists. In the past I have organized these events in various locations
twice a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. But this past spring
(2001), my energy was put into some other projects. I would like to pick
this ball back up this fall. I have a few new works, which I would like
to put out into the world.
When discussing this interview with Jason, I tried to highlight some of
the more mysterious parts of his work, but Jason is a dynamic human being
and black and white text can do no justice for such a gifted artist. If
you want to learn more about Jasons work pick up his CDs, or check
out one of his performances.
For more information please visit his Web site: http://www.jasonsloan.com/
In closing, I just want to say that its my opinion that Jason Sloan
is a young and gifted artist that will be creating art and defining culture
on the periphery for many years to come
check him out while hes
still in his salad days!!!