This interview took place in mid 2012 with Sarah Rara and Luke Fischbeck,who amongst their own art work and projects, facilitate Sumi Ink Club, a collaborative and migrant drawing event, and Lucky Dragons, a seemingly mythical, experiential, and ego-free music project. They have a generous BandCamp site that allows you to listen to every record they have ever put out and ephemeral reproductions of Sumi Ink Club events can be found in artists’ books and stray photographs on its website.
Adam: Let’s start with introducing Sumi Ink Club – like many of your projects, this open drawing studio encourages open participation.
Luke: We try to set Sumi Ink Club up as a tool or something that people can just take and use almost like a program. Like a public domain program.
What is Open-source gaming?
L: We have this template that you can just set up easily and do.
S: We just set up the rules kind of, they’re not even rules, they’re more like guidelines.
What are the rules?
S: Everyone works in the same material at the same time, everyone works on the same piece at the same time. Add anything you like, is one of the rules. It has to be open to the public and free to attend.
L: Then there are suggestions like the materials should be either all the way on or all the way off. The ability to shade or build up kind of encourages differentiation of people’s roles. Some people try to be the colourists or shaders and other people will try to be the structure builders but if everybody is working on or off then you really realize that even an accidental mark can be the beginning of something else or the end of something.
S: Instead of layering it really becomes adding detail to things so instead of building up depth it just builds up density and that’s somehow really important that it has a flatness because that means one person’s mark and another persons mark really get married into one thing when they’re drawing together.
There is no hierarchy between any of the participants or more importantly, their marks.
L: Even when somebody does really bold huge gestures that can sometimes just get incorporated into lots of smaller things that grew up around it.
I’ve seen a number of books you’ve published under the name Sumi Ink Club, how do they come together?
S: In the new book actually we wrote a short paragraph that said this is one issue of details magazine and we encourage you to publish your own so it’s like a magazine that anyone can publish the next issue.
L: With infinite number of versions.. infinite virgins (laughs). All of the images generated during a session go into the public domain, so it is the idea that it becomes an image bank that anybody can take from or alter or reuse, or incorporate into something else.
Has anybody published under that name yet?
S: Yes! Surprisingly a group of eight year olds from Brooklyn formed their own Sumi Ink Club. They were publishing their own zines too.
L: Also, a book is a really good way to share the drawings. Once you make the drawing you have the photos of it, which is one way of sharing it. You have the actual drawing that you can cut into pieces and people can take little pieces of it by making a booklet, everybody can take a copy of the book. So usually if we’re around as a group for a long time we’ll make a book during the course of the drawing.
When did you start doing Sumi Ink Club?
L: 2005, that seems like a long time ago.
S: It is!
Does it pre date your collaboration in music?
S: No it came after, it’s younger.
How long have you been performing under the name Lucky Dragons?
L: Since 2000
S: Lucky Dragons has included lots of different people and then I became super involved seven years ago.
L: Around the same time as Sumi, like 2004
Is it usually just the two of you now?
S: Sometimes it’s just one of us, sometimes it’s both of us, sometimes it’s one of us with a different person and sometimes it’s many people. But I think we’re the point people for any Lucky Dragon things.
L: I was actually just thinking about mistakes that we have run into and about how a lot of music is judged on different positive things you can say about it like “oh such and such musician is really prolific, they have a really good work ethic, they put a lot of stuff out”. But, for us we’re just very casual and it’s not so much about constantly needing to put things out it’s just about having a lower barrier to putting things out and just being like “if somebody wants to play, we’ll play with them”. I think there are other aspects to putting products into the world and playing shows than just the sense of your own reputation as a prolific artist.
S: I think the thing that is difficult to understand sometimes is that we’re always producing but the music doesn’t came out in the same form every time because we’re not always working on the next record. Because sometimes we’ll make a record and sometimes we’ll do something really ephemeral and sometimes we’ll do a performance and sometimes it comes out as a video or a radio show. The album isn’t the only place for the content.
It’s quite similar to the way Sumi Ink Club works, content first and the dissemination, if there is any, happens differently case-by-case.
L: The master narrative is not something that we’re building sequentially it’s diffused across both different forms but also among different people. I miss out on some things, like Sara will do a LD show that’s her and two other people. It’s the same thing with Sumi Ink Club, it’s not about layering and building up the surface it’s about a sort of 2 dimensional spreading and territory, defining the territory that way.
Working this way with music, does it become hard to crop a moment and decide to put out an album?
L: This is the funny thing. Talking to people who are prolific artists you’ll find sometimes they’ll work very hard on what they think is the scheduled time for an album release. It’ll be released and then it comes out five years later or something. Things don’t happen in the order that they are intended to and that’s just a natural fact of production.
S: I think working on albums is the mode that we work in often but maybe in a looser way where there is no allegiance to a certain kind of song structure.
L: It’s not the 1970’s. We’re not making something to listen to in that way. People will download the music and never listen to it and I think that’s a huge part of it’s identity. It’s a dead thing with potential to be brought to life.
For you, does Lucky Dragons need to be experienced through a live performance, or rather, where you’re interests lie.
S: Not necessarily. Playing live is immediate gratification and you can respond to the audience and make something together that fits but also the moment when somebody is listening to the music alone and its shaping their day or helping them work is important too us as well. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that the music helps them to make the thing they’re making. It keeps them moving in the studio or the office.
L: It is a very poetic thing in the sense that we can’t give it its fixed form it’s just something that’s gonna go and be adopted and either ignored or people put different things onto it. It’s been really difficult, a huge challenge to figure out how to make something that you don’t understand.
In a situation like with your album Existers there was a track from the album that got put on Pitchfork and was bring portrayed as a single. How do you feel about a “single” out of context from the entire project.
S: There isn’t really a single, it’s kind of artificial. I think it’s sort of fun that it’s out there but we’re not thinking about those kinds of places as the place where the music exists. It’s really the album. Either you download it or you have the record. So I’m happy with there being a taste of it that kind of finds its way into these little nooks and crannies maybe I could compare it to eddies in a stream where it whirls for a moment in a certain way but the main stream is elsewhere so it is kind of a misinterpretation to think of it as a single probably.
L: It definitely enters into this dialogue about what quality music is and to say what a good album is and what is a good single. The sort of associative hype that comes along with that, to say that this is the best music, especially pitchfork being like this is the “best new music”.
It was totally odd to me because what was portrayed was just a snippet and there’s so much more to the project then a 3 minute clip – more so, I could see many people become interested in the project, rather then a particular piece of music pulled from, if it was was really put into context properly.
L: It’s a question of forum. It’s the publicity forum, yes it’s funny.
Are you interested in challenging these mainstream forums?
L: I have to backtrack a little bit just to say this idea of what makes a good album is really something that needs to be renegotiated about what’s the standard of quality in music and the way music is talked about.
S: It’s this very specific kind of criticality that I think sometimes reduces things rather than helps you understand them.
L: I think that is one simple way that music can exist but music is also very very ubiquitous. It’s something that you can access immediately and you can dispose of immediately and it’s always regenerating itself. Our project is to create some sort of array that people can then go and make their own album out of.
S: The question of audience is really mysterious. I’m often surprised by who the audience is as I’m not really into tailoring the music to this archetype or stereotype or demographic. I like that the music finds the people that it’s supposed to find and other people it will just pass them by and it’s not for them.
So, I think working with singles and the publicity side of things is difficult because I really like to invite everyone to enjoy the album but in a self selecting way where if people want it they can find it but it’s not necessarily pressed upon people who aren’t interested in that kind of music.
At that point it becomes mysterious how to find your audience and sometimes it feels like they find you rather than you find them but it’s better just to be generous and keep putting things in different places. It’s a learning process of what things seem to generate a good conversation and which hit a dead end.
L: I think there is the possibility for there to be a kind of poetic publicity but…
S: …But we haven’t figured it out.
L: Maybe, thinking about aggregating things together and making something that’s not directly just planting this product into this market, you could think more about creating associations. I think that’s so interesting, it can be beautiful.
S: The most natural thing is working with your friends or people you relate to for other reasons.
Are you fans of Jazz – John Coltrane, and the way that school put together records?
L: As Serious As Your Life. Have you read that? Valerie Wilmer.
Yes, it was very influential to me.
S: It’s a really huge influence on us too. I think maybe it doesn’t come out sonically all the time but I relate to it a lot, the way things grow out of chance encounters and a kind of neighbourhood meeting place where music is really made and people respond to each other.
L: And just the life bonds that can happen between people who are friendly and musical.
S: It seems really corny but I guess I’m just advocating a kind of music encounter or form of publicity that is personal somehow.
L: I think that there are different ways of thinking about what it means to organize time with some sort of political message. Thinking about free jazz or thinking about protest rock, it’s completely different but the same idea of “I want to have this message contained in the music” – you can either do that by really forming the idea in a way that is very legible and didactic or you can make it in a way that is like “I can leave half of this up to you who are listening” and I think that we choose the latter route mostly just for the sake of doing something we feel is a process and we know that it’s very open to interpretation. We’re doing our best but I know that it can be misunderstood.
In the context of the history of conceptual art, performance art, and even jazz, Lucky Dragons is almost intuitively easy to understand or appreciate. But it’s interesting that when you enter it into the realm of mainstream music, or alongside, the context and intent gets lost – I mean I guess there are is are still people who think 4:33 is a joke.
L: We’re coming out of a phase now where we were doing things that are really easy to sum up in a sentence, which is really good for publicity just being able to say, “Oh it’s music made by touching people on the skin, a group of people control the music.” That’s a particular performance that we were doing for a while and still do sometimes, but its very easy to just sum it up in one sentence. Now we’re kind of removing these very easy indicators and it’s becoming something where as a group we come up with what this is and what it should do and how it should work.
S: Some of the performance pieces we’ve been doing lately are very demanding in terms of listening.
L: I.E. slow… (laughs)
S: They’re very hard to summarize because they are durational in the sense that many things that are not exactly events change your sense of time. These kinds of works are so hard to describe because they are perceptual and not experienced in as social a way. It’s really individual listeners and a kind of attention that’s generated so maybe it’s like experiments with attention. It’s much harder to understand without being there and that’s an aspect of it I’d like to work, an idea that’s translatable.
L: Our friend Jordan Stein made this book of photographs of perceptual minimalist sculptures – things that are so un-photographable. I love the idea that there’s no burden here you can kind of just be light.. it’s not even obviously humorous but it just feels good.. it feels light.
S: I love the idea of the wrong form and the occasional mistranslations and really exaggerating.
L: Definitely the solution for these untranslatable things is just to have a joke with it and enjoy.
S: The funniest thing is how complicated it sounds yet dirt-simple it is. The music itself is very simple and so its complicated to talk about almost because you’re trying to describe something and if you were to talk about concept or intentions.. these are things that we’re kind of blurring a lot.
Difficult to describe because they’re so easy to experience.
L: Exactly and it’s not there for any other reason besides the way that it is at that time and place.. I’m breaking down here (Laughs).
S: Misinterpretation is bound to happen but it is really satisfying when you feel the idea has been conveyed to someone and you have this amazing moment of understanding That feeling of getting really close to a shared understanding is so amazing that I guess we keep striving for it.
L: I also love productive misinterpretation, I think that is what we’re trying to do, send out messages and have them be taken in by people who we never would’ve imagined meeting and making new friends – that kind of style.