Lee Ranaldo

We never wanted to rewrite Sonic Youth
to the new musical project

Musician and artist Lee M. Ranaldo is considered as establishing and leading personality of the genre of noise rock. Ranaldo, known as member of Sonic Youth band, was voted by the readers of Rolling Stone magazine as 33-th best guitar player of all time. However his character exceeds the limits of the usual guitar hero, as well as a lifetime member of only one music group.

Your last appearance near Slovakia was on the Exposition of New Music in Brno, while presenting your project Text of Light. You literally rotate Christian Marclay, Wiliam Hooker, Alan Licht, DJ Olive, Ulrich Krieger and more – are you planning to take in more artists as time passes?
We have a core group which is Alan, Ulrich and myself, at least 2 of us are always present at the shows, and beyond that we draw from a pretty small pool of players. Turtablists including Christian Marclay, DJ Olive or Marina Rosenfeld, and drummers William Hooker and Tim Barnes. That’s really about it. We’re not really looking to expand the roster, this is a group of folks who have spent some time developing a shared language, if you know what i mean.

Text of Light was originally formed to improvise music to Stan Brakhage films. Was it the premise of all members, or did they want to include any other ideas?
Ulrich was coming to New York in 1999 and Alan and I began to plan for a show that we could do together. Alan and I, both with film backgrounds, came up with the idea of playing w the Brakhage films, which has been pretty much a constant of the group. That first show was the 3 of us plus Christian and William.

Have you agreed unanimously with doing the project on behalf of Stan Brakhage work?
I guess we have, although the film choices are always made by either Alan or me. There have been a few instances where we’ve used other people films, and occasionally a set with more of a live projection aspect to it, more performance-style current filmmakers rather than historical films. Actually i imagine we’ll do more of this in the future—either modern filmmakers or varying the films more. For instance, Alan and I will do a ToL set in a few weeks to films by Hollis Frampton...

Text of Light had only a few concert in the previous year, is it going to change during the upcoming months?
It all depends on how busy our separate schedules are, and when we can make it happen.

There were some rumors lately about a gig arrangement by Slovakian promoters. Is there any truth in that claim?
There are some things being talked about but nothing definite right now.

Have you been contacted by the music festival Pohoda (www.pohodafestival.sk) on behalf of Sonic Youth or other ongoing projects of yours?
Not that I know of...

The newest solo thing upon your shoulders is the Countless Centuries Fled Into The Distance Like So Many Storms EP released in 2008, can it be taken as an augury for a full-length studio album?
Well I’m always making records of one sort or another, usually instrumental or ‚abstract‘, although it is possible that this year i may finally get around to making a proper song-type record...

The one-sided 12“ EP is an exquisite piece of arts and crafts itself and while its design celebrates the 15th anniversary of Table of Elements, do you personally emphasize the art side of released albums?
I like to combine the two. IN the last year or so I’ve been actively making visual art out of old records, scratching the surfaces and printing them, like one would print an etching (which i also do). The results have been quite interesting and I’m going to make more, playing around with vinyl discs of different sizes—10“, 12“ even 16“ vinyls... A recent collaboration, called The Shirley Jangle (myself, Christian Marclay, Gunter Mueller, David Watson—on the Kraak label) is a double vinyl release—3 sides of music and one of these scratched-surface works on side 4.

Edwin Pouncey a.k.a. Savage Pencil is the one responsible for the etching on the B-side of Countless Centuries and From Here to Infinity. Any plans for taking his work into further businesses?
We are long-time friends and it was a pleasure to renew our artistic collaboration with the recent Countles Centuries record. No further plans at the moment with each other.

In a recent interview regarding your past experimental shows mainly concerning Goodbye 20th Century, you declined the whole one-off thing in the upcoming months. But you surely do have a few ideas though…
Goodbye 20th Century was a project Sonic Youth undertook in a particular time frame (1999-2000) when a more in depth study of some contemporary graphical scores was useful to our development. We didn’t intend to remake ourselves as a new music ensemble, and don’t have plans to perform any such scores at the present time.

Regarding to Sonic Youth you said, that you are more like developing music than developing songs. So can it be said that you are evolving the music itself of the music in yourself?
??? We develop most of our music as pure sound first, and usually add the vocals later. So the pieces have a chance to exist and develop as musical expression, without worrying about how lyrics will fit in or alter the meaning.

Besides, time changes. How is the experience for you to encounter your “younger creative I” in contrary to your present manifestation?
Wow yr questions are far out.

Your visual art and writing activities have a major place in everything you do, can it be said that it is a thing going alongside with all the music you play and literally create?
It’s all part of a life of artistic expression. I have been playing music and writing since childhood, and developed visual art and cinema skills (such as they are) in my University period. I like the idea of combining these various forms in different ways, or jumping from one to another as a particular project or thought-process demands.

The last printed work was “Hello from the American Desert” in 2007, which was your first release through Silver Wonder Press. You varied a few publishers (Soft Skull Press, Hozomeen Press, ArtSpace and other) before coming under SWP – is it the “final station” or will there be another recent change?
I don’t think many writers stay exclusivly with one publisher. My next book is a second collaboration with Waterrow Press, called Against Refusing, which comes out in April 2010.

Thank you one more time for the interview Lee and all the best! It was an honor.
My pleasure!

Interviewed by Miroslav Menhert
Photo Daša Barteková
April 2010, Madrid