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Trial & Error: An Interview With Jute Gyte

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Jute Gyte is, yet another, one-man, black metal outfit, but the similarities to other such “bedroom projects” end there. To label Adam Kalmbach as a black metal musician would be a severe mis-categorization. While much of Jute Gyte’s catalog does contain all of the tell-tale elements of black metal, that is a small facet of the very expansive body of work that Kalmbach has released to date. There are no missteps here. Everything feels quite deliberate.

In the often image conscious, and formulaic aesthetics of black metal, Jute Gyre manages to be neither. Lacking corpse paint, proclamations, and grainy forest photos not only sets Kalmbach apart from the pack, it sets him free to release whatever sounds he sees fit. Whether exploring brutally atonal riffs and odd time signatures, or beautifully atmospheric albums of entirely beatless soundscapes, Jute Gyte is an ever evolving entity with a sound all its own.

-Anthony Mangicapra

Anthony Mangicapra: I’d like to know a little about what your interests or obsessions are outside of creating music. Maybe we could begin there?

Adam Kalmbach: Most of my interests are related to the arts: music, literature, movies, games. I mostly read fiction and books about music and music history, but I also fumble with philosophy, poetry and history. I love ’80s and ’90s straight-to-video horror movies, the stranger end of Italian exploitation cinema (like Fulci’s Conquest), Herzog, Bergman, Lynch, etc. Lately I’ve been interested in generative systems for fictional narratives: things like National Novel Generation Month, William Wallace Cook’s Plotto, Mark Johnson’s Ultima Ratio Regum, all those post-D&D fantasy novels that—being transparent transcriptions of gaming sessions—seem to constitute a relatively unexamined branch of 20th century aleatoric art. I find National Novel Generation Month especially interesting because it seems to me, a total layperson, that algorithmic generation of idiomatic fictional narratives and large-scale structures is in its infancy, while work on algorithmic generation of idiomatic music is far more advanced, thanks to people like David Cope. I don’t know what this signifies about the differences between the two mediums.

I’ve noticed that you have two very different sides to Jute Gyte, there’s decidedly “metal” facet, which was my first exposure to your work, but other releases go elsewhere, into a more dreamy electronic area.I’m really interested in knowing more about how those two sides of your work coexist under the same moniker.

I try to make music I would be interested in listening to, without concern for genre. My rationale, as I recall it from over a decade ago, for releasing all the music under a single moniker is that it is all a product of the same artistic sensibility, no different than a novelist writing in multiple genres or a visual artist creating both watercolors and woodcuts. In retrospect I wonder if I could have served the music better by releasing it through separate projects. I think the difference between the black metal albums and electronic albums is largely structural: the metal material has large gestures and contrasting, discrete sections, while the electronic material gradually, continuously transforms. Beginning with Ship of Theseus I’ve been trying to bring these styles closer together, to create music that draws on the black metal side’s expressiveness and the electronic side’s focus on process and detail.

How much of what you do is based upon improvisation and how much is structured notation?

Probably about 25% of the music is improvised while recording. For instance, the guitar parts in the last two minutes or so of “The Harvesting of Ruins” were all improvised and then layered together. The rest of the music is a mixture of material written by working out riffs intuitively with guitar in hand and material written according to some sort of compositional strategy and usually worked out on paper. I don’t write anything down in traditional staff notation—I find microtonal accidentals one retrofitting too many of a system meant for modal or diatonic music with occasional accidentals—but I do write notes whenever I’m working on something complicated. My notes usually look like series of integers (designating pitches) to be used as material for riffs, along with serial transformations (inversion, retrograde, multiplication, Mamlokian spiraling or winding through arrays of pitches) of those series. There are various strategies to create the initial pitch series: creating a synthetic scale to work within, deriving pitches from a harmonic plan, making tone rows, rolling dice. The initial pitch series doesn’t matter as much as the ways it’s manipulated. I also note potential rhythms, structures, and tempos that come to mind.
Usually after recording this kind of planned material I find only about half of it actually works, so I throw out the other half and replace it with more material, either improvised or written according to some other strategy. Occasionally a compositional plan will actually work and I’ll end up with a unified track, like “The Sparrow”, “Ship of Theseus”, or “Griefdrone”, but most of the time the tracks are built out of blocks of disparate material like collages. Finding a structure that balances and blends these disparate elements is a bit like solving a puzzle and is one of the more enjoyable parts of writing music, I think. The first track I remember writing notes for was “The Central Fires of Secret Memory”, which opens and closes with a four-voice canon. Before that the music was all written intuitively or improvised.

Have you any interest in performing live, or is Jute Gyte strictly a studio project? Are there any plans for a live performance, and would that even be possible?

I have no interest in playing live. I would rather spend my time and energy making new music. And, as you suggest, the music was not written with performance in mind and would be difficult to adapt to a live setting.

Would I be wrong in assuming that you are a fan of Partch and Ligotti? If so, how has that impacted your work?

Partch isn’t someone whose work I listen to often, but while a student I was fortunate to hear recitals of his music played on recreations of his instrument. The possibilities suggested by his 43-tone microtonal scale impressed me and undoubtedly played a part in my decision to use a microtonal guitar. I admire Partch and other early 20th century US avant-garde composers like Ives, Cowell, and Ruth Crawford Seeger, who in near isolation developed distinctive and fertile musical languages. I like Ligeti a lot and sympathize with his syncretic, omnivorous approach to music. The denser parts of “The Sparrow” approach Ligetian micropolyphony.

Much of your work seems quite cinematic. Have you had any offers do collaborate on any film work? Is that something you’d be interested in?

I’ve never thought of my work in those terms, and no one has ever contacted me about film scoring, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it. It would be interesting to write according to the preexisting structure of a film.

Are you engaged in any side projects, or collaborative work you’d like to talk about?

I intend for the Jute Gyte moniker to cover any music I do on my own, regardless of genre, but I have been talking with another solo black metal artist about a possible collaboration. I won’t say anything else since I don’t know whether anything will actually come of the discussion, but I find the idea of long-distance digital collaboration interesting.

From what I can gather as an observer, it appears that a big part of your work is rooted in philosophy, and reasonably academic classical music that I have to admit to being somewhat ignorant to. Could you speak a little bit to that?

Aside from the value of the music itself, classical/academic/art/whatever music is sort of the R&D department of Western music and a great source of inspiration for generating and manipulating musical material in new (to me) ways. I’m a layperson to philosophy, drawn to it, as I assume most people are, in the hope of making sense of life as a terribly limited being in a chaotic universe. In recent years most of my lyrics have been attempts to grapple with mortality, identity and change, the illusions of free will and an enduring self, suffering without meaning, etc. and as I’ve fumbled with philosophy I’ve found some clarity and solace regarding these topics, in particular from Schopenhauer, Ernest Becker, Nietzsche, and Thomas Metzinger. Lyrically it seems that my albums have been growing increasingly bleak, reaching what I very much hope is the nadir with the album I’ll release later this year. I found it emotionally draining to complete that album, and now I’m trying to find a way to move my art beyond this withering pessimism without forgetting it or repudiating it. I hope that makes sense.

Even when you’re in what would appear familiar territory, you seem to push yourself to cover new ground. Is there anything that you haven’t done that you’d like to expand to?

I have a long list of things I’d like to try, and a longer list of things I’d like to try again because my previous attempts failed in some way. As I mentioned earlier, my long-term project is to unify my black metal and electronic work into something cohesive that treats pitch, rhythm, and timbre equally without sacrificing complexity. This goal is probably unachievable (by me, at least), but I consider that a feature of the goal rather than a bug.

Could you tell us something that you might like people to know about you or your work that some might find surprising?

I don’t know how surprising or interesting any of this is, but the title “Mansions of Fear, Mansions of Pain” is from a line in Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory”, and the drum sounds that open “The Harvesting of Ruins” are sampled from Accept’s “All or Nothing” and a recording of Iannis Xenakis’s Antikhthon.

What’s in store for you, as Jute Gyte, or other projects, in the near future?

I plan to release a new black metal album later this year, and there will probably be a split EP sometime this year too. I might release an electronic album next year.

Anthony Mangicapra is a visual artist, musician, as well a wine and pizza connoisseur who curates the Goat Eater Arts arthouse label and performs as Hoor-paar-Kraat.

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