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This Saxophone Kills Fascists: Arrington de Dionyso Interviewed
Patrick Clarke , August 9th, 2017 11:30

After becoming a target of online trolls from the alt-right's most lunatic fringes, the prolific master of noise and free jazz, Arrington de Dionyso, discusses his response: his visceral, confrontational new project, This Saxophone Kills Fascists

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Arrington de Dionyso has probably become known more for the reaction to his art than the art itself, and unfairly so. An inexhaustible force in music's most left-field and esoteric climes, he's worked across a series of projects and monikers, most notably Old Time Relijun, one of the most outstanding, engaging and often straight-up unsettling noise outfits in North America, with an inflection of free jazz. Once he departed in 2008 he moved on to the Malaikat dan Singa, inspired by the Indonesian avant garde and exploring "trance music through a post-punk aesthetic," as he puts it in our interview.

His prolific output with all manner of collaborators gained de Dionyso a cult following, often labelled under the 'problematic', as he puts it, category of 'outsider art'. However it was an unforseen clash with the lunacy of the alt-right for which de Dionyso gained the most notoriety. Last year, at the closing stages of the US election campaign, the bizarre and now-debunked 'Pizzagate' conspiracy, propagated by far-right hysteria-peddler Alex Jones, which claimed that the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington D.C. was the centre of a satanic child-sex ring, involving several senior members of the Democratic Party.

A visual artist, as well as musical, with a visual style reminiscent of Paul Kindersley and Francesco Clemente, de Dionyso had been invited to paint a mural in the back room of Comet Ping Pong, where he'd played numerous times. The mural was painted over by 2011, but with his mythological artistic inspirations being taken as 'satanic' by conspiracy theorists, he became a subject of suspicion. After posting another artwork depicting Donald Trump in the role of Francisco Goya's Saturn Eating His Son just days after his election, the hysteria hit new heights, including a threat on his life.

De Dionyso's new project, This Saxophone Kills Fascists, is a direct, visceral response. Rather than be cowed in the face of hysteria and abuse, the artist has harnessed the energy of confrontation. In April, they played a secret show in the Comet Ping Pong backroom where it had all begun. "I posted every single time I sold a new artwork and the exact amount of money I was donating to Planned Parenthood, or the ACLU, or the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, always thanking my trolls for increasing the visibility of my work," he tells tQ. He takes the project's colossal live force to this year's Supersense Festival, Australia's finest celebration of the musically left-field and sublime, find out more about that here.

It's hard to know where to begin with your discography, where would you suggest a new listener begins?

I was in a band called Old Time Relijun from 1995 until 2008, we toured a lot and made a lot of records. So I still get a lot of people asking about that band. All of our albums were great, I think Witchcraft Rebellion might be my favourite. In 2009 I started Malaikat dan Singa as a way to explore new potentialities for trance music through a post-punk aesthetic, and the links between "trance" and "translation" and "transcendence". It was a good way to teach myself Indonesian and reach out to the avant-garde music community in Indonesia with my free association translations of William Blake and sections of the Zohar into Bahasa Indonesia, with a heavy dose of linguistic and musical surrealism. So the second Malaikat album Suara Naga is kind of a masterpiece, although Open the Crown was well received in the US and Europe because I returned to using English in some of the songs. Now we're in a post-record label era so most of my more recent recordings are available at arrington.bandcamp.com and those tend to the more free form side, along with many of the collaborative projects I have done with musicians in Indonesia.

With This Saxophone Kills Fascists you’re using an instrument of your own creation. What exactly is a Bromiophone, and why was it created?

I began playing the bass clarinet about 25 years ago and even early on in my experience with wind instruments I would seek out ways to "extend" the sounds of my horns- for example, wrapping a clarinet in aluminium foil to create buzzing overtones, attaching cones or springs to the bell to increase projection and reverberance, etc. So the Bromiophone is an extension of my research into clarinet extensions. I use the mouthpiece and neck of a standard bass clarinet which fits precisely onto a 1 inch PVC pipe. With the various connecting joints, I can create multiple air chambers of any length I wish, and this Bromiophone creation provides very rich textures and harmonic possibilities, especially in the sub-contrabass range.

The other question to consider in consideration of the Bromiophone world is that wind instruments are found in pretty much every culture in every part of the world, yet "folk instruments" using reeds that can also play in a bass register are actually quite rare - the nagaswaram in South India, for example, is like a lengthened version of shenai, but its lowest note is not actually a "bass" register. The modern saxophone and clarinet family uses sophisticated technology to its advantage to create very reliable low-end intonation, but I wanted my Bromiophone to be a relatively unsophisticated work of art, echoing older folk approaches to wind instrument construction yet diving into deeper tones.

You've worked in many musical formats, why does 'This Saxophone Kills Fascists' use this particular arrangement?

From a musical standpoint, I have started using tenor and baritone saxophones much more frequently in my concerts in the last year or so, because I am enjoying the increased volume and relative "brightness" of the tone compared to bass clarinet. I'm also kind of missing bass clarinet right now, I feel like it's a more subtle instrument for me...but from a political standpoint, This Saxophone Kills Fascists is more explicitly defiant. I want to connect the spiritual legacy of the "free jazz movement" with a larger movement towards amplifying voices of protest and dissent, using the abstracting principles at play in freely improvised musical forms as a way of joyfully deconstructing the oppressive and corrupt paradigms that currently dominate our political reality.

Can you tell me more about the influence of mythology – what type of mythology in particular are you drawn to, and why? What does it say about today?

Myth is the dream state of the collective unconscious, and to speak of myth we must be able to distinguish between "signs and symbols". Signs are literal, like algebraic equations- A+B=C kinds of things, whereas true symbols are of a much more numinous quality and have a life of their own sometimes not so easily broken down and understood literally. The realm of mythology is where these symbols are engaged in an eternal dance, constantly taking on new shapes and directions according to the time, place, and cultural context of the observer. Mythic symbols can be used in ways that are extremely dangerous and manipulative, in nationalistic contexts for example, or they can be guideposts in an individual's quest for transcendental liberation. Maybe.

In our current age, I feel one of the loudest "signals" being broadcast in our sphere is that EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS. Thus the dominant paradigm gains incredible power over societies with false promises of restoring the sense of security, comfort, and easy answers at a time of peak retrograde confusion. The result is the increasing rise of fascism, providing the "easy answer" for those looking to direct their hatred and fear of uncertainty towards innocent victims. Yet paradoxically the "mythic" quest to seek meaning in the chaos of the uncertain universe is the most outstanding quality of being human.

Why do you think these influences became collated with 'Lucifer Worship' and the like by the alt-right?

Those horrible people are engaging in a large-scale attack upon EVERY representative of human creativity, and upon all those who seek a larger liberation in society through the practice and celebration of the Creative Urge. They're trying to adapt fascism to a certain perverted post-modernist tendency to assert that "nothing is real" and feed it back to those vulnerable members of society whose level of consciousness is stuck somewhere between the 8th and 9th century. They don't actually "believe" in anything at all and yet they prey upon people who take symbolic, mythic imagery very very literally. Just like ISIL.

The chaotic, shambolic nature of Trump's government makes it difficult to keep up – has your stance on his government changed at all over the last 6 months. If so, how?

I don't like it when people say "FUCK TRUMP" because I don't want anyone to have to put their genitals even remotely close to that horrible person. My stance on him and his government has not changed at all, every single day we are provided with ample confirmation that this is the government of purest danger.

Is the immediate, visceral nature of This Saxophone Kills Fascists, is that to allow a direct response to such turbulent times?

That's right. I organized a two month long tour of the United States, performing every single night in different cities last March and April. I did so because I was feeling the terror of Trumpism directly as a visceral, physical response that, were I to allow it to take over, might made me stop making music or art completely. I realized that was exactly what they wanted me to do, so I did the opposite with increased energy.

An interview from January describes your first 'and so far only' death threat. Have you had any more?

By definition a troll is a complete and total coward. Their intention was to silence me through intimidation on my social media but I was able to show very loudly that I was more powerful than that. During that time of peak 'Pizzagate' hysteria, I posted every single time I sold a new artwork and the exact amount of money I was donating to Planned Parenthood, or the ACLU, or the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, always thanking my trolls for increasing the visibility of my work. Direct threats to my safety or wellbeing stopped almost immediately. There are still little things here and there that will pop up on Youtube or isolated chat sites, but they're more laughable than dangerous for the most part. For the moment.

Arrington de Dionyso's This Saxophone Kills Fascists will perform at this year's Supersense Festival at the Melbourne Arts Centre, which takes place from August 18-20. Also on the bill are Spiritualized, Pussy Riot Theatre, The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane and more. Find out more here.


Aug 10, 2017 12:58am

Great article, he's always surprises me. Peggy

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Bennie Jenkins
Aug 11, 2017 2:21pm

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