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Throbbing Gristle Interview: Fill Your Stocking With Gristleism This Christmas
Luke Turner , December 18th, 2009 12:57

Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter talks about the new Gristleism box, and how it could save the music industry

Sat around the fire on Christmas day, a bloated drunken uncle emitting noxious turkey farts and telling racist jokes? Why, you need something with which to retaliate - and what better weapon could there be than a Gristleism, the new box of tricks from the Quietus' favourite pioneers of industrial music. The Gristleism is adapted from FM3's legendary Buddha Box, which came pre-programmed with drones, volume control and pitch-shifter. TG's version is loaded with loops of the hits, from 'Maggot Death', 'Hamburger Lady' and 'After Cease To Exist', and comes in red, black, or chrome, with intricately cut card sleeve.

As The Quietus pointed out after we saw TG's incredible gig at Heaven earlier this year, the quartet have lost none of their ability to provoke, evolve and create challenging art. That this can come both in the form of sonically intense live performances, and small plastic boxes perfect as stocking fillers, should be praised. We talked to Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter about Gristleism, and the group's future plans. Find out the technical business at the Gristleism website

I was watching some footage of you manipulating an original Buddha box with a Gristleizer, was that part of the inspiration for making the Gristleism?

We'll you'd think it would be but it wasn't. Those videos were made some time before we decided to make Gristleism. I was just manipulating and experimenting with the sounds, as is my wont with these things.

How did the idea to create a Gristleism version of the box come about?

It's a long story but... while Throbbing Gristle were touring in April a number of seemingly unrelated things occurred. At the beginning of the tour we began selling our brand new album The Third Mind Movements. Initially sales of it were very good but by the second show we were selling hardly any copies of it at all. We soon found out it had been copied and posted on a whole bunch of torrent sites, we even had people bringing CDR copies to shows for us to sign, the barefaced cheek of it! Yeah, I know TG have a long history of being bootlegged and copied but this was bloody ridiculous. So by the time we got to Los Angles we'd started formulating this notion that our next release would HAVE to be something that couldn't be so easily copied, or had some other intrinsic value as an 'object'. The concept was a bit vague and woolly but I was convinced enough to mention it on a Boing Boing TV piece we did in LA. Anyway, also at the beginning of the tour, our manager gave Charlie our sound engineer a Buddha Machine to play softly over the PA system, to give the audience a pleasant pre-show vibe and I had begun live online blog using Twitter, Flickr and my website. Posting snippets, updates, photos and such on a day to day and sometimes hourly basis. This caused quite a buzz around the tour. As the tour progressed Charlie got a lot more inventive with the Buddha Machine by putting it through effects and manipulating the sound, it also got quite a bit louder and in effect became the warm-up act for TG. People loved it. Then towards the end of the tour I started getting direct Twitter messages from Christiaan Virant (of FM3). He'd heard that we were using the Buddha Machine over the PA and was really pleased about it as he was such a big TG fan. One thing led to another and our manager, myself and Christiaan started discussing the idea of possibly producing a TG edition of the Buddha Machine. A few weeks later Christiaan started visiting me and Cosy back in the UK and we brainstormed the whole thing into something real. The rest, as they say, is history.

Have you used it in your music or art at all?

Not yet but TG are working on an installation project for 2010, watch this space...

Christiaan Virant hasn't adapted the box for any other artist - is he a TG fan?

I know it's great isn't it? He's been approached many times and by some major artists but has always turned them down. Is he a TG fan? Of course he is, he loves our work, that's why he got in touch in the first place.

How did you go about selecting the loops?

Selecting the right loops was one of the most difficult and longest processes of the project. We wanted some 'signature' TG sounds, such as 'Hamburger Lady', 'Persuasion' etc. plus some newer loops, so each of us wrote lists of our personal favourites. But some tracks just didn't lend themselves to looping at a relatively low resolution as well as others. There was a lot of trial and error involved. So over time those suggestions were whittled down to much smaller sets of actual audio loops. I took those loops and spent some weeks running them though a "small plastic box simulation" test I'd conjured in software and fine tuned them. Then myself, Cosey and Christiaan played them through one of our alpha test units - we had actual speaker by then - for some "real world" testing, before Christiaan took the audio files to the Hong Kong factory for encoding and final tweaking.

Why the decision to not have an output, but to put instructions on how to install them on the website?

The main reason for not including it was to cut down on the production costs - we were trying to ensure it would be in stores for under £20. A secondary reason was that of the many thousands that are sold (this also includes the Buddha Machine) the audio output is only used on a relatively small proportion. To be perfectly honest I was in favour of including an output - at any cost - but that's the techy-geek in me talking. But we run this outfit as a democratic co-op and I was outvoted, by five to one, which is perfectly reasonable. So I put up those DIY instructions on the Gristleism website.

Was there any concern that at transistor volume TG's music loses power? Or was that perhaps part of the appeal?

I'm not sure it loses its appeal, well maybe not as much losing a little bit of impact. I think part of the appeal of some TG music is its underlying mood of edginess, disturbance and sometimes its downright creepiness. Which I think translates quite well to the small speaker. It's funny because we've been getting a lot of feedback and the thing some people seem to have really picked up on is that feeling it evokes of playing TG on an old cassette player, or over hearing it on a small transistor radio. Which is exactly what we were going for.

While experimenting with the Gristleism box yourself, have you discovered anything unexpected?

Well I'm still working on that and in 2010 I'll be putting up some more Gristleism DIY circuit mods and tweaks on the website. But the black and red units can interact in interesting ways with cell phones and children's electronic toys, just by varying their proximity.

Was there a desire to create an artefact that would be seen as an extension to TG's creative output since the 70s - is it a piece of art in itself?

Absolutely, that's exactly what it is, just look at the packaging, and there's nothing like it by any other band, or artist. We'll be taking this "artefact as art" a step further in 2010 when we plan on including various forms of Gristleism in an art installation context.

Does the Gristleism box represent an embracing of democracy in music by TG?

Possibly... but I'm not entirely sure what "embracing of democracy in music" means to TG.

The Gristleism is the ideal Christmas gift because... have a Very Merry Gristlemas you need a shiny new Gristleism.

What plans to TG have for 2010?

There are some plans in the pipeline but things morph along the way so we never say too much until things are pretty much nailed down. As far as releases go there are some due on Industrial Records for 2010.

Do you see future mechanical or electrical devices being likely in the future?

That I'm sure of. The beauty of this concept is what we basically have here is a new TG album and yet it it's our ONLY TG album that can't be bootlegged or uploaded to a torrent. If you want it you HAVE to buy it... or steal it from a store. Throbbing Gristle are, relative to the larger scheme of things in this industry, pretty small fry and yet Gristleism has been a runaway success, well in our terms it has. But imagine what would happen if Madonna, Bjork or U2 went with this concept, they'd sell hundreds of thousands of units, rather than tens of thousands. Potentially that's a considerable revenue stream for a major artist.