PRINT Summer 2017


Terre Thaemlitz

Terre Thaemlitz is a multimedia producer, writer, public speaker, educator, audio remixer, and DJ based in Japan; she is also the owner of Comatonse Recordings. Her work combines a critical look at gender, sexuality, class, linguistics, ethnicity, and race with an ongoing analysis of the socioeconomics of commercial media production. He has released more than fifteen solo albums, as well as numerous twelve-inch singles and video works. Her writings on music and culture have been published internationally in a number of books, academic journals, and magazines. As a speaker on issues of nonessentialist transgenderism and queerness, Thaemlitz has lectured throughout Europe and Japan. He currently has works on display at Documenta 14 in Athens.


    During the early 1990s, I was a resident DJ at this club—located in the ballroom of the Carter Hotel off Times Square—when the area was still seedy and full of sex. It was a multigenerational transgender scene impacted by poverty, sex work, and the struggle for access to hormones and other health care without insurance. I felt so lucky to play two shows a week there with Dorian Corey as well as regulars from the House of Continental and, of course, venue owner Sally Maggio, mother of the House of Magic. Those years not only crystallized my relationship to house music, which remains audible in all of my dance productions to date, but also gave me formative insights into the various risks, limitations, and burdens of medical transitioning, informing my life as an anti-essentialist, non-op, nonbinary transgendered person.

    Exotica outside of Sally’s II, New York, 1996. Photo: Brian Lantelme. Exotica outside of Sally’s II, New York, 1996. Photo: Brian Lantelme.

    True participants in social struggles, not “political art” bullshitters. Over the past twenty-plus years, Ultra-red has transformed from a Los Angeles–based collective of self-described “sound activists” to an international collective of social organizers. As such, their focus shifted away from strategic deployments of sound and toward a sophisticated, experience-based practice of listening as part of grassroots organizing. The group’s unceasing involvement with various tenant organizations in LA has included aggressive and public attacks on art institutions for their role in gentrification and class warfare.

    Ultra-red and Vogue’ology, Vogue’analysis, 2010, four-channel digital video, color, sound, 24 minutes. Ultra-red and Vogue’ology, Vogue’analysis, 2010, four-channel digital video, color, sound, 24 minutes.

    An outsider, off-radar feminist based here in Japan, Tsuji Aiko has consistently provided me with invaluable insights into Japanese politics and gender struggles, helping me to define the borders and limitations of Western identity politics within my own work. I am a huge fan of her private illustrations and craft projects, and am fortunate to have been able to feature her work in packaging designs for my label, Comatonse Recordings, and elsewhere over the years. Like me, she is critical of creative industries and despises “creative” titles. If you ask her to describe what she does, she will simply reply with the title of her current day job, “Administrator II.”

    Tsuji Aiko, untitled, 2005, digital illustration, dimensions variable. Tsuji Aiko, untitled, 2005, digital illustration, dimensions variable.
  4. MILLE PLATEAUX (1997–2003)

    The Deleuzian Frankfurt-based record label that first granted me a means to survive by producing socially themed electroacoustic audio projects. The ’90s was an amazingly unlikely time for the music marketplace. The label went under in 2003, along with countless others, when Europe’s largest electronic-music distributor, EFA, filed for bankruptcy. The name was sold, but the new owner got upset when he realized he did not control the entire back catalogue. So what did he do? He pretended he did, and illegally uploaded everything he could get his hands on to iTunes and other major online distributors . . . including my own catalogue. It took me six years to get it offline—after which those unapologetic distributors, who had repeatedly ignored my removal requests, all offered me distribution deals. Fuck them. That experience set the tone for my continued emphasis on offline distribution methodologies, resulting in internet-unfriendly bulk-data projects like the Dead Stock Archive (2009) and Soulnessless (2012).


    I saw this film at an underground cinema when it first came out. I was involved in various direct-action groups—including ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and WHAM! (Women’s Health Action and Mobilization)—which were being reshaped by members struggling with internal racial and gender biases. This film was such a rallying cry for self-love among the repeatedly ignored and silenced. It raised a mix of nonessentialist and essentialist models of community that seemed impossible to untangle—issues that were bubbling at the core of many direct-action caucuses of the time, as they transitioned into community-based organizations.

    Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied, 1989, video, color, sound, 55 minutes. Production still. Photo: Marlon Riggs. Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied, 1989, video, color, sound, 55 minutes. Production still. Photo: Marlon Riggs.

    Yes, it’s dated and plagued with the problems of anthropology, but it remains a convincing sociomaterialist explanation of the global dominance of patriarchies and monogamies, masterfully debunking the primacy of family (Western and otherwise) and childbearing. Fuck yes. A must read.

  7. DEVO

    Their devolutionary “Chinese computer rock and roll” was a necessary—and I would say uniquely American—alternative to the Futurist-inspired idealism of so much electronic music coming from Europe and Japan in the 1970s and ’80s. This was made all the better by the fact that, with time, they devolved further, away from guitars and toward synthesizers, while so many of their techno-pop peers transformed into US-chartfriendly, guitar-heavy rock bands à la Eurythmics, Gary Numan, the Human League, etc.

    Devo, 1978. Photo: Stephen Morley/REX/Shutterstock Devo, 1978. Photo: Stephen Morley/REX/Shutterstock

    Such a fierce voice and stature, with the ability to transform even the most innocuous jazz standards into metaphors for social struggle. And then there were the overtly political numbers. What could it have been like at her first public performance of “Mississippi Goddam”? In her biography, she said she never considered herself a jazz musician, as she had been marketed, but a folk artist. I appreciate this distinction, which I think depends more on a relationship to the culturally minor than to any audio styling. If pressed, I would probably say the same about my own productions, regardless of their marketed genre. Not “folk music” the genre, but “folk” in terms of small, low-budget, counterindustry praxis.


    Another unforgettable film I was fortunate to see in the theater when it first came out, the impact of which—like Riggs’s film—was heightened through its relationship to strategies and language around identity politics that were emerging at the time. The ways in which the movie’s content comes out of Minh-ha’s deconstruction of her own process of media production had a notable effect on me. Although I have never deliberately sought to emulate her work, I feel like all of my own self-unraveling audio- and video-editing strategies are indebted to having seen this film at the right time and place.

    Trinh T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet Given Name Nam, 1989, 16 mm, color and black-and-white, sound, 108 minutes. Photocollage. Trinh T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet Given Name Nam, 1989, 16 mm, color and black-and-white, sound, 108 minutes. Photocollage.

    Discovering this text in the ’80s while studying fine art at the regressively modernist Cooper Union, reading its critical analysis of art institutions, and realizing nothing had changed— or, even worse, that many people working in the arts were aware of a century of such critiques yet did business as usual—were major reasons for my abandoning the Arts. Never fear, my subsequent focus on audio production was not about finding a more suitable medium for such critiques, but the opposite: It was about discovering an even more regressive social medium. As an example, consider how many post-Warhol children who all know that authenticity and originality are bullshit still grasp on to a belief in the authenticity of the blues musician. My guess is that you, dear reader, are probably one of them.