051 — Sean McCann (Composer/Recital)

Monday, March 4, 2019 — The Game of the Leaves - with guest Sean McCann (Composer/Recital)

Sean McCann is a Los Angeles-based composer, sound artist, curator, and audio engineer. He concurrently operates Recital, a label dedicated to sound poetry, new music, and Fluxus archival recordings.

McCann first began issuing self-released cassettes of improvised experimental music in 2007. He quickly became a fixture of the underground cassette and CD-R scene, with a staggering amount of releases. Over the next decade-plus, he has performed and released music spanning multiple genres, more recently focused in vocal experiments as well as piano and chamber compositions. McCann has contributed his talents—from strings to mastering—on recordings by other musicians including, Zola Jesus, Sarah Davachi, Ian William Craig, Itasca, and Loren Connors.

We're pleased to welcome Sean to the program with a Q&A, followed by a mix of heavy reggae/dancehall cuts.

What motivated you to start your own label?
I wanted to make something I would be proud of. Being proud of something has always been hard for me. With Recital, I try very hard.

The breadth of work under Recital is impressive with 57 releases. I've admired your ability to marry disparate sounds and ideas: giving light to those that are serene and delicate and also exposing artists that may be more abstract and challenging to some. What's your philosophy for releasing new music and how do you select what archival material to issue?
I am working on 18 releases in different phases at this point. Some just a word written down somewhere, some are sitting in my living room waiting to be advertised and listed online. In releasing new music, I usually only publish work of friends or known associates. The world is too big, I could not bother to fish through and pick out strangers. I enjoy the process of working on projects together with friends. An excuse to communicate and work on something purely positive.
The archival material I select is very specific. They are recordings that I hound people for years to get permission or access to recordings. It is slightly easier now that I have a belly of work to prove I am serious and passionate about presenting archival work. It is all self-indulgent, I publish recordings that I would want to collect. There are enriching byproducts: I have met artists one or two generations older than myself whom I've developed lovely relationships with.

Aside of your label, you focus on solo material and compositions, not to mention the production and mastering side for both Recital and outside releases you've done. How do you approach your solo work?
Lately I approach solo compositions as specific entities. My last album/book was called Saccharine Scores, and is a collection of chamber works, all disconnected from each other. I am now working on finishing an LP called Puck, which is a piece I have performed twice live (once at Café OTO in London and once at Zebulon in Los Angeles.) Puck is one piece, now being blossomed into an album with an embellished backdrop, but it is a singular idea. I used to look at music and recording as fragmented and gradual and open. It is not that way anymore. I think being older and being so busy with Recital and my day job has commanded me to think in singular terms. I was not aware of this until a few weeks ago, I had not realized how much I have changed.

Has there been an arc for you from when you first started performing to the work you are creating now?
"Where's my arc?" - Christopher Moltisanti
When I was first recording and performing it was improvised. Now I must first find a frame to put things in. Perhaps that is a bad thing, or I just need to choose the frames with care.

I recognized your appreciation for the Sea early on, inspiring release and song titles — How Deep Is the Ocean; Sea Scene; Passing-Ship — to a lone oyster which emblazoned the cover art for A Castle Popping. I'm curious about this...were you born near the water?
I was born a stone's throw from the ocean. I grew up going to the beach weekly. I contemplated the artistry of water from a young age. I recorded a CD called Water when I was in 9th grade, bedroom recordings... extremely embarrassing... 20 tracks. Now I love liquor that tastes like the ocean, eating bizarre sea animals and crustaceans, salty and bitter things, etc.
Most of my strongest memories are of me and others being removed in the sea. After my friend Alex Gray's wedding me and many other friends migrated, after a long night of partying, into the ocean at night. The beach was a block from the hotel we were staying at. We all slowly waded deeper and deeper in the moonlight. The water was so warm, it was surreal. That just popped to my mind, but there are countless instances.

Besides yourself, who knows you best?
My girlfriend Sarah and my sister Molly.

Walk us through a day in your life...
I awake usually before 7am. Have a sip of water and sit up. I waddle upstairs and turn on the espresso machine, it heats while I go urinate. No food in the morning as I have an especially sensitive stomach. I have had digestive issues since I was in second grade. Nonetheless, I drink 4 cups of coffee a day. I watch World War II documentaries in the morning, usually, while I sit and deal in emails. I leave for work shortly after. I have a day job where I do technical support for film/TV editors. I have been there for over seven years. This job allows me to finance Recital, as 'sound poetry don't pay the bills,' believe it or not. I then leave for home around 5 o'clock. I have a few hours to take care of Recital business as the sun sets. I then usually have a nice dinner with my partner and turn my creating brain off and watch a romantic comedy or The Sopranos or Jeopardy.

A record you never tire of?
Hats by The Blue Nile

What are you listening to?
I'll limit this to just the tape deck that I keep in my kitchen. When I cook and do the dishes I cycle through the small pile that shrinks and grows. I have a Grateful Dead live tape from '79 with a great live Terrapin Station. I also just finished the Canadian radio-documentary on Nam Jun Paik by Ray Gallon, which is a great program. Lastly is a tape by artist Andrea Tippel called Ich Und Sie, an audio-novel of 3-letter German words.

What are you reading?
I have been reading all the poems by Adriano Spatola. And the book Nervous Stillness On The Horizon by Gunter Brüs. Also my friend Eric has been sending me PDFs of scanned library books of Dieter Roth and Robert Filliou, whom I both deeply admire.

Last movie you watched?
I am now watching the sequel to Chinatown, called The Two Jakes. It is pleasantly boring. It has great fake "1940s Los Angeles" scenery, though. It is filmed well and has good acting, but how could you follow such a perfect movie as Chinatown? It was destined to fall short and it did. I watch films all the time, usually only paying about 40% attention, I adore multi-tasking.

If you could collaborate with any artist, past or present, who would it be?
I'll do one for the past and one for the present, because those are both interesting to imagine:
For the past, I would say... Emmett Williams. An opera with Emmett.
For the present, that is easy... Michael Imperioli. For years I have dreamt of publishing a radio play involving him. I heard he likes Brion Gysin, so I've got a shot at least.

An artist/label you feel deserves mention?
FPBJPC / Mike Pollard. And of course Slowscan, the best label.

Any exciting projects or endeavors lined up for 2019?
Rip Hayman - Dreams of India & China LP is coming up next on Recital, along with beautiful records by Matthew Sullivan and Alex Twomey. Another LP is Towards A Total Poetry; a collection of radio plays and sound poems recorded in Los Angeles in 1980 featuring a small group on international artists. It is a personal favorite of mine.
In my own music work... I will be finishing my LP, Puck, which is a text duet between myself and Lia Mazzari. And I hope to also finish a play about mummies that I've been working on for two years.

Lastly, what can you tell us about this mix you’ve made us?
This mix constitutes reggae/dancehall music that I love. I entered music-making as a drummer. In Jr. High I was in a band called Hot Monogamy, playing Sublime covers, etc. I was very good at playing in that style, I had a piccolo snare and roto-toms. My love of reggae quickly blew beyond Sublime. It has been a constant in my life. I wanted to put all of my "bangers" in one place (with a tiny bit of Jean-Marie Massou tunnel recordings dashed in), and this mix was a nice excuse for me to do just that, so thank you, Veronica.

*For more information please visit Sean on — Instagram | Twitter | Website

Audio program includes recordings of:
Ernest Soul
Jean-Marie Massou
Brigadier Jerry
Half Pint
Cornell Campbell
Horace Ferguson
Lenn Allen Jr.
The Summertaires
Barrington Levy
Freddie McKay
Leonard Dillon
Phyllis Dillon
Bob Andy, and more