Nate Young and Alivia Zivich are not cramped by terms, fields, genres, canons or historical perspectives. The kind of ludicrous hair-splitting over, say, "experimental music" and "sound art," which originates in caffeinated academic discourse, is immaterial to the heaps of work this couple puts out in all shapes, sounds and sizes. In their world, there's no difference between an artist and a musician. It's better if you confuse the two.
For example, Zivich and Young's record label, AA Records, which has put out nearly 50 releases so far, should also be considered a publishing house and art edition company. In their southwest Detroit home, the pair actually cuts records on a lathe and creates album cover art. They make scrapbooks out of found photos and drawings and even publish magazines that play music if you stick the whole damn thing on a turntable.
Young and Zivich, and cohorts Mike and Tara Connelly, Heath Moerland, and John Olson perform in such groups as Wolf Eyes, Demons, Hair Police, the Haunting and Sick Llama, among others. And there are other record labels involved: Aside from Young and Zivich's AA, Olson has American Tapes, Moerland's got Fag Tapes and Mike Connelly calls his Gods of Tundra. They also each produce art. Check out the show at Eastern Market's UFO Gallery to see what sound can look like.
As internationally known experimentalists, Wolf Eyes — Young, Olson and Mike Connelly — drags audiences back in time to the brutal, primordial origin of sound, summoning what can be sensed and felt, but not intellectually known (not even necessarily heard, what with all that noise). Such albums as Black Vomit, a project with renowned jazz-man Anthony Braxton, and songs called "Meat Wallet," "Rusted Mange" and "Stabbed in the Face" (from 2006's Sub Pop release Human Animal) rattle your spine and cram your head with shivering visuals. Sounds produce images.
Only someone suffering from synesthesia would see a record as a sculpture and think up a different kind of groove to cut in that flat, black piece of plastic. When Young's not making music, he scrapes drawings into virgin vinyl. These obsessive etchings of mythological creatures could be the personification of his music: at times lumbering, disoriented or in repose. You could imagine these big beasts wailing or vicious with hunger. But layers of cascading fur, which he marks with curves like sound waves, make his creatures seem benign, like the coat of static and distortion that softens Wolf Eyes' predatory noise.
Young also scans and prints these on archival paper. In the background, a layer of accidental flotsam stuck on the plastic — including fingerprint smudges and stray hairs — smears visual noise across the work.
John Olson's collages also breathe new life into his career as a musician, providing insight into how he relates to the world.
"John can't tune anything out," Zivich says. "His world is a complete fabrication, as if he's run pop culture through a blender. You can even see the weight of it in his physicality."
Olson collages read like abstract maps. "He'll just say that he cuts out whatever happens to be in a magazine," Zivich says. In one piece, babies and brains float in foggy clouds and are connected by cords that make up an intricate yet obscure system. It's a great metaphor for the birth of creativity that occurs during improvisation's chaotic composing.
Zivich fits in well creatively with the rest of the group — though she moved to Detroit from Los Angeles a few years ago. Her pointillist canvases share the definitive, compulsive technique and the built-up texture that characterizes both Olson and Young's work. But she views her paintings as sketches for her "real" two-dimensional work: video.
"I used to tape record everything off television," Zivich says. "I mean, everything. I eventually had to start getting rid of them." Influenced by early film animator Oskar Fischinger and the avant-garde painters of the Cobra Movement, she performs her "Video Madness" as a member of the visual music group Demons, alongside Young and Steve Kenney. While Young and Kenney play vintage synths, low-budget organs and modified radios, Zivich's instrumentation includes two televisions, a couple of video cameras, a homemade mixer, Mylar, painted Plexiglas and a DVD player. On stage, she solders these technologies together to paint a moving picture.
"I knew that together we had the technology thing figured out," Zivich says about her collaboration with boyfriend Young, "but working on the creative stuff with Nate has been great. He knows exactly where I'm coming from artistically."
When the duo decided to curate this show, they envisioned one wall of artworks hung sort of salon-style, a random assortment of psychedelic debris that creates fun juxtapositions and inspires them daily. Doodles, photos, drawings ... the junk their fans love them for. When you pull an AA record out of its sleeve, original art spills out.
A picture of Liz Taylor shares space with Tara Connelly's memento-sized portraits of a frog, a bird and a kitchen, and Moerland's black-and-white photos, which he also uses as packaging for his music cassette tapes. Mike Connelly's colorful, expressionistic, squiggly paintings are equally irreverent. "He has no interest in results," Zivich explains." The experience of process for him in painting is first and foremeost."
"John, Mike, Heath, Nate, me — music, art, labels are our full-time jobs. I feel like we've each found a healthy way to appropriate images and reproduce artwork," Zivich continues. Call it mass-customized art, one of the few acceptable art and design world "terms" that has been floating around Detroit recently. When Wolf Eyes isn't touring Europe, Zivich and Young spend days and nights at home, sitting on the couch, sitting on an insane pile of orders.
"People who buy the records," Zivich explains, "those are my collectors. I don't have a gallery or a dealer, but I have people who buy every single thing Nate and I put out." Especially the hand-tossed records. What they're proud to call the "skipping, jumping, sliding, filthy" stuff.
Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts and culture editor. Send comments to [email protected]
Nate and Alivia's Groundhog Night with Demons, Screenings, Roach and more is at 10 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 2. Doors at 9 p.m.; free. Wolf Eyes performs on Feb. 9. Selected Works by Mike Connelly, Tara Connelly, Heath Moerland, John Olson, Nate Young and Alivia Zivich runs through Feb. 9 at UFO Factory, 1345 Division St., Suite 101, Detroit.