Five (or more) questions with Bart Trotman

Performance artist and musician Bart Trotman brings his new project, Flying Erase Head, to The Mothlight this weekend. The show is Saturday, Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. $7.

Trotman previously performed in Asheville with the collaborative performance group, Invisible. That collective has residency at the Asheville Art Museum as part of Moogfest 2012. In advance his Mothlight performance, Trotman talks about found footage, pop culture and astronauts.

Mountain Xpress: The way I understand it, as Flying Erase Head you perform an electronic soundtrack made up of found sounds. Meanwhile, there are multiple video screens and projections running. Is this correct? And does it allow for you to interact with the audience? Or is the performance more about the audience’s interaction with the media?

Bart Trotman: Yes this is correct. It is all about the audience’s reaction to the presentation of footage and found sounds and me as live manipulator of a bricolaged assortment of electronic junk (Casiotones, tape players, record player, etc.).

Found footage shows (Everything is Terrible, The Found Footage Festival) have become popular, at least in an underground way. Why do you think audiences respond to old videos, and why do you think it’s important revisit those sorts of vestiges? Found footage festivals are funny. There is also an uneasiness to watching dated footage, because it makes us realize that soon our precious pop culture of the moment will likely also be subject to the laughing youth of the future. With our current medium-to-end-all-mediums, the Internet, we are asked again and again to place priority on the Now moment. With each new Now proclaiming the obsolescence of the Nows that just passed. I think older and even familiar video footage from our recent past puts viewers in a natural state of reflection. I hope to illicit a more complicated reflection than just that of nostalgia.

I get the idea that Flying Erase Head is much more conceptual that simply revisiting the big hair and acid wash of the ‘80s as captured by home video. Can you talk about how your performance differs from, say, the Found Footage Festival? With Flying Erase Head, I’m attempting to curate a media assemblage on culture and technology. I’m really interested in how technology has shaped human culture over the course of history. The map, clock, telescope, printing press and telegraphy (amongst countless others) each pushed humankind in new directions. Over the last 10 years, I have collected media artifacts from thrift stores — VHS, cassettes, records, cheap electronic music equipment — you know the junk. Limiting myself almost exclusively to that pool of sound, I’m attempting to dive in, plunderphonics style, and come back up to the surface with a new narrative as to how we find ourselves in this present state of supposed technological utopia. And yeah, like any found footage enthusiast, there is a definitive joy in looking at mediated humans and thinking, “Boy, we humans sure are a strange lot.”

Is there any common ground between Flying Erase Head and your work with Invisible? This new performance is a natural extension of my role in Invisible. With Invisible, I was responsible for putting disparate pieces of imagery, sound and technology together in attempt to create a conceptual completeness. My collaborators in Invisible, Mark Dixon and Fred Snider, have made some pretty insane instruments, such as a typewriter that plays piano. In Invisible, I was working alongside Mark to place these strange technologies into sound and video based installation performances.

Can you talk about how “TV culture … helped to advance our mythologies surrounding endless human exploration and our must-have relationship with new technology”? Technology is science exploited. Historically, powergrabs have always occurred by a person or group having the know-how (technology) to exploit a natural resource. (Spices, oil, intercontinental travel, atomic bomb.) Whoever’s culture amasses the most technologies from our ancestors and can improve on them is in a position to endlessly gain power. I’m not a competitive kind of person and so naturally war freaks me out. The part that is currently setting up camp in my brain is why we feel enslaved to fight for whatever technology someone else came up with. As humans, why are we so compelled to always move forward, never looking back, always clamoring for the newest way of living, always buying into the idea that the new thing/idea/practice will offer us a simpler, more comfortable existence? What if the modern religion of technology is based on a misconception of human nature? What if “progress,” with its association of technological advance and human advance is just a scientifically dressed-up justification for the ruling class to gain and hold power? I think more people should maybe read Lewis Mumford or Neil Postman. On paper.

Now back to Flying Erase Head and TV culture. In the ‘60s when astronauts and their signature brand of science, technology, politics and war came into everyone’s living room, it really solidified where our culture was heading. Not to the moon, but deeper into the notion that technology will save us. And if not that, then at the very least, distract us. 

You source your footage and instruments from thriftshops — was that a limit you imposed on your work, or did that evolve organically? Both. I let the second hand marketplace direct me to what media and instruments accumulate in my End User Archive.  That’s the fancy name for my room of lo-tech trash that I use to cobble together new meaning from our cultural refuse. To recontextualize.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know about your Mothlight show? This evolved organically. Since my 1980s childhood, I’ve always wanted to play electronic music. But since becoming an adult, I’ve just been too suspicious of the consumerism involved with being a “pro musician.” I don’t want to want the newest gear. I just want to be left alone with some toys that are good enough. I think most musicians feel this way, but sometimes we get tricked into putting more stock than we’d like into a culture driven by commercialism and pop star idolatry. Needless to say, I’m a firm believer in “One man’s trash…..”

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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