A Conversation with John Duncan

29 July, 2012
Aram Yardumian

It was Nietzsche who predicted the arts and sciences would merge into a single practice capable of opening new vistas to the world. The techne of science and the raw Dionysian energy of art together would render obsolete both theology—that caked residue under the toilet bowl of metaphysics—and the equally tendentious religiosity of Positivism. Whether Nietzsche envisioned specific technologies adapted by one and made suitable for the other, or more generally a reinforced mindset we cannot say. After all, art and science, from Euclid to Catherine Wagner, have always reacted with each other to produce a permanent art. Perhaps he meant a form of rational empiricism forged not by observation but by actualization. The elasticity of the aesthetic imagination and the psycho-social laboratory of the real world. Not a work about the thing, but the thing it itself. Not meta- but infra-. Direct actions that yield direct explanations, not more questions. What comes to mind is Pasolini’s very real examination of his own sadism in Salo. Harry Harlow and his rhesus monkeys, and the photographs he left for us. Otto Mühl and Günter Brus, certainly. Mishima’s Gnostic sayonara? Jamie Gillis? That very dangerous eclipsing of the aesthetics of fantasies and the mechanics of reality. Art which argues with itself on stage, celluloid and canvas without the safety nets of verisimilitude and didacticism, without specific need for the reactions of an audience entertained.

In spite of the possibilities, very little Conceptual and Process-based art manages to go beyond advertisement. It’s hard to imagine an artist less touched by her own exercises than Karen Finley. It’s yourself who needs convincing, not Jesse Helms or anyone else, and I think this is why art brut is routinely thought of as synonymous with artistic purity. It is also why John Duncan is one of the least understood artists of our time. Though his work is made for contact with other humans, the term ‘audience’ hardly seems appropriate. He has worked with a variety of media—direct action, film, painting, bookmaking, sound art, and most recently, dance. It is reasonable to wonder how an artist can follow a subject through so many formats without losing hope or resorting to dilettantish tactics. But in spite of what you may have read, he is interested neither in provocation nor shock, or transgression per se, but in learning—in tapping into the inner self and waking up; to, as he says, ‘discover everything I can about what it is to be alive.

Duncan arrived in Los Angeles at a peculiar time in its cultural history: post-Watts, pre-Lowbrow; post-Manson, pre-Helter Skelter; post-Walter Hopps, pre-Black Flag. At CalArts, he studied painting, focusing on color psychology and 2D compositional geometry. After meeting Allan Kaprow, who introduced him to the Aktionists, and to the music of Mauricio Kagel, Steve Reich, and Pauline Oliveros, among others[1], he abandoned painting and never looked back. The happenings and performances he began staging in 1975 have become legendary for their effects on participants. And yet Duncan does not consider his work communicative in the traditional sense, but as shared experience. His early works (e.g., Scare, For Women Only, Move Forward), participants were necessarily trapped in situations and forced to cope; these days they are free to leave at any time, but those who choose to stay accept the ramifications of their curiosity and go home knowing some part of them wanted to remain. The ‘audiences’ for Duncan’s early works were often quite unaware of their status as such, being city bus riders, unwitting acquaintances, or people who accidentally tuned into one of his pirate radio broadcasts. In Scare (Los Angeles, 1976), Duncan knocked on the doors of people he knew at night, disguised; when they answered he fired a gun loaded with blanks into their faces and disappeared. ‘Participants’ in Scare were thereby forced to experience the extremes of terror of death approaching, followed by anger, relief, and possibly fascination when the panic was over.

In Bus Ride (Los Angeles, 1976), Duncan introduced a small amount of substance with an odor similar to vaginal secretions during orgasm into the ventilation system of the city bus he drove. The idea was purely Reichian: to see whether or not the idea that repressed sexual energy gives way to aggression. Apparently so. A normally passive commuter kicked a pregnant woman off of her seat in order to put up his feet. This caused a fight among the other passengers, half of whom sided with the commuter. Again, later, a group of kids coming home from a school that specialized in training etiquette, normally introverted and quiet, attacked each other and tore up the bus.

In For Women Only (Los Angeles, 1979), an audience of women were shown pornographic collage and then invited to enter a separate room, where they could abuse Duncan sexually. The sexual nature of some of his early works (Every Woman, For Women Only, Blind Date, etc.) purportedly refract what Duncan refers to as his repressive Presbyterian upbringing in Kansas, in which misery, sensual denial, and punishment were predicate.

Participants in Move Forward (Tokyo, 1984) entered a completely dark concrete room filled with high-volume sound for twenty minutes. After ten minutes, a film collage of pornography, nuclear explosions, and Hiroshima victims, was projected in slow motion onto a paper screen that divided the room from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. At the conclusion, Duncan set alight the screen and sprayed the embers into the audience with a fire extinguisher.

MOVE FORWARD: Duncan watches the burning screen

As Duncan has said, ‘If you repress something, it always becomes heavier, and in the end, it controls you. The more you ask questions, the freer you are.

The influence of Allan Kaprow, Grotowski’s Poor Theater, and the transgressive violence of the Aktonists are very much alive in Duncan’s early events. In the late 1970s he began orbiting the periphery of the Los Angeles Free Music Society, with some of whose members he collaborated on radio work. In 1978 he released three cassettes on his own AQM label, and in 1979 he appeared on the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art’s seminal 1979 compilation Sound. Also in 1979, he released his first LP, Organic, and distributed it with help from the LAFMS. These early recordings, prior to his departure from Los Angeles, are very much in the inventive spirit of the LAFMS, created with a variety of then-unconventional instruments such as reel-to-reel or cassette recorders, water, and found sounds. The association with premier experimentalists and his understanding of the physics and psychology of color to sound art eventually led him to work with that most surreal and unpredictable of instruments, the shortwave radio, whose time signals, utility communication, and Numbers Stations are refracted through solar, electric, and atmospheric interferences.

Duncan cross-pollenated the actualization of his performances with his audio research in the form of pirate radio broadcasts entitled Close Radio. In 1977 he, along with Michael Le Donne-Bhennet, Tom Recchion, and Paul McCarthy, recorded Station Event, a mix of improvised percussion and woodwinds and live call-ins from KPFK listeners. In 1980, he recorded one of the more haunting pieces of his early career, ‘Happy Homes.’ For this, he phoned Dr. Toni Grant, a call-in psychologist broadcasting on KABC, Los Angeles and described two incidents he experienced as a public bus driver in South Central Los Angeles: ‘The first time,’ he says, ‘two people got on the bus and seemed to be dragging a sack of dirty laundry that they put under the seat. After awhile I saw there was a six-month-old baby inside it, with its eyes bruised shut. I stopped the bus and called the police. When they arrived on the scene they told me they couldn’t do anything because they hadn’t seen a crime committed. Another time, a woman got on with a nine year old girl who had open sores covering her arms and legs, the woman sitting next to the girl telling her, “You’re evil!” I just drove, I didn’t do anything. Later on I called the psychologist to say how much it bothered me that I couldn’t react anymore.’ In 2007, the Close Radio archive was donated to the Getty.

In May of 1980, Duncan performed what would be the most controversial and life-changing artistic act of his career, Blind Date, in which he travelled to Tijuana to purchase a female corpse, with which he had sex. Six weeks later (the minimum waiting period) he had a vasectomy so that ‘the last potent seed I had was spent in a cadaver.’ Blind Date was ‘performed in order to torture myself, physically and psychically … There was nothing erotic about it, there was no pleasure involved … it was not act of self-indulgence … I felt that I had failed at love and decided to torture myself, to punish myself as much as I possibly could. I had this focused determination to suffer.’ Driving home he found he was unable to weep, he was beyond weeping. After the vasectomy, Duncan arranged for a public listening to a tape recording he had made of Blind Date, during which he explained he ‘wanted to show what can happen to men that are trained to ignore their emotions’ and that the recording was made ‘to render any further self-torture of this kind, especially psychic self-torture, unnecessary for anyone to perform as a creative act.’ Aside from the immense risk to his mental and physical health, with Blind Date Duncan risked his artistic reputation. And indeed, the feminist network in Los Angeles saw to it his work was informally banned there, and made him a pariah. Even his closest friends turned against him.

Blind Date and its aftermath became, for Duncan, an epochal event. Besides galvanizing his departure from the USA, it inspired him ‘to really go profoundly into my work and into my art, and into what it is to be alive. The moral issues are a distraction. Some people need these issues in order to justify this sense of outrage they have. It keeps them from really looking at themselves. Some people need that. Some people need that protection from themselves.’

But like a heavy chain, Blind Date has followed Duncan everywhere he has gone.[2] Pelted by cancelled performances and friendships, threats to send him to prison, and predictable feminist outrage, Duncan crossed the Pacific to live and work for six years in Tokyo, where reception to his work was much more sincere and non-judgmental. In Tokyo, he worked with pornographer Nakagawa Noriaki on a series of commercial adult videos. Nakagawa chose the cast and crew, and Duncan directed and edited with state-of-the-art equipment. Under Duncan’s direction, female performers were typically given strong, self-assured, dominant characters to play—something unknown in Japanese adult cinema. Nakagawa also gave Duncan the freedom to compose the soundtrack to the films, which he created with the shortwave—something doubly anathema to Japanese pornographic film audiences. Once the videos were released, Duncan rented them as a consumer and re-assembled the material, adding in his own found video material, and broadcast them on Japan’s TVC 1 pirate television with portable transmitters built by Duncan himself. He did so illegally from apartment block roofs in central Tokyo and allegedly from an abandoned US Army hospital near Sagamihara, for only a few minutes at a time to evade the police. He has yet to meet anyone who actually saw a broadcast. These video collages were released on Duncan’s AQM label on VHS and are now very scarce, as are the soundtracks released separately on cassettes under the pseudonym CV Massage.

In contrast to his Los Angeles-period works, which were, Duncan claims, all fundamentally about the Los Angeles social landscape and Duncan’s strict Midwestern Presbyterian childhood, in Japan he began reaping the benefits of the Blind Date experience combined with isolation in a foreign land. His interest in revealing what is kept hidden and secret both by a society and by the physical limits of the body found unlimited contact points in Tokyo, as did opportunities to explore how truth can be revealed by experience—a subject very much in the tradition of Bataille and Artaud. All this finally came to a boil in 1984 with the release of his magnificent LP, Riot, about which he said, ‘I decided to try to make a kind of music that was impossible to listen to, pure noise, that had a structure but seemed to be entirely without one: this is how RIOT was realized, before the Japanese noise scene developed.‘ In spite of his efforts to create something unlistenable, Riot is subtle and even in its total assault, as is its inspiration: the contrast of subtlety and overload of life in urban Japan.

Duncan continued creating assaultive music and performances for another solid decade, and periodically thereafter. With his move in 1988 from Japan to Amsterdam, where he remained eight years before moving again to his current home in Italy, his work turned toward what you might call inplorations of sound phenomena. More elaborate and less nihilistic, and no less energetic and imaginative in its address of a broader range of aspects of our inner experience, the work had matured. There is also a turn toward an understanding of sound as a physical thing to be used in self-confrontation. The influence of the Aktionists, however essential to Duncan’s early artistic development, grew less relevant, and a sort of transcendentalism grew in its place. In describing the last three decades of his sound art, since his pioneering shortwave work, he says he feels he is an equal contributor among many in the process of creation; sometimes he doesn’t know ‘how certain elements have become part of the sound.’ A step beyond the aleatory processes mapped by Cage, he found the process of creation was allowing the work to dictate the next move to him, and through this dialogue come to access something otherwise hidden.

In 1996, one of the most exhaustively constructed moments in all of sound art appeared as Duncan’s collaboration with Max Springer entitled The Crackling, a nine piece serial of recordings from the particle accelerator at SLAC at Stanford. Duncan placed microphones into the tubes of the 120 Hz electron drivers along the accelerator itself, into a liquid nitrogen exhaust vent, in the center of the collision chamber hall, at various points of the cryogenic system, and around the collision chamber itself. He and Springer then spent a year and a half (including ten consecutive non-stop days) mixing the tracks. Duncan’s interest in SLAC and its operations lay in its contradictions: this unimaginably massive and complex architecture, which Duncan describes as a ‘city of the dead’ and the infinitesimally small simplicity of its charge: the splitting of single electrons; microtones and infinite space; and the forces of which are lethal to human life and yet aimed at reaching the floor of our very existence. The thickness of the results are, as Daniela Cascella describes, ‘a pursuit to the threshold of perception.‘ In many ways, The Crackling is a perfected version of several pieces that have served as studies for it, such as “The Immense Room” on Klaar (1991). Duncan’s and Springer’s expression of the vastness of the space and the processes of the reactor in condensed time is a work for the ages.

For The Keening Towers, which debuted in 2003 at the Second Gothenburg Biennial, Duncan treated recordings of the San Pietro Elementary School Choir, transforming them into a work of monumental audio-architectural art—on the subject of infant abuse. The towers themselves stood twenty-four meters high, each fitted with two speakers, looked down upon the Gothenberg City Art Museum and broadcast, continuously for 90 days, an unanchored chattering, breathing, and screaming voices, crawling all over a pile of mulching notes and an overwhelming volume left listeners stunned in place.

Most recently, Duncan has collaborated with Michael Esposito and Z’ev, the former of whom is known for his audio explorations of psychic and paranormal phenomena, to create a limited edition LP of electronic voice phenomena recordings entitled There Must Be A Way Across This River / The Abject. Also recently, several of his early works, JOHN DUNCAN 1st Recordings 1978-85, unavailable and coveted for decades, have been rereleased as vinyl box-sets by Frank Maier’s Vinyl-on-Demand label.

For an artist so concerned with existential unveiling, and so varied in his approaches to subjects, the way to the truth cannot rely on science alone, or the humanities alone. He prefers to ask and answer his questions outside of categories belonging to any system. John Duncan’s career from the first events to the most recent has been predicated on self-exploration, never on sensationalism. The difference between knowledge and truth is therefore paramount, for, as he says, ‘knowledge is a network of interpretations, opinions and decisions, passed on from one to another to another. Truth is something you become aware of through your own experiences, by living them, examining and questioning them. A belief system can easily become a substitute for this, or an excuse to deny the existence of some experiences you may have that the system fails to explain.‘ Though the scientific method and its steps toward verifiability are so entrenched in social life the world round, and its rituals have become indistinguishable from that of religious faith, there is and always shall be a post-Positivist realm well out of reach of our advances, and yet right before our very eyes.

[1] He had already discovered Jacques Lasry’s monumental Chronophagie at the Wichita Public Library.

[2] For example, in 2001, he was awarded the prestigious International Artists Studio Program in Sweden (IASPIS) residency, on the recommendation of Swedish sound artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff. Two months into the residency, the IASPIS suddenly revoked it, having learned about Blind Date. After a short legal battle (with the pro bono help of Greenpeace lawyer Jan Palmblad), Duncan completed the residency and received cash compensation from IASPIS well in excess of the residency’s contractual terms.

Duncan onstage. Photo © S. Prestifilippo

Aram Yardumian: You have several times said you were primarily interested in finding ways to tap into the ‘inner self’ and to ‘wake up’. What is the ‘inner self’? Or rather, in what terms do you come to this concept? And what is it to ‘wake up’—do you mean this physiologically, mentally, metaphorically?

John Duncan: Interesting question. What is the ‘inner self’? There is a moment in out-of-body experiences when you are aware of the physical body, the ‘self’ that perceives it from a certain distance – and another ‘self’ that perceives both from another distance. That sometimes manifests itself as a ‘voice’, to reassure us or encourage us to stop when self-destructive behavior is threatening our lives. What is that, where does it come from? What is it to become that, or a part of it? Perhaps this is what it means to be truly awake.

AY: Is there a world beyond our bodies which we are typically unable to access due to the limitations of our senses? If so, what do you think that world is like?

JD: I like to imagine it as a form of all-encompassing, endless formless light, an inexhaustible energy. Assuming there is one, of course…

AY: You have also intimated that your work has always been about overcoming fears of new ways of thinking and feeling, fears of the unexpected, fears of change—waking up from these things. Do you believe a healthy individual is one who is fearless and uninhibited? If so, is a healthy society one which is full of such individuals?

I like to imagine a healthy society as one where individuals are truly understood and accepted as they are, limitations included, rather than perceived and treated as a threat. I also like to believe that such a society is possible, though extremely remote that anyone now living will see it occur.

AY: How do works like The Crackling and The Nazca Transmissions—which to me seem more exploratory than insploratory—function to realize something about your inner self?

JD: The Crackling, at least for me, is about the cycle of existence of a single electron: formation, movement, propelled and accelerated by an external force, freed of it, caught and propelled by another to sudden annihilating decomposition giving immediate rise to another, changed formation. A spiraling process that continues, open-ended. A metaphor for the life process in general, at whatever scale: subatomic, cosmic, everything in between.

The Nazca Transmissions is all about mystery and letting go of it. Where do the sources come from? What are they, exactly? The person who provided them, going by the name Anton Düder, suddenly went silent and vanished. Did he really exist, or was this a hoax. Listening to the tracks, none of these details matter – the music either speaks to you or it doesn’t. Significance and order are imposed on it by each listener.

AY: I’ve been listening a great deal to your earliest cassette and LP releases and am impressed by how – I think you’ll understand me – how listenable they are. Riot, for example, far from being unlistenable, as you intended, is very rich and easy to lose myself in. Maybe even beautiful. I might say the same for Dark Market Broadcast. Do you think these works have become more understandable somehow as time has passed – a patina effect?

JD: Absolutely. In those terms Riot is a complete failure and I’m delighted about that.

AY: Why did you use the pseudonym CV Massage at certain times? What does it mean?

JD: CV is a medical acronym for cardiovascular. At the time I had in mind the homosexual myth that a hand could be pushed far enough up through the rectum to massage the heart.

AY: AQM released several mysterious cassettes during your years in Japan. Who are Hisako Horikawa, O’Nancy in French, and Toshiji Mikawa? Will these Radio Code recordings ever be available again in some form?

JD: I hope so. Hisako Horikawa is a Butoh dancer; we last met when she performed with guitarist Derek Bailey. O’Nancy in French was a duo of Yasunori Taniguchi and Katsu Mizumachi, who created delicate, controlled feedback with steel barrels. Toshiji Mikawa is a member of the noise duo Incapacitants.

AY: Your esteemed high school art teacher, Betty Dickerson, also taught David Salle and Tom Otterness. Did the three of you in fact know each other in school?

JD: Yes, we all studied together. They were both a year ahead of me. A couple of times we spoke or spent time together, especially after they both came back to Wichita on short visits. David suggested attending CalArts. Tom was very quiet and shy.

AY: How did you get involved with LAFMS and what are some of your memories of its affiliates, like Joe Potts, Rick Potts, Chip Chapman, Tom Recchion, the Doo-Dooettes, etc.?

JD: Harold Schroeder and I were driving school buses. He introduced me to Tom Recchion, who introduced me to everyone else.

The one thing that each of the members of LAFMS has in common is unusually high intelligence. Chip Chapman got a summer job of keeping the CalTech computer lab open. While sitting there, he decided to see what would happen if he connected all of the Apple tabletop computers together. This parallel-processing experiment turned out to be faster than CalTech’s prized Cray supercomputer and landed Chip in the director’s chair until he retired. Tom got a part-time job doing illustrations and layout for a gay magazine, which he evolved into becoming head of the art departments of Warner Brothers Records and later EMI, where he is today. Fredrik Nilsen was a nurse working in the local hospital with a dream of becoming a professional photographer. For decades now he has had his own studio with regular assistants, stellar clients and almost more work than he can handle. Joe Potts went to Japan and showed his autopsy-photo collages in a Tokyo art gallery years before anyone else even considered making the trip. He sent a copy of my first LP Organic to Takuya Sakaguchi, who responded to it with a long letter in English that he had clearly struggled to write and opened a very close friendship that still continues as strongly as ever. Such stories can be told for every member of LAFMS.

Doug Henry is a largely unsung participant, with steady support of LAFMS for decades, including a documentary film he’s working on where he gives extensive interviews of just about everyone involved. Doug is a good artist himself — my favorite work of his is a heavy framed block of glass that he insists on using as an ashtray. “Art should be utilitarian as well”, says Doug. He seems satisfied to make the work, whether or not anyone else sees it.

Joe Potts‘ paintings are also largely unknown, a type of wall sculpture with several painted canvases fastened together at skewed angles, moments of several planes of existence converging, as he puts it. His shyness is chronic, almost to the point of the pathological, preferring to leave it largely unknown that he is the one who formed Extended Organ as well as Airway.

Harold Schroeder and I lost contact when I quit driving a city bus, the job he and I had both transferred to from driving school buses. He had been talking about investing in rare minerals and had been doing drugs whose names were a mystery. So when he showed up thirty years later, for the LAFMS opening at The Box, everyone was glad to see him and a bit surprised he is still alive.

Chip Chapman told me that the title of the Le Forte Four LPSpin ‘n’ Grin came from the Potts brothers’ mother, who got it from the name of a kitchen drain appliance sold at their hardware store. Chip’s canary yellow Volkswagen Beetle with the clear plexiglas bubble mounted on the roof was instantly recognizable on the freeway. Chip now lives in the Hurricane, Utah desert where he puts his brilliance to effect in gardening, cooking, local alternative cultural events and a study of the history of the development of nuclear weapons. He and Susan Farthing Chapman are still happily together, one of the few couples I know who have managed that.

Leslie Pollock starred in the 8mm filmIt’s Halloween! before she and I got together for a short time. Leslie has always been adventurous, enthusiastic, up for discovering the unknown — especially if it’s generally frowned-upon. She ‘sang’ so loudly during sex that my neighbors, worrying about her safety, wondered at first whether or not to call the police. Our paths crossed again once in Tokyo, where she gave me an audio cassette of some of the best Brasilian pop music I’ve heard, and several months ago on Facebook. Leslie is now studying gourmet cooking and models sado-masochistic hardware for an internet sex-toys feature in Los Angeles.

Tom Recchion and Fredrik Nilsen have always had a penchant for strange objects found at garage sales. They both have daunting collections, especially Tom who has an entire house to himself to display it all — Fredrik gives space to his kids. Tom also has a passion for cats — I remember he would let them roam all over the tiny bungalow he lived in and spray his artwork, which turned me against having cats anywhere near mine.

Vetza has always fascinated me, with a voice and willingness to explore it that easily equals Yoko Ono. She has worked for decades in Spanish-speaking television and theater, as well as conducting workshops for voice. Onstage, she actually makes me feel welcome. Everyone else there says ‘OK, sure, set up over there somewhere, do whatever’; she says ‘Come on, join me here, let’s have some fun!’

AY: What do you remember about your time with Allan Kaprow? What was he like as a person?

JD: Allan was always very gentle, gracious, generous with his time even under pressure. He treated his students as equals, which has had a much more lasting effect than I realized at the time.

AY: You’ve mentioned Carlo Gesualdo’s work as influential on your own. Would that be his chromatic language or his work as a murderer? Presuming the former: many composers have used chromatic scales and various languages of color in compositional practice. Arne Nordheim comes to mind. What was or is it about Gesualdo specifically that inspires you?

JD: Arne Nordheim is another influence… In Gesualdo’s case, I think it’s pointless to consider his music and personal life as separate. The choices made in the presentation of choral concerts, as well as in the music itself, reflect a man who was in extreme psychic conflict. That conflict is what I find interesting.

AY: What have you learned from your researches about the purpose, or lack thereof, of life on earth? Inasmuch as an electron is a metaphor for life, what lies beyond the death of the body?

JD: You tell me…

‘Purpose’ is a very personal thing defined and decided by each of us. Living to make money, living for the kids, to gain power of various kinds, to enjoy being alive, whatever. Mine is to learn as much as I can in the time I have left.It drives us to put energy into our lives, which in turn gives energy to the system, if you will, that we all live in. Death is another way of giving energy; the cycle is endless and open. I like to think of it as a spiral moving upward or forward.

At the same time, this image is linear and does nothing to explain why, with no knowledge of a place or its past, I have suddenly felt physical pressure at the site of a crime committed centuries ago or discovered that I know obscure details of a building that I’d never seen, read or heard about. Why EVP recordings made at the place where I grew up include my name in them. It says nothing about where such experiences, all as real as the touch of the keyboard I’m using, fit into the mesh of existence.

AY: According to Takuya Sakaguchi, you collaborated with Masami Akita, Keiji Haino and Hijokaidan. Is this true? If so, what can you recollect about these times?

JD: True. Masami and I played together a couple of times, once at a place called Strange Fruits in Tsurumaki Onsen well outside Tokyo that was packed SRO with an audience of ten people, another at a large hall in Shibuya. In Shibuya I performed Kick nude in front of several hundred witnesses; Masami performed alone – as I remember, at least – with a large video projection behind him.

Haino and I played together once at the rehearsal studio he usually rented and once live, I believe in Kichijoji. Haino let me play for about ten seconds before blasting over it with an endless solo.

Hijokaidan and I played together once in my house and once at La Mama live house in Shibuya. My part was to start things off, then fill up the place with stage smoke from behind the audience until no one onstage could see what they were doing.

AY: If you had never performed Blind Date, where do you think you would be today?

JD: Less informed, by at least an order of magnitude.

AY: When you performed it, did you have any notion it would turn your life upside down and that you would still be talking about it thirty+ years later?

JD: No. I thought my friends and the people I cared most about would understand and appreciate it, as they had with everything else I’d done up to then. I suppose a few of them do by now – if not the work itself then at least what I’ve dealt with since in my personal life because of it.

AY: Much of your work seems to function quite well without an audience. Why bother with one at all? Perhaps because, as in science, you hope someone out there will take the research in their own direction?

JD: Oh yes, please. I always hope others will focus on the content of the work, rather than the tools it is made with, and take it as far as possible.

AY: You’ve described The Error as, ‘a book that invokes a logic unique to each reader, that to seek a universally applicable rationality always fails to account for some level of consciousness. To render the steps for getting there hidden and secret, by printing the entire text in black on heavy black paper, that have to be read by moving the page until the letters are reflected enough to recognize them.’ It sounds very interesting, but since there are only ten copies of The Error, it is unlikely I will ever see, much less own, one. Will you every print this again?

JD: Do you know a publisher who would like to?

AY: What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?

JD: I’m still waiting to see.