THE EXPERIMENTAL WORLD OF TIMEGHOST (PART II)
A continuation to Part I of S3R’s 6.1.17 interview with Timeghost.
The 83rd: You said your LP, Cellular, was a concept record and your mother’s work as an artist had some influence on it as well. Can you explain that?
Timeghost: It was the synchronicity of several important events that led to the development of that record. Being locked into a job that was holding me back, then leaving to record tracks in the exact spot where my grandmother had died. That came at the exact moment I got my first smartphone. I returned to my job to then immediately learn of a friend’s suicide, so I quit to take a job assisting my mother with an art commission. Her near-death experience in a car crash on my 30th birthday led to me becoming a sort of care giver for her, and this all happening the year that she turned 60 (myself being exactly half her age)… All these things happened within a few months of one another and it felt pretty supernatural. My mother and I hanging out a lot but still being glued to our phones. I felt myself sink deeper into the web of social media, GPS tracking, QR codes like these cryptic glyphs, collective unconsciousness and the very compulsive, addictive behavior of cellular communal relationships.
The 83rd: True.
Timeghost: Not to mention how it changed how news is reported and collected. The murder of Eric Garner on camera, and the media’s skewing of the riots in Ferguson following the murder of Michael Brown really affected me. The dystopian police state that was exposed to the world at large… All this hit me during the same year and it totally changed me. From a technological, biological, architectural, and conceptual framework… And from the microscopic, to the personal, societal, up to the global level. The record attempts to wrap all this together by dissecting this concept and seeing it through its different connotations. For me, all these devices of prison cells, cell phones, cancer cells, plant cells, cells of automated data, were weaving together in my mind and the concept became this super-organism to me. We’re all a part of this giant amoebic mass that doesn’t have any fixed direction, it just spreads and mutates. Like a swarm of bees, ant colony, or flock of birds. Even our own bodies are cells in a greater societal murmuration: split off from our mothers and trapped here, relying on one another and grasping at social cues for support. Cells gain rigidity through division, negation, and separation. But without the larger colony, a cell loses its identity entirely: together but separate. I had been doing research with my mother into how early penitentiaries functioned conceptually: alienating the prisoner from others, the invention of the prison cell. We were changing direction towards Enlightenment-era Alchemy and the development of scientific thought from occult practices.
The 83rd: How did you get interested in the alchemists?
Timeghost: My mother, Denise Pelletier, had won a commission to produce a permanent sculptural installation in the science building at Connecticut College. Her proposal involved casting antique chemistry glass found in the building, and reproduce it in porcelain, then scan the forms into a computer where they could be manipulated digitally. We traced the forms of these glass instruments back to the beginning of chemistry and how the alchemists had developed the same parts to experiment with a prototypical material science with a philosophical slant. I had been interested in the occult aspect of alchemy, how it was connected with esoteric religion, but came to find out that many of the early physicists, toxicologists, astronomers, and mathematicians of the Renaissance were also alchemists. Isaac Newton, Tycho Brahe, Paracelsus, Agrippa… the list goes on and on. I imagine that on the surface, alchemy was a sort of con, with parallels that you can observe in the art world of today, with pleas to patrons for funding. To some of its practitioners, it was an entire philosophy of transforming energy, allowing friction and vibration on both a minimal and maximal level to transform your perception or physical reality. Artists and Alchemists alike are drawn to an intrinsic, at times spiritual obsession with curious investigation. We support this inherently non-monetary lifestyle by inventing mythology to sell our work. My mother and I made this sort of architectural mutation in the lobby of this building, and the research for the installation also fed directly into the research for my LP, Cellular. It was about looking backward into past practices, just as much as looking forward into new technology and how it changes our beliefs and bodies.
The 83rd: Is that how the mouth thing came about?
Timeghost: Uhh.. The oral sensor I use in my live performances? THAT was actually from going to jazz shows!
The 83rd: Really?!
TG: Yea. I went to this show that changed my outlook on musical instruments and how a body can relate to them in several ways at once. It was back when I was an art student, upstate in Alfred, NY. I used to go to experimental shows in Rochester at this great DIY spot called A/V Space. I saw a lot of amazing shows there, like the first time I saw Justice Yeldham and Dave Philips. The one that really blew me away was a trio of Chris Corsano, Steve Baczkowski, and Paul Flaherty: an amazing drummer paired with two saxes. Those guys totally set that room on fire. Steve and Paul were swinging their horns violently from side to side, singing directly into the reeds, which wasn’t their invention at all but it was new to me. It inspired me that night to think, “Man, I wish my instrument was affected directly by my voice, my breathing, and I could clench it in my teeth.” Even when I saw Justice Yeldham there, he had been singing into a shard of glass and scraping it across his face, creating all these amazing difference tones. I wanted to do that in a different kind of way and I came up with the oral light sensor idea. I had been introduced to modular synthesis by this time  and we had all been using light sensors in the studio, controlling the synth by placing them on video monitors. I was into bringing the instrument not just towards the body, but inside of it.
— S3R (@S3Rnews) June 14, 2017
The 83rd: True.
Timeghost: I really liked the mouth sensor because it was connecting a strong visual to a sound, and placing it inside the mouth is like bringing it home to the heart of where you expel your emotions. The first prototype I developed used one of those athletic mouth guards, with the sensor glued inside and wires hanging out the front of my mouth. I would have to be very careful that it didn’t fall out, it was kind of a pain in the ass. It wasn’t a very tight fit on my teeth, I had to use denture cream to hold it in, but I still had the single wire coming out of my lips. So I was thinking… man, I wish I could just go out the sides so…
The 83rd: Pierce a hole in the side of your face?!
Timeghost: Exactly. That came years later though. First, I had a dental retainer custom made for me by an orthodontist. I used it in early Timeghost sets, with the wires getting in the way of my speech. Ever since the beginning I had hoped to eliminate that problem. I never thought I’d have the guts to permanently alter my face for an art project. But then the timing was right and I got lucky. Back in 2011, I was living in this giant warehouse called Paragon Mills in Providence. We had a huge Halloween party spread between 3 different DIY artist collectives, and like a thousand people showed up. The day after, it actually looked like a bomb detonated in the building the night before. While sweeping, I found somebody’s iPhone. I ended up contacting the owner, Billy Wood, and when we met up he tells me he’s a body piercer at this great shop in town called Rock Star Body Piercing. Then he gave me a gift certificate for a free piercing of any kind: ‘The craziest thing you can think of, it’s totally free’ he says. So I tell him my idea with the oral light sensor, how I control my synthesizer with my mouth, and ask whether he can help me route the wires through two cheek piercings. And he’s like “Oh yeah, were DEFINITELY gonna do THAT!” He was psyched!
The 83rd: LMAO! So that’s how it happened?
Timeghost: Yeah! It couldn’t have happened without Billy and everyone at Rockstar. Imagine if I had just gone into any body piercing shop with that project? Who knows if I would have found the right person who was excited to do a really tedious, long and involved project that had basically never been done before? It turns out Rockstar was not only owned by Jeff Saunders, who I knew from a long time ago at Hardcore Punk shows, but the whole staff is trained by Fakir Musafar. Fakir is one of the founding developers of modern body piercing and had been featured in all these great books by Re:Search Publishing. This was definitely the right place to work with. They hooked me up so well, and really gave a shit about the project.
The 83rd: So it’s actually a light sensor? I bet a lot of people think it’s some kind of mic.
Timeghost: It’s true. People are always asking me what it is and get surprised when I tell them it’s utilizing the light that enters through my lips. It’s pretty sensitive too. I can do very subtle things, like I can flick my tongue and change any parameter on my synth that I choose to patch into it. I’ve used different kinds of light sources too. Candles are really interesting because they waver under my breath. I would have to keep two candles onstage to relight the one I would sing into. It had a really satisfying gesture to it, but I was getting accosted by people after my set asking me how the candle magick ritual worked… I had to get away from such a strong connotation. I’m interested in the occult, and have made use of that practice in my personal life, but I’m against using it in public as a spectacle. I imagine that it’s similar to how devout muslim people feel about sampling the call to prayer in a techno song. It’s best not to go there. That’s why I started using cell phones to trigger the light sensor. It also acts as a sort of video view-screen for the audience. It’s an invitation inside my body… hahaha.
83: That’s fuckin fire. And thank goodness for big ass parties man.
TG: Yep! Most definitely. Couldn’t have done it without that Halloween party. Remember, a wise man once said, “Maybe partying will help”.
Timeghost performs on Friday June 30th at Secret Project Robot, 1186 Broadway in Brooklyn, along with White Suns, Wetware, Horoscope, and VOSP. Admission is $10 and doors open at 8:00pm.