Fresh Stream, Interview

An Interview with Chris Korda on their new release Akoko Ajejji and more

Founder of the Church of Euthanasia grants us an album in complex polymeter

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Chris fucking Korda. Hold on, let me say that one more time so it can really set in. CHRIS FUCKING KORDA FOLKS of the infamous CHURCH OF EUTHANASIA.

Ok now that we got that out of the way let us go into a bit more detail about this near mythical figure that is enmeshed not only in Boston/ Somerville’s storied underground, but is a certified international underground icon. She is not only a recording musician, producer and DJ discovered by DJ Hell in the 1990’s, but is also founder and reverend of the contentious Church of Euthanasia, that sprang up in Boston in the 90’s as an agit-prop activist group whose main tenets are: suicide, cannibalism, sodomy, and abortion. (Korda is still an advocate and leader of the Church mind you, the Church has never died and in fact lives inside all of us.)

Now Korda returns with Akoko Ajejji (Strange Times in Yoruba), an album produced entirely in complex polymeter. This work is not too far from her other artistic and professional projects in its difficulty, complexity, uniqueness, and drive. It was released on September 6th off Perlon Records. Buy the record here.

Korda’s project is contentious, in my view, because she asserts that Akoko Ajeji is beyond comparison in dance music. Which in fact it is. However usage of polymeter, according to David Gilmore, teacher of jazz guitar at Berklee School of Music, has been around since atleast jazz fusion sprang up in the 1970’s. Gilmore goes so far to say that Dave Brubeck was a polymeter pioneer, and since him, there have been many other jazz-fusion musicians who have employed polymeter. Since Brubeck’s time, M-base (acronym for Macro Basic Array of Structured Extemporizations — of which Gilmore is a part) has, in certain ways sought to constructively problematize critical views of jazz and music into something more liberating for the artist. Because of this, members of M-base often do employ polymeter techniques in musical performance and production.

Their usage differs from Korda’s usage in a few important ways: the first and perhaps most easy to comprehend difference is their usage of analog instrumentation vs. Korda’s self-coded complex polymeter music production software. Second, Korda’s music and art still largely operates in an underground fashion and vein, for better or worse, away from academies. And, finally third and most important, Korda’s software opens up polymeter modulation techniques not ever employed in music production. This technology is potentially revolutionary to the ways in which music is made and consumed, that is, if anyone can understand exactly what Korda is driving at.

There is still much territory to be explored in polymeter music, particularly where it overlaps with programming and technology. To Korda, her polymeter music opens up vast new frontiers in music in both its complexity and the way music can reflect a highly technological society. To her, as a music producer, and a retired computer programmer and architect in her fifties, this technology opens up vast new territories of creativity and potential, akin to her expansive mind and actually quite humanist outlook brought on by an human hating much of her life.

I met Chris in Bloc Cafe in Union Square, Somerville where we were both regulars. Since this initial introduction, we became friends over the time we have known eachother as well as the numerous interviews I held with her over the summer of 2019.

The words of this interview came on a hot Thursday afternoon. We chatted for a while, I got an exclusive pre-listen to the album and some Church of Euthanasia merch to match my sardonic fascination for the group.

If it were not for major professional roadblocks, I would have had this review done over a month ago but what can you do right? To quote Andy Warhol and Kurt Vonnegut: the idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting and so on.

‘1991, in Provincetown Massachusetts – the initial public explorations into gender (self portrait)’

Boston Hassle: Can you explain, for the uninitiated, what polymeter is?

Chris Korda: Thats a tough one, well — if you wikipedia it – you wouldn’t find much information on it. You’d actually find slightly more information on the article about phase music. Tragically most of the phase music article is about Steve Reich. I say tragically, essentially, because Steve Reich has the whole pond to himself. That is not fair. There are more practitioners than just Steve himself but he certainly was the person who put it on the map. But there is also a distinction between phasing and polymeter as I will explain.

When Steve Reich first discovered it in the 1970’s, he did some famous stunt where he took two tape recorders with the same content on each recorder, and he put them on stage and he slightly de-pitched one of the tape recorders. So of course, one of them slips relative to the other and eventually they slip really far apart and it generates a really interesting thing. They start in sync and it gets further and further apart. Thats a demonstration of phasing. And all of Reich’s work is traced back to that idea, so he gets the academic credit. He gets to claim that and write a paper on that.

In practice of course, I’m sure there is a history of people who were aware of that long before. That is fine. What is the distinction between that and polymeter? There is a lot of gray area. There is a lot of debate over terminology, the trick about phasing is, in that sense, things are slipping apart in an analog way. There is no grid, they are not sharing any common unit. Think of how different that would be if you had two drum machines locked in perfect sync. If they were playing both patterns that were 4/4 and the same length, then they would stay in sync forever, thats within the realm of what tech can do.

Well now, imagine if you had the same drum machines still locked in perfect sync but on one of them you had a pattern that is 16/16 notes long — then you have another that has a 15/16 step pattern. Well what is going to happen is they are going to drift apart by a common unit. Each fifteen beats, the fifteen one will wrap around but the sixteen one, not yet. And so, they will stay in sync for the first fifteen beats and then on the sixteenth beat, the 15/16 one wraps around but the 16/16 one won’t and it will wrap around one beat later.

And it will go around again. But this time they are all one step, one sixteenth note out of sync. And then they’ll wrap around again but this time they’ll be two steps out of sync, and the next time they’ll go again and then they’ll be three steps out of sync. Notice the word step. They are shifting relative to eachother but they are shifting by some quantile, some quantity of time that they share in common, a denominatar and the denominator is the 16th note. So this is quantized phasing. But it has another important aspect. Not only are they shifting by a discreet amount, but eventually they will be back where its started. In fact, it is easy to calculate because it is all integers … there would be some amount of times when they are back in sync and line up again, and then the cycle would repeat.

So that, to me, you could call it quantized phasing. And that would be correct, but I just made that term out of my butt, but that is generally what is called ‘polymeter’ — polymeter is essentially phasing where there is a shared unit of time that the things that are phasing, have in common. They are on a grid, grid chunks, and they are slipping on that grid.

So the system I built is for exploring that space. It is not that you couldn’t do analog real phasing, Steve Reich style phasing with that system, you can and I have done some experiments. I have done tracks with that type of analog phasing in them. I’m not going to speak for others but what I’ve found in analog type phasing is not suitable for making dance music, it is better for making ambient environmental types of sound collage, because there is — I can’t explain it — there’s just something about having all the parts lined up on a 16 note grid that makes dudes want to wiggle their butts. What you want for dance music is poly-meter, not phasing. My system can do both and I have done both.

BH: You got a new record coming out on Perlon records coming out in September called Akoko Ajeji. Why is it called that and what can fans old and new expect from it?

CK: Almost all the track titles are in Yuroba. Akoko Ajeji, means strange time in Yuroba. But it’s ambiguous what is meant there — whether it means strange time in a musical sense or strange time in a cultural sense of living through a strange time. Why did I use Yuroba? I used it because it has very beautiful, inspiring words for things like trance and mystical kinds of things. It is not a great language for technical things. They haven’t got any words for machines, it is the opposite of german. It is a fluid language that has evolved out of tribal life so drumming it super important in Yuroba. It is a big feature of life. Drumming and dancing are the heart and soul of their way of life and so they have a lot of great words for stuff like that. That is why I was inspired by it.

In any case, Akoko Ajeji is a radical album. It is not like my previous work, it is an extension of my previous work, but it is not like it — its completely instrumental, there are no lyrics on it. And it has nothing to do with the Church of Euthanasia — it is complex polymeter, there’s polymeter in my previous work and when I say that, bear in mind, there is almost no polymeter in the world. I would challenge you to name one house or techno track that has polymeter in it — I know of one, other than my own work, but it’s like that, very very few. Simple polymeter is when you have everything in 4/4 except one element, like our example of the two drum machines everything in four, one thing in seven — so the thing in four slips relative to the thing in seven. That’s fine, that’s simple polymeter — mind you three and four don’t even count — that has a technical name in music — its called a hemiola — I never count that .. it has got to involve some prime number other than three — if you just have four four and one instrument in three, that’s simple polymeter — complex polymeter you have many of them at once where different parts are in different prime numbers.

In the case of Akoko Ajeji you have complex cases where you within each instrument, each note is in a different meter — each note. So that has a very different effect on people, its pretty radical — previously I only did that kind of stuff in my experimental music, but that technique has been brought to the fore. Whereas there was polymeter in six billion humans can’t be wrong and the man of the future there was polymeter on almost every track, it was fairly subtle. it was often relegated to percussion parts, or it may have been in the piano part — it was done in such a way that you wouldn’t notice it. On Akoko Ajeji — you’re really going to notice it. It sounds a lot more avant grade — it sounds more drastic. And you can still dance to it — its got a strong one— it will sound a lot more different, I think that is why it was so hard to find a label for it. It does not sound like any other record, it basically couldn’t be more different, there is nothing to compare it to, there are no almost no polymeter electro records or polymeter electro jazz records, that’s just not a category — to the extent that I occupy it.

BH: Sometimes, you talk about church in the present tense, sometimes you talk about it in the past tense. I would say, from my research, it’s still alive — what would you say to that?

CK: It’s more alive than ever you couldn’t believe it. I went to Brussels and there was a whole Church chapter that self-evolved the way like chemicals in the primordial soup self evolved into DNA molecules. A Church sub-group just evolved in Belgium, it had nothing to do with me. The first I heard of it was I got an email from now Cardinal Lenny, it takes a lot to become a Cardinal in this church by the way and you’ll understand why. I got an email from him saying ‘We haven’t met, but would you mind coming to my record release party, would you like to perform at my party, I’m releasing an album based on the Church of Euthanasia’s work and the theme of the album is ‘one world, one shit’’ (which you might recognize is a quote from six billion humans can’t be wrong,) ‘and by the way we’re going to pay you.’ I was like ‘holy crap! What’s this?’ And so we have some conversations about it, turns out he is totally organized, he has followers and stuff. So I go to Belgium and they made this enormous fucking banner, much bigger than the Church ever made. It was a building size banner that said ‘One world, One shit.’ They have all their signs, all their propaganda. It was incredibly organized, he must have converted 100’s or 1000’s of people to the Church of Euthanasia, single-handedly.

So what that tells me is that the Church of Euthanasia is now officially, it has been like this for years, it’s completely a self sustaining meme. Younger people just keep rediscovering it. We don’t need to keep doing the same things. Even if we could do the same things — which we can’t, that would make no sense. But it has a life of its own now, and it’s arguably more relevant than ever, most of the predictions we made in the early 90’s came true. I don’t claim any satisfaction or joy in that, nor do I claim to be Nostradamus, they weren’t very hard predictions to make based on the numbers that I saw, it was pretty clear where things were headed. People were obtuse about it, everyone said ‘oh no, you’re crazy it will never happen.’ Well I wasn’t crazy and it did happen. And so, there you go, Paul R. Erlich was right, what can you do? We really are going to have a species extinction, and we’re already in it now. That’s true and well so it wasn’t that hard a call to make in 1992 or 1993. But I did make it and so now its actually happening and so people are now having a feeling of urgency.

Image taken from Chris Korda’s Facebook Page, with Joey Daytona and Vermine Supreme.

BH: I was born in 1993. (laughter)

CK: So it’s hard for you to imagine. I was born a long time before that, 1962, so these problems materialized during my lifetime, they have ancient roots. But effectively, there was no hint of these problems until, I recall… 1976 being the first I ever heard of it. I was old enough to be reading the newspaper in 1976 and I can remember seeing a headline in the New York Times that said ’Scientists predict global warming irreversible.’ This was in 1975. It wasn’t on the front page, maybe it was on page three, most people paid it no attention, but I paid attention. I vividly remember seeing that, it was the first mention of climate change in the New York Times. That doesn’t sound good, even back then I had a healthy respect for science, not to the extent that I do now but I did. It’s fair to say this has been a long time coming and people are stubbornly persistent in not hearing this and of course this brings up the famous Upton Sinclair quote ‘It’s hard to persuade a man of something when his job depends on not understanding.’

BH: I fall asleep to philosophy lectures. I was falling asleep to Rick Roderick’s lecture on Baudrillard’s ‘Simulacra and Simulation.’

CK: That’s a tough essay, I love Baudrillard but he’s hard to read.

BH: He is saying that the image is overtaking reality and creating something hyper real.

CK: That’s what ‘The Matrix’ is based on, ‘Simulacra and Simulation.’ In fact everybody who was in the film, all the actors in the film and everyone on the set was obliged to read it.

BH: The thing that is interesting about electronic music is that it kind of takes away the spectacle and then the spectacle is the people dancing, congregating, doing all this other shit, feeding off the energy.

CK: Well it is communal and it is in the real world, unlike simulated reality. Most of peoples experience now is mediated by technology whereas when you’re in a club, you may be experiencing technology, but you’re experiencing it with other people so in that sense, there is a physicality here that is probably constructive, but you got to be very careful here not to confuse things. So, Baudrillard is all very amusing and critical theory is all very interesting, but whatever else it may be, it is not science. Not even close.

BH: I was going to steer this question to the origins of the Church of Euthanasia, with the origins of your music production.

CK: The truth is I am a resourceful person, like Walt Whitman says, ‘I contain multitudes.’ There are many competing people inside me, with differenent abilites and different inclinations. I can sit around and make music all day every day, and lately mostly do since I am mostly retired from my engineering work. That is mostly what I do and believe it, most of it has nothing to do with the Church of Euthanasia. I have a lot to offer, the Church of Euthanasia is only one of things I bring to the table. Frankly it is not something I spend a lot of time on lately, because its so glum and because life is ending for me. I’m old, I’m 56 now. If I get another twenty years, that would be fucking great, that would be fucking heroic. 30 would be inconceivable. I have a finite amount of time so I would like to spend as much of it as possible making music, and to make music, I have to maintain some kind of positivity. If I am just thinking black thoughts every day all day, Im not going to be very inspired, so I just feel like my musical personality.

I hesitate to use the word soul, I’m one of these people that when I hear the word spirituality I reach for my revolver. But that being said, there is something very irrational about art. I like to say irrationality is like alcohol, adults should be able to consume it in moderation but it should clearly labeled ‘disguised nonsense kills.’ So I don’t like to see irrationality in everyday affairs, irrationality in government would be a disaster, right? That’s the trump administration, that’s cockistocarcy … we don’t want that. But in matters of art and creativity, irrationality is helpful, where did David Lynch get all those ideas in Twin Peaks and Eraserhead. Who the fuck knows? He meditates every day — he opens his mind to the unknown, to his subconscious and the subconscious is plenty irrational. It could involve furies or who knows what the fuck is simmering all day just under your calculating mind. And not to understate it, a lot of great ideas, really practical ideas, come from the unconscious too. If you talk to any serious scientist about where their ideas really come from, they’ll be stumped, they don’t know either.

So its not only art that comes from the subconscious, everything comes from the subconscious — you are your subconscious — and so this is the thing — I have a healthy respect for the mystical quality of myself — I sound like Whitman here, but there is something really mystical and magical here — and I don’t mean it in a ‘woo’ sense — there’s just a lot we don’t know. Humans brains are amazingly complicated — and yes machines are eventually going to be more complicated and will wipe us out — but in the meantime we are by the far the most complex things that have ever evolved on earth and there is a lot of we don’t know about how it works. I often ask myself — where does it come, where do I get these ideas. So I sit around a lot trying to create the conditions in myself that will be the most fruitful for creativity and I accept what comes and I don’t try to channel it.

For a lot of years, what came was the Church of Euthanasia and things related to it, and also music and also polymeter and visual art and many other things, 3D virtual pottery and a bunch of other things that don’t fit. And I accept all that and I just have to live with it. I think every artist does. You have to accept you can’t force your subconscious to be something that it isn’t. You see what you see, and ultimately the duty is to be true to themselves. That os what I say whenever someone asks me about ‘I like the watch’ I say I should get some kind of heroic award for honesty in art — for making I like to watch. It is a hideous piece of work mind you, and I can totally understand why bitches were offended — don’t get me wrong, believe it — there’s a reason why almost every single film festival refused to show it. It is absurdly insanely offensive. But on the other side, it really accurately captures my state on the day of the attacks. And so, that is what honesty in art is all about, facing your feelings and not retreating from them.

BH: I hate Vice, but the piece they wrote on you is kind of — I was picking it apart. I want to ask you directly, about how you said ‘America was feminized when 9/11 happened.’

CK: Oh yeah, the forced transexual surgery. That is one of my great innovations. I don’t know where that came from. I felt it, I saw it, it looked so real to me. The thing is, to me, it was all very visual — see Stockhausen was only half right. You know Stockhausen got in terrible trouble for saying what he did — he said that 9/11 was the greatest work of art, ever. He was severely penalized for that. He lost huge gigs, he took a huge hit. In today’s world — he would have been doxed. But he was more of a normal. My view is that he didn’t go far enough, it was a fundamental reshaping of America’s subconscious. The forced transexual surgery is not actual. America doesnt have a body — its not like that but it looks like that. There are these monumental phallic towers and all the sudden they have a gash in them. I mean not to be graphic — it looked very sexual to me — the towers were penetrated then they collapsed, they deflated — to me — it looked like porn and I was not the only person who thought that. I was just the only person who had the nerve to say so! Especially a week later, that is different so people were offended. But we’re back to honesty in art. My artistic expressions can’t be wrong, they can’t be right either.

They’re not subject to scientific explanation. They are not explanations, they are not to be judged as such, you can like them — you can not like them. You can feel them, you can not feel them — they are definitely outside of the realm what can proved true or false. And for me, am I actually channeling this stuff? Am I feeling it? Am I true to myself? That is a hard question and only I can answer that. And I believe in ‘I Like to Watch’ that I was 100% true to myself. Look what happened — people got horribly offended, other people wanted to put it in museums — it was divisive — clearly I hit a nerve. That happens to me a lot. I’ve been true to myself a lot and I hit a nerve a lot. And I see some correlation between the two things.

Download Chris’ Opensource polymeter software here.

For more information on polymeter from the horses mouth, click here.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Art & Extra Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.

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