Music

Beyond Pluto

An interview with Telecult Powers member/Temple of Pei co-founder Witchbeam!, who recently left Brooklyn for NOLA.

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Using homemade synthesizers, Telecult Powers makes atmospheric, foreboding noise music that horror-movie directors would be battling one another for, if they actually wanted to terrify audiences. In their work, the aliases-only duo—Witchbeam! and Mr. Matthews—celebrates the psychic, occult and sub dermal, generating entropic swathes of unease capable of evoking existential dread in some listeners and the aural-equivalent of a full-body massage in others. (Sample a few of their wares for free here) When I interviewed the band for a magazine profile last year, the pair were eagerly diversifying their collaborative portfolio, venturing into new, exciting, and delightfully weird new projects with friends, peers, and signees on their Temple of Pei imprint.

More recently, Witchbeam! and his wife moved from Brooklyn to New Orleans. In an email interview, he holds forth on how New Orleans differs from NYC, what’s in his sketchbook and what his relocation means for Telecult Powers and Temple of Pei.

Splice Today: I understand that you recently moved to New Orleans. What brought you there, and when did you leave NYC?

Witchbeam!: We split from Brooklyn late October with the plan to be there a few days before Halloween, but promptly noticed we were sick as soon as we unpacked our truck. Best laid schemes of mice and men, right? The beauty of New Orleans brought us here; even the parts of the city that are the most bombed-out are gorgeous. NYC is great, but after four years it was just time for a change.

ST: Four years is a long time: a full presidential term. What don't you miss about NYC?

WB!: Not a lot, really; it’s a bit too soon to reflect on that sort of thing. I don't miss riding my bike in Brooklyn: too many hills and aggro drivers. Here it’s much flatter, and calmer.

ST: Who or what do you miss seeing on a regular basis?

WB!: I miss walking by the Spiritual Baptist Church I lived near, and watching their services in Prospect Park on the weekends. I miss seeing Excepter and Slasher Risk, even though both acts are in a bit of a hiatus from live shows right now. I seem to be going through Grasshopper withdrawal; have been listening to them quite a bit lately. Do yourself a favor and check out their LP, Calling All Creeps, on Wm. Berger's new Prison Tatt label, it is astounding. Astounding! The Avant Ghetto shows at Zebulon were great, and Port d'Or always has amazing bills. I can go on and on. I will be keeping a close eye on Mathgrind's YouTube channel to see what everyone’s up to.

ST: Is there a difference in the psychic or karmic vibes the two cities give off?

WB!: New Orleans is a lot spookier than NYC. You get the feeling that you are walking with spirits here, whereas in NYC there isn't time for that kind of reflection. “Gotta make that money,“ man; that's what's important in life!

ST: When I moved from Pennsylvania to Texas a few months ago, there were certain songs that were inadvertently sucked into the vortex of that period for me: "Hold Tight!", R.E.M.'s "Drive," the new Roots album, and Usher's "OMG," that last mostly because every FM station we listened to was playing the fuck out of it. Did any particular songs attach themselves to your journey? Was it a smooth journey, or one full of oddities and portents?

WB!: Not really on our trip down here, but when Mr. Matthews and I went to Chicago to play Neon Marshmallow this summer we kept having these weird connections with Huey Lewis. That was a bit of a head-scratcher. Our trip down here was really fun; we overloaded our U-Haul trailer though, had to go a smooth 48 miles per hour the whole way. Kind of a bummer; we bought a car without a cassette player so we had to make do with compact discs.

ST: The NOLA musical meme projected by the popular media tends to focus on jazz, rap and brass-band music. What's the experimental, underground music scene like in NOLA? Does one exist?

WB!: Lots of brass, yeah. I haven't really had a chance to delve into it that far. I just checked out The Death Posture last night (Donald Miller, Bob Rainey, Rob Cabre) at the Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center; that was great. Just a few blocks from my apartment.

ST: The "goodbye" blowout from October 23 was pretty intense to hear. What was it like to play that set? What about it most stands out for you? Nautical Almanac's Carly Ptak and Twig Harper are amazing, amazing improvisers—having them play that night must've been a treat.

WB!: Very true; they are amazing, amazing improvisers. It was a real treat. Nautical Almanac really is the gold standard as far as far-out and esoteric related noise goes: true professionals in a very weird realm. Everyone who played that night was amazing, you need to check out Forma if you haven't, and having Sam Goldberg come play was really fantastic. Sam is rad, always changing it up a bit, so even though I saw him play five or six times this year already it was still cool and different.

As far as our set goes, it was really fun. It was a really big band; we invited Grasshopper to jump in on the already crowded stage of Sexxxual Ice Land, so there was something going on at all times. The thing that stood out the most? Probably the great sense of community I felt looking around at the various people there. Lots of great people having a great time listening to weird and far out music.

ST: With you residing in NOLA and Mr. Matthews remaining in NYC, have we seen the last of Telecult Powers and the many, sundry side projects that've come in its wake, like Virginal Volcanoes and Hex Breaker Quartet?

WB!: Hell no. We have lots of releases in the can waiting to come out, both as Telecult and our various collaborations. Jesse—from Grasshopper, Hex Breaker Quintet—is going to be doing an LP on his Baked Tapes label, we have some recordings with ISA Christ that he is releasing on his Idiot Underground label really soon, Foxy Digitalis is putting out a Hex Breaker Quintet tape this week, a Telecult one-sided LP is going to come out on Prison Tatts early next year. The last of the Temple of Pei releases will be coming out soon, one side is Inner Spaced, which is Telecult with John Elliot from Emeralds; the other side is Hecate's Fountain, which is Telecult with Lala from Excepter. Plus some stuff on various upcoming compilations, etc. So yeah, lots of releases upcoming. As far as live goes, we have some plans for next year that I really shouldn't talk much about.

Mr. Matthews is keeping himself busy doing his solo act, High School Confidential. It's way harsher than what he did with Telecult, different and weird. I know he has been working on a really short run tape that should be coming soon.

ST: Is it difficult or confusing, logistically, to run Temple of Pei with Mr. Matthews when you're located in different parts of the country?

WB!: Yeah. Temple of Pei as a label is going to go into semi-retirement after the split tape comes out. Matthew has some plans, and I am slowly working on a label tentatively called Krewe of LAM, focusing strictly on trans-Plutonian sounds. I hope to have the first release somewhere early next year.

ST: What does "trans-Plutonian" mean?

WB!: “Beyond Pluto.”  A large part of the Telecult backstory was an interest in some of the ideas of Kenneth Grant, reaching out to make contact with entities that exist beyond our understanding of space and time. Seriously.

ST: Have you considered making solo recordings of your own?

WB!: Honestly, I’m not in much of a hurry. My wife and I are going to continue some of the meditation stuff we were doing in Brooklyn, so that is my main focus right now. I feel that anything I did solo would really just be a cracked reflection of ground that Telecult has covered, so I need a little bit of distance. There is a solo Witchbeam cassette on Wagon that is long out of print—weird collage stuff. I may explore that a bit more.

ST: Are there any visual artists whose work has inspired or impacted your own illustration style?

WB!: Oh yeah, of course. Everything I see is an inspiration, even if you can't see it. Short list? Peter Max. Jack Kirby. Steve Ditko. Moebius. Stephen Bissette. Rick Griffin. Aubrey Beardsley. Bernie Wrightson. Vincent Di Fate. Geoff Darrow. Lady Frieda Harris. Austin Osman Spare. There’s a guy I went to junior high school with, Scott Radke, I love his work. You see him in Juxtapoz every once in a while. Amazing. One noise guy whose work I love is Chris Pottinger.

ST: My eyes totally deceived me—for a second there I thought I saw Simon Bisley in your list, and I had these flashbacks to Heavy Metal and those trippy, elaborate Doom Patrol covers he used to paint.

WB!: Ha! Well, yeah, Simon Bisley should have been on that list! His Doom Patrol covers were amazing.

ST: The sobriquet "Telecult Powers" is, of course, derived from Reese P. Dubin's similarly titled 1970 treatise on psychic/occult phenomena/ability. Are there any other texts that the Telecult Powers sonic aesthetic draws from?

WB!: All sorts of them. A Temple of Pei reading list would start with A Wrinkle In Time, Robert DeGrimston's Process Church writings. Most of the candle magick we did had roots in the Michale Bertiaux's Voudon Gnostic Workbook and Raymond Buckland's Practical Candleburning Rituals. You mentioned Doom Patrol; that had a huge influence on us. The Bible. Anything by Kenneth Grant. Gary Lachman's Turn Off Your Mind hits on a lot of our interests. Ram Dass' Be Here Now. Ed Sanders' The Family. My Secret Life. Zora Neale Hurston in general. Steve Ditko.

ST: Are you still doing illustration work? Any big projects or album covers upcoming?

WB!: I was just talking to Chris at Beta-lactam Ring Records about doing something for Nadja; that's about it for music, other than Temple of Pei-related stuff. My sketchbook is getting a bit of a workout down here. Thinking about going back to something I was working on before I moved to Brooklyn, illustrating a grimoire called The Goetia in a pop art fashion.

ST: In sketching, are you finding yourself drawn to any particular object or subject right now?

WB!: Cemeteries, tombs and landscapes, broken columns. Oaks and palms. Iron. Piles of rubble.

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