You may have seen their blurry outline inside an Apple Store-esque translucent glowing box in a New York gallery. Or maybe you’ve seen them rollerskating in their Y-fronts in the Stedelijk museum. Perhaps, untethered from these installations, performances and video oddities, you just heard snatches of their silky tenor — lost amongst shimmering washes of synth, field recordings and Wyeth’s own candid monologues, like modernist poetry overheard on the G-train to Brooklyn: ‘You can just go around it. Yup. Yup, so, then, we are here, there…-fore, Jackie, we are here…have you seen her? Jackie, is that you? Oh my God, you look so GOOD!’
Somewhere between highbrow performance, surreal cabaret and indie sincerity, this New Jersey-born artist is carving a prismatic path to weirdness, audiovisually and kinaesthetically. We talk to the person behind the persona to see how far the enigma goes.
You work in a lot of different media, with performance art and in particular spaces as well as your recorded music, so it’s difficult to get a holistic sense of your work online. It feels like getting small glimpses of something meant to be viewed in full somehow or somewhere else — or is that the point?
Believe it or not, I sort of see all the work as coming from one place. Not sure where that place is, but it’s something like music, or how music makes me feel. I like holes in the image, and I have no desire to change that. What comes first, the props or the music? Music. The props happen as a means of distraction or procrastination. Then they in turn inform the music, or the narrative that emerges from the sound.
It’s relatively rare to find a practicing artist and musician whose music is so readily listenable outside of formal art spaces — how do you consider your music in relation to or distinct from your performances and the spaces within which they take place?
I move a lot while I record. Sometimes I run around.
Lately I have been focusing very hard on musical content, mostly in the form of added texture and sandwiches of sound, while still working within my own obsessions with popular song structures. I have collected thousands of field recordings, I’ve finally been going back in and sampling them and blending many sounds together while still hearing the individual gestures, like a stew of synths and car engines and shouting old ladies. I have been implementing frequencies in the songs that make you wanna throw up, or sleep, or eat, or fuck (according to vague research I’ve done on sound and the brain). This might make people want to listen more? The container of the song structure is helpful. It can be dismantled or wrestled with.
‘Alien’ is a word that has come up a lot in your music and in interviews — to whom or from what do you feel alienated?
I think everyone feels alienated, part of it is probably wanting to be special. A world of aliens, together at last!
You’re pretty vigorous interacting with your audiences — what’s the weirdest reaction you’ve ever had from someone?
One time a man took his pants off and came on stage with me, and cheered for himself, and most people felt uncomfortable with that in the room I was in. I didn’t really mind, but I definitely laughed at him and he definitely stopped cheering.
Because of the level of movement in your performances it’s difficult to imagine you sitting still while recording — how do you capture that kinetic energy on tape?
I love New York because it’s the place I lived as a small child, and the place I ran to as a teenager to yell and laugh and smile in the street.
I move a lot while I record. Sometimes I run around. I think a lot about proximity and how it relates to things like empathy, imagination, and memory. Like when a sound is far away, for some reason I feel holes in it, like it reminds me of something, rather than just being a thing.
You’ve moved from New York to Amsterdam — how does it compare here, in terms of art, music and life?
Amsterdam feels like one frequency, while New York is a million competing gestures. Amsterdam thinks it’s a good person. New York knows how good it feels to feel shitty. New York is kind, but cruel. Amsterdam is soft like a puppy and round like corners on Ikea furniture. The sky is very low in Amsterdam, and there is fresh market food, and insidious racism. New York has cheap food that’s bad for you and long commutes and in your face racism that somehow white people still pretend doesn’t exist. I am living in Rotterdam now, I like it better because people smile and talk and yell at each other in the street. I grew up in a quiet suburb in New Jersey where everyone is scared of everyone else for absolutely no reason and stays inside and watches TV all the time and drives giant SUVs and is anxious about getting sick. I love New York because it’s the place I lived as a small child, and the place I ran to as a teenager to yell and laugh and smile in the street.
Geo Wyeth takes on The Rest is Noise at De National Opera & Ballet‘s afterparty of Opera Forward Festival on Friday, 24 March.