Kathryn Marks Talks Ear Conditioning, Dino Felipe, Rat Bastard, and Techno Grandpa

Artist and accomplished violist Kathryn Marks has made music with both traditional orchestras and prolific genius Dino Felipe.

Recently, she partnered with nomadic art project The End/SPRING BREAK for Ear Conditioning, a monthlong experiment in sound that took place throughout July. With the help of her partner Romulo Miguel Del Castillo of Schematic Records, Ear Conditioning provided a place right in the heart of the Design District where experimental music and art could overlap.

Crossfade covered and attended many of these sonic gatherings. And they tickled our cochlea so much, we decided to sit down with Marks for a deep retrospective look at Ear Conditioning.

Crossfade: Can you tell us about where you got the idea for Ear Conditioning? 

Kathryn Marks: When I was still in school, I was doing a study of 20th-century avant garde compositional music from the historical, creative, and theoretical side of things. I was listening to and sort of thinking about all of this crazy music that was 60, 70 years old that sounded really current, really relevant to the experimental sound scene. Noise music is a stupid, self-defeating term.

I mean, you've got Harry Partch making his own instruments to play his 43-tone scale in the '40s, Reed Ghazala circuit-bending and Lamonte Young writing music for chairs in the '60s. Whitehouse making the most violent, sonically brutal music ever made in the '80s. Arnold Schoenberg basically rejected the entire structure of Western musical practice while still in the academic system in the '20s. That is some real anti-establishment behavior. All that is going on today.

I wanted to introduce people to this kind of music, just introduce them to the practices of active listening and challenging their ear to hear a bit more, thinking critically about their own relationship to, and with, sound. I think that if we expect the audience of conceptual art to wise up, to think harder, we should do the same for sound and music. The space was meant as a place to exchange ideas, get a little bit of history, hear all kinds of racket, and to consider the present state of sound art, the state of experimental music, and the importance of site and motive in the end product of a piece.

How'd you get involved with The End/SPRING BREAK?

In the past, I've worked with Patti (Hernandez) and Domingo (Castillo), doing lots of movie screenings and putting together Dino's gallery show and performance last year at The End. I've known them for awhile, and I had this project in mind. I told them about the idea and they loved it. And we all said, "OK, let's do it!"

Can you describe the project you did with Dino and The End before Ear Conditioning? 

Dino is a visual artist as well. But he never really gets his stuff out there. For years, I've been nagging him to do a show. But his various Dino-cetricities had hitherto made that impossible. Then he made these photocopied abstractions of his nether regions, all sort of enhanced in a variety of ways. But they looked fucking beautiful. He was approached by the World Erotic Art Museum to show the work. But I told him that that would absolutely limit the work as a sex thing, which was not at all what they are about. I was like, "Alright Dino, we've got to do something with this that will make the work make sense."

So, I got him to pick a bunch of his things decorating his room, drawings and paintings and stuff and to put them in a gallery. It was great, a sort of spread-out, well-lit version of his bedroom/studio in all of its otherworldliness. He brought his handmade t-shirts and tapes and he did a performance, props and all. It was Dino all the way. We had him perform, because you can't really have an art show without his physical presence, mannerisms, and sounds to bring it all together.

Can we reminisce on a couple of things that happened during the Ear Conditioning project? 

I think my favorite night was the Rat (Bastard) night. He was fucking hilarious, straight-up standup raging on the state of music, especially dubstep. Needless to say, he is a legend. We actually recorded him and were listening to it today.  He has the most genius quote, "If you look up 'Why am I a musician?' on Google, the definition you get is 'Why am I loser?"

The [appearances by] Techno Grandpa, as we named him, were sort of key to the success of the evenings. Every night, we had this charming homeless guy who would come, get his drink on, and just dance to whatever music was playing.  Whether Romulo was DJing disco or Carlos Rigau doing Dirty South, this guy would come and perform the most amazing dance moves right on cue and then talk to everybody outside about how Chris Brown tapped him to be one of his dancers. He and Rat were probably the two best parts of the whole thing.

Do you feel like you got what you wanted out of the experience?

Yeah, I had lofty goals. I started to get all academic about it and have people read stuff. That kind of happened ... We did a theory night. But mostly, it turned out to be fun, and a place where people could come together and explore different projects and play music and have a good time. I liked it 'cause for the most part, it was pretty light and a lot of the events were fun.

Like Beatriz's [Monteavaro's interactive drum circle with karaoke to Grease] night was rad. We all fucking wailed on drums all night like savage beasts. It was the best form of anger management ever. I was so peaced out when I got home.

Kevin Arrow's Sun Ra night was also pretty epic. His projections and videos covered the whole space and, along with the music, really it was a full body experience for the audience. I really wanted to stress the communal aspect of it all. It was a place where people could come, listen to, and share new ideas. I think some things got accomplished. I think some people were turned on to stuff they might not have heard or thought about before.

Do you want to do more projects dealing with sound and music in the future? 

I'm always open to it. One of the main aims of this whole project was to bring together musicians and artists and try to find a hybrid area where both can exist at the same time on the same level. Going forward, I would like to continue to look for that middle ground.

Do you feel like there's room for intellectual discourse in Miami? 

I don't know, it's a little bit of a mystery. I think there is. But I think people worry about being the smartest kid in the class and maybe just need to sit back and say, "I don't know everything. But that's okay because I want to learn." I wish people would be less intimidated and become comfortable about thinking a little more deeply, taking a little bit longer to understand, and to put the time in to educate themselves.

We're all sort of in the same boat and we all want art to happen, we all want music to happen, we all want to share ideas and to, hopefully, make Miami's art scene a bit more about sharing rather than proving. Instead of talking about talking, we gotta just do it.

Any favorite new or local musicians you can mention? 

I love Danny L. and Nick's Cayos album Shell Beach. It's really beautiful.

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