Genesis P-Orridge interviewed ZIA at their Brooklyn apartment in 2000! It was an absolute pleasure.
Part 1 of 2 (stay tuned for Part 2!)
Genesis: "Can you give us a very brief history of ZIA? And I'll interrupt you and we'll go off in tangents, because that's always more interesting."
Elaine: "Well, ZIA started off in 1991 and our first show was actually in 1992, because I was trying to gather up some band members to play these very odd instruments. It's hard to find people to play these MIDI triggers with sticks."
Genesis: "So we need to know what these odd instruments are."
Elaine: "Well my idea was to perform the music using no standard instruments at all. No keyboards, no guitars, no regular drums. Just completely new and different instruments. One of the reasons is because the music's microtonal. We use different tunings other than just 12 notes per octave, and to play that on a keyboard, it's kind of difficult to keep track of where you are. So by putting the notes on these different MIDI triggers and hitting them with sticks, I could just teach people patterns that they'd memorize for each song."
Genesis: "And always be in the microtonal range."
Genesis: "So you pre-program the microtonal side of it, and more or less wherever the musicians hit is within the parameters of the music."
Elaine: "Right. The musicians just need to know which pads to hit when, and just memorize patterns. So I was trying to find drummers to audition to do this, and drummers had a hard time, and guitar players didn't really use sticks and neither did keyboard players. So I was having a hard time finding anyone. Vibraphone players usually wouldn't be into the style, the fact that it was more hardcore industrial. I was screaming and what not. So finally, the two people from the other band I was in helped me with ZIA. So the original line-up was me, Lisa Sirois and Noel McKenna. We were also in D.D.T., another hardcore industrial band."
Genesis: "And this was in Boston?"
Elaine: "Yes, that was in Boston."
Genesis: "Where were you trained? How do you even know what microtonal is?"
Elaine: "Well I had classical piano all my life, and then I went to Berlkee for Music Synthesis. And it wasn't until my last year at Berklee that one of my professors introduced microtonal music to me. I'd always thought about it, I'd always wondered why people don't use the notes in between, but I never knew, really, how to go about it."
Genesis: "Or more accurately, why don't people in the West use those notes?"
Elaine: "Yeah, exactly. In fact, at Berklee, they call Western 12 tone jazz harmony just Harmony class. That used to bother me. So in 1991, I heard my teacher come in and perform this microtonal song, he actually sang the song and played a tape for the class. It made my hair stand on end, and ever since then, I haven't written a 12 tone piece."
Genesis: "So that brings us up to ZIA. Can you explain what your interpretation at this point of microtonal is? Not the traditional academic one, but your vision of what microtonal is, and why it's your bridge with music you create."
Elaine: "Well, I think people, over the years, over the centuries, especially in Western music, have experimented with different rhythms and different sounds. Now, with electronic music, people experiment with a lot of different sounds and timbres and styles of music. Really, the only thing left is pitch. People haven't been experimenting with different pitches. It's one of the three parameters of music, and it's like another dimension no one's dived into. And people in other countries have been using microtones, so I feel like I want to explore that whole area. Sooner or later, someone might look at it and analyse it and figure out a theory that they can teach for these different tunings."
Genesis: "So you actually are interested in changing the face of music? We were talking before about punk, for example, and once, I was asked what was the difference between punk and industrial. I was formulating the idea of industrial music while I was auditioning Billy Idol, for example. So I'm yawning at the actual structure, the archetype of rock and roll. And this isn't a negative because I still think a lot of it was fabulous, the energy was amazing, so I'm not going to put it down. Punk was trying to change the face to rock and roll, specifically, I think, whereas industrial was trying to change the face of all music in the West. The rest of the world knew this already, that it was actually an open door for anything and everything available. Anything and everything is ultimately music in some way."
Elaine: "I feel that the 12 tone tuning is as arbitrary as feet and inches, or ounces and pounds."
Genesis: "So you're on the side of the brick wall."
Elaine: "Yes, because it's art. Feet and inches I wouldn't really protest because it's just a measurement, even though it's kind of silly. But with art and music, you have to smash down all the walls."
Genesis: [to Liz and Hae Young] "So you've both committed yourselves to this project ZIA, can you explain how you got drawn to work on this project?"
Hae Young: "Mainly because I was interested in the instrumentation, not using normal instrumentation and it being all electronic. And, also, the idea of microtonal music, I'm very interested in that as well."
Liz: "Well, I didn't have an outlet for any of my synthesis work I had done up to that point."
Genesis: "Are you also classically trained?"
Liz: "Yeah. All of us are piano players."
Genesis: "All piano players? Isn't the piano a fantastic instrument? It's one of the ultimate instruments."
Liz: "And all of my playing to the public has been piano and vocals and weird instrumentations, but it was not electronic at all. And that was my other interest. So ZIA has provided a good outlet to physically be able to play out, not in school, but in clubs and learn how the business works on that end."
Elaine: "To me, in Liz and Hae Young, I see me when I joined D.D.T. I was straight out of college, and I didn't really know how to go about being in a band. I'd been in bands in the 80's, but it was in New Mexico and wasn't anything that really went anywhere. I didn't have any experience with booking shows, or even getting the band gear set-up really happening. So joining D.D.T. really taught me everything I know."
Genesis: "What Zia is doing now is potentially as radical and innovative as what Throbbing Gristle were doing in 1975 . There are cycles that happen where one thing is built until it becomes a formula, which was not my intention, like industrial music. And someone else has to come along and break that down. The new generation is supposed to destroy the previous generation. One thing that fascinates me with ZIA is that it's confronting, if you like, the last bastion of westernization, western colonization, Judeo-Christian mechanisms, let's build printing presses, let's build weaving machines, let's make industry that deals with everything over and over again from the past. That's all based on repetitious formula and the expectation that you'll get the same thing again if you like it. We have factories to make things twice. Music is very much the same. That's why we called it 'industrial' to make that point. The whole way the west deals music is that it's repeatable. If someone's successful, we go 'oh yes, we can do that again.' 'She Loves You,' we can do that again, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand.' Even if it's someone like Iggy Pop."
Elaine: "You coined the word Industrial?"
Genesis: "Yes, on September 3, 1975, London Field's Park, in the morning, talking to Monte Cazazza. We were talking about what to call this music we were doing. Should we call it Factory Records? I thought that was too Warhol, too obvious. I said, 'well what about industrial'? We'd been talking about industrial this and industrial that all across the park. And the slogan was 'industrial music for industrial people."
Elaine: "See how much Genesis influenced me already? He hired Billy Idol, he coined the world Industrial."
Gen: "It's funny because people don't realize. It's odd to think that there was a specific hour of the day, and before that time, a genre didn't exist! How unusual in the terms of culture and music, that it should be so specific. The same with punk rock, Malcolm McLaren, in the same year, did the same thing. Although the word punk was already around, so there was a kind of a grey area. But he was the one who pinned it down. And then Mark Perry started 'sniffing glue,' made the first xeroxed fanzine at the same time. And he printed this page, learn 3 chords, form a band. Then, in the next issue, he interviewed me and I said, why learn 3 chords? Why learn any chords? Which is what you're saying in a way, why learn western music? One of the first premises of TG was no drummer, as that's rock and roll. And men always played lead guitar, so let Cosi play guitar, since she's a girl. But she said, 'I can't play.' That's even better! And she said 'it's too heavy' so we got a jigsaw and chopped the sides off. And she ended up with a stick guitar."
Hae Young: "You invented the stick guitar!"
Genesis: "By accident! It was that simple. She said 'it's too heavy' and we went [makes cutting sounds] - how's that?"
Elaine: "Rotary saw or saber saw?"
Genesis: "Saber saw."
Elaine: "We've got to know the details."
Genesis: "So what I'm really getting at, we're at a dangerous spot. I have this feeling that there are hot spots in culture where something becomes inevitable. A really major shift in the way something's done. And I think that happened with TG, and that happened with Elvis, and that happened with the Beatles, although they were less conscious of what was happening. There are moments in time with popular culture, be it art, music, or writing, where a shift is inevitable and all the previous rules get thrown out the window once and for all. There are 2 things that I feel make ZIA potentially very important and potentially able to do this. One of them is that you've even abandoned the game of the destruction of traditional instruments, which is the source of industrial music. Destroy rock and roll by destroying its instruments, and including electronics and the classical electronic experimental concepts. You're saying, forget all instruments, and forget Western tone scales and all these control systems. So the first part of the question is, do you believe that ZIA is at one of these intersections where it's inevitable, whether it's you or someone else, there's another major change happening in music. And part 2 is that I think it's significant that it's 3 female virtuosos who are choosing to do this."
Elaine: "That's a coincidence, I wasn't looking for just females."
Genesis: "Well I would argue that that's the inevitability of the change. There's been a huge shift since the 70's in terms of acceptance of women of all types in all genres of music. But there hasn't been a spawning of music in an absolutely new direction as of yet. So my first question is, are you the intersection of where the next inevitable big shift will happen?"
Elaine: "I hope so. But my fear is that people don't notice that we're that different, as we play pop music. I'm somehow able to write pop music with 10 notes per octave. I think the only thing people notice as extremely different are the instruments. So I'm not sure how much of a huge change I'm going to make, breaking down the barriers of tonal music, when people might not even realize I'm doing that."
Liz: "The biggest thing that people notice is that we're not playing 'normal' instruments. We're hitting things. We're hitting things with sticks, but we're not drummers. We're triggering things, and everything has a technical reason behind it, but it's not a guitar, not drums, not bass, not anything conventional. And that is what seems to stick in peoples minds, other than the beats which drive them to dance."
Hae Young: "It kind of builds a bridge. There's lots of people who play total experimental music, but we're doing pop music."
Elaine: "I guess that's what I've been trying to do."
Hae Young: "People get into our music, and it gets them interested in unusual instruments and styles."
Genesis: "So you educate, you can lead people across that bridge. So they understand more of the technical side of things."
Elaine: "I think, through interviews, it helps people to learn, and maybe putting a little note on the cd saying this is microtonal. People gradually realize what we're doing."
Liz: "In the club scene, we're the type of band where they don't know where to stick us with other people. So we've played with reggae bands, with death rock, we've played with hard core, every possible style you can think of, we've played on the same bill. Because they don't know where to stick us. In Boston, there was a severe lacking of electronic bands. And they didn't want to stick us with DJ's, even though we're electronic. So we ended up getting put on bills with some of the most interesting combinations of musical styles. But it totally works."
Hae Young: "Or when there are other bands with samplers or electronics, we'd get put on the same bill just because of that. It doesn't matter what kind of music they are."
Liz: "Or it would be an all girls show, with 5 different styles."
Genesis: "How do you feel about the gender issue?"
Elaine: "I don't know, it's just silly. It's like reversed sexism, you know it's sexism but it's to your advantage."
[At this point the phone rang, and then it was decided to open a bottle of wine. Contact us if you’d like to be alerted when the 2nd half of this interview is finally up!]