di Giovanni Panetta
Interview to Weasel Walter, the sarcastic noiser between free jazz and no wave. A conversation about the new album (Flying Luttenbachers' Negative Infinity) and past projects.
Weasel Walter

Weasel Walter live @ San Diego, 3/5/2020. Ph. Becky DiGiglio.

The multi-instrumentalist/composer/producer Weasel Walter, nom de plume of Christopher Todd Walter, districates everytime in freeway territory, between punk/metal anarchy and improvvised/meditated free jazz chaos. He was born in 1972 to Rockford, in Illinois, and in 1990 he moved in the Capital City of the State (Chicago), where the next year, take life the now wave trio Flying Luttenbachers; in these ones, through their name are clear spectacular simil-circus-like ambitions and in which there are the presence of an one of the first members’ almost-unpronuncable family name (that is the saxophonist Hal Russell, stage name of Harold Luttenbacher). Through this project, where he plays the role of drummer, but also guitarist, saxophonist and clarinetist, Weasel Walter gives an important contribute to free improvisation, offering a mix of atonal jazz, punk, New Yorker no wave and death metal. Another decisive contribution is given by Skin Graft Records, with Revenge Of The Flying Luttenbachers, Gods of Chaos and “…The Truth Is a Fucking Lie…”, where is dominant a elastic, dinamic and angular no wave (or now wave) aestethics; instead with the next works there will be developments from those preconditions through other directons, to a most properly free jazz way (Trauma), through a most pleasently exacerbating anarchy of sounds (Systems Emerge From Complete Disorder), or tendencies on obscure sonorities (Void). In 2007, Walter disbanded Flying Luttenbachers, and in the meantime important collaborations were born, in particular XBXRX, originated from Alabama, with an alternative deep structure with evident no wave elements. It followed other several work with Lydia Lunch, Burmese, Cellular Chaos, David Buddin, XBXRX, etc…

Negative Infinity cover (2021)

Negative Infinity cover (2021)

In 2017 Weasel Walter refound Flying Luttenbachers, for all intents and purposes a soloist project with a ever-changing formation. 9 July of this year, ugEXPLODE (Weasel Walter’s label, in activity from 1992) and GOD Records released FL’s last record, that is Negative Infinity, realized through a new apocalyptic progressive music attitude. We turned to Weasel, a great libertarian musician and very kind in the next conversation (with any fine sarcastic jokes); we talked with him on several topics on Flying Luttenbachers and other projects and collaborations. Following our interview.

Let’s start from the present. Can you talk about the last Flying Luttenbachers album Negative Infinity, and how was its idea of “brutal-progressive” attitude?

After two albums of wacky jazz fusion, I figured I should take possible advantage of the global epidemic and force my musicians to rehearse some actual compositions, not that it turned out to be any kind of cakewalk, but it happened. Ha ha ha. We rehearsed the stuff regularly for half a year, went in one day, banged out the takes, and that was that. So far we haven’t played the material on this album live, but I look forward to doing it. I’m a lot less interested in improvising than I am writing right now. Getting people to learn, internalize and execute my music properly hasn’t gotten any easier over the years, I’m afraid. I’m looking to put together a new group of people that want to concentrate on really nailing my complex material in the next phase. I switched to guitar for this album, since I had a great drummer (Sam Ospovat) and the stuff needed two guitarists, particularly the long piece. I want to continue on guitar in the future. The front line needs my confrontational intensity to push the music to the next level.

The album Negative Infinity is emblematic in its amorphous sound, in its non-euclidean geometry, with a nihilistic attitude between naiveté of free jazz, sardonicism of punk and grind metal. Fury Of The Delusion is the most melodic of the album, but it is characterized by a hypnotic line of the sax with acid and sharp colors. But after that the listening becomes more cacophonic, in the sign of Apocalypse, as you write on the Bandcamp linear notes; in particular the suite On The Verge Of Destruction is a swirling and powerful fugue solid as a wall of sound. So, sonorities are more different from the American noise/no/now wave poetry, and in a certain sense there is a indirect (if you want) influence of European or Japanese noise, with your elastic and more kaleidoscopic lights you offer with the records. How much is there the willing presence of music of Japan or Europe in Negative Infinity?

Hmmm. Well, the oeuvre of so-called “modern classical” music has a lot of influence on my writing. Stuff like Bartok, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Xenakis, the serialists, etc. so, there’s the European influence. These composers’ approach to structure and motivic development has been important to me. Also the European approach to free improvisation rears its head often in my playing and music – Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, et al. It is a distinctly different kind of flavor compared to the average American free jazz, which tends to be horizontal and less fractured, with a more linear sense of narrative or development. In terms of the Japanese, I love the hardcore ‘60s/’70s free jazz by people like Masayuki Takayanagi, Yosuke Yamashita Trio, etc. I enjoy the way they took free music ideals and added their own extreme sensibilities to it. I listened to all the Japanese noise stuff as it came out in the early ‘90s when it was fresh, but don’t really follow it much anymore. When something becomes reduced to an idiomatic formula, it becomes harder and harder to care about the bulk of it, although occasionally something worthy pokes through. This is part of the reason why I didn’t need to make more improvised Luttenbachers albums right now – we’ve done enough of that for the time being and it was time to move on to more composed matters. The agenda of the Luttenbachers is whatever I feel like pursuing at any given time.

Weasel Walter

Weasel Walter live. Ph. Peter Gannushkin.

Let’s talk about your return with Flying Luttenbachers, in 2019. In that year you published two albums. Imminent Death is characterized in a certain sense by an electric and alienating free jazz, in an elastic way. Instead, we can hear the European noise matrix in Shattered Dimension, where a majestic pleasently exacerbating music is the main element, with physical power of sound as a material entity. Can you talk about FL return? And In particular what are the primary references on Shattered Dimension?

The first murmurs of the new Flying Luttenbachers came in early 2017, when I did a 7 date tour of French cities with a trio of Tim Dahl on bass, Chris Welcome on guitar and myself on drums. The promoters made an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I put that lineup together and we learned a long set of classic material from all the previous eras. The concerts went well, but I was bored rehashing the old stuff. I thought about what direction I could go in for a while before finally putting the group together that did “Shattered Dimension” and “Imminent Death”, which were both largely improvised affairs. The harmolodic traffic jams of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time figure prominently in the first one and Miles Davis’ ‘70s bands on the second. We did European tours for each of those records plus a few US shows, then the epidemic hit before we could hit the road again. It’s hard to say when the Luttenbachers will play live again, but I’m already working on the next two albums, which will have significantly different approaches than the previous ones, of course. Ultimately, the Luttenbachers has ultimately turned out to be myself, plus whoever seems most interesting and available. When it’s time to switch things up, I just go ahead and do it. It’s better to risk the change and find new possibilities than depend on a formula. I want to work on what I’m excited about, and that focus changes from year to year, so I often need to find new musicians that can deal with my concepts. This sometimes this means adding some people and subtracting others. I wouldn’t mind things being more creatively democratic, but it rarely happens for whatever reason, so I just make most of the main decisions.

The trio/quartet you have before, Cellular Chaos, show a noise punk in a more ethereal feeling, which there was aleatoric schemes with an iced climate. Those sounds recall eighties/nineties Sonic Youth partially and some metal digressions (in this sense is interesting Chinese New Year of homonymous record), with a plastic manipulation in a Skin Graft way. The group passes through free improvisations of the beginning, in the sign of your elastic exacerbating musical story. Indeed, we can say two instances in the project: improvisation and well-ordered chaos. But what was the real intention with this band in the complexity? Can you talk about its complete course? Moreover, will the project restore itself one day?

Not too many people got Cellular Chaos. What we did wasn’t very fashionable. It was an uphill battle, but I felt it had to be done. Apparently, a weird, high energy rock and roll band with killer songs, incredible singer and awesome stage presence isn’t really very interesting to most people at this point in history? Ha ha ha. Fuck everybody. I’m extremely proud of our output, and at least it’s there for people to discover in the future, if there is one. I do consider Admiral Grey to be my greatest songwriting partner and a top-notch performer, so hopefully we can do more at some point. We don’t live in the same town anymore, so the logistics are complicated. Cellular Chaos had nothing to do with Sonic Youth whatsoever. Our sound was a mixture of punk, no wave, glam, noise, free jazz and extreme metal. Basically the same shit I always do. The approach of the New York no wave groups from the late 1970s is what you’re actually hearing. Nothing against Sonic Youth, but they were the watered down version of that impetus, i.e. more people have heard of them than the original archetypes, so people get that wrong all the time. Also, no crazy tunings in Cellular Chaos for the most part – just dumb old EADGBE!!! At first it was a thing I threw together just to get something going when I moved to New York in 2009. It turned into what it ultimately became when Admiral joined up and inserted her concepts and personality into the mix. I wouldn’t say that we were so concerned with complexity as much as we just made stuff we thought was cool. We didn’t dumb it down to meet anybody else’s expectations. I will always be interested in the elements of surprise/unpredictability in composition, whether it’s more straight ahead rock stuff like XBXRX or Cellular Chaos or something more complex like Luttenbachers or Behold the Arctopus. I am particularly interested in the deliberate use of dissonance and heavy harmonic gravity in my writing, no matter what the context is. I have a bunch of signature techniques I use when composing and that’s part of the continuity of the diverse work I have made. Ultimately, Cellular Chaos got burnt out on the lack of audience support after fighting for so many years to keep working. Maybe one day the conditions will be right for us to do more, but for now, there’s nothing going on.

Weasel Walter

Weasel Walter live. Ph. Johan Vipper.

There was a collaboration with avantgarde musician David Buddin, through the album Quodlibet, which was published on 2015 for ugEXPLODE Production, and through your mastering of his work Canticles For Electronic Music; in Quodlibet, his serialist jazzlike sound on the piano generates cubic and chaotic/baroque patterns, and your percussive music drew in a grindish and granular way, and your contribute seemed to give a round and smooth form to the album geometry. Can you tell us something more about your avantgard experience, and what was the stimulus you wanted to give to that genre?

Dave was one of the roommates I had for a while when I lived in South Brooklyn with Tim Dahl and Dominika from Chaser. He’s a very strange character, appearing to be some sort of alcoholic music professor from the American South or something like that. He is very concerned with perpetuating the idiom of serialist composition, which is something I also happen to enjoy. He would say there’s zero jazz influence in his music. He hates improvised music as a matter of policy. He thinks it’s lazy, incoherent nonsense. Ha ha ha. At one point, he was working on some stuff and I asked if I could play drums over it and release it. He thought it was a bizarre idea – a nexus between tightly controlled composition and free improvisation – but he humored me.

We can say you renewed the Alabamian noise band XBXRX, where the noise/outsider sound encounters free/indie structures, with an original formula, as a cut-up of past history. Your role was important in every structure of the newer XBXRX tracks, in the name of nihilistic sonorities. Can you talk about that more specifically?

I definitely helped kick XBXRX back into gear. We had all moved to the Bay Area of California around the same time and we banded together to create new momentum for the project. The group was very collaborative/democratic for the most part, although I contributed a good amount of finished compositions as well. I’m responsible for the production of “Sixth in Sixes” and I think anybody who knows my work can hear it. I had a lot of input on the songs but not so much the production on “Wars”. “Sounds” was a totally improvised album. Vice and Steve were always totally game to try new things and they liked the obtuse ideas I brought in. A bunch of my stray “rock” ideas found a home in XBXRX. We played a tons of crazy, intense shows in many varied situations around the world to a lot of people, but at this point, I’m not sure what effect it had. I know there are people are out there who were inspired and blown away by us, but I rarely hear about it. From my perspective, all I can do is put the work out there and hope for the best. I do it because I think it has to be done, not to get a pat on the back. We wanted to be a weird, intense and powerful band, pushing the limits of what was possible sonically and physically.

Let’s talk about past works of your main project, that is Flying Luttenbachers indeed. The album before the interruption, Incarceration By Abstraction, where you played all the instruments (except in the last track, The First Time), flows through a progressive lyricism with the ever-present chaotic manifestation. The melodic lines are an expression of the grandeur through technicism with heterodox art brut style. There’s also a verbal contribution of Johnatan Joe and Aurora Josephson, with a dreamy and consonant impostation, which represent a black sheep (or a white sheep in an obscure flock..) in the work. Can you talk about the context and the different feelings in this last step before the temporary pause?

Even when I’m writing very complex music, there is still a melodic sensibility at play. Maybe people can’t hear it, but I’m always trying to be “catchy”, even when the material is very abstract. Classic rock music is in my blood and I don’t deny that. “The First Time” was a composition I wrote for a glam/punk group I was in during the mid ‘90s called Vanilla. I made the music and my bandmate, the unrecognized genius Jonathan Joe aka Cho-Yun Li came up with the brilliant lyrics and vocal arrangement. His work on it is really what transformed the instrumental into a masterpiece. It still makes me laugh every time I hear it. It’s so bombastic and the words tell a very personal, specific tale. I thought it would be a twist to have the only Flying Luttenbachers track with vocals be the final statement. It’s very perverse, right? I stopped the project because it was feeling very overwrought and futile. Circa “Cataclysm” (recently reissued as a double LP with live DVD by the Italian Improved Sequence label), I had the greatest lineup, playing the most well conceived music, yet people seemed to be disinterested in it. It was really painful to me, particularly because of all the ambition and hard labor that went into making that stuff happen. It just wasn’t sustainable. When that lineup broke up, I decided to go out on a high note and give The Flying Luttenbachers a rest until I really felt it needed to exist again. There isn’t anybody really doing what I’m trying to do, so I feel like it is needed now, more than ever. I am extremely disinterested in what other groups are doing these days and feel like this is the worst period of contemporary music I have lived through. This is exactly why I feel I must continue The Luttenbachers to oppose all this lousy bullshit by example.

Noise sound, that expresses an anti-Euclidean sonic cascade, with a micro-granular consistency and precision, characterizes Cataclysm, between no wave and progressive elements another time. But the dress it wears is different; more chaotic architecture, looking forward to Japanoise poetry with more circular Canterburian/European harmonies. What was its course? Do you think that record is the encounter of many different idiosyncratic/elastic elements that has been spreaded in the world during the most recent Music History?

Similarities with Rock In Opposition, probably, but Japanoise and Canterbury? No. Ha ha ha. Neither movement had anything to do with it. “Cataclysm” is just an advanced realization of my various pet concepts, as I said before. It’s always the same shit, but I am limited by the resources and personnel in terms of how it comes out. That lineup was particularly adept musically and really understood my structures and had the discipline to play them correctly, with personality and feeling. I will always hold Ed Rodriguez, Mick Barr and Mike Green in high esteem for the work they did with me, as well as their inspiring companionship and enthusiasm. If you can get everybody on board, things can always go further. Case in point. I come up with compositions because I get ideas for specific, abstract concepts I want to express, then I try making it happen. I could break down each piece on that record and tell you exactly what inspired it, or what it is doing in terms of narrative or approach. I could do that with everything I’ve ever written, as a matter of fact. At that point I had musicians that could execute that range of ideas, so we just did the work and documented it. The newly released DVD, “Live Cataclysm” should shed some light on that particular lineup. We were well rehearsed and pulled off everything we did live obviously. The album was recorded in one day, as most of them have been.

Weasel Walter

Weasel Walter live. Ph. Peter Gannushkin.

In the Burmese EP Colony Collapse Disorder (2009) you gave a contribution through your drumming. There are two basses (Mike Glenn and Mike Green), two drums (Mark Small and you) and one vocalist (the Hong Kongese painter Tissue). The sound is magnificently grind and cacophonic, with a smart structure which made everything of it, idiosyncratically pleasant. I know there were several other links between you and Burmese, for example the Mike Glenn contribute in different Flying Luttenbachers albums. But what were in particular the feelings during the work of that EP? How did that collaboration of that time happen?

I play on “Colony Collapse” as well as the full LP “Lun Yurn”, which followed it. I loved Burmese before I was a member, loved it during, still love it after. They are one of the great unrecognized groups, in my opinion. They just keep going and do what they want to do. Zero compromise. The key with Burmese was keeping things brutal but structurally unexpected, which is something I like to do, so the collaboration was very easy. Most of the material was written in the rehearsal room, with everybody pitching in, so everybody really got a chance to make the music their own. Mike Green was in the Luttenbachers for several years (not the other Mike!) and I always thought he was a swell guy and a very determined self-taught musician with solid aesthetic sensibilities. I think “Lun Yurn” is a fine document of my time in Burmese. We played lots of devastating gigs. The last one I did with them before moving to New York was opening for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. A lot of the crowd didn’t get us – which shows you what idiots they are. These clowns are coming to see Teenage Jesus but can’t wrap their heads around our band taking basically the same approach? Well, Lydia thought we were kickass, and, guess what, I have been playing music with her for almost 10 years now and done hundreds of gigs around the world with her, so I guess my instincts were completely correct. Most people are idiots about cultural matters. Clueless. I make this stuff for myself and the people who get it. Everybody else can fuck off and die. I have no problem with my music bumming people out. That’s part of why I do it. I’m happy to make squares and losers uncomfortable. I committed my life to this stuff and I have sacrificed so much to do it that I just laugh at some people’s stupid, pathetic negative comments. Whatever. I did the work. What did they do? Have some dumb opinion? Get lost. Ha ha ha.

Systems Emerge From Complete Disorder of Flying Luttenbachers Is maybe one of most important Flying Luttenbachers album; the futuristic harsh implosive electronics collides with the ever-present analog hyper-free music, rhythmic and progressively atonal. The structuring logic is libertarian, but there are present music archetypes in a decomposed and deformed form, where the kaleidoscopic, plastic and the fugue-like manipulation is the main element. Musical series (those fugues) give an abstract, surrealist, mathematical form; infact, they get a logic form, imposed by casual but realistic schemes. Chaotic laws as course of Nature, and as general artistic processes, more aleatoric too. Infact your parameters are metal music, free jazz and punk, and they derive from a past or present pop attitude, like much of rock ‘n’ roll music. The question is: How much have you given importance to the pop instances of your influences and listenings? How much could be intelligent give a certain priority to these ingredients in your mix?

Thanks for hearing “Systems Emerge” for what it is. I think it is one of the most ambitious examples of my personal aesthetics so far. It pushed every parameter. The music reflects where I was mentally at that point. I felt unstoppable and had something to prove and my mind was expanded from doing strong LSD. Once again, something like “Systems” is the opposite of “pop”, but I believe there is a melodic and harmonic core to it that stems from my love of rock music. Every choice I make compositionally has a reason behind it or a clear function. It has to be doing something determinate structurally, or pushing the music towards a goal. There’s not much randomness about what I do, except that elements of improvisation are sometimes used to make the end result more asymmetrical and free. There are different energies that come from playing composed music or improvising. Adding them together can achieve a unique alchemy. I love good songs and I think I write good songs. I have no reason to write about love, my feelings and other pedestrian bullshit though. My music is abstract and it is trying to transcend the mundanity of the human condition, so you’re not going to find any trite lyrics with any of the things I’m associated with. The visceral nature of rock music is obviously very resonant in my body of work. I come from a working class background, so I’m not scared to get my hands dirty. I don’t write music for any specific audience. It’s for me, but I’m glad if anybody else likes it.

Trauma is a free jazz record which plays with an idea of micro-rhythm, and, in a certain way it is influenced by grindcore music; the extreme and speed repetition of the beat offers a math baroque form on that free music (anyway, with a meditated approach). It seems to come down or up on an incline, where that surface describes a polychrome fractal, that is perfectly smooth from a further point of view. Do you share my simile? And what does the record mean for you? It is an album in a certain sense different from other ones, with a more linear structure.

“Trauma” came from a period in Chicago where I felt both surrounded and overshadowed by mediocre improvised music and players, so it was my doctrine on what I thought free music should be: violent, relentless, wild and alien. Very extreme in all regards, including instrumental technique. We successfully pushed the standards of high energy free jazz into a new realm. This is the point: not to simply just make “more” of something, but take the essence of it and propel it further, into new directions. There’s way too much mediocre free jazz and improvised music on this planet, so when I do it, I’m reaching for something transcendent and I work the other players very hard and don’t want to do what is expected. Nothing is more boring than bad improvisers going through their dull routines on stage. Horrible. There has to be blood, fire, sweat, insanity, surprise or why bother? There was a constant momentum and perhaps even an implied fast tempo to the “Trauma” stuff that you are obviously detecting. That’s just what I do when I improvise. Not everything has to be dense and fast, but even when it’s sparse and slow, that momentum must be there, or implied through the choices made. This goes for all my music. It must always express intensity and urgency, but there are many ways to do it other than being loud and fast all the time. In the case of “Trauma”, loud and fast was exactly the point though! It was a reaction to lots of boring “lowercase” improv that was happening at the time. We came to beat up the nerds in the schoolyard and shove them inside their lockers. Ha ha ha. It was pretty macho, but that was what was needed at the time to prove a point.

At the end of this interview, if you want, tell us your next project, and what we have to expect from your future music?

“The global epidemic has limited my possibilities. I have found that many of my peers did not use the extra time the quarantine allowed to push their work forward in significant ways. This is very disappointing to me. I don’t get it. I do understand being depressed by the situation or losing inspiration, but it was a missed opportunity for them! I did what I could, but didn’t have so many people to work with. I am going to be spending more time in Chicago in the future, so I‘m anxious to start new projects with people. I already have a concept for some new Luttenbachers stuff and hope to have a kickass touring unit by next year, hopefully coming to Europe to wage war against mediocrity! Lydia Lunch Retrovirus just got back from a 10 day US tour and none of us got Covid, so that’s a relief. I’m not sure what the future brings, but I always have tons of ideas. Collaboration is very important to me. I could crank out solo stuff all day, but it’s the result that comes through partnerships that I value the most. That’s where the new directions lie. I am not complacent. I want my art to keep improving and moving forward. It’s a community effort. Some of us embody the voice of opposition and we keep striving to make a creative stand for the people who understand, enjoy and get it.”

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