We spoke with Arrington de Dionyso about how all art is a form of translation, his history-stuffed Washington studio, making the most out of being targeted by internet trolls and why water in motion is beautiful.
All of my music and art is about translation – translating thoughts and experiences that don’t make sense or that cannot be explained with the tools we have at hand.
I think it’s kind of rare to have such a multidisciplinary background as yourself. Not only have you performed in English and Indonesian, solo and in the band Malaikat Dan Singa, with throat-singing and a myriad of instruments – you’re also an accomplished painter. What are the connective themes between all your different types of work? How do you look back on everything you’ve accomplished?
Arrington de Dionyso
I try to make sure I look forward at least twice as much as I look back, but with a mind to the deep present now. I’m a time traveler sometimes. It speeds up and slows down according to the music. I’ve performed in a lot of languages – I thought I would be a linguist when I grew up but music took over my life before I could wrestle control.
All of my music and art is about translation – translating thoughts and experiences that don’t make sense or that cannot be explained with the tools we have at hand. We lost true religion generations ago but we still have the yearning, I try to say that in music because it can build connectivity in a way that is lost with words alone. People like having things to look at too, so the paintings fill the void.
Personally, I’ve gotten a charge out of doing a dozen projects at once for many years. But due to some personal changes, I’ve been much more enamored with the idea of slowing down, trimming away some of the excess, working on one or two things. Do you tend to take breaks or just do the continual creative explosion, thriving off the activity?
The myth of the continual creative explosion marches along brightly to the beats tapped out by the dirty fingernails of capitalism. We all buy into it, I buy into it. We still use money no matter our professed ideology. To be “prolific” is to enrapture the imagination with the gloss of unending productivity. I am constantly ashamed of how little I actually produce, how little I actually accomplish. I mean, I just got back from touring through five countries, came home for three days and then did a tour playing saxophone with Oh Sees, now I’m home and I feel lazy. I’m trying to clean my painting studio, raise money to send to Puerto Rico and start a batik trading business with some friends in Indonesia. I’m also playing a bunch of shows this weekend, too, but I always feel like it’s not enough. I’m grasping at a sweet and juicy tantalizing fruit that keeps pulling out of reach.
I’ve always loved seeing your new paintings. They have so many live-wire elements to them – raw celebration, sexuality, animism. What are you currently working on?
Well, I just got back from tour so I don’t really have anything just started, but I’d love to tell you about my studio.
I rent a small office space downtown in a building with a lot of history. A lot of Olympia’s most important artists lived illegally in this building back in the 1980s, the original Sub Pop began here (when it was just a fanzine, not even a label yet) and so did the infamous LMNOP that was the Lost Music Network (which lead to OP magazine). Almost ten years before riot grrrl was a thing, there was a radical feminist artist collective called Girl Land that was actually in the same suite my studio is in, started by Stella Marrs and her friends. I usually work pretty late so I get to hear all the obnoxious drunks yelling in the streets when the bars get out.
In the alley behind the building and under the front awning, there are encampments of houseless people who set up late every night and are gone before people come downtown for work in the morning. My partner also has her art studio here, and we share the suite with a friend who designs role playing games. I have a ton of crazy instruments here, mostly saxophones and clarinets but also some oddities from around the world and some I’ve built. There is a pottery studio directly below me, so I try not to play too loudly until after they’re closed, but then sometimes I feel weird about bothering the people who have to sleep underneath the front awning.
I have always believed that making music is a spiritual act. There is a special spiritual power you access when you make music with the right intention.
Let’s rewind to the period in your life when you were traveling through Indonesia, absorbing its incredibly diverse music and culture into your own work. What was that whole experience like? Any unforgettable stories or situations?
I’ve been to Indonesia four times now – in 2011, 2013, 2015 and just last month in 2017. It’s so difficult to just summarize the totality of my experiences there in a few words. I created the Malaikat dan Singa project as a way to further develop that “translation” concept into something weird and wild that I could use to actually reach out to the other side of the world and find a way to establish new relationships through music and culture, like the Voyager satellite or a message in a bottle. People found my YouTube videos and it sparked enough dialogue and interest that I was able to secure an invitation from the best organizers of contemporary Indonesian art-punk events in Yogyakarta. Yes No Wave Music Club offered to help organize both a short residency and a tour of nine different cities, and helped me find musicians excited to collaborate in a new way.
Touring in Indonesia is wonderfully exciting and can also be incredibly frustrating. While there is a huge amount of interest in new music and experimentation in the arts in general, you don’t find the same kind of infrastructure for clubs and bars and theaters like you do in many other countries. In some towns organizers need to get special permission to organize a concert, which can be complicated because it also means that the band performing is responsible for renting the PA equipment and a generator. It can be really difficult to confirm a lot of details in advance of actually arriving physically, but the upside is that a lot of really cool events can are organized very last minute- even in the same day! Once word gets out via text messages, usually a lot of people will show up to check something out.
A lot of my best musical experiences there aren’t so much in the big concert festivals but at a sanggar, which is like a community run arts and culture center. Sometimes it’s just someone’s house, but it’s an open area for people to come and practice music, dance and other cultural arts. I find myself in a unique position to act as sort of a cultural diplomat and sometimes I am able to act as a bridge between different communities within the same place. For example, while my own music fits in well enough with a “punk/noise/rock” scene, it’s more interesting for me to try reaching out to masters of traditional music to propose new collaborations. That usually results in having the punk/noise kids also getting to learn something about the old music at the same time (and vice versa), and it’s always interesting to witness the introductions as they’re first being made. People always ask me a lot of questions.
I have always believed that making music is a spiritual act. There is a special spiritual power you access when you make music with the right intention, and that’s a concept that is very familiar to almost any Indonesian musician. They know all about making music to enter into a trance, for healing and talking to spirits. So it’s very easy to communicate on that level even when there are misunderstandings with language.
I like seeing water in motion. It feels like the mist coming up from the water falls purifies the air around it.
I’ve been very interested in the overall path the planet is going in, and one of the most saddening parts to me has been the destruction of the oceans. It opens this raw anger in myself. What part of our ecosystem or natural settings do you feel most connected to, and why?
I remember looking in my father’s telescope as a kid and being gobsmacked by the whole thing. It was like either a higher power was huge and shockingly real, or we were in this cold, tiny corner of nowhere. What is your understanding of astronomy, outer space and the cosmos? How do you process these unfathomably vast concepts in your own mind?
Kabbalah is all about that – developing a language that transcends language so we can actually think about infinity while laughing at how ridiculous it is to try to think about the unthinkable.
I understand that you went through a very difficult period last year, when some alt-right Internet groups began to target you over some misconstrued paintings. I guess it had to do with what they called “Pizzagate,” that asinine conspiracy theory. How are things now? Has the pressure been eased? How have you been able to find recourse or come to terms with that nightmare?
I tried to make the most of the publicity and take charge of the narrative to my own advantage. It sort of worked out okay in that regard, and I feel like I would be able to share some strategizing ideas with anyone being harassed through online forums in that way. The troubling thing about that Pizzagate bullshit is that it’s part of a bigger picture, an all-out assault on consensus reality itself. Pizzagate was just a laboratory for evil people (and bots) to see how far they could go with throwing absolutely indefensible lies onto an unsuspecting public. Unfortunately, it’s only a tiny piece of a bigger, more horrifying puzzle, for which I can’t offer any permanent solution. It’s full-on Phillip K. Dick reality we’re looking at now. What is anyone supposed to do?
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: October 20, 2017
Total questions: 7
Word count: 1800
Reading time: Six minutes
Music: Spiritual act
Arrington de Dionyso, art, diplomacy, generator, Indonesia, infrastructure, K Records, Kabbalah, Malaikat dan Singa, mist, music, noise, Olympia, OP Magazine, PA, paintings, Phillip K. Dick, Pizzagate, prolificacy, punk, purification, salmon, saxophone, Seattle, spirituality, Stella Marrs, studio, throat singing, time travel, Tumwater Falls, void, Washington, wrestle, Yes No Wave Music Club, Yogyakarta
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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