Splitting the Deepest Roots With Warren Realrider

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When I think about some of the most exciting developments in noise and experimental music from Oklahoma over the last decade, Warren Realrider (Pawnee/Crow) is one of the first people that comes to mind. His solo project, Ticksuck, is a visceral expression that goes beyond harsh noise or power electronics even if those elements are present. Realrider’s work is saturated with echoes of the land where he grew up and the spaces he inhabits. So often I found myself pulled into his worlds of sound and fully encapsulated in a new, unfamiliar universe. Catharsis and contemplation exist in brutal harmony as he explores the base nature of these sounds.

Warren Realrider can be found via the Ticksuck Bandcamp.

So to start, what role did music and sound have in your life when you were a kid? Are there any particular memories or experiences that really stand out as being formative when you were young, related to sound?

Before forming my own musical tastes and listening practices, the music around me as a child played a significant role in forming an early appreciation for the way sound and song are so intertwined with life. Early on the Pawnee and other tribal music around me really shaped my understanding of sound and its connection to life. That music and the sounds of Pawnee doings were ubiquitous to me growing up. Along with enjoying those cultural sounds my family were also popular music fans. I have two older sisters who were going through their own musical discoveries as teens and young adults when I was still very young. I grew up hearing Kiss, 70’s & 80’s pop, and disco because of them. I also remember being obsessed with album cover art and information from my family’s record collection. Country music that my parents and grandparents listened to played a huge role in my life as well. Riding in pickup trucks driving all over the country, listening to music about that life was and still is significant.

How did you first get involved with noise and experimental music? And can you talk a little about the role Tulsa Noise has had with your music?

I have been a fan/collector of experimental sound recordings and information from the early ’90s and have always had an interest in discovering how these sounds were created. I had incorporated some sound elements into my visual art practice once I had entered college painting studies in the late ’90s but my focused involvement in sound and performance came much later. In 2015 I had reconnected with my cousin Nathan Young after he had moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had been releasing his own music and performing for years at that point. He brought that momentum and way of working with him to Tulsa. Experimental, noise, non-genre-specific shows began to happen regularly, which were centered around Nathan and Eastern Oklahoma noise legend Matt Hex. Those two encouraged me to join the fray and things really started rolling. They eventually formed Tulsa Noise in 2018 to make a movement out of all the creativity bubbling from outside and inside Tulsa. To see people like Justice Yeldham, Crank Sturgeon, and Ritual Chair to name a few, alongside Okie locals like Bonemagic, Natty Gray, Blurt, etc. has been truly inspiring. I really don’t think I would be doing what I do now without all of the people and sounds associated with Tulsa Noise.

You do other types of art too, right? How do the different mediums work together and influence each other in expressing the ideas you are working with?

I still dabble in visual art and I definitely bring sculptural and material art elements into current projects. Many of the ideas I’ve incorporated into my performances and recordings are either unused concepts for installations with specific materials and objects, or they may be connected to other pieces created throughout my past body of work. The use of sound and performance has opened up whole new lanes for my ideas to exist in and at the same time, it is pushing me to work in other mediums that are completely new to me such as video.

In what ways do you try to incorporate your background and growing up in the Pawnee Nation and your Crow background in your work and practice? 

I don’t avoid incorporating my identity, as it is always present on some level in everything I work on. I grew up hearing drums, bells, singing, language, etc. in those cultures from before I was born, and all that is very ingrained in my base knowledge of what sound is and how it functions. So I feel like I’ve naturally been working through the use of various sounds that reference that part of me. Some examples would be sampling Pawnee songs, use of the bell types utilized in Pawnee dancing, or field recordings from culturally specific sites or events. The inclusion of elements such as Pawnee words, symbolism, and sounds also keeps me engaged with a strong yet precariously placed culture that has been systematically undermined for the last few hundred plus years. I have a responsibility to be Pawnee no matter where I am at in relation to that core tribal unit and energy of that way of life.

One description of your practice that really resonated with me is how you ‘use contemporary music technology to process and deconstruct sound,’ but I wonder if you could expand a little on what this means to you?

To me, this would be a certain approach to creation that uses every day sounds like a field recording or even an instrument that is traditional like a cymbal, and utilizing whatever currently available technology is at hand to change the sounds in a way that places them in a new relationship to each other and their new electronic existence. An example would be recording birds flying around a highway then combining that with a drum sample distorted to abstraction as a composition that will be uploaded to some distant internet server for an implied everlasting. The technology makes getting that sound from point A to point B very fast, I can record and transmit that track easily and quickly from the side of that highway. Besides the crazy amount of sound creation possibilities, there is now a time/distribution axis to it all that has its own spectrum of choices to be made. That technological portal of convenience is important to the work as it facilitates the transformation of all the elements into a new creation that moves in its own trajectory with a new intent that may even leave its creator behind. 

What are some of the most important tools of your setup and process? I admire how, in your performances especially, you get so much from a seemingly minimal setup. Is your work mostly improvised or do you write scores/compositions and build from there?

I feel like right now contact mics and audio cables are the most important tools because the ability to input material sound is very important to me. Hopefully, those signals are traveling to an “in the red” PA system as well. The importance of those elements probably speaks to my desire to be very direct and to the point with my work. My minimal setup also comes from that same way of thinking about my sound. The beginning of that approach was right before the Tulsa Noisefest in 2019. I saw a promo picture of one of the performers, Dr. Noise, who had a table with 100 effects pedals or something crazy like that. Seeing that and other excessive noise rigs made me want to move away from gear overload, so for that show, I started with a single no-input Digitech death metal pedal for an intro then the second part was a chain of 3 distortion pedals. That minimal setup got the point across beautifully. Since that performance, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to use less equipment to achieve my sound, especially in the live setting. 

I would say I approach my live work from an improvisational mindset. The work is sometimes totally free but I will also frequently work with an implied structure within the sounds. When I’m recording there is still that element of improvisation but the recording process also lends itself to composing within the machine. 

Another thing about your work that always strikes such a chord with me is how you use locations as another instrument. Is there something specific you look for in a location when choosing it to be part of your work or are there other things you’re looking for and thinking about first?

Every location is chosen for its own specific reason but I think a common thread running through all is that they are a place of convergence. It may be converging generations of people or converging forms of land use & development. I am drawn to those places for the depth of history and meaning that resides there. These places hold a human emotional element as well, which can evoke their own breadth of feelings. Whether it is myself or a collaborator working within these locations I hope to find a good connection to that space that is very real and true.

How did these ideas translate over into the radio show you did for Radio Coyote, Until We Cross All Waters, specifically with choosing writers and poets you wanted to feature and finding the right spaces that their work connects with?

The poets I’ve worked with so far, Joshua Deadfeather Garrett & Abby Rush, are two people that I have close connections with. Joshua and I had collaborated on several projects before this one and I have always admired his written work, and Abby is my niece who I watched grow up into the amazing poet she is today. For these two people, I knew a whole lot about their tribal and family backgrounds so I asked them to read their work in the physical locations that inspired their words and lives. We also talked about what field recordings I would be using and how they would help convey some of the feeling and culture of these places. Finding the locations to record happened very naturally and through conversations with both poets, I feel like we were spot on with the connections we made with word, place, and sound.

I feel like water is an important piece of a lot of your work – with the name of the show, I think about the piece you did for Atomic Culture last year recorded at the river and Unassigned Data for OK Contemporary – can you talk a little about the importance of water, specifically, with your work?

The appearance of water in my works comes from a couple places. I grew up with a close relationship with the creeks and rivers around my homelands near Tulsa and Pawnee. I had a natural curiosity as a kid wanting to explore those places and there is also a deep cultural connection to those places that I have really learned more about as an adult. So from that foundation came ideas for water/land-based works and looking to those close relatives for sources of inspiration. The long-fought battles to protect water by the indigenous people of this land have also inspired me to put focus on these natural systems that remain disrespected constantly by many industries and people. Some of those ideas for using natural and man-made materials associated with the complex bodies of water around me became part of my sound work once the TickSuck project started. Willow branches, water vessels, river soil, etc. have been sourced for sound structure and letting the water say something.

Speaking of the Unassigned Data performance for OK Contemporary, I’ve thought a lot about that one this year. It’s really great. How did that project come about and what presented the biggest challenge for you? Any plans to release the audio recording of it? 

Thank you for checking that one out! This piece was conceived as a response to an exhibition called Fieldworks: Beyond Measure by Todd Stewart and Robert Bailey. OK Contemporary asked me to create this work because they had knowledge of my practice because of working together previously and they felt that some elements of my approach would work well with the methodology used for the creative process of Fieldworks. The concept for the piece came together really smoothly and an event score was developed to guide the creation of my version of Unassigned Data. I plan to use the score for creating more versions and want to share it so that other people can perform it as well. The score is not strictly for sound performance either, so other performance actions can be used and it is also adaptable to other land/water locations. 

The biggest challenge for this work was the short amount of time from idea to performance as well as the constraints imposed on the workflow by the Covid wave hitting during the winter of last year. There are no plans to release the audio yet but it would be nice to have two performances of the piece paired together on the right physical format.

Most memorable performances or albums you heard this year?

Live: LEYA, More Eaze, and KITE w/Robbie Wing at Tulsa Artist Fellowship was amazing. The other would be Laine and the Laters at Rodeo Cinema in OKC.

Endlings – Human Form
crieslol – Self Title
Pedestrian Deposit – Nostalgia:2000-06
Ghost Dance – Indian Babies: How to Keep Them Well
Merzbow – Scandal
Dean Blunt – Black Metal 2
Straight Panic – Jason Molina/Songs Ohia covers
Swap Meet! – Pressure in the Jungle/Hell
Ava Mendoza – New Spells
Ruohtta – Gutna

What’s next for you and Ticksuck?

A live performance in Dec. 2021 in my current hometown, Norman OK, for the first time ever.

Untitled Duo w/Mateo Galindo(crieslol, Spirit Plate) we’ve recorded a couple times, excited to play live!

Awful Eternity project with Taylor McKenzie (Fixed Rhythms, Karger Traum) live and recordings.

Forthcoming collaboration tracks with Kole Galbraith.

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