Interview with Jacob Wick
via Email, January 10-February 20, 2018
This is the third in a series of interviews that I have been conducting with musicians active in Mexico City. I had heard considerable praise of Wick by his contemporaries in New York prior to meeting him for the first time in Mexico City, where I attended a New Years Eve party at his apartment after having attended a brilliant concert featuring other performers at El Quinto Piso the night before. Wick is quite thoughtful in his approach to music and art in general, clearly taking it all on his own terms. In addition to text, there are also links below.
Cisco Bradley: When did you move to Mexico City? Were you aware of what was already happening there? What about the scene there did you find enticing?
Jacob Wick: I moved to Mexico City in August 2014. My ex/bff had moved to his uncle’s house outside Mexico City in February and I came to visit in April. My friend Alex Bruck put me in touch with Rolando Hernández and Gudinni Cortina, who run a series called Umbral, and set up a workshop for me at a space that was just opening called Bucareli 69. I loved the show at Umbral, but more importantly I loved everyone I met. Everyone seemed excited, everyone felt warm. I think that’s what was most enticing to me: the way the community felt more like an extended family than, like, a “scene.” I don’t think a scene is a valuable or useful social arrangement. Why be in a scene when you can be in a community? Anyway. Mexico City felt more warm and open than anywhere I had been, and people were talking about things that I had never heard of, like Wandelweiser, like Dotolim, like Onkyo, etc. People weren’t talking about New York.
CB: What projects have you developed since arriving in Mexico City?
JW: I haven’t really developed any projects since arriving in Mexico City. I’ve played two shows with a quintet recently, playing new compositions of mine. I’m not sure that counts. I’m not particularly project-oriented. For me, things don’t start with ideas, they start with people. There’s a story I like that probably isn’t true, that when the curator Cuahtémoc Medina moved back to Mexico City from London, somebody asked him why. He replied: who wouldn’t want a front row seat to the end of the world? There is a sense here that the world has already ended, that there are no possible futures. The city itself is totally unsustainable, growing rapidly at the edges, sinking in the center, watched over by a corrupt and kleptocratic local government and a corrupt, kleptocratic, arrogant, and murderous federal narco-government. There is a sense of futility here that I’m honestly not sure is that bad. Like, should we rehearse or should we eat lunch? Maybe we should eat lunch. I mean, it’s bad that the music communities here are very poorly documented, and have been poorly documented since they began; it’s bad that I have like almost zero recordings at this point. But it’s not bad to look around, rather than forward.
CB: If not projects, then how would you describe your work in Mexico City since arriving in 2014?
JW: When I arrived I was writing for a contemporary art blog called Bad at Sports. I would try to go to a bunch of openings and whatever but I was suffering from pretty intense anxiety and depression from my MFA studies resulting in nothing aside from massive debt. That’s not the fault of my MFA, by the way, I think it’s more the fault of a series of arrogant and stupid decisions I made regarding how to navigate that situation beginning from my first day of class. I had the idea that I would somehow float from my MFA into a faculty position or into a career as an artist. Unsurprisingly that’s not how that works.
Anyway so I wrote for Bad at Sports for probably the first six months I was here. After that I unceremoniously stopped writing. I couldn’t get it together. I spent a year playing video games and relishing not having to work all the time. Then I decided if I didn’t want to disappear from music I would have to tour again, plus I missed touring. So I started booking tours: fall in the US, spring in Europe. I thought that the more I played, the easier the shows would be to book. I forgot about making or releasing recordings. So now I’m in a pickle because I have no recordings to sell if I go on tour, nor any new recordings whose release to “celebrate” while on tour. I guess the answer to your question is that I would describe my work since being in Mexico City until very recently as sitting in my mind and worrying. I have produced almost nothing since being here. I don’t feel guilty about it because I’ve been doing other things that in a roundabout way are making my life less anxious, are allowing me to embrace parts of me that I have ignored or repressed. I am becoming more me and maybe that is more important.
CB: How does the dystopian atmosphere impact the aesthetics of the music in Mexico City?
JW: Mexico City immediately invalidates a whole host of attitudes, number one the sort of artist-savior thing that appears in social practice projects and that extends from the idea that art and/or music can save people. It is too late for Mexico City. It’s too corrupt, too big, too unequal. For me this situation has removed a lot of clutter. There are still projects I would like to do that relate to my MFA, to that area of my practice, but I no longer suffer from the illusion that these will in any way cause any kind of large-scale social change. This thing that I’m writing about in the earlier questions, this idea that aesthetics for me does not extend beyond the relations a work establishes with bodies in space, has come sharply into focus since living here in Mexico City. The only thing that matters is establishing and strengthtening intimate bonds, growing intimate networks, establishing communities that are based on something other than backstabbing, competition, careerism. And these are things that are small-scale, intimate, that begin with bodies in a space and head outward, maybe. The idea that illumination trickles down from the transcendent ideal plane onto the putrid masses and lifts them out of shameful ignorance is fucking stupid and arrogant. Where has the last five thousand years of Western thought gotten us, exactly? Why do we still think it matters?
CB: When looking around, rather than forward, what have you seen or experienced?
JW: My context. What’s over here, what’s over there, who is doing what, that kind of thing. It’s how I improvise as well. I listen across instead of forward and try to make decisions based on the total landscape. This kind of attention makes endings very easy. Everything just falls away and that’s the end. Pushing my attention across instead of forward also helps me connect with who I’m playing with more, I think, and everybody else in the room. It makes things more intimate, which is always what I am looking for. As far as being alive and doing this in the world, I’m not sure I’m always successful. But I try to be aware of where I am, what’s going on. I try to be aware of whose language I’m in and where that language wants to lead me, because usually I don’t want to go there. I don’t know, in general I think if I’m thinking about getting from point A to point B I’m already thinking about what point B’s going to be like and how I’m going to feel there and like strapping it into this impossible idealized vision and then I miss everything exciting and interesting and different that could happen along the way. Including never arriving at point B. It’s like what I was writing earlier about having rehearsal and just eating lunch instead. Eating lunch could be a much better rehearsal.
CB: What were your formative musical experiences?
JW: I think I was like a freshman in college when I saw a Cecil Taylor large ensemble at Iridium. I ate a wedge salad and had my mind blown. Not by the salad, although I do enjoy a good wedge salad—classic American fare. Anyway, the way the music rolled like weather was incredible to me. I had never seen or heard anything like it, the way things just kind of moved across the ensemble, from left to right, from center to edge, with minimal direction from anybody and, like, zero solos. I guess the other thing would be encountering the work of Lygia Clark in an art history class when I was a senior in college, which in a slow and winding and kind of stupid pattern led me to pursue an MFA in the Social Practice Workshop at the California College of the Arts. That experience changed the way I think and feel about music, about art in general.
CB: Who/what do you consider to be your main influences or sources of inspiration as an artist?
JW: Other people, spaces, love and death, desire. I’m never really trying to express a concept or, like, “myself.” I don’t believe that pure individuality, like “myself,” exists: the Simon Critchley/Emmanuel Levinas idea of the dividual, always already split between oneself and the Other or whatever, makes a lot more sense to me. I don’t believe in God or Plato so I don’t believe in transcendence or the sublime. When I’m writing compositions I’m thinking about the people I’m writing for and setting up games for us to play, basically. I’m looking for a feeling, not an idea. When I’m performing, like improvising, I’m trying to sink into the space and become a node of some kind. In general for me art begins and ends with social relations: the way(s) in which a performance, a book, a parade, a painting establishes a public around itself. That’s it. I don’t believe that any art form has any kind of intrinsic value. Music is not the healing force of the universe: other people are.
CB: What kind of viewing publics have formed around the music in Mexico City?
JW: That is a question I still can’t answer. I am still surprised at who does or does not show up at various events. I played at Bucareli 69 a month or so ago with Misha Marks, Gustavo Nandayapa, Carlos Alegre, and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten and like 300 people showed up. Getting from the bar to the stage was like getting on the metro at rush hour. I have no idea where those people came from, I hardly recognized any of them. One of them gave me a palm reading. I mean, there are definite communities that consistently show up at things en masse or in parts, that shows up to support their friends or whatever. But no, I don’t think I can really describe with any kind of clarity who is showing up at shows nor why. Which actually is great, it allows for groups to expand, meet new people, bring new people in. I’m not sure how much that is actually happening, but the idea is nice.
CB: Why hasn’t the music of Mexico City been better documented over the years?
JW: This is a better question for Rolando Hernández and/or Bradford Bailey. My answer will be based on what I’ve heard from them. Government repression, the cost of recording equipment and storing/maintaining recordings, the earthquake of 1985 (and probably 2017), incompetance, a sort of national inferiority complex called Malinchismo. Maliche was the translator who, in legend, betrayed the Aztecs. Malinchismo describes both the Mexican preference for things that are not Mexican and the Mexican assumption that things that are Mexican are trash. Tacos are a gift from God but if you go the VIP area of the art fair there’s avocado toast.
CB: What are the benefits of being in a music community that is not New York-centric?
JW: For me the benefit has been learning of and about what’s going on in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, etc etc. I didn’t know anything about any of this before. I still don’t know much. But the idea that one particular city can or should define the aesthetic horizons of the world is insane. I don’t understand the idea that what matters in New York should matter anywhere or especially everywhere else. New York is not Mexico is not Berlin is not Chicago or, I don’t know, Bangkok. I have a problem with extrapolating the particular to the general without accounting for every intimate step along the way. Being part of a community that is not looking to any one place as a center has solidified that belief.
CB: What’s next for you?
JW: Things are up in the air right now. I’m trying to figure out how to make more money. So maybe this year I’ll start an import business in Mexico. My friends and I are also starting a bar. I’m toying with the idea of going for a contract or tour of duty or whatever you want to call it on a cruise ship. I’m taking an online class about SEO. I’d like to approach a few institutions/spaces here about doing workshops, like horizontal listening like I wrote about in the last question or other kinds of workshops. Hopefully at least one of those things will work out. I’ll have a solo record coming out at some point this year on Thin Wrist, a label in LA. Maybe I have a trio recording coming out with Ted Byrnes and Michael Foster, although I guess we need to find a new home for it so maybe it’s another year. I’d like to travel to and play in Asia, like Taiwan and Japan, and to play more in South America, like in Lima, Bogotá, Medellin, Buenos Aires, etc. But really the first thing is figuring out how to make more money, because otherwise I’m screwed.
Follow this link to check out a couple of excerpts from Wick’s recent cassette release Twice Love: