Samuel Goff is the co-founder and drummer of the noise-rock duo Among The Rocks And Roots, as well as the co-founder, percussionist and producer of RAIC (Richmond Avant Improv Collective), groups that are active in the Richmond’s, Virginia, music scene since 2014 and 2015, respectively. As a soloist, Goff released Transmissions last February through Cacophonous Revival Recordings, a label that was founded and is run by himself. Transmissions was not only the label’s first release, but also Goff’s solo debut, a record where the musician establishes himself as a powerful and creative creator. Needless to say, the story of Cacophonous Revival Recordings has just begun, with four eclectic releases already available and many more fascinating ones on their way.
In this utterly revealing and very personal interview done by e-mail, Goff explains where the idea to start a label came from, what are his expectations and where he is leading it. Prompted by my obsessive questioning about his debut solo record, Goff thoroughly analyzes and discusses the meaning behind every single track of Transmissions – definitely a record not to be missed! Throughout the interview, Goff reveals himself as a deep, thoughtful, and complex character – somehow on the lines of the sonic experience that his album provides -, unravelling a personality defined by refined taste, as well as interesting cultural references and rich life experiences. If Transmissions is a you-gotta-listen-to-it album, Goff’s answers are a delight to read and should unquestionably gain the status of mandatory reading for both old and new listeners.
Hello Samuel. Thank you very much for accepting my invitation for an interview. Let us start from the beginning and contextualize Cacophonous Revival Recordings for those who may not be acquainted with it… where did the motivation of starting a label come from? What do you wish to bring to the game that is not already there? What kind of music do you aim to cover?
I had been talking for years about starting a label. It’s something I always wanted to do since I got involved in music almost 8 years ago. The time never seemed right though, I was too busy with this or that to actually pull the trigger. Around the time I started shopping my solo album around to labels, I became increasingly frustrated with 2 things. One, I wanted the artwork to be very involved and exacting. And two, I primarily wanted it to be released on CD. I never could find a label who was willing to do both of these things. This album was very personal to me and I wanted it presented in the exact way I wanted, so really this was the impetus to start the label. My friend James, who runs Orb Tapes, a label I really look up to, agreed to co-release this, they did the cassette version and I put out the cd. I love working with James, we have done and will do other co-releases in the future. My focus on the label is I believe in the seemingly antiquated notion of listening to music as a complete artistic presentation. To me, the art is just as important as the music. Music has always been my greatest love, but I love art and photography almost as much and I want each release to tell a story with the artwork. In November of last year I contacted Dave Petersen, a musician and graphic designer about creating a poster for a RAIC show that was upcoming. His work blew me away and I approached him about designing the layouts for the label. Once he said yes to working with me, that was the last piece of the puzzle for me and it was then I decided to launch the label. The label has only been in existence for seven months, but already I have gotten to work with photographers on three different continents whose work I am floored by. The experience of working with both new and established photographers from all over the world has been exciting as well. One photographer, a very talented Venezuelan artist currently based in Chile, Majo Woods, supplied the photography for our next release “La Llorona: Love And All The Hate” by VHS¥DEATH. She will be working on some other projects for us in the future. Also I had the privilege to work with Germany’s Philomena Famulok whose work is world renowned. Philomena quite possibly is my favorite contemporary photographer and when she agreed to work on an upcoming album by K. Hamilton Nagle, I almost fainted, haha. I am also working with Italy’s Alessandro Ciccarelli who aside from being an excellent photographer is also an incredible musician. Another way in which I hope to be unique is we will never let an artist’s album sell out. If an album sells out we will repress it. Also I want to work with other labels in doing co-releases. This world of eclectic, independent music is a small market with limited reach. So what if there were two labels working for the artist? Each with their own contacts to help get the artists work out into the world. I’ve worked with Orb Tapes on a few releases now and I want to work with other labels in the future, exacting this idea. I want this to be a very artist friendly label. I want the artist to know that they are going to walk out of the experience with CRR with a beautiful, well thought out product to showcase their music and that it is not going to go out of print and I am going to work my ass off in getting their music out into the world. My biggest inspiration as far as the aesthetic of a label is Ipecac Recordings. I have always loved all genres of music and I really like how they release so many different types of music. That’s the way my brain works. I would love to release for example, a black metal album followed by a salsa album, followed by a classical recording. What I am looking for when I release music is not so much a genre as I am looking for passion. That is the unifying core of what excites me about music. The level of passion.
The debut release of the imprint was Transmissions, a very eclectic creation of your own. Given that your musical background is associated with the noise-rock combo Among The Rocks And Roots and that you are also a founding member of the avant improvisation collective RAIC, how did the transition to the sonority that you now present happened? Was it a natural, continuous evolution or did you make a conscious effort to drift away from mostly instrumental-based music?
It was both. I am always looking to do something different and with Transmissions, I didn’t want it to sound like either group I am associated with. To me, I was challenging myself. The main goal I had when I started the album was to play every sound myself. I had been very active with RAIC previously and sometimes we put together 15 piece ensembles so for this I wanted to prove to myself that I could make music by myself and not be reliant on other players. When I set out I knew I wanted to create songs that were meaningful to me and that told stories from various points of my life. A challenge in the beginning was how do I tell a story without having the benefit of playing a classic songwriting instrument like piano or guitar. And also without lyrics. At that time I was listening to a lot of contemporary avant garde classical music and musique concrete. So the genesis of ideas on how to tell stories sort of sprung from those listening experiences. I was also inspired by two albums, “Since I Left You” by Avalanches and “Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time” by Kaada. These albums are very sample based and for a while I was going to incorporate vocals using samples from records like on the Kaada album. I eventually gave up on that idea and decided to go for a more organic musique concrete style. I never could have done the album without the engineering of Richard Schellenberg. We have been working together so long, he sort of speaks my language if you know what I mean? I can present him an idea and we have created such a bond over the years, he already knows what I am looking for. I presented him some far out ideas on this and he always seemed to know what it was I was trying to convey or express. None of this music is happenstance, every sound on this album has a meaning and it is meant to further the story. I am sure some of this will be lost on the listener, maybe an astute listener can figure some of it out (I hope!) and I am sure some of it will always just be with me.
In the liner notes, you say that “every sound on this album is meant to tell a story”. Is that also true for the songs themselves? Is there a thread that unifies Transmissions?
Yes. The thread that unifies the songs is that, yes they are all stories, they are all very personal things that have happened to me in life. But also, I wanted to take the listener on a trip, so place is also a unifying factor. Specific regions or areas are all important here. Whether it be the coal mines of Kentucky, or space or Columbia or South America, or other nameless places. I wanted the listener to feel as if they were somewhere else.
Let us analyze the album track by track. The opening track – “Pikeville” – is probably the song wherein you use the most diverse range of samples and field recordings of the whole album – it almost sounds like a collage! At the same time, the unorthodoxy of the transitions between samples makes it sound like a weird and eerie dream where the realms of reality and imagination blend together to form a new dimension, very unique and personal. Could you tell us a bit more about the meaning of “Pikeville”?
Well. Pikeville is the most personal track on the album. I put the most heart into that one and it seems to be the track that people like the most. In simple terms, that song is about my dad. When I started work on this, my mom had recently passed away and I had gotten closer to my dad in this period. This was the first song I recorded for Transmissions so I kind of was feeling my way around and trying to figure things out. I wanted to make a song for him but again, I couldn’t sit down with a guitar and write lyrics so the impetus for how the album would flow sprung from this first song. My dad grew up in a coal mining town called Pikeville, Kentucky. This was in the 1950’s and it was a time when everyone in the town worked at the coal mine. He always spoke fondly of his time there and later in life he wanted to go back. So this was sort of my way of taking him back to his home and to the time in his life when he was happy. It seems morbid how I decided to structure the song and I never told him the meaning behind the structure. My idea was this was the last 8 minutes of his life and these sounds are memories that are filling his unconscious mind. I recorded a conversation with him at a diner where he was recounting his time as a child there, so the voice you hear on the song is him. So the song was meant to sound exactly as you astutely pointed out as a sort of weird, fever dream. Most of the samples came from records I own and I played turntables in the studio so I could speed up and slow down the records to give it more of an uneasy feeling. In this unconscious state he is recounting the sounds of nature and religion, memories of sound floating in and out of consciousness. Around the fourth minute of the song there is a break with 4 layers of cacophonous drums and pounded piano. This was meant to signify a calamitous event in his mind and the eventual collapse of his senses. After that point you don’t hear his voice anymore and the music gets more disjointed. The end of the song is the sound of his brain literally disconnecting from this world. Even when trying to pay tribute to my father things always seem to take a dark turn for me, hence the morbid structure of the song. Again, of course I never told him the meaning of this structure, it was a labor of love and tribute and I didn’t want him to lose focus on that. The Wire played the track on their “Adventures In Sound” radio show and my dad was not doing so well at the time. He was in the hospital when I played that for him for the first time. And he was very excited and tickled that his voice was on a radio program in England. He bragged to all the nurses that waited on him there so that was a very nice memory for me. I was glad he approved of the song. He passed away shortly after that and I dedicated the album to his memory.
“Transmissions, Part One” is dedicated to Eduard Artemiev and Andrei Tarkovsky. This track has a kind of spacial and futuristic atmosphere as if you were trying to make contact with a civilization somewhere out there in the universe. I can easily imagine it in a Tarkovsky movie, in place of Artemiev’s music. Would you say that, for example, Solaris was an inspiration for this track? What is the importance of the work of these two Russian creators in your music?
Again a very good observation about Solaris. This was the second track I recorded for the album and again was very personal to me. Throughout my life I have battled depression and anxiety and have never felt comfortable socially. This has at various times in my life led me to isolate myself. I always thought of this piece as isolationist minimalism. In trying to correctly express my feelings sonically of depression, loneliness and isolation and how to convey this to the listener I thought what is more isolating and lonely than space? Two of my favorite movies and soundtracks of all time are 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. And to me other than the obvious of these taking place in space, the unifying aspects of these movies is a sense of isolation. So I spent hours poring over the samples of various space recordings available to the public via NASA’s website. The sounds of space are terrifying! I used a few samples from an educational record from the 1950’s called The Space Age. Before I went to record this I listened to Artemiev’s score for Solaris in its entirety probably 30 times in the 2 weeks prior to recording. I wanted that feeling of the score to be with me. Being a drummer and a percussionist, one thing I wanted to do when I made Transmissions was to not fall back on what I knew. I wanted to explore making music that was not comfortable for me so I made the conscious decision to not rely on drums or percussion as much and on this track I used none at all. I played three different keyboards and used vocals to some effect. I have always been inspired by vocal artists like Joan LaBarbara, Diamanda Galas, Tanya Taqaq and Mike Patton. So for this track I tried to make my vocals sound alien like and the inspiration I took from that was the vocal chatter of the aliens in District 9. For whatever reason, to me that seemed to be what an alien would sound like. In citing Tarkovsky as well as Artemiev as inspirations, I wanted to point out that the way Tarkovsky’s movies are structured, they are very sound oriented. Much like Leone and Morricone, certain scenes are created with the score in mind. Or rather the scenes are filmed around the music rather than the other way around. So when I think of the music for a movie like Solaris or Stalker I think of it in terms of it being a joint marriage of vision and sound. The two mediums are synonymous with each other, they are not separate but one entity and creation. So in this respect I view the vision and the sound as one, so it is only appropriate to cite the filmmaker Tarkovsky, as well as the composer Artemiev.
In “Snakebite”, instead of a representation of ouroboros – the snake that eats its own tail -, there is, curiously, an image that depicts a dragon eating a snake’s tail and vice-versa. How do you relate this pictorial representation to the song itself? Why the specific use of Asiatic percussion instruments, such as the taiko drums and the kendang gede, in this track?
In making this album I always had the intent of putting these smaller percussion interludes in between these very long, intense songs. My percussion style is always more influenced by non western types of percussion. I have throughout my career tried to focus more on the deep, resonant tones of the toms and generally whenever possible attempted to eschew the more Westernized snare drums and cymbals. This is the type of beat that is in my soul and my heart. It feels alive and passionate to me. Passion is something that informs all of my work, whether it be music or writing or the label or anything I do. Often I play polyrhythmic types of drumming and the way I think about that when I picture it in my mind is circular, with everything coming back to the beginning. For the artwork I wanted something spherical, I am kind of obsessed with spheres of all kinds, in science and nature and in art. And to be honest the image of the dragon eating the snake in a sphere just seemed a little darker than the traditional ouroboros images. Like I previously stated, I wanted the listener to have a feeling of place and in this track I didn’t want that to be specific. I just wanted the listener to have a feeling of this taking place somewhere just not here. I have worked sporadically with a professor of music at the University of Richmond named Andy MacGraw, doing some recordings and shows here and there and he granted me access to the music department there for a day. So me and Richard took a mobile recording device and recorded this track and Sunrise (Northern Omen) there. As far as the instrumentation, the taiko drums were available and what drummer would not want to pound on taiko drums, haha! So much of this album was planned but this was a happy surprise and the only motivation for me was a kid like wonderment of BIG LOUD DRUMS.
“Cochabamba” takes us on a trip around Bolivia, a country where you have gathered many field recordings and samples. Why was the time you have spent here so impactful to you?
I’ve been to a lot of different countries over the course of my life but my trip to Bolivia was the first time I felt like I was in a foreign place. This feeling of being unfamiliar with things and being totally entrenched in a culture was exciting and welcome to me. Wherever you go in the world, Western culture is there, the multinational corporations that pervade everywhere, Starbucks, McDonald’s etc. Bolivia was not like that. There were not a lot of people who spoke English and Western corporations are not really welcome there so you don’t see a lot of that. The energy and warmth I felt from the people there was incredible, every experience I had, even mundane things like taxi rides seemed new and fresh to me. There was a feeling of passion among the people there that excited me as well. My partner is originally from there so having her as a guide was a big help in getting around and understanding the culture and the things there that seemed so foreign to me. This song was the most involved on the album and the mix included about 140 separate tracks, which was about ⅓ field recordings that I gathered from there ⅓ samples and the other tracks, the most involved percussion work on the album. Structuring that was a nightmare both for me and for Richard. The way I ended up “writing” the song was to number the samples and the field recordings as to where I wanted them placed in the songs and then in between that, list the various percussion ideas that I wanted to record in the studio. It’s my personal favorite song on the album and it may be my favorite song I have ever recorded. Again, the storytelling in this song is I was trying to relate to the listener how I felt there. So many things, sights, sounds, things unfamiliar to me overflowing my senses and being left with both a feeling of being overwhelmed and being in awe. I would walk around and record anything that felt foreign to me or sounds that I might not hear anywhere else. A snippet of a soccer match at a bar, a cb in a taxi ride, a snippet of a radio broadcast, church bells, birds even announcements from the loudspeaker of the trash trucks there. I included a sample from of La Paz based female vocal duo Duo Las Kantutas which has become one of my favorite groups of all time. Also the cover photo to the album was taken by me, it’s a picture of my partner holding her grandmother’s hand at her house in Cochabamba.
As the title immediately gives away, “The Industrial Revolution” is a track with an industrial ambiance, wherein you have drawn inspiration from the “turn of the 20th century Industrial Revolution”. I assume you are referring to the second industrial revolution – why did you feel like mentioning it? Was it due to the impact that it has on our everyday lives?
Well I’ll be honest. This is really the only song on the album which doesn’t really mean anything. I just wanted to do at least one piece that uhh….kinda rocked and had some type of normal rhythm to it. I have always loved the music of Ministry and Skinny Puppy two bands I would hesitate to call Industrial but definitely had industrial influences. I wanted to sort of pay homage to mid period Ministry, the era between the synth pop and the speed metal, that sweet spot in between, the albums Twitch through to A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste. I ended up listening to Twitch actually the most in trying to find inspiration for this, and also the album Last Rights by Skinny Puppy. My original idea was to try and find a drum machine that sort of mocked that mid to late 80’s drum machine sound, but in the end I just recorded it on organic drums and asked Richard to try and make my real drums sound like a drum machine. That type of drum sound was not hard for Richard to replicate since he is a big fan of Ministry as well. I wanted to do an Industrial song and in searching for samples and keyboards to play on it, I thought well what’s more Industrial sounding than the recordings of actual machines recorded during the turn of the 20th century. The BBC has released some 16,000 samples from their massive library and I spent hours listening to the sound of drills, conveyor belts, etc. I gathered up about 20 or so of these samples and then found an old record of mine, a Cold War era record called “If The Bomb Falls: A Recorded Guide To Survival” which as you can guess was an instruction record on how to best survive a nuclear blast. I had recently watched a documentary series on the history of hip hop which was quite fascinating but in watching that I got a few tips on how to scratch, using a red pencil to mark different places on the record. So I had a pretty fun time scratching this record on the turntables in the studio. The most fun part was the sort of call and response type segment around minute number 10 between the drums and the different industrial samples. Another key element and inspiration was the song Download by Skinny Puppy. The intricate noise of that song frightened me when I first heard it and it still sort of frightens me. The mixing and sonic production on that song is just immense and I have always pictured a lot of the sounds on that song to be what it might sound like if two machines were fighting and tearing each other apart. So that is the sort of sound I was trying to achieve at the end of the track. Two machines fighting.
What was the sign or forewarning that you intended to portray in “Sunrise (Northern Omen)”?
Ha! No sign or forewarning. This was my attempt to add a nice, peaceful percussion interlude in between two of the heavier songs on the album. I have an intense fear of flying, so bad that I have these horrible panic attacks and I spend a good amount of time obsessing over airplane crashes. One of the methods someone had told me to sort of calm myself down was to create a safe space in my mind, to picture a scene that is total peace to me. The scene for me was reading a book first thing in the morning on my couch, drinking coffee with my cat beside me and the sunlight coming through the front window shining right on me. That is my peace. So I tried to make a song of how that peace felt to me, the music that might be playing as that event happened to me in the morning. My safe space song so to speak. And……because its me and anything I touch or create eventually and without trying will take on some type of dark or ominous undertones, my attempt at creating something peaceful has sort of a menacing undertone to it so I tacked on the Northern Omen part just because it sounded dark and menacing. The music was again recorded at the music department at the University of Richmond. They have a gamelan orchestra there and most of the percussion you hear is maybe about 10 different gongs of different sizes.
“Transmissions, Part Two” not only carries the atmosphere of its first counterpart, but it also has a life of its own – samples of Columbian Catholic exorcism practices and ritualistic possession ceremonies are heard. Was “Transmissions” initially just one long track that you have split into two? If not, what made you come up with a sequel?
Well they are connected…..sort of. One of my original ideas for the album was to focus on various types of transmissions. One song would focus on radio transmissions, another maybe sonar and underwater transmissions and so forth. I abandoned that idea because it was limiting but I kept two of the transmission ideas. So Part One focuses on transmissions from outer space and this one, Part Two focuses on transmissions from the spiritual realm. Again this song passes the 100 track mark in terms of what went into it and if you ever get the chance to listen to it with headphones on there is a LOT going on. This song intentionally sounds more chaotic with the samples and various tracks overlapping each other and more tracks piled on top of one another. This was purposeful. This song apart from Pikeville was the most direct storytelling song on the album. It details a true life experience of someone I know who grew up in a very strict segment of the Catholic Church. This person I know, who identifies as queer, was a child of 12 or 13 when the leaders of the church noticed her persona was not very feminine and decided she had a “gay demon” that needed to be exorcised. Of course this was a very traumatic experience for my friend and I wanted to tell this story from her perspective. Not as an objective observer, but in first person. When she told me this story, I thought about how terrifying it must be for a child to be strapped down, not knowing what is going on and these priests fervently exorcising her. This was not a polite exorcism like you might picture with calm priests from the movies but a feverish process like what you hear on the song. So I was trying to capture the terror of what this child must be feeling. I was trying to get inside her mind and feel what she was feeling and try to convey that to the listener. In my thinking there must have been a lot of chaos and confusion going on in her mind so that’s exactly what I was trying to present sonically. I tried to present an audio collage of terror so the samples I was looking for were terrible things. I spent about 3 weeks researching various horrible samples and I really did fall into a great depression in doing so. Apart from the main sample of a Colombian priest doing an actual exorcism, there are other transmissions from the spiritual realm and other terrible things. There are EVP recordings, an audio of a mysterious recording of a purported ghost where one of the people recording died, spy code recorded from the Cold War, recordings of airplane pilots as their plane was going down, recordings of possession ceremonies, etc. The base of the song was two records, that I played backwards in the studio one was a contemporary avant garde classical record and the other one was “Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti” recorded in Haiti by avant garde filmmaker Maya Deren. I didn’t credit these as the records were played backwards and therefore unintelligible but now you know. I put some hypnotic drums that I played that were repetitive but grew louder through the song. The drums, playing the same beat, were meant to be an anchor to have something holding all of this audio chaos together. Also to me it sounded like it could be from some religious ceremony from some other place. This was my “noise” song for the album. I have always been a fan of noise music but when I approached Richard and told him the last song on the album was going to be a noise song I think he was confused. I prefer noise that has some type of meaning and not just a wall of sound. Also for the first time, I think he was confused about what I wanted mixing wise. I kept pushing for it to be more, more layers on top of each other, more chaotic. The other songs were very structured even though there was a lot going on and I don’t know if he ever quite got my meaning in that I wanted pure chaos for this one. This song, more than any other emotionally drained me so much I to this day don’t feel quite finished with it, I still consider this song to be about 85 percent done when I listen to it. But my soul had had enough, the content of this song had driven me into a deep depression and after two full day studio sessions with this I remember saying to myself “Fuck it, I’m done.” This song might really be the start of my second solo album. One thing that binds Transmissions together is religion. I am not a religious person, but Christianity in some ways has influenced and informed my whole persona. I grew up in a strict Christian household where I was not allowed to listen to non religious music. So in some way, has my whole life been a rebellion against that early omission? This obsession with music because it was denied me very early on? Later in my teens and early 20’s I was in the Pentecostal church. That is actually my first drumming gig was playing in the church band. A lot of wailing and speaking in tongues for years. So whether it be the recordings of Pentecostal preachers in Pikeville, the Catholic choral music of Cochabamba or the exorcism priests of Transmissions, Part Two religion sort of binds the music of Transmissions together. This subject and how it has affected me personally is the genesis I think for my next album. And while the negative outweighs the positive in terms of how I think about religion, it is not all bad, there are some aspects of the institution that bring me comfort even now.
Cacophonous Revival Recordings starts to build up a really interesting catalog, already counting with four releases, two of which (“Vague sense of virtue” and other dreams of mundane profundity by Lucas Brode and SHAME by White Man) are soon to be released. What are your future plans for the label?
To continue and release music not defined by geography or genre but by passion and experimentation. I am very fortunate to know a lot of brilliant musicians and I’m very honored to release some of their work. I might be releasing a classical recording by pianist Vicky Chow which I am super excited about. One thing that I would like to do more of is reissues of albums I don’t think should be out of print. The first reissue I am doing is an album that influenced me greatly in terms of what folks may call “outsider” music. The album Lesser Angel Of Failure by John Schuller was a huge gateway album for me and we are reissuing with new artwork and some bonus tracks. A dream for me would be to issue a Duo Las Kantutas album, the Bolivian folk duo that you hear on Cochabamba. Another album I have my eye on possibly reissuing is Alabama Feeling by the Arthur Doyle 4, which aside from Peter Brotzmann’s Machine Gun is the most intense free jazz album I have ever heard. I want to continue working with various artists and photographers. Having artistic creative input into these releases is something that is keeping my interest in doing a label, and is one of the reasons I decided to go ahead with the idea in the first place. And of course eventually getting into vinyl would be key for me. I feel like the last piece of the puzzle in this label thing is finding good distribution. That seems to be the only thing I am lacking, so hey if anyone reading this has any leads, hit me up!