Interview, Centre Internationale d'Art Contemporain's tour guides, August 1998


Q: Can you give us an idea of "Spiritual Animal Kingdom"?

Steve Reinke: Sometimes I say its my version of a television variey show. There are three or four musical numbers, comedy skits in the form of monologues, and the little aphorisms are kind of like commercials or bumpers.

Q: Is the voice-over and singing improvised?

SR: No, all the spoken texts are carefully written out. They're delivered in a way that might sound improvised, but the intonations and pauses and everything are carefully planned. And even the singing is practised. (laughs)

Q: Do you consider it a critique of pop culture?

SR: Not at all.

Q: Is it like a diary or a journal?

SR: A lot of the monologues bear resemblance to the autobiographical/confessional modes of the journal or diary. But really, its just a rhetorical ploy. A few of the things I say are true and personal, others are untrue and personal and some of the stuff is just not personal — whether its true or not. I never really went to my doctor to ask for Prozac. Not yet, anyway. (laughs) But maybe I'm just predicting the future — maybe all this stuff will really happen and then it will become a diary in retrospect...

Q: What are you working on now?

SR: I'm working, as always, on a bunch of things. More and more instead of just writing I'm working with sound and fooling around with still images. You know how the full title of this video is "Spiritual Animal Kingdom (incorporating material from 'Sad Disco Fantasia')"? I'm going to make the mirror image —"Sad Disco Fantasia (incorporating material from 'Spiritual Animal Kingdom')."

Q: I notice there's a William Burroughs sample in your video. What is he saying?

SR: "I claim every ghost."

Q: Where is it taken from?

SR: Well I cut it up. He never said that sentence.

Q: So you're using Burrough's cut-up technique?

SR: Not really, though I have in the past. In this case the pieces were arranged purposely rather than randomly. I wasn't looking for a secret or latent meaning, I was actively authoring one, and putting the words in his mouth. I've been working with his voice for a while. I have a bank of him saying over six hundred words and phrases that I fool around with. I've tried to get him to sing along to pop songs, but it never sounded quite right.

Q: Is there a theme that connects all the components together?

SR: No, I'm not aware of there a being a theme.

Q: How did you go about picking the 4 or 5 songs you used? Do they have personal meaning for you?

SR: I did the Kiss song "Beth" first, and I guess it has some personal meaning. I liked it enough to buy the single when I was a young teenager and I'd never bought any Kiss before. I've been working with pop songs from the seventies for a while. I was born in '63 and so they were the songs I first actively consumed. But now I'm going to regress to the 60s. When I was a child I found the Beatle's "Eleanor Rigby" profoundly sad, depressing, disturbing. I'm going to change the words around and sing it myself in an attempt to make it a happy song. Of course my attempt is doomed to failure. And then if you interview me again and ask if the song is personal, I'll just say no, not at all.

Q: The main themes I noticed are sexual identity and death.

SR: Sure, that stuff is there, but its in almost every narrative. People used to say my work was all about sex. Lately they say its all about death.

Q: What brought you to the musician's brain in that book?

SR: I used to hang out at the Science and Medicine library at the University of Toronto. It was sort of like my studio, because my apartment was very small and this library always has lots of empty desks and great books to browse through. I found the book there and found it rather unbelievable. I've been interested in the process of mourning, how desire impacts the supposedly objective process of doing science, and the history of medicine in general. Here everything was combined in one incredible over-sized book "The Brain of a Pianist." I wasn't sure whether to put that section in the video because its so different from the other components — but really all the sections are so diverse, it seemed to be okay. I think as the video goes on, the type of material it incorporates becomes more idiosyncratic. The spiritual animal kingdom keeps opening up to include more types of creatures and spirits.

Q: Would you say your work is fragmented?

SR: Yes, its very fragmented. Sometimes I'm surprised that the things hang together at all. "The Hundred Videos" was a good structure for me because I could just put anything in it and give it a number and it had a home and seemed to fit. This is the first video since I finished that series that I've been comfortable with the overall structure. Before that, I was trying to make stuff that was more thematically coherent, more of a single piece. Now maybe I'll give up on that, or atleast stop worrying about it.

Q: Who inspires you?

SR: A lot of people. A long time ago, when I didn't know there was such a thing as art, there was Laurie Anderson. "O Superman" taught me that writing could be expanded into other forms. Really, it was like a light bulb. I heard the song and then packed my bags and went to art school. This whole awful mistake can be traced back to her. I would have been safer following Lou Reed.