Name: Ron Hanson
Occupation: Journalist / Publisher / Curator
Publications: White Fungus, The Subconscious Restaurant
Journalistic Recommendations: Taiwan noise and sound art pioneer Wang Fujui started a publication in the mid 90s called noise. It was critical for getting the experimental music scene happening in Taiwan and it's influence extended throughout Asia.
New York music writer Kurt Gottschalk has a 22-page feature on the Residents in the new issue of White Fungus. This is long-form journalism you can sink your teeth into.
When did you start writing about music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
The first time I ever remember writing about music, if I am to be honest, was as a 16-year old in Journalism class at High School. I wrote a review of a Faith No More concert in Wellington, New Zealand. But then it probably wasn't until starting White Fungus in 2004 that I began writing about music in earnest. But key to this - before really writing about music there were years and years of listening to music, and talking about music, with my brother Mark (who runs White Fungus with me) and an old friend Rowan Laing. The writing, and our creative project in general, unfolded naturally out of those conversations and a kind of ritualistic devotion to experiencing and listening to music. Growing up in Wellington we were really on our own in our pursuit of music and, while we weren't exactly anti-social, we found we preferred a dark room with music and candles to the kind of social engagements one typically encountered. We talked inexhaustibly about music, and other topics, including art and politics. These conversations and listening sessions were more of an influence and a breeding ground than any formal influences.
What are your main impulses to write about music?
It's always been simple for me. I write about music because I want more people to become turned onto the music I believe in. Again this stems back to being really isolated growing up in Wellington and being crazy about stuff which no one around us was even remotely interested in. That isolation had a two-pronged effect. We would have to communicate with people long-distance to discover more music and become connected to others who shared our passion; and we would also need to look to turn on the people in our immediate environment who were open and curious enough to partake and venture out from their habitual surroundings in terms of sound. And so the writing was really about communication, pure and simple. Like many creative people I sought to produce what I would like to encounter myself, to fill a gap that I felt existed.
How do you see the role of music journalism in the creative process? Should it amplify public taste, distinguish the good from the bad, inform, promote artists, or, as Howard Mandel put it, “illuminate, educate and entertain” readers?
I think it should open things up rather than classify or reduce music to categories. The writing should be driven by curiosity, and even zeal, and be not the slightest bit concerned with public taste. Too often writing about music or other artforms is concerned with placing the specimen at hand into some kind of a genealogy in the course of which dozens of other cultural referents are name dropped. To me to this a reductive and frankly boring approach to experiencing music. I think that music writing should not be subservient to the music nor exhibit this kind of place-holderish authoritative tone. Ultimately the writing should explore tangents and be a creative work itself. After all, words generate sound and I always like to think of words in terms of sound, rather than in terms of signifier and signified; which I believe is a reductive interpretation of language and reality.
But apart from this kind of a creative response, as a reader I do want some practical information. I do want to learn of other music I should investigate, whether individual works or artists. I also like to understand how phenomena comes about. How do these things happen, knowing that they don't come out of thin air.
In which way does writing and reading about music change the way it is perceived?
Good writing can help open up concepts or unlock qualities for the reader and listener. There is much to digest in a good piece of music and while we are developing our ears it can help being prompted to pay attention to particular elements or sequences and sets of relations. It can also make the listening experience more communal, connecting our individual experience to a wider social network. And most importantly, it can prompt us to listen to new music in the first place, after which we can form our own idiosyncratic responses.
What were your main challenges as a writer when starting out and how have they changed over time?
I eliminated one of the biggest challenges by starting my own magazine and platform. It helps to write when you know what you write will definitely be published; and you know exactly where it will be published. I think creating your own platform is the way to go in this day and age. Starting something in print is pretty difficult, needless to say, but anyone can start a basic blog which is a pleasure to visit if the content is strong. The biggest challenge to a writer when starting out is getting enough feedback and responses so they can develop their voice in relation to people, rather than abstract or untested notions.
It has often been claimed that music represents a particularly difficult, if not impossible, subject to cover for journalists. From your experience, what's your take on that?
One of the great things about music is that it really exists beyond written language and visual codes, which is the appeal (we live in a culture which has foolishly created a hierarchy of the senses, with sight on top, and there's a kind of fear of sound and the effects it can have on the mind and body). But it's as good a subject to write about as any. Probably the most difficult thing is that not all musicians are such good interviewees. Some are. But I would say it's not as common as in other areas such as visual art. I don't think musicians should over-analyse or intellectualize the process of making music, but I do think musicians should be tuning into the world as a whole. That involves developing an intellectual framework. But this said, there are wonderful interviewees who are musicians. The journalism is as interesting as the phenomena at hand.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
The work space is vital and I think setting up the work space is actually part of the work in itself. We cannot do our work in any environment. Our office is at Mark's apartment. The walls are covered in visual detritus from various projects we've undertaken across the years, as well as children's art from our past and present students. Multiple light sources is key for us. We generally like to do things in the dark with the music loud. We want to feel it through our bodies, not just have it tickle our brains.