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Wayne Wolfson: Terrible Beauty

Wayne Wolfson

Wayne Wolfson

Wayne Wolfson is a Californian based writer and artist whose work has appeared in many journals and websites. His writing brings to my mind a calming simplicity, that then unfolds into far deeper, challenging and mesmerising rhythmic ebb and flow. Short sharp beat sentences harmonize with longer language selections.

There is a jazz-flecked tone and timbre to the pieces I have read; The Abandoned Exile Piece, Three Songs Upon Parting, and Cori’s Toys are examples that come to mind. I had the good fortune to catch up with Wayne recently and find out some more about him and his work.

Wayne, you have just released a CD called Midnight Latitudes, a collaboration with Mars Syndicate, tell me about this project.

Well, writing is a very solitary thing. Even with a steady stream of inspiration there is always the danger of repeating one’s self. I try to do collaborations as often as I can to keep the juices flowing. Ideally, a collaboration gives the artist new ways of looking at their art while also adding to their palette.

Do you find it easy to work together with others on projects?

It is surprisingly hard to collaborate. Many times I have met with another artist, we brainstorm over the course of several meetings, then, after hours of talk nothing comes of it.

With blogging and the instant gratification which the web provides artists, allowing people to “publish” or have their music heard before it’s ready, before the artist has put in the time working on their chops, I think there is a greater appeal at living as an artist, the lifestyle (imagined) than actually rolling up your sleeves and going to work.

I had done a collaboration with a composer on the east coast several years ago. I flew out there from California to lay down some vocals for text I had written. Although it definitely taught me what and how I would do future music-oriented collaborations, because of scheduling there was only one single which I was real hands on with, writing most of soundscapes/music for it too. The track made some ripples, getting mention in papers, journals and magazines.

How did you find out about Mars Syndicate then?

Mars Syndicate had heard the single and actually contacted me. We spent about a week just talking about what we would want a project to be like, what we would do with it when we were finished, all practical things like that. Slowly an idea began to form. I had this imaginary land, a sort of noir-Argentina. I wanted an album which would stand up to repeated listenings. I did not want to have music take a back seat to the words or vice versa.

How much of the album was planned out? Did you set out with a particular theme, or themes?

The album is a concept one. It figures around an anti-hero known only as The Detective. A lot of things are kept vague, non-linear story line with certain images and words which are constantly looping back and referencing other events taking place within the world of music and story found here. As an example, the very first track you hear someone running to a car in the rain, the radio is fiddled with, a brief melody is heard, then the first piece is about a man leaving a woman. There is a definite story, but did the man already leave the woman and was running to car in the start of the album or is he now on his way to do so. Another example of the constant looping back, the melody he hears on the radio is then hummed by man and woman as “their song” in next piece. Was it really their song, or did his mind just fill in that space with the brief snatch of song heard on radio. There is a definite story, although it is not traditional narrative taking the audience from points A to Z.

I think some of the best modern poets did the same thing. Cesare Pavese (1908-1950) would often have poems which bordered on being short stories, stories where there was a plot but things were left semi-open, semi-opaque. In France some of the creators of the Anti-Novel (Nathalie Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet) were authors who painted pictures with words but left a certain elasticity to the where and when of what was going on with the characters and their world. This is something I think poetry is moving away from, an image standing for something and yet not being rigidly locked into place. I think too, for any work of art where you want people to be able to go back to it again and again, the lion’s share of the tension should not derive from finding out “what happens next”. Largely, we avoided that in the way the story is told.

Where did you record?

At the time we were living/working near each other, all the recording was done at a studio near by.

Will you be performing any of the CD live?

The economic reality for a lot artists who sort of defy categorization is trouble putting together gigs. You can have major chops, but sad fact is club owners want butts on their seats. I have a few possibilities of performing in the near future, but the CD done as a whole or even pieces done as they had been recorded won’t be happening in the foreseeable future. Every project I have worked on, I have come away with a better understanding of how to get exactly what I want, how to create the effect. I am very proud of the album and still greatly enjoy listening to it myself, but I think what ever one I do next will incorporate even more of what I can envision.

What would you like to do next?

I would like to do something really different live… sort of a combination of some text spoken and sung by multiple voices with music, a suite like in construction but incorporating all the diverse musical components which turn me on, free jazz, modern classical, low-beat-techno ambient and primal blues.

That sounds really good, I look forward to hearing that in the future. You have a creative and compelling way of story telling, how did that come about?

I have just worked for years to attain my own voice. By that I do not mean polishing a piece over and over, for the most part I am a one-draft type of guy, but I am constantly seeking out new things. I go back to the music and books I treasure and draw inspiration from, even as I am discovering new things. I think too, a sense of history helps. In the past the best authors were also voracious readers. Even the vanguard of the (then) shockingly new like James Joyce or William Burroughs were great readers not just of their peers, but the classics as well.

Midnight Latitudes CD

Midnight Latitudes CD

I do think that you cant know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve come from…

You can not forge ahead or find your own voice until you know your artistic forefathers. I think this point is lost on a lot of up and coming writers. People don’t read. People will read Charles Bukowski, whom I like but is an “easy” read. They put the word “fuck” in their stories and misconstrued his message. He was not anti-intellectual, he was anti-academia. He enjoyed a good read, he just thought it was a waste of time writing a dissertation on how many times the word plumb appears in the Canterbury Tales. With all the journals online what we are getting is a Xerox of a Xerox, blurred Bukowski’s. I think this shows in that, even a “good” story by this type of an author, when you are done with the story and put the journal/book down, there is no image which lingers in the mind. Above all else, that is what I want to do, what I have always set out to do. Not relay a message, but put forth an image or feeling. Even if someone doesn’t know what the hell I am talking about, but some type of feeling or an image from one of my pieces stays with them, then mission accomplished.

And who influenced you in your work?

I do read a lot, but music is my main source of inspiration. I probably spend most of my waking hours with music playing. I get as much now out of a CD I bought ten years ago as I did when I first bought it. I think there is music for every mood, every emotion. I also think that like a friend or mistress even the most familiar music can surprise you with something you may not have noticed before, giving a new appreciation or inspiration.

In this beautiful world, what chops your kindling?

Is that a euphemism for something?

Yup, what do you enjoy/like…?

I am a very ambitious and driven person, but in quieter moments, I look at what I do, what I have done and like the ringing of the bell in between rounds, it’s all good.

You also create some interesting and thought provoking pieces of collage and art, tell me about your style and the process you go through in creating your art?

The collages came about initially during the rainy season here. It was too dark to paint, which I also do, just to stay out of trouble. I did a series called Noir Nine where I tried to tell a story in nine pages with no words. I went real old school with my collages, I just clipped images from magazines and glue sticked them onto the paper. I then scanned them, I never used any digital trickery or anything. The Saatchi Gallery online has one thing from Noir Nine titled The Hit which can be found at

In some ways, I just found it to be a variation on my usual story telling, but using a different technique which meant I also had to “speak” slightly differently, the language of images over words. I think there are a few single piece images also floating out there on the web as well.

What is your eco-shelter going to be like when the shit hits the fan?

I was travelling and had jet lag. I did not sleep well. It was late-late at night and there was a zombie flick on the hotel television. It looked like civilization had almost totally fallen. There is one point in-between attacks where one of the characters mentions to the other the fact they will never hear a new piece of music or read a new book etc. When everything goes sideways, I have other skills, but it is sad to think being an author will be the least important of them. I am jaded though anyways. In the States, after the holidays all the huge stores have sales. Everyone knows about them, knows there will be crowds etc, it is an ordered event and it is still complete chaos. People can’t even go down the road into Macy’s to buy a microwave at steep discount with out having their humanity completely devolved, what hope after the apocalypse whose date won’t be broadcast ahead of time with a full-page ad in Sunday Edition?

It will be chaos, thats for sure. Whether some life is left is a matter for conjecture. Whats your local ’hood like?

Right now, I am in California, surrounded by nature but also about fifteen, twenty minutes from city proper. I get uneasy being too far from concrete. I sort of have the best of both worlds, I can see mountains, oceans etc. but still go out for drinks and come back home again to quiet. It’s funny, because it helps my creative process, but for the most part is not reflected in my art at all.

What are you currently working on?

I do a few things at once usually. I have been writing interconnected stories in groups of threes or fours while also working on a novella, which is just about done. While doing that I paint. I sort of daydream with a brush in my hand, in that way I am writing, but it’s not as mundane as just sitting at my desk. Although I only do it for myself, there is a (small) audience for my painting and it is a sort of release for me, the actual process of creating them.

Are you able to earn from your art?

Yes, but it is after many years of amazingly bad jobs and also about ten years of writing and getting rejected, ten years of being a Taurus in the arena of life. I think now, that even the bad times and things go into making us who we are, these trials are necessary components in the creation of an “us”.

Describe your last year for me as a mathematical equation…

A lot of hard work as usual. A constant striving for personal evolution artistically and as a man. I think we are what we do not what we say. Any one can say “I promise” or “I am an artist” but it’s what you do that defines you and possibly lasts as your legacy. Not everybody can be an artist, we all need to earn our daily bread, but too many people now lack an inner life and let the end of quarter figure or some such thing define them. When you die, if you made your number for your company every quarter, it might be mentioned in your obituary, but no one will care, someone else will very shortly be sitting at your desk. Whereas, you recommend an opera to someone, turn them onto it, then at some point they do the same to someone else, in the grand scheme of things, that’s more meaningful.

Many thanks, Wayne.

For more information on Wayne’s writing, art and the Midnight Latitudes CD check out his site Terrible Beauty.