The Residents

More Than What The Ear Hears Coming From The Eye

> > Sep 2001

The Residents - More Than What The Ear Hears Coming From The Eye
By Roman Sokal"It's prevented us from doing any solo albums I suppose," responds Hardy Fox, a "talking head" for San Francisco's influentially avant-renegade sound and visual collective known as the Residents, when asked about how anonymity has affected their music as a whole. "It is a very deliberate and intellectual thing to do — it was agreed that they would do this as a group, and not as individuals." Semantics aside, the group has managed to keep their identities under some rather interesting "wraps," and have remained unknown to the public for 30 years. While the rest of the veterans in the music business struggle to project their new wares to jaded audiences who instantly expect less and see wrinkles and hear recycled sounds (i.e., the Rolling Stones), the Residents' watchers and listeners are able to become that much more acutely aware of their craft, which ranges anywhere from uneasy rock listening, to concentrated chemical sugar pop, to ambient landscapes to dramatically theatrical symphonies. They are often generalised as weird and different, because they unearth the codes of raw emotions that are burrowed deep within the minds of unprepared listeners and translate them into musical notes. But the group's curiosity in music is almost removed entirely from all forms of expectation, and instead, they opt to intellectually immerse themselves in logic. "There is music, and there is music that is business-oriented that is based upon demographics. People seem to explore what the current trends or directions are and what seems to be happening. They forget who their audiences are and what they want to hear, and then you do music for that. And that's a legitimate form of working. But the Residents' point of view was more that each person has a type of music that is inside of them or approach to music and it is influenced by other music and life around you, but ultimately, it comes from inside and each person is unique. And anything you do like that is going to be "weird" from another person's perspective because it isn't theirs. The other thing that's not weird is the one that is based on demographics, where you get a large number of people to say we'll agree that this is not weird. But basically, all music is weird, it's impossible for it not to be. It only not weird when it becomes part of demographics. Radio, which is advertising, makes sense economically, but it doesn't always make sense artistically."

The Residents are almost a type of clinical mirror that reflect society as it is. Perhaps it is us who are weird. The group are not into music per se, but more into how and why it is made. "I think they are more interested in technology," reveals Fox, "and as it changes and made more tools available, then their music changes. A lot of sound and style changes are influenced by the tools. Generally, they find technology to be highly stimulating."


Four, or five, experimental artists (genders unknown) bond in Shreveport, Louisiana. Collectively, they embark on a mission to relocate to the artistically idealistic West coast city of San Francisco, California. Upon arrival, the group would begin experimenting heavily with whatever tapes they could find, anything from improvised music by Vietnam soldiers to sound effects collections.


Word of their surrealistic cochlean exploits would attract one Philip Lithman, a guitarist from England, who would travel to San Francisco particularly to visit the collective. During a visit to Germany's Black Forest whilst en route to the United States, Lithman would befriend a highly mysterious artist and philosopher by the name of N. Senada — to this day considered by some to be fictitious. Senada also made music, but in a manner that would almost be considered pre-post modernist. "He would build 'houses' out of 'bricks' consisting of pieces of other composers' works. The compositions were the "blueprints," while the final performance was the 'house'." Senada accompanied Lithman to California, and he would prove to be a major source of enlightenment for the troupe, as the band would absorb his two major musical theories. His Theory of Obscurity "states that an artist does his or her best work when working in obscurity, unhindered by the influence of an audience. Things such as trying to gear one's work to the audience's likes in order to sell better, or the conflicts and ego problems which fame brings only serve to destroy true creativity." The other, Theory of Phonetic Organization, stated that "the musician should put the sounds first, building the music up from [them] rather than developing the music, then working down to the sounds that make it up."

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Article Published In Sep 01 Issue