The year isn’t even two months old yet, but there have already been some serious contenders for the best album of 2020. High on my personal list is Transdimensional System, a stunning work from multimedia artist Suzy Poling, recorded under the name Pod Blotz.
The album, recorded for Dais Records, falls under the heading of electronic music, but that is such a limiting term for what Poling has created. Tracks like “Extrasensory” and “Double Helix” creak and hum and crinkle like the work songs of the machines in a wholly automated warehouse. But there is a deeply human element to the work as well, with Poling’s voice surfacing in this digital sound soup; a manifestation of, as she wrote in an artist’s note accompanying the new album, her “concerns about the potential and dangers of future/post-human philosophies, AI, cybernetic systems, and humanity’s role amidst our civilization’s entry into the Anthropocene.”
With Poling visiting Portland this weekend for a performance at S1 Gallery on Sunday March 1, we caught up with her via email to get some insight into her creative process and how she fuses her visual art with her music.
PORTLAND MERCURY: In all the photos I’ve seen of your live performances, your face is obscured in some way. What can you tell me about the decision to do that vs. letting people see your face in promotional photos?
Suzy Poling: Well I am releasing work into the world under the musical moniker Pod Blotz and also as visual artist Suzy Poling, so for the internet I share real images. I used to wear more elaborate latex masks while playing but I found it hard to hear in so I haven't really gone all out lately. I like having the nonhuman or nongendered person on the stage. I want to create an atmosphere that is transformative and experiential so that I can disappear into the background and people can focus on the sound. In the past, I have had a lot of other people in costumes or covered in paint performing with me. Performance art is important to my expression but lately, I want the focus to be just about the sound so currently, I am using video art as an artistic component.
On a lot of your recorded work, you also obscure the vocals and process them. Are you simply looking to turn them into another instrument or is there something more deliberate at play?
Yes, I like for vocals to not completely stand out in the mix or for them to be another textural layer with the synths or drone. Yes, I do treat vocals as an instrument and I like it when they syncopate with other oscillations. I do like to sing quite a bit but I would say that the electronics take the lead in this project.
For Transdimensional Systems, you used a lot of samples from the synthesizer museum in Oakland. What was that process like? Were you grabbing everything you could or were you seeking out specific tones/timbres to build from?
I mostly recorded on my own synthesizers and drum machines at home. I was able to sample some sounds at Oakland vintage synth museum as well as other synth labs in universities for years now. This has been a long-standing method in my process. I oftentimes go back and take samples from reel to reels or cassettes that I recorded 10 years ago. It's all source material that can become repurposed. I share this mindset with my visual art practice as well. I like to recycle.
Do you feel your music is uniquely connected to Los Angeles? Do you think you could have made a similar album if you lived somewhere else?
I would say that my music is connected to industrial areas of Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago and Detroit as these are all cities that I lived in. I live in downtown Los Angeles and yes it informs my artwork and music. I also find a lot of inspiration from the desert outside of Los Angeles and unique geological sites and volcanic areas. I like to find the similarities with these moody and austere areas.
How have you found ways to incorporate your visual art into your musical work?
My visual art and music are intertwined and also distinctly different realities at times as I am serious about both of them. There is a lot of crossovers but then sometimes not at all. Conceptually, my art and music are coming from some similar places but how they are put out into the world is different due to the communities in which they can exist. The cover art for Transdimensional System is a very thought out project that connects to some of my photography and sculpture work about decay, ecology and land use. I also make video art that speaks to the sound. Currently I have been working with artist Chelley Sherman and she is making coded reactive video work that is triggered by my sound. We have played a few live AV sets together. I'm also a painter and make graphics so I share my silk-screened prints and clothes with people who know about my music.
What comes next for you in 2020?
More touring in the US, Canada and Europe as of right now. I really want to get to Japan, Shanghai, and Indonesia sometime. I will spend a lot of the year writing new tracks and experimenting with sound. I am working on another split EP and hopefully making some very focused visual art as well for some exhibitions when I get more time in my art studio in between tours and freelance.
Pod Blotz, Sun March 1, 8 pm, S1 Gallery, $5-10, w/Patricia Wolf, Avola