In tandem with the release of the collection Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts Christopher Nosnibor will be interviewing some of the contributors to the book about their contributions, their writing methods and their outlooks more broadly.
In the fourth interview of this ongoing series, Christopher raps with Richard Kovitch about clinical brutality, blogging and music – amongst other things.
CN: I found ‘For Reasons Unknown’ a particularly profound piece – stark yet moving, and very much a comment on various aspects of our society and culture, and also the dichotomy between fascination and repulsion. Was this your intention? What prompted / inspired you to write the piece?
RK: When confronted by the brief of writing something for Clinicality my first thought was how I could bend the use of Gray’s Anatomy to my personal obsessions. I usually avoid gore, so there was no obvious solution at first. Yet most fiction is drawn from fact and I eventually recalled an incident in Derby as recently as 2008 when everything that occurred in the story tragically happened in real life. A suicidal 17 year old had been egged on to jump from the Westfield Shopping Centre by a 300 strong crowd, many of whom were filming the incident on their mobile phones. The collusion between technical progress and primitive instincts was fascinating – in short, it queried how much evolutionary progress there really is? I also knew that by exploring such an incident I wouldn’t be innocent of voyeuristic charges myself, hence the writer character who loiters amongst the crowd. Nobody is absolved.
CN: There is a degree of precision about the piece, as well as a curious sense of disconnectedness, accentuated by the – incongruous is perhaps too strong a word, but blatant is perhaps fitting – incorporation of medical terminology. While the anthology represents a quite diverse range of interpretations of Clinical Brutality, ‘For Reasons Unknown’ feels, to me, at least, closer than most to my own. What does the term mean to you? Do you feel that there is humour to be drawn from the form?
RK: Humour can of course be drawn from the form, but it is a dark humour, subterranean even, one that evokes extreme Japanese cinema perhaps, the films of Shinya Tsukamoto or Takashi Miike. I was less interested in exploring this though given the original subject matter – it didn’t seem appropriate to garnish it up with satirical overkill. The theme of disconnectedness seemed to cut to the heart of the matter; empathy had died that day in Derby and in 2008 we were spiritually back at Marble Arch in the 1600’s watching public executions – now filming them on our mobile phones. If there’s a laugh to be had there, it’s more a dark and weary chuckle than anything cathartic.
CN: You’ve traveled a fair bit in the past year or so. How much has observing and engaging with different cultures influenced your perspectives, and how do you see the experiences affecting your work?
RK: Enormously. For example, last year I visited Japan for the first time and that had a profound effect on how I saw the world. It was good to break out of European Christian culture with its linear history into one with a more drift orientated, pragmatic attitude to life, love and death. Travel does funny things to people. On the one hand it personalizes the world, which in an era when the majority of experience comes to us second hand via either the TV or Computer screen is no bad thing. On the other, it underlines just how illusory every interpretation of modern life ultimately is – you can easily find yourself cut loose from your certainties in a way that can be both exhilarating and quite disarming.
CN: Despite us being very much ensconced in ‘the multimedia age,’ people still seem to find difficulty in accepting artists who work in more than one media. As a director / producer / blogger / photographer / writer of fiction and more, do you feel that it’s necessary to pitch yourself as being predominantly one thing or another? What is your preferred medium, and do you see yourself focusing more in any specific area in the foreseeable future?
RK: My preferred medium fluctuates with my mood but it’s probably bringing all these areas together in an Edit Suite. There’s something about the blending of visuals with music and story that is truly hypnotic. That said, writing carries the benefits of not needing to rely upon others so progress is solely down to you; this is not something that can be said for making film or television which are collaborative mediums by nature. As such, I’m writing a trilogy of films at the moment – the first two are complete. I decided to emphasize the terrain where I could make the most progress. Artists have for centuries utilized the most popular mediums and latest technology of their day – I didn’t feel compelled to buck that trend.
As for the future, it’s both fantastic and daunting for the artist. New technology has certainly democratized art. Now, pretty much anyone can make a modest film, get their work read or their photography seen. The flipside is the comptetion is greater, there’s even more bollocks being distributed than ever before, and standing out is a harder task. Anyone craving big audiences that ensure lucrative rewards could be in for a rough time. But at least the opportunity is there to realise your ideas efficiently and on your own terms, as well as revisit 2000 years of culture at the touch of a button – no previous generation has ever been that gifted.
CN: I’ve long considered myself to be a music obsessive, but my tastes, while broad, are far from mainstream. In recent years, I’ve found myself wandering even further from the known path, largely because the music that interests me most is increasingly obscure, alternative. In many ways, this is perhaps symptomatic of postmodern fragmentation. I’ve often noticed, however, that you’ve been listening to the same bands I have been discovering quite independently – bands like Black Angels, Sunn O))), The Horrors – a fairly unusual selection – and I’ve also noticed the likes of Lustmord, Ministry and Interpol amongst your band ‘friends’ on MySpace. This has pleased me no end, as I didn’t expect to find people who shared my tastes so closely. How do you find the music you listen top these days? To what extent does music colour your outlook or mood, and influence your writing, if at all?
RK: Music is a massive presence in all my work. The hunt for new sounds is always there, my main vice. If there’s a theme that runs through my tastes it’s music that evokes a specific atmosphere – this can be anything from Philadelphia Soul, Delta Blues, 80’s Pop to some otherworldly Ambient. If the individual(s) involved have carved out something all of their own that oozes atmosphere consider me in. So, with Industrial Metal, I’ve got lots of time for Al Jourgenson and all his projects – you can hear his touch in all of them, a wry cut-up of the underbelly of US culture delivered with genuine wit. Yet I’ve no real time for Trent Reznor who references only to a 2D version of himself and the technology he’s using. I always work to music – usually instrumental stuff – David Lynch’s soundscapes, Miles Davis 70’s experiments, modern ambient like William Basinski, Christopher Bissonnette or Marconi Union. Anything that sucks me out of this world and into another zone.
The great thing is locating new music is probably as easy now as it’s ever been – the internet is a constant, flowing river in which to go sifting for gold. I read The Wire too, though wish it would broaden its horizons to include serious analysis of obviously innovative music that fall outside its realm – Michael Jackson, EL-P, the lyrics of Luke Haines. It could do with livening up a bit.
CN: Your blogs are consistently informative and thought-provoking, which is rather rare in the blogosphere at large. What do you consider the function of your blog, and to what extent would you consider it ‘a success’?
RK: Very kind of you to say so. You never know what people will think about anything you do, and that goes double for a Blog which is a pretty narcissistic venture. I use it primarily to find out what I think about things myself, like a research area. Knowing people might be reading forces me to focus, stay match fit. It’s amazing how practice improves one’s confidence, and this goes for writing to. Footballers and soldiers do nothing but train when they’re not in action – why shouldn’t writers? I love it when people respond, challenge what I’ve written, as it helps me sort out my own thoughts on a topic. There are no absolutes. Everything’s a learning curve. In that sense it’s a success, even if it’s not crashing the Google search engine or paying off the mortgage.
CN: This is an insanely broad question, I know, so interpret it as you feel best fits: what is your overarching creative vision?
RK: I’m convinced intellectual work can be entertaining as well. For this reason I love the films of Polanski, which get us on the couch whilst providing plenty of thrills. Cinema probably balances these qualities better than most – Michael Haneke’s ‘Hidden’ say, or Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’. I’m also convinced there are much more interesting stories to be told about modern Britain than the usual carve up between Middle Class romance and Social Realist documentary. There’s still so much rich terrain to be explored. The Psychogeographers and Hauntologists of the last 15 years have illuminated as much. And anyway – it’s never where you take it from that matters. It’s where you take it to.