Tanner Garza's Creation in the Here and Now

Tanner Garza says he's been making improvisational music since age 21.
Tanner Garza says he's been making improvisational music since age 21.
Photos courtesy of Tanner Garza

From a city that is never silent to a sound that resembles the sky above its soaring scrapers, Tanner Garza's heartfelt experiments are imperfectly painted portraits of here and now. A place that seems far away, yet too close.

Mention the phrase "experimental music" to the amateur connoisseur and one of two visceral reactions occur. Facial features cluster together forming freshly exposed wrinkles or question marked expressions lead to shrugged shoulders. Either it is synonymous with unlistenable nonsense like one artist throwing a piece of lunch meat against the wall while another artist records it, or it is met with the question: "Is this even music?"

For Tanner Garza, experimental music is none of the above. He describes it as "building the house with your own blueprints and by your own rules." His music creates wordless internal dialogue -- communicating feelings robbed by misspoke words and prattle. Constructing a house built on the heart of his carefully crafted blueprint, his sound transcends any vulgar definition.

Garza is the owner and operator of Bookend Recordings, a cassette label based out of Houston. His label features solo work and countless collaborations with like-minded musicians with fantastic monikers: Tanner Garza and Wet Dream Asphyxiation, Servant Girl Annihilator, and Uncle Meat.

And prolific is a distinct understatement. With more than 50 releases -- nine this year alone -- his work ethic reveals an artist committed to search for unknown realms that point to other unknown realms. From Bjork to Basinski, King Crimson to Kiyoshi Mizutani, and most importantly Brian Eno to Harold Budd, his unique vocabulary embraces them all. In a tributary sense, he builds on the language of past masters of ambience and minimalism through an array of compositional techniques.

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"I was a musician in the traditional sense from the age of 11 to 21," Garza explains during our interview. "My original chosen instrument was the electric bass, which I trained myself on for the most part."

When Garza found free jazz at the age of 17, he abandoned his traditional approach to music.

"After doing things the traditional way, I finally followed my own path and began making improvisational music at 21," he recounts.

The methods behind his madness are distinctively his own. Here is one design: take a bass guitar and plug it into an array of pedals, mixing boards, and 4-track tape recorders. Manipulate sounds in real time while turning knobs into noises and unforeseen shapes. Add to the backdrop the image of a meditative monk unworried that he is imprisoned by the misery of countless patch cables; new constructions are built in one take.

"If I can't make sounds I like on equipment that I am familiar with in a single take," muses Garza, "then I don't need to be trying."

Story continues on the next page.

 

Tanner Garza performing at Sound Exchange
Tanner Garza performing at Sound Exchange

The "first take, best take" approach to recording music eliminates self-censoring. It removes the temptation to over revise and forces the musician to exist in the now. If there are any derivations, however, it also comes from influences beyond music.

"My project Servant Girl Annihilator is inspired by nothing else except old-time serial killers," Garza says before shifting to probably his largest underlying influence: Houston itself.

"The history and cultural richness of the musical landscape here is amazing," he says. "The history of the city fascinates me."

How?

"[It] has the ability to isolate you simply because of how far away everything is from each other," Garza explains, "and I think that's reflected in the experimental music that comes from it."

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