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Transparent and Opaque:  On Black Lake 

by Lydia Dona Sep 21, 2011


Lydia Dona talks with Susan Jennings and Slink Moss, the interdisciplinary pair that comprises Black Lake, on the occasion of “Shake,” their new record. Check out Mystic Eye, an exclusive track by the band in Editor’s Choice of BOMB 117!


At the end of September 2011, Black Lake releases their debut record,  Shake.  An unusual duo comprised of Susan Jennings and Slink Moss, two different interdisciplinary artists, that come together to create music. Black Lake has performed in various public art spaces, clubs and experimental venues such as: the RISD Art Museum, Club Hellsinki, David Nolan Gallery, 179 Canal, X-initiative, etc. Their project is an inter-media fusion of video projections, sculptures, written words, shadows, lights, and floating objects. The post-effect to a spectator and a listener is the experience of moving through music from an unusual stage for an original hybrid of sound and movement. Light and shadow operates their central vision. Lydia Dona converses with Black Lake on this occasion to understand and reflect their process.  

Lydia Dona: You formed in the fall of 2009. Why? 

Slink Moss:  To experiment with time and space. 

Susan Jennings:  And light and sound.  

LD: What is the relationship between Black Lake and Slink Moss' comics?

SM: In my comics I explore icons of rock and roll and other things. With Black Lake we are exploring the icon of the black lake itself. That iconography is very important to us; it shapes who we are.

 LD: Slink Moss, I want to know a little about your background. What do you bring into this from your background that you think is channeled into this? You bring all kinds of aspects that are different from Susan’s, so I am trying to understand where you are coming from and how you integrate this into your process. What’s intriguing is that I know that you make paintings, are involved with poetry, and do performance, but I am trying to understand the cartoon thing and how you bring it in. You use a lot of the cartoon in the performance and in the sharp gestures. The gesture has these characters when you stand that plays between a mannequin and a cartoon. The performance becomes very interesting in terms of the body and the integration of the body.

SM: I use a very flat perspective in my comics. Sometimeswhen I perform I imagine myself as a two-dimensional cutout. I think that is what you are seeing in the movements.

SJ:  Movement is one of our media. Video art, digital projections, sculpture, and shadows are all our media. Movement definitely. 

LD:  When looking at the cultural background, you utilize the 1970s and late 1960s, without appropriation, which is really cool.  You reference echoes of the Velvet Underground Patti Smith, and performance aspects of Laurie Anderson. However, Black Lake brings it in a different manner with has different impact and intention. You maintain a connection to nature and want a connection to nature. 

SM: Yes. 

LD: Susan, you were working with multi-media projects that I see as incredible engagements with light, transparency, sculpture, video, and the recreation of a specific movement of light. Slink has a very different participation to the visual aspect that you bring. The two of you create an intense hybrid space. In this hybrid space, both of you contributes different elements that are between performance and this sculptural, video, and transparent space. However, it’s almost the space that alludes to the space of writing and fracture. How do you relate to this? 

SJ: Well, writing is interesting because my work is drawing. There’s an aspect of not using any drawing media, but with the light I am drawing. With the shapes that leave the shadows, I am making drawings. And Slink is writing. He writes the lyrics, and the lyrics are really important. They are poetry and that is one of his contributions. 

SM: Lately, we have been doing automatic writing where we trade lines and share stream of consciousness. 

SJ: We recently took a long trip with our families. The kids were asleep to pass the time in the car, we traded off two words. I did two words; Slink did two words, back and forth. After that, we sifted through and made a couple of new songs. We pulled out songs. 

LD: My take is that it is music despite itself and that it is a hybrid space. 

SJ: It’s somewhere between words, sound art, poetry, lighting and this is almost painterly. Everything including the words are painterly, the sculptures, the video. Yet, there is not a whole lot of paint involved. Slink does some small paintings that are part of it. 

SM: We have a strict vision, though of what we think is Black Lake. 

LD: Do you think it’s reductive? Would you call it a reductive vision, or would you call it a compressed vision? 

SJ: We know what we are not in terms of sound and image. So when we are collaborating, if something comes in, we can remind each other that that’s not Black Lake and that helps us a lot in making our work. 

SM: But it’s compressed, reduced and expanded. 

SJ: Yea. 

SM: Because it’s got a breathing quality. 

LD: It is interesting that you create a stage in which both of you collaborate in the creativity of that space, creating the stage itself with sounds, motions, lights, transparency, sculptures, words, and a kind of abrupt movement. There is a sort of calculated improvisation, am I correct? 

SJ: Yes. For example, with the sculptures that also make sound, we don’t exactly know what they’re going to look like during the performance because they’re moving and spinning. We don’t know exactly what the sound is going to be, but we know the overall images. We know what the image is landing, and we know we can find that in the performance, but there is definitely an aspect of improvisation. We rehearse all the time. We are very serious about making sure that we feel comfortable with what we are doing before we perform. 

SM:  I like that phrase ‘music despite itself,’ because it’s almost like we don’t need to do music. We could do our art without the music, but then the music becomes this huge sky over our world. 

LD: Now, as opposed to the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, those were different types of systems of darkness that were in the 70s style. What I like about you is that you use the elements of nature at the end, and there is a sense of optimism in the way that you approach the topics, the lyrics, and the writing. There is a transparency in the collaborative materiality and emphemerality simultaneously, which gives a possibility of everything to be more, I don’t like to say the word spiritual, but more positive. 

SJ: Some of our songs, I don’t even know if they are songs, are about pretty dark subjects. But, what we have in common is that we like the grungy dark side of life. We also find, for me with my visual art, the light wherever it is, so that’s true in the sound and words we use. Would you say that is true, Slink? We don’t see the separation between dark and light. 

SM: Yes 

LD: So, here’s the conflict. That’s why I say opacity. That’s transparency. 

SM: I want to talk about opacity.  Start here 

LD: Opacity. Opacity is the conceiving aspect of darkness that I think is really good. I saw the ink, a blot of ink, in the name Black Lake. A whole puddle. As a result of that puddle, there’s residue of the darkness and the writing. 

SJ: Some people thought that the name Black Lake was about heavy metal. For us, the blackness is a shiny shimmery black, and the lake is the lake at night that finds and the light that is there. It couldn’t be for us a bright light, a bright blue sky. That’s not interesting to us. It’s all about the light that’s there in the darkness. 

SM: I keep thinking about a Chinese poet who is in the mountains and all he can think about is how water is related to writing because you use ink to write. And how the black ink is like language. 

SJ: And I think about another Chinese poet who was drunk on rice wine and he was so enamored by the reflection of the moon in the river that he and wanted it. He ran into the river to get the light and he drowned. I think there is something exquisite about that. 

LD: When I saw you both I said, “You are like lunar angels.” One time you dressed in white, and one time you dressed in black. 

SJ: Sometimes silver. 

LD: Sometimes silver. Sometimes, you have gadgets on your arms that are silver, and sometimes you become a part of the shadow of your own work. You almost interrupt your own shadow and move with your own shadow. You cut into Slink’s movement and become the shadow of the other. The music and the words become the shadow of the other. It is interesting how the moon’s reflection is operative in the music. 

SJ: One of our lyrics is ‘you move in and out like a shadow in the dark.’ I think of us as having four of us.  There are both of us and then there are our two shadows. They are performing with us. 

LD: I love that. Now, what is the purpose of the hat? 

SM: The purpose of the hat is to reference another world. It’s like that movie West World, where a cowboy ends up in the future. A lot of our music is from American music, from the cowboys of the past. We are like futuristic cow people. 

LD: Oh, I really love that. Futuristic cow people. So, ‘I put a spell on you’ is a part of a cow. How do you use that? .... (to read the full interview click on the link below)

Read the interview on bombsite here

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