Interview With Byan Saunders: Part 2 of 2

[Continued from Part 1.]

Q: A bit of a background question—when did you get into performance art? What appealed to you about it?

I often feel like I did a lot of spoken word performances in prison back in ’90. Like that’s where I really got my start because it was socially acceptable to just go off in there. It was very liberating. Cathartic even. Years later I did a couple of performances in painting class at E.T.S.U. when I was an undergrad. And I did a few after graduating here in town between ’98 and ’01. I started the stand-up tragedy after I got back from China in 2005, but it’s not very physical and doesn’t involve much action at all so I’d say that it’s more of a spoken word performance even though I frequently use video and sound. The last real performance art piece I did was called “Sign it!” back in ’07 and it dealt with a TN police brutality case. I played both the victim and his torturers. I guess you could say that I’m really drawn to letting it out, it’s healthier than keeping it in and having it come out sideways and hurting people.

Q: How were things different for you before and after you got out of prison?

Let’s see, before prison I was extremely homophobic, afterward not so much. Before prison I had a lot of possessions and after prison I had practically none. Before prison I ate relatively slowly, now I eat food much harder and faster. Before, I cared a lot about where I lived. Now I don’t give a shit at all: I’ve lived in a basement, a chicken coop on an abandoned hippie commune, a homeless shelter, a biker house, stayed in the dorm at college for 5 years, 2 group homes, an office, government housing and the list goes on. In only 8 months time I was broken of most human needs. Also, before prison I would never take handouts. But now I thrive on them. Almost all of my meals each week come from churches and soup kitchens. Prison taught me to enjoy free crappy food.

Q: Do you currently hold a job, or would you consider yourself wholly dedicated to your art? And, as a second part to the question, do you think having a job would detract from whole-hearted creative dedication?

My art is my job. I live on the cheap or I would not be able to survive. Once every 6 years or so I’ll get a job for a couple months as a janitor or I’ll work at McDonalds when the economy falls apart, but a four hour lunch rush shift at McDonalds will punish your brain chemistry. McDonalds pays more than the local “fine dining” restaurants do and you don’t get many hours a week so you can still have time to do your work but the artwork suffers greatly while you’reworking there.

Q: Now that you mention brain chemistry, let’s talk about drugs again. I suggest that, in a way, everything is a drug, but the effects of some of these drugs (say, a four-hour lunch shift at McDonalds) might be less apparent, and thus, more malignant (ie: What’s worse: Eight-hours day in a cubicle lit by fluorescents, or lighter fluid fumes?). Why is it that art about chemical drugs is more ‘affecting’ than, say, art about a four-hour McDonalds lunch shift?

I agree. To me personally, some jobs are not more affecting than certain drugs, but obviously some drugs are more powerful than some jobs. A 4 hour lunch rush at McDonalds would probably have a greater effect on me than an anti-biotic horse pill on an empty stomach. Many things have a tremendous effect on your nervous system. I really try to draw it all. I could post the ones of me on the job but I doubt people would care much. Much more people are interested in drugs. And many media outlets are drawn to the sensational.

Q: So what are some projects you’ve been working on lately?

I just got back from LA where we shot the first half of a short film I’m starring in directed by Lawrence Klein. I’m also preparing for some new performances coming up in France and in the UK. I’ve also become a found photographer this year with 671 photos I’ve found in trash cans, dumpsters or on the streets of Johnson City on 16 different occasions, so I plan on doing something with them after I accumulate a solid years worth. James Hollenbaugh has just made an exprimental film for my album with Z’EV titled “Daku” that I hope to be able to perform alongside. I still have to manufacture the last 8 album/chapters of my epic unconscious book on tape titled, “The Confessor”. When finished it will be 24 album/chapters long with a running time of 11.5 hours. I’ll be doing lectures on the Third Ear Experiment too. Plus my latest book, “Authentic Soup Kitchen Menus” is to be published by Leif Elggren’s Firework Editions. And a poetry book, “Prison for Dummies” is to be published by Blossoming Noise.

Q: What’s the strangest encounter you’ve ever had with another person?

After doing a show in Nashville once, a psychopath started yelling that I made him want to cut the head off of a monkey, He kept screaming it over and over again, God damn man! You made me wanna cut the head off a monkey!” And it was making people pretty nervous nervous. After a half hour of that he quietly confronted me outside and said, “I can out masturbate you.” That was really strange.  That’s when I realized that you can’t force a psychopath to have feelings.

Q: Before I ask about third ear, let’s talk about stream of unconsciousness. It seems that stream of consciousness is, in a way, stream of unconsciousness, so what makes this unique?

The Stream of Unconsciousness differs from the Stream of Conscious in that I’m unconscious when I create it. I’m not awake. I’m asleep. It’s material that is spoken in my sleep and then transcribed verbatim after I wake up in the morning. My superego and ego are not present during the experience. It’s driven solely by the id, so there is no self-censorship involved. I could never think like that much less write like that, or even come up with those stories if I was conscious or awake. Now in order to capture the unconscious dream experience more fully without it just sounding like somniloquy gibberish with no context, I will include the semi-wakeful dream descriptions if I don’t remember recording them either. Once you cut out all of the lengthy spaces of silence or just breathing or snoring between sleeptalking and add music to it often seems conscious, but that’s what most musicians are comfortable doing when working with the material. And if they didn’t do all that some dreams/albums would be hours long. Not every sleep/dream related work that I’ve done is in this narrative mode either.

Q: Have you ever found yourself saying anything telling or strangely lucid during your somniloquies?

Always. Everything about it is telling. And it’s always strangely lucid. I used to never sleep-talk ever, but I accidentally classically conditioned myself to. And what’s really fascinating is that I conditioned myself to sleep-talk while I was asleep. You see it started off with me just wanting to remember my dreams really badly, but I would often forget details and things while I was in the process of waking up. Or I’d just forget stuff while writing them down in the morning. So I started sleeping with a handheld tape recorder because the transfer of information in that way is much more immediate. And as soon as I started waking up I could just press the record button and remember/document a lot more of it that way. But that act quickly and obsessively led to me waking up four times a night and recording every single dream I had. Then over a period of time that act unconsciously evolved into me talking in my sleep. But not only that, like Pavlov’s dogs I started pressing the record button in my sleep too! Sometimes I would start to wake up and press the record button and describe what the dream was about but then I would fall asleep again while the recorder was still going and unbeknownst to me I’d keep on talking sporadically off an on for an hour or more totally unconscious. It’s taken me years of unconscious experience to be able to do this so I’m just going to keep on letting it take me wherever the evolving process allows me to go. And because I’ve never believed in self-censorship anyway, that’s where the really good stuff is, it doesn’t bother me at all. The more telling the better. Though many people have said my drams are just too weird or harrowing. I think theirs probably are too, they just aren’t conscious of it at all.

Q: Do you ever play with any kind of lucid dreaming?

No. I really try to keep the act as natural as possible. And by that I mean not interfering with or within the actual dream itself. That might be where I go next if the process or my ideation stalls out. I’m not opposed to the idea at all, but I’d much prefer to see where the unconscious takes me. If I were to get into the lucid dreaming, in my eyes it would be like manipulating the source instead of acquiring as much of the source as possible, which has always been the goal thus far.

Q: The narration of your third ear experiment seems very prayerful. Is it incidental that the exercise seems spiritual?

Well, I’d say it’s incidental because those are quotes from my facebook posts. I had a secret group of about 130 people following along on facebook and I jut grabbed excerpts like journal entries for the blog, but they were really just comments on the illustrations and photographs etc. I was hoping that I would encounter some kind of spirituality but for one I didn’t know what to expect and I had no clue at all about what was going to happen just an idea that I made up. But I think the torture factor limited that possibility to some degree. I was hallucinating for so many days straight, and spiritual things did happen to me, but I didn’t get too lost in their meaning or caught up in it because the pain and torture would bring me back to reality. Also the act of documentation itself hindered or stifled the experiences, so towards the end I just had to let that go. I mean I still did art and stuff everyday but I had to make a conscious effort to just ride with the experiences and not be too concerned at all with how to describe them or document them. It was pretty overwhelming.

Q: Much of your art/experiments deals with altered states, and with this kind of incidental spirituality in mind, is there something you’re trying to uncover (or discover) in your projects?

I guess I would have to say I’m after more knowledge about myself, and what it means to be human.

Q: Do you think you’ve learned more about this over your years as an artist?

Definitely!

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