The varied art of stALLio! A DJ and collage artist who works with sound, video and paper, stAllio! has made a name for himself — albeit an unusual one — on the Indianapolis music scene. His Web site, animalswithinanimals.com, is the best place to go if you want to understand what he does. Or keep an eye out for one of his live shows. Recently, stAllio! exchanged thoughts on a variety of topics with NUVO. NUVO: When did you start taking your art seriously?
stAllio!: I always had friends who were in bands and stuff like that, but not playing any formal instruments, I didn’t have a lot of options for joining one, other than doing vocals. By the end of high school I started writing and recording my own songs using cheap, lo-fi recording gear. I quickly started getting serious about that, especially once computer-based recording became practical.
For visual arts, I had long been interested in desktop publishing and graphic design, then later Web design. But I didn’t really get serious about making visual art until I started getting comfortable with graphic design, because I can’t draw or paint.
NUVO: Where have you performed in the city and elsewhere? What’s your favorite place to perform?
stAllio!: Locally, I’ve played at Radio Radio, the Melody Inn, United States of Mind, Bubba’s Bowling Alley, some house parties and other places I’m either forgetting or don’t want to mention. I used to play a lot at the Festivilla before they closed. That place was great. Regionally, I’ve played all over Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, with other stops in Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania, etc.
I don’t think I have a “favorite place” to play right now (though the Melody Inn is one of the best places in town for live music, hands down), but my favorite shows tend to be experimental or noise shows: The audiences (when they show up) are very supportive, and I always know I’ll get to see interesting sets by other performers.
NUVO: Talk about some of your influences — from the world of art and from the world of your day-to-day life.
stAllio!: I get a lot of influence from unusual places: advertising/marketing, technical art, things I see on TV or hear on the radio, or stuff I stumble across at the office. I take things from all over the place, which is probably appropriate because collage is about taking pieces from disparate places and making them into a seemingly incongruous whole.
Musically, Negativland was the band that really opened my eyes regarding what you can do by recontextualizing samples. I’d already been working with samples and had heard a lot of hip-hop-style sampling, but they showed me just how far you can take those ideas.
I’m also really into experimental electronic music, noise and aggressive dance music like breakcore.
Visually, I see lots of underground art (mostly online), tagging and Web design stuff, but I also take a lot of inspiration from technical art and marketing materials. Not so much the “good ads” (there is lots of advertising that’s undeniably creative and well-done), but the stuff that’s not really supposed to be creative. Take a printer test sheet or the fold-out instructions that come with a new Dell computer: Here is a piece of poster-sized “art” that someone clearly spent a lot of time designing, laying out and illustrating, not “for art’s sake” but to get a paycheck and instruct someone how to hook up their computer. I think it’s really interesting to take something like that and turn it back into capital A Art.
NUVO: Why are you drawn to the ideas of collage?
stAllio!: I’ve always been a bit of a packrat, someone who’s compelled to collect shiny things, record campy TV shows or pick up and keep a cheesy flier. I used to cover my walls, binders, lockers, etc. with logos or kitschy things I’d picked up, as a lot of people do. With collage, I can take advantage of these traits rather than just have a bunch of crap fill up my home. A stupid piece of paper I picked up 10 years ago or a cheesy record I got for $1 can become the key ingredient in an art piece, which can be really rewarding. Unfortunately, it makes cleaning up pretty hard, as I can find ways to justify keeping all sorts of trash that I probably shouldn’t. In a way it actually encourages my messiest traits, which probably isn’t an entirely good thing.
NUVO: Much of your work seems to be a comment on our modern times, yet technology plays a key role in how you make it. How do you balance the two?
stAllio!: Modern technology is a real democratizing agent for those who can afford it. I like that. Other than straight paper-and-scissors collage, very little of what I do is possible without computers and electronics.
I’m not scared of modern tech as much as I’m scared of the corporate entities that try to control our culture by locking it up through patents, copyright and digital rights management. You know, we live in an environment where corporations can collect all your personal information and then try to sell it back to you as a credit report. Culture comes from the people; that’s what makes it culture, but we the people don’t really “own” any of it, according to the law.
NUVO: What’s it like being an experimental artist in a city like Indianapolis? I understand audiences aren’t always so receptive to what you do. Does that provide further motivation for you or discourage you?
stAllio!: Being an experimental artist in Indy is tough. There are a fair number of people around doing interesting art or making experimental music, but we’re not very organized; there isn’t much of a support network, and there aren’t a lot of venues available to us. Most of the local shows I get invited to play tend to be rock shows where someone on the bill likes what I do, or electric shows with all kinds of artists. Stuff like that. Actually, being any kind of electronic musician is pretty tough around here, ever since the city cracked down on rave culture a few years ago and essentially crushed the electronic music community. What’s left has been forced to move into the dance clubs or go completely underground.
As an experimental electronic artist, it’s particularly hard, as I tend to get pegged as just a “DJ” by a lot of people, but I don’t really fit into the “dance music” scene either.
I try not to let that discourage me too much. I have a decent number of fans, thanks to the Internet; they’re just geographically dispersed. I don’t think it affects my “studio” work too much, but a limp or hostile crowd can sure negatively impact live performances.
NUVO: What do you see in the future of this city’s art and music scene? Are you planning to stick around?
stAllio!: Overall, the local scene seems to be doing pretty well these days. The local music scene is vibrant, though lacking in certain areas, and the city’s cultural initiative seems to be working hard to make art (or at least “accessible” art) more visible and widespread. The Mass. Ave. and Fountain Square districts seem to be doing really well these days. So that’s all good and promising.
I’m sticking around for the time being. But when my girlfriend finishes grad school in a couple years, we might end up emigrating. I do wonder how much more I can do here. I’ve made a bit of a name for myself, but there are other cities that are much more supportive of experimental music and the like. And it’s definitely tempting to move to one of those places and see how far I can go.