Fluxing Music: Interview with Joe JONES
Interviewer: NAKAGAWA Shin (musicologist)

The following is based on an interview done in Wiesbaden, Germany on July 13, 1992 at Jones's home studio. Jones passed away six months later, leaving the second part of this interview we had planned undone.

*The Sixties: The Birth of the Music Machines

NAKAGAWA: Please tell me briefly about your activities--from when you began until today.

JONES: Okay, I'll do a very short history. I studied jazz, and then John CAGE sent me to study with Earle BROWN. And I started making what I call "music machines" in the sixties--in late '61.

NAKAGAWA: In New York?

JONES: Yes, because no one would play my music. I was composing, and I started to make the music machines as an experiment in sound. And people liked them, and then they started to be put into gallery shows and into museums. And then doing performances in Fluxus.
Jones Image

NAKAGAWA: You were involved with Fluxus in New York?

JONES: Fluxus actually started here in Europe. George MACIUNAS was stationed here. He was working for Stars and Stripes, the American newspaper for the American soldiers.

NAKAGAWA: Here means...

JONES: In Wiesbaden. It started right here. He worked right down the road. The first show was at the museum in Wiesbaden. And it traveled in Europe first. It went to Amsterdam, to Berlin.

NAKAGAWA: And in the sixties...

JONES: I did the performances with George, but I was also doing gallery shows at the same time. And then, I went to southern France for approximately one year, and worked with George BRECHT. Then when I came back, I opened up the music store in New York.

NAKAGAWA: What were you dealing with?

JONES: My own music. My music machines were in the window, and you pressed many door buttons and it would play the music in the window. So you could do a concert day or night. That I had for two years. Then I started a solo in SoHo. It was very expensive--the prices went up, so I couldn't afford to do it in New York anymore. I went to Amsterdam for one year. Still making the music machines--always making, making, making.

*The Seventies and Eighties

NAKAGAWA: How were the seventies?

JONES: Most of the seventies, I lived in Italy. I was going in and out.

NAKAGAWA: Back to New York to do shows too?

JONES: No. Well, one at the Renè Block. He had a gallery in New York City, but that's the only time I went back.

NAKAGAWA: After that, where did you go?

JONES: After that, I went to Vienna, and worked with a gallery called Gallery Lang. And from there I went to Dusseldorf. How can I say this? At that time, my wife was not dead. I said, "I think we should go to New York." Just to pay a visit, and when we got there, I said, "We're going to get married." And she couldn't believe how easy it is to get married in New York. You just say, "I tell the truth..." And then we came back, and did lots of shows everywhere in Europe. I was still involved in making solar energy music, and making computer videos, like trick films--cartoons. And Fluxus.

NAKAGAWA: And in the eighties...

JONES: In Dusseldorf, and my wife got sick, in Bavaria. That's where the doctor was. In southern Germany. And from there, to here, to Wiesbaden.

NAKAGAWA: Are you still active in making the machines?

JONES: Now, mostly performances.

NAKAGAWA: But it is difficult to take some of your machines with you, isn't it?

Jones Instrument
JONES: Well, some are big, some are small, but the problem is transportation, and the set-up time. And then if they want it for three months, and I have to try to get the pieces back, that sometimes becomes a problem. So I'd rather just do performances. I can arrive with the machines, and leave with the machines. And if someone says to me, "I'd like a machine," I say, "Come to visit me, and I'll make one for you." So they're happy, I'm happy. And the price is much lower because there's no fifty percent mark-up from the galleries. They keep asking me to do shows, but I say no.

*Meditation Music

NAKAGAWA: Who influenced you to make your machines in your early days?

JONES: In the early days, it was the mechanical music that was made, I guess, in the 1700s or 1800s. They made all these big orchestras that worked off of steam. Calliopes, and this and that. And there were a lot of mechanical orchestras in Europe. And they called them "automatons" at that time.

NAKAGAWA: These were not automatic pianos?

JONES: It was everything: drums, piano, violins playing--everything.
Jones Instruments

NAKAGAWA: Do you usually use ready-made instruments?

JONES: Found instruments. Broken ones, if I can find them.

NAKAGAWA: Are the mechanics of your machines always the same? With small motors...

JONES: Yeah, rubber bands, or elastic, or balls. Since the beginning I've tried to keep it simple, I don't want it to get complicated. The simpler the better to my mind. I don't want to make elaborate complications. I think it's better natural. Like little butterflies. Like a little animal, or bird, playing the music.

NAKAGAWA: Do you do your performances indoors or outdoors?

JONES: The solar orchestra should be outside normally, and the performance is from when the sun comes up to the sun goes down. It's solar-powered. So when the clouds come, they make it go quiet, so I don't touch it.

NAKAGAWA: A real time relationship to nature.

JONES: The wind also helps.

NAKAGAWA: So nature is a very important part of the conception for you, but today you controlled...

JONES: Yeah, with a paper, but normally the clouds do that. When it's outside, I have to tie my hands so I don't touch it. It's better. (showing photos) This is an example.

NAKAGAWA: Ah, a performance on the beach! We can hear the sound of waves at the same time. Do you prefer a long, sustained tone? Like a drone?

JONES: Mostly. Right, like a drone, and then gradual change.

NAKAGAWA: Is this something to do with minimal music?

JONES: No, I think it has to do with meditation.

NAKAGAWA: Have you ever collaborated with La Monte YOUNG?

JONES: No, we're good friends, but I've never worked with him.

NAKAGAWA: So your music is your own music.

JONES: And La Monte's music is his own music. And John Cage's music is John Cage's music.

NAKAGAWA: How is your music related to meditation?

JONES: I use it for myself that way. Even if no one is there, just to do it outside in a good space. In the country somewhere, or by the water. And then I do writing and listen to it, or just dream. Or think. And a lot of people have the same feeling, if they're not in a hurry. That's why it has to be in a quiet place, so there are no distractions. Somewhere where there are no automobiles if possible.

NAKAGAWA: But don't you think your music disturbs nature?

JONES: No, I don't think so. I hope not.

NAKAGAWA: Of course, that was a bad question.

JONES: I'll have to ask that question next time.

NAKAGAWA: Do you draw pictures or paint?

JONES: I do drawings about the music. They're not real drawings, they're computer-generated. I'll show you an example. Mostly they are about my music, so it's like a history in drawings of what I did. Plus, at that time, I had no camera, and I had no photographs of most of the pieces.

NAKAGAWA: I got the general idea today. Next time I would like to ask you about nature and sound and so on, and something about your history. You've been very friendly, thank you very much.
part three
Fluxus in Italy
Christopher Stephens
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