PART ONE: Shannon Ketch (Cosmic Ray, Sunburned Hand of the Man, APIE, Viewer, etc. )
Shannon Ketch is a sound witch, visual artist and writer based in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, US. Mikey has been having an ongoing conversation with him via email as well as compiling recordings of his Cosmic Ray recording project and a few of his art pieces for a four part series on Fruit of the Spirit. Below is a link to download part one of his recordings. Let's get started with the interview...
Mikey- Shannon, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Something I wondered today: have you ever been in a physical altercation and why?
Shannon- Once when I was 14 with a kid who was constantly taunting me. I fought him in the bathroom at school with a dozen kids around. I just remember putting my head down and swinging wildly and he must have hit my knee or the sink with his eye which was blackened. I was deemed the victor and then was propositioned to fight other kids including a midget, dwarf or whatever is the right term for a person that doesn't grow physically.
I was beaten up by a group of kids in my 20's when I was on my bike riding home from work in Brooklyn and I was hospitalized. I don't really want to talk about that though because it's very traumatizing for me to think about. I'm a peace loving guy at the core.
Mikey- I suppose I should have presented my initial question as "...when you were a kid". Not that I sit around and think about youngsters fighting all the time but it seems like a primal/raw time in one's life and today I found myself day dreaming at work about "The Warriors" and situations of that ilk. Those 50's-80's teenage street gangs. Pony Boy or whatever. But like war is so much more brutal and it's happening all over the world in the now of our adult life. When I was young, I was terrified of a single punch. I wonder if today's youth have a different perspective (or fear/lack of fear) of violence? Anyway, so you just finished a UK/European tour with Sunburned Hand of the Man. Was it a trip of peace and love?
Shannon- I get pretty pissed off thinking about the inequalities people face because of economic fast footing that's happened going back to the social contract. It's especially in your face these days with people getting an over large piece of the pie while others dwell in abject poverty. People like us get by but it's irksome that folks in power are not interested in solving issues like this.
But to your question. Yeah! It was a peace and love ceremony for the most part. I was happy to see you and rejoin the Sunburned collaboration that we started awhile back when you encouraged me to throw down in 2017 (I have been a member of SBHOTM on and off for a few years -Ed.). It's an honor to be in the Sunburned fold. They open their arms and spirits to me. I hold it as a sacred truth!!
Mikey- Yes! The Sunburned Hand of the Man universe is vast. Crazy to think about how many people, years and vibes have passed through their doors. Taking a few years away from it and focusing on more song oriented stuff, I really began to miss improvisation and spontaneous performance. It felt so good to let loose and just go for it again. I notice while you have always seemed so free with your approach to performance and recording with SBHOTM, there are also recurring themes/characters/vibrations. How much do you have up your sleeve or is it 100% possession in the moment. Care to elaborate?
Shannon- Well I just do my best to try to clear the field. I mean I need my head to be as clear as possible but there are themes over and over through a number of shows or events that we've done, videos, recordings, etc. like "Peace Snake", "Candy Randy", "The Rampant Priest", "The Priest of the Village" to name a few. I just see these as incantations or something like that, completely off the cuff, and I don't worry so much about what they mean. They could mean different things to different people and that's fine with me.
I'm also pretty free wheeling with recording music/sounds/etc. and I don't like to dwell long on anything that I do because I find that I'm already past it (even going into it). It's better for my head to just get it out and let it be what it is though sometimes I feel self-conscious about choice for my process. That can't be helped and I don't worry about it too much.
Mikey- One (of many) aspects that I've always appreciated about your process is the other worldly motif running throughout your projects. Whether that be in an ensemble or solo, your music, to be frank, has an "oddity" to it. Some would call it magick. Do you buy into that take? How important is magick to you?
Shannon- Well I have an interest in the occult for sure. I was involved with the Fourth Way work in a group setting with people who had practiced for 30 or 40 years. Bev (Shannon's partner) got me into this in some ways because she thought it would be interesting for us as a couple to look into and knew that I had an interest in Gurdjieff. That work was beneficial for creating what we did on the Viewer record entitled "True Friends". That record was also informed by tarot readings and poems. I had also spent a lot of time sitting Vipassana close to where we live in Western Massachusetts. There was a lot of healing when I was more involved in sitting for long periods of time. These days I don't sit as much. I tend to channel more energy into creative projects. I admire those who are more disciplined with their practice but I'm just not able to be that disciplined. I think there's a hidden regimen to being free as well. I'm also not a very disciplined artist. Everything I do is pretty willy-nilly. I think I do it because it helps me to see some things that are hidden in my psyche. I can see that I'm not able to channel things into a commercial interest which in itself is probably magick.
Cover of "Cosmic Ray '22 No. 1". Photo by Shannon Ketch
Mikey- When we started talking about you doing something for Fruit of the Spirit, you presented the idea of sharing a four part recording under the guise of your Cosmic Ray moniker. I thought it would be a great idea to do a post dedicated to each part, including conversations throughout the series as well as showcasing some of your art. I'd like to know what sparked the idea to record the four pieces and what separates Cosmic Ray from your other endeavors?
Shannon- Well there's a lot to that, hahaha. Cosmic Ray was initially a character born out of an idea of these Krishna Vishnu Christ community cassette tapes that I found up in northern Vermont a decade and a half ago. I really liked the voice of the elder who sounded like he was speaking from beyond the grave and when I first started doing vocals in Sunburned I thought it would be funny to bring that character alive on stage and so I started doing voice memos of this character. Then I made that into a recording which I put out with a handmade paper mask. From there I started doing recordings that involved the pedal steel that I have which I don't really know how to play. Now all Cosmic Ray recordings have the pedal steel on them and usually synthesizer. They are always improvised in the moment and I don't go back and edit them usually. I might add reverb and other effects but I really like for it to be a chance operation of sorts and like an expressionist painting, just be as raw as possible. Given the name of the zine, I thought it made sense to provide that as a soundtrack to my visual art pieces and this interview. The four part series aspect of what we're doing is just a number and four seems like the most symmetrical number there is. Wrap it up like a box.
Interview continued in Part Two