February 22, 2024

Music Producer Steve Albini, Director Godfrey Reggio & Actor Fred Armisen Explain Why Creating Is Crucial to Human Existence


Imag­ine, if you will, an evening’s enter­tain­ment con­sist­ing of an episode of Port­landia, a spin of Nir­vana’s In Utero, and a screen­ing of Koy­aanisqat­si. Per­haps these works would, at first glance, seem to have lit­tle in com­mon. But if you end the night by watch­ing the above episode of Big Think’s series Dis­patch­es from the Well with Kmele Fos­ter, their com­mon spir­it may well come into view. In it, Fos­ter trav­els Amer­i­ca in order to vis­it with God­frey Reg­gio, Steve Albi­ni, and Fred Armisen, wide­ly known, respec­tive­ly, as the direc­tor of Koy­aanisqat­si, the pro­duc­er of In Utero, and the co-cre­ator of Port­landia. All of them have also made a great deal of oth­er work, and none of them are about to stop now.

“When you have a mania, you can scream and go nuts, or you can write every­thing down,” says Reg­gio. “I write every­thing down.” The same con­cept aris­es in Fos­ter’s con­ver­sa­tion with Albi­ni, who believes that “the best music is made in ser­vice of the mania of the peo­ple doing it at the moment.” As for “the peo­ple who are try­ing to be pop­u­lar, who are try­ing to, like, enter­tain — a lot of that music is triv­ial.”

Fos­ter cred­i­bly describes Albi­ni as “a man with a code,” not least that which dic­tates his rejec­tion of dig­i­tal media. “I’m not mak­ing an aes­thet­ic case for ana­log record­ing,” he says. “Ana­log record­ings are a durable archive of our cul­ture, and in the dis­tant future, I want peo­ple to be able to hear what our music sound­ed like.”

To cre­ate as per­sis­tent­ly as these three have demands a will­ing­ness to play the long game — and to “re-per­ceive the nor­mal,” as Reg­gio puts it while artic­u­lat­ing the pur­pose of his uncon­ven­tion­al doc­u­men­tary films. To his mind, it’s what we per­ceive least that affects us most, and if “what we do every day, with­out ques­tion, is who we are,” we can enrich our expe­ri­ence of real­i­ty by ask­ing ques­tions in our life and our work like, “Is it the con­tent of your mind that deter­mines your behav­ior, or is it your behav­ior that deter­mines the con­tent of your mind?” This line of inquiry will send each of us in dif­fer­ent intel­lec­tu­al and aes­thet­ic direc­tions, impos­si­ble though it is to arrive at a final answer. And in the face of the fact that we all end up at the same place in the end, Armisen has a cre­ative strat­e­gy: “I real­ly cel­e­brate death,” he explains. “I have my funer­al all planned out and every­thing.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers & Writ­ers Have Always Known

How TV Addles Kids’ Brains: A Short Film Direct­ed by God­frey Reg­gio (Mak­er of Koy­aanisqat­si) & Scored by Philip Glass

Read Steve Albini’s Uncom­pro­mis­ing Pro­pos­al to Pro­duce Nirvana’s In Utero (1993)

Fred Armisen Teach­es a Short Sem­i­nar on the His­to­ry of Punk

Koy­aanisqat­si at 1552% Speed

Why Man Cre­ates: Saul Bass’ Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Look at Cre­ativ­i­ty (1968)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.





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