Alex Kurtagic (Supernal Music) interview from Qvadrivivm #4 (2001)

A Micro-be Discussion

Interview: Arkadin

This winter of the new millennium, inspired by grey, withered trees, glistening snow, frozen creeks, icicles, and magenta sunsets, it was my pleasure to get in touch with Supernal Music’s Head of Lettuce, the venerable Alex Kurtagic. Delightfully witty and sarcastic as I had expected, some of his responses were certainly not as I expected.  But what good would come from an interview if the answers were to always conform to one’s expectations? It would be a prosaic interview, that’s what it would be. 

So to begin with, let us, gentlemen, analyse the nature, the first principle, the arche, if you will, of the Supernal canon, if it in fact has one. Let us examine this propensity to sign, thus far, only bands that are, as it has been illustrated in the label’s Aesthetic Manifesto, “of a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.”

As you have used the term yourself, Alex, and given the nature of so many of your releases, what meaning does the word ‘commercial’ exactly have in your mind, in its application towards music and the underground world in particular? Does it carry a negative connotation for you, or a positive one, and why? Is there a particular reason why you have decided to work with the uncommercial rather than the commercial bands for your company?

“Commercial has neither a positive nor a negative connotation in my mind,” Alex explains, beginning our discussion. “It can be good or bad, depending on your perspective and the subject. As a businessman, commercial is good. As an artist, it depends.

“As to why I decided to work with ‘uncommercial’ bands (and here I mean ‘uncommercial’ not as ‘niche’ but as ‘graveyard stock’), the answer is that because I was foolish. Thankfully, I eventually woke up from that stupor.”

Interesting. It was the sales that woke you from that stupor, then?  Which items in your distribution tend to sell the most?  And conversely, which items sell the worst? What have you had most success with on the Supernal label in particular?

“CD’s sell the most. The worst performing items are those for which there is little interest…”

Aha. Thanks for clearing that up! For those who are not familiar, Supernal Music is a label divided into four subsidies, each with its own specific purpose: Supernal works with odd, avant-garde metal, Conquistador Records signs extreme metal from South America, Nazgul’s Eyrie has been a black metal label, and Cruentous Aadorns, finally, is reserved for unleashing cult and limited edition versions of established classics in the genre. How do you organize the promotion of these sub-divisions? Are all equally active today? Or is there a tendency to focus on one more than another? Is it a capricious, ad hoc arrangement?

“As we are going to focus exclusively on mail ordering and online ordering for the next two to three years, most label activities have all been put on ice. There are one or two releases pending on Conquistador, which were recorded last year, but, after those have been dealt with, we will release very little indeed.”

Shame, as you had an interesting array of bands in the line-up. Does this decision have some correlation to the recent dismissal of two of your artists? What are the stories, many people are interested in knowing, with Deinonychus, and Fleurety departing from Supernal? Was it unexpected from your side?

“Deinonychus: personality problems.

“Fleurety (and all the other bands, save The Meads of Asphodel): a strategic company review, whereby our existing label activities no longer fitted in with what we wanted to do.”

Yikes. How much of your time do you generally spend working on and promoting your distribution?

“I spend most of my waking hours working on the mail order. The parts I like working on the most are the parts which require me to learn something new - especially if it involves increasing productivity and maximising efficiency through information technology.”

Is it your chief source of income?

“My chief source of income is grey and gelatinous.”

Fascinating. And submissions? Do you still receive submissions from ambitious artists desiring to get signed by an established label? How do you handle their volume, if so?

“As I am no longer signing new bands, and as my time is also severely limited, I regret to say that I end up not even acknowledging receipt. I also have an artistic project of my own, so I know most artists would like a written response from each label they send promos to; unfortunately, however, when you are the label, you realise it is simply not practical, efficient, or possible to do so.”

Understood. But generally, if and when a new band is selected, how are contracts drawn? Is there a standard process?

“I used to send a standard contract, which would initiate a period of questions and answers. Eventually, in every case both parties decided they were in agreement and the documents were signed.”

Signed in blood, I reckon. Magic vanishing blood in the case of Fleurety and Deinonychus, sadly. But what was done was done. Is there any band or bands you feel have been terribly ignored in the underground and deserve more recognition? Any unsigned bands that have impressed you?  Anything you’d like to plug?

“I recently came across Open Grave, from the U.S.A. They had some MP3’s in mp3.com. They and Black Witchery are worth noting.”

What would you recommend to someone who was preparing to start a distribution of his own? For example, what would be the first step for one to secure one’s own label, and to be treated seriously in the underground and abroad?

“The former boss of Jungle.com puts it rather well: ‘get big, get niche, or get out’.”

Quite pithy, if I do say so.

Now if your head was torn off in a violent accident, and you were given the choice of remaining alive as a disembodied head, with no autonomous means of transportation, or to expire, which would you pick? And assuming that your head was in fact kept alive in a jar, say, where would you prefer to spend your days in such a dependent and subordinate position? How would you spend your time?  Most importantly, would you continue your work in Supernal Music?

“If this were to happen in a future when technology is much more advanced, I would opt to live, since it would be possible to regrow a new body from a sample of DNA. I am assuming I would be able to afford this procedure, of course.”

Are you still involved in your Astral Metal project, Benighted Leams?  Have you written anything new since the last release? 

“Benighted Leams: There is material for a third album, codenamed ‘Ferly Centesms’ for now. I have not had the time to record it and I have been too tired to think of the lyrics.”

What were some of the most colourful responses and opinions you’ve received concerning this project?

“Responses to my music ranged from dithyrambic praise to scornful dismissal without a listen. The usual.”

Let’s dwell a bit deeper. I understand, especially given your band and its conceptual themes, your working with such interesting entities as Messier object 87, that you have an interest in matters of astronomy and physics. What do you think has drawn you to these subjects? Do you consider yourself an empiricist when it comes to science, the nature and origin of the universe? Do you find it at all peculiar that the absurd idea of god is still not discounted even though advances in cosmology and physics today have all but entirely demolished the idea of a definite beginning to the universe? That these outdated and largely obsolete modes of Aristotelian reasoning are still strong in peoples’ minds given the nihilistic indeterminacy of quantum physics?

“I suppose you will want me to go into rant about religion here, won’t you.”

Mhh. Not necessarily…

“After all, this is what this question seems designed to do, and it would work if asked to someone else. But you won’t be fooling me.”

“Religion fulfils an anthropological function,” Alex asserts, “in that it establishes the boundaries of a society. As these boundaries are usually based on irrational fears common to the human condition, it is an effective instrument in preventing societies from falling apart, given that fear is an involuntary emotion. As we, as a species, have not yet advanced sufficiently to ascertain whether religion is just a tool that becomes obsolete when a certain level of evolution is reached, I am not in any position to say that it has become completely unnecessary. I guess it still is, since there are many who follow it in its various modalities. Yet, it is clear that it is not a perfect instrument, because it is divisive, backward, stifling, and oppressive. I personally don’t require religion in my life.”

I believe you have missed out on the generality of my question; i.e. the modern applicability of Aristotelian reasoning, the total incompatibility of outdated concepts with known reality.  But no matter…

I’ll ask you a different set of questions. Is there any unknown variable that boggles your mind most in the science world today?  Do you have any interest in exobiology, the search for extraterrestrial life? What are your thoughts, for example, on the SETI program? Do you believe it is even a wise idea for human beings to continue searching for sentient and complex life in the universe today given the fact that morally and emotionally most human beings are still living in the Stone Age? What are some of the ramifications you can imagine of a situation where alien life was found and proven to exist? What if they were to come to visit us?

Alex: “Whether I think it is a good idea to search for sentient and complex life, I think yes, because it is only when we are confronted with challenges that we supersede ourselves. The idea that we should not do something because ‘we are too stupid’ is absurd. If we are too stupid, then we should do whatever it is so that we can learn and not be so stupid. Receiving a kick in the teeth usefully relieves one of his / her ignorance - at least in most cases.

“I don’t see the usefulness in speculating about ramifications of an event that cannot be predicted or understood before it actually takes place. We can only prepare for the worst (which we will most likely not do), and hope for the best, as always.”

OK. I swallow my pride. Perhaps I should have paraphrased the first part of my question. But as for the second, I respect your view, but I think you are being a tad unrealistic when you claim that we must ‘learn and not be stupid’ if we are ‘too stupid’.  If most people who are stupid understood that they are stupid, then they would strive on their own to conquer their stupidity and, ergo, would no longer be stupid. The fact that the majority of humans are stupid has been illustrated time and time again through history. No need to cite examples. 

But let me continue on from this stupid question on to another. Of all the artists on Supernal Music (or those outside, for that matter) which do you think alien organisms would find most in common with?

“Most alien organisms are likely to be microbes, so it would be difficult to answer this question without insulting all of the artists that are and used to be on the label. Maybe, because you are a sensationalist journalist aspiring to a glittering career in a sleazy tabloid, this was the intent behind your question. Don’t tell me this is not true.”

Well, now you are simply being presumptuous, my friend. That most alien organisms are microbes is most likely true… but not unconditionally true. And besides, as you’ve said yourself, how are we to predict or understand something before it takes place?  Don’t tell me you didn’t get the gist of my question, which was never meant to be taken literally to begin with. You’re just trying to rouse my ire, aren’t you? 

Here’s one that should hit closer to home, as the saying goes. What is your opinion of Stephen Hawking, the British physicist, how the media has so focused on his ALS rather than his scientific accomplishments? 

“I don’t have an opinion about Stephen Hawking, since just reading someone’s book is not enough to form an opinion about the person.

“I enjoyed A Brief History of Time. I don’t think the media has focused on Hawking’s ALS, to be honest.  Quite the opposite. Perhaps your question betrays the fact that you have focused on this man’s condition.”

Funny. I’ve never met Galileo, Newton, Plato or Jesus for that matter, but I can still freely speculate on what they’ve written, done or discovered. Perhaps we should all stay quiet regarding figures we’ve never met personally. So much for Einstein’s Theory of Relavity; never met the man, right? What about Newton’s laws of gravitation? Neither of us met him. We must stay silent, right? But wait, you didn’t honestly think I was inquiring about Hawking’s personality per se, if he’s the type of person you would want to have a cup of tea with?!  Uh, you’re just trying to make me angry, aren’t you? I won’t allow you that liberty.

I’ll rather change the topic to someone you should be much more familiar with. What was the last dream that you have had that you remember? Can you recall the most terrifying nightmare that you’ve ever had in your life?

“A couple of months ago I dreamt that someone I knew was getting married and part of the ritual involved amputating the bride’s arms, legs, and every sensual part of her anatomy, while she lied on a straw cradle, patient and conscious, before the ceremony. I walked in while this act of barbarism was being performed, with a bread knife. I think that I went to bed remembering a news report I saw about female genital mutilation, as practiced in some African countries, and thinking how pathetic it was.”

Interesting one. I’ll tell you one of mine. I once had an agonizing dream of a machine slowly crawling up the stairs, set on killing me; reminiscent of the fighting machine that Paul Atreides fights at the beginning of the film, Dune, if you’ve seen it.  Actually, when I think back, it was more like R2-D2 from Star Wars, with spikes and swords protruding from its body. I think so? Oh, what does it matter… it was disturbing, any way you look at it. I had to get up and read a bit to fall back to sleep; that’s how bad it was. 

You seem particularly well read, Alex... What were some of the last books that you have read?

“I mostly read technical computer literature right now, to be honest. There is a lot to learn and I don’t really have any time left for feelings and frivolities.

“While I was on holiday recently my father gave me his spare copy of UML in a Nutshell, by Sinan Si Alhir…”

Fascinating (yawn).

“What I have read so far is quite dry. UML is used mostly by software developers, although it can be applied in other areas.”

I’d apply it somewhere, all right, though my modest nature forbids me of saying so at the moment…

Tell me, what are some of the things you would change if you had the authority to do so in a government or sovereignty?  I would really like to know.

“I am not sure you can just dictatorially decree change and expect something to work better immediately.”

Just answer the bloody question!

“Societies are extremely complex, and one action in one area can have a wide range of unexpected repercussions in a wide range of unexpected areas, which will elicit, most likely, a whole range of unexpected problems.  Still, there are things that would vastly improve the world, like the absence of house dust, for example. But then, what would the poor spiders eat?”

It’s something I have been contemplating myself.  There is an incredible surplus lately of house dust, and I fear it will be the end of all of us: some, perhaps, earlier than others, dependent upon our allergic susceptibility. Indeed, it is a problem of far-reaching, dire consequences. Could it be a case for the United Nations to solve…? Should the US interfere?  Deliberations are still in effect. One thing is for sure, however: arachnids have rights too. And don’t any one of you forget it.

My thanks to Alex Kurtagic for his time…

The Supernal Music Aesthetic Manifesto, from their Internet site:
“Supernal Music focuses on extreme Metal which is odd, avantgarde, and, preferrably (but not necessarily), too obscure to be in the mainstream of this ever-expanding genre. Hence, the music we offer will inevitably be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, and if you find originality, unpredictability, and risk unpalatable, you should exit this page immediately and check out the website of a bigger label with more commercial bands.”

Alex’s favorite episode of Mr. Bean:

“The one where he re-decorates his flat. To save himself the effort of painting the walls, he leaves everything where it is, but wraps it in tinfoil, even the fruit in the bowl by the door, steps outside, closes the door, and detonates a bunch of firecrackers inside a bucket of paint.”

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