Mining the Battlefields of Peace: An interview with Satch Hoyt

By Sarah Walko

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Satch Hoyt, Celestial Vessel, 2009, The Record, Contemporary Art and VinylMedium, RCA Victor Red Seal 45rpm vinyl records, steel, magnets, oil paint, audio component
Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

A couple of months ago while visiting Savannah College of Art and Design I attended a panel discussion. One of the artists on the panel was Satch Hoyt and upon seeing his work and hearing him speak, I was surprised I was not more familiar with his work before. Luckily I was able to catch up with him several times since and eventually asked him if we could do an interview/conversation article so we could talk more on building labyrinths on the white house lawn, the influence of giants like Aretha Franklin and Jimi Hendrix on his work, the new narrative brimming with optimism and his new album Pharoah Dreams “Battlefields Of Peace.” I asked him first when he began to play music and make art. 

Satch Hoyt: In the womb jamming with my mothers heart beat then the church. My first instrument was a tenor sax, a present from my mother on my 14th birthday. For art, expressive scribbles at about four years old and I’m conscious of making figures at school in my wood working class. I have this affinity to wood and patinas. My father was a carpenter so from very young I have had a deep connectivity to African antiques which are predominantly made from wood.

Sarah Walko: How do you usually start your day?

SH: More often than not with a glass of water and yoga.  But my bed is usually surrounded with books that im reading/researching. If I’m writing lyrics or reminders to myself the day could start on that note.

SW: What have you been listening to this past week? Reading?

SH: Hari Prasad Chaurasia, J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Skunk Anansie, Miles Davis, On The Corner. Reading- Black Skin White Mask by Franz Fanon. Conversations with Ogotemmeli An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. by Marcel Griaule.  Darker Than Blue, by Paul Gilroy.

SW: Who were a few very strong influences (people, places, experiences or things)  in art or music that may have served as thresholds or break through moments in the evolution of your practice?

SH: The forward thinking artists politicians and philosophers that have impacted me and therefore acted as inspirational pivotal figures are Alice Coltrane (Mother Turiya) Malcolm X. Paramhansa Yogananda, W E B Dubois, Muhammad Ali, Areatha Franklin, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Stuart Hall.  My Paris period where I wrote songs with Grace Jones and befriended George Condo Miguel Barcello and Bernard Picasso, this is what facilitated my transition into the visual art world. My Kenya period playing in the dingy Mombasa night clubs frequented by the whores and sailors to wake up to fresh papaya and the rhythm of the Indian ocean. Hanging out  in Australia in the Northen Territory with the aboriginal master painters Clifford Possum, Johnny Warangula, and Turkey Tolson  who gave me a Aborriginal name. These highly evolved artists demystified the art making process for me and I must add that this was the first time that I witnessed a movement of artist who adhered to a style with a solid manifesto. Namely, they were painting their dreamings, traversing their songlines .

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SW: Could you talk a bit about the role that healing/catharsis might play in your thoughts/working process as you make decisions on materials, transformation and symbolism? And in addition, expand on that conversation to the role it plays in your music?

SH: My work investigates the past-narratives but is very involved in building and creating  a new cultural identity. The new narrative is brimming with optimism and is very much focused on a spiritual resolve. That spiritual resolve is a utopian ideal that I am striving to achieve for myself and for this imperfect planet, to best tell my stories. References to the past narrative are imperative, if we are not to constantly repeat the same mistakes of the past we must  break the negative cycles, and stroll a different circle so to speak. History matters it gives us reference points that enable us to define identity place and space, The relevance of supports, certain materials, preferably charged materials are extremely relevant in my art making not only on conceptual and intellectual planes but also spiritual planes. Materials are ommiters of energy as is colour and sound I am consciously working within this triangle and where applicable I include the olfactory element. I am  concerned with creating works that function as energy givers and exist in a timeless space but are also rooted in the epoch in which I am creating them. Hence a penchant for bling, bling as brilliance, stones precious or semi precious and various metals are all reflectors and attractors. I can utilize these current material brand trends labels etc. and subvert them into my art, making very applicable in my sonic texts. Its all about swimming in the conscious stream. My music is very much aligned to my visual practice. My new album Pharoah Dreams, Battlefields Of Peace, consists of thirteen songs that speak of love and socio/political concerns. Songs speak to everyone.  When I relocated to Berlin after nine years in NYC I decided that I wanted to get back into singing and songwriting. I had been solely playing Flute and Percussion with various outfits and am still am a member of Greg Tates band, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber which is an amazing collective formerly focused on conduction the brain child of Butch Morris.  This predominantly instrumental improvisational approach is not a style of music that the status quo can easily comprehend. Pharoah Dreams is an album that has been crafted with the notion of total inclusion. Maybe this is my delusion considering what the majority of the status quo is listening to. On Battlefields Of Peace I choose to work with Dirk Leyers formerly of Closer Music, and currently of Africaine 808. Dirk understands various forms of music and is a formerly trained guitarist, he was part of the Koln Eletronica movement and shifted base to Berlin. He’s a total a frequency nerd wrapped up in technology and  Electronica. I come from different Black British places and conceptualized, wrote and recorded this album  in various recording studios in the Funkhaus the x Stazi communications headquarters of East Berlin. The album encompasses a plethora of sounds  and frequencies from Phat subs to bells, flutes, acoustic guitars and Kalimbas and hooky Analog Synths. The story telling aspect and the places and spaces where I take my voice is what gives rhyme and reason to it.

SW: You’ve done many sculpture/installation pieces with labyrinths. Can you expand on your choice of labyrinth as a metaphor?

SH: The inclusion of Labyrinths in my practice came about with the dreadful 911 incident. I was living in NYC at the time and witnessed the implosion of the second World Trade Tower from my lower east side rooftop. I recall that I felt that this had all transpired from a dire lack of spiritual understanding  and decided to create an art work that would encourage people to communicate with one another hence the labyrinth. Unlike a maze a labyrinth has only one entrance, to exit one must retrace their footsteps so people are constantly brushing up against each other in the participatory interaction of this piece. Labyrinths contain a very special energy and are connected to astrology constellations and certain stars. I choose the Chakravyu form  which is from the 12th century Holiswara  dynasty of India.

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Satch Hoyt, Say It Loud, 2007
Contemporary Caribbean Art, Brooklyn Museum
1,000 Books, Step ladder, microphone, audio components
soundscape, Photo by Peter Gabriel

SW: Any of your pieces self-portraits?

SH: I am not consciously creating self- portraits but undoubtedly anecdotal and autobiographical elements exist in my work. The autobiographical traces can be clearly found in my sonic texts ie soundscapes. And in many works the choice of materials are in direct conversation with experiences and trends I have lived.

SW: While in residence at Headlands Center for the Arts, you planned to research the area of Oakland where the Black Panther Party had its headquarters. Did you do a piece on this research and if so can you explain it?
SH: My work titled “Ice Pick” was featured in Rank and File a group show in 2006 at the Yuerba Buena in SF CA, my works utilizing the clenched fist on Afro combs are investigating an awareness and worth of self within the African Diaspora in the very turbulent 1960’s period of the Black Power movements and Pan Africanism. Ironically the Black Panthers were  operating side by side with the non violent civil rights movement of the period,  I have considered undertaking further investigation and  research on the Oakland Headquarters.
SW: How did the collaboration with Louise Bourgeois on the CD OTTE come about?
SH: Ramuntcho Matta whom I had worked with on various musical projects whilst living in Paris called me up one day some time in 1996 and asked me if I would be interested to collaborate with him on a project. Bridgit Cornan had given him an interview in which Louise had Recited her Poem OTTE  I heard the poem and was overjoyed to participate in the project. Ramuntcho recorded a looped beat and acoustic bass line I played Flute in an antiphonic (call and response) style totally in conversational sync with Louise’s  text and the nuances of her voice. Otte was released as a commercial CD  and was on the daily playlist of Paris’s cutting edge radio station, Radio Nova. When I moved to New York I often attended Louise’s Sunday Salons and she would invariably request that I play Flute at them.

All the salons were documented, one day I would really like to review those moments, Louise is missed but her legacy remains with us in the colossal poignant oeuvre she executed in her long lifetime. 

SW: What is one current project you are working on?

SH: I tend to work on multiple projects at the same time.  I circumnavigate my art studio and various recording studios in a state of multi production. Last year Faisal Abdu Allah and myself created Arawak 99 a collective we feel that the Jamaican Presence in the contemporary art arena needs to be amped up so we have created “Sirius” an installation that investigates Dance Hall music i wont give too much away about this work but will say that nocturnally it will be transformed into a night club, in which we will be inviting top DJ’s to spin, we are working with the curator Selene Wendt our goal is to exhibit this work at the 2014 Venice Biennial, 

I am in the process of completing a very large works on paper project comprised of three hundred and twenty panels titled “Spinnisters” this project is blurring drawing, painting and print making practices, Amongst the materials employed to execute theses works is 45rpm vinyl records. I’m also practicing Indian ragas on my flute as I am about to embark on a recording project  in London with Sirish Kumar a master Tabla player. Plus I have so many sculpture works that I would love to go into production on these request funds that I am anticipating will flow in very very shortly.

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SW: Do you spend a lot of time in the studio alone or need a lot of think space alone time? What is your balance of the need to retreat into a reclusive state to continually reconnect with your individual voice and then also be out in the world performing, working with others, exhibiting, lecturing etc.?

SH: I need my solitude to create. I require unobstructed time in my day, to reflect, research, think, and execute.  I tend to be a lot more reclusive in Berlin, this is also because I do not have as many friends here as I do in NYC the kind of intelligentsia that I am part of over there simply does not exist here well lets rephrase that its numbers are considerably smaller. I am a social animal I love people and love to be with my friends, the repartee, the brainstorming, the brilliance and genius of most of them inspires me to delve further into subjects, plateaus, yes terra novas thus far unnavigated by me.  Music making is a different matter as I am not technologically sound I require people to operate equipment, so i need engineers. I also love to work with musicians as well as machines.

Hence music making is in itself a much more social enterprise after the composing, recording, fine tuning, and mixing of a song or piece, there is the necessity of a band, a venue, a stage, and above all an audience to perform to. This is a very powerful ritual, which I have been involved in since I was 17 yrs old and I will always retain this mise en scene aspect in both my Art and Music making practices. 

SW: You recently finished recording Pharoah Dreams “Battlefields Of Peace”. Can you talk a bit more about it?

SH: I hope to reach many hearts and souls with this project I want “Battlefields Of Peace” to be an epic sonic extravaganza facilitating the audience to delve into themselves and reflect rejoice, question, and celebrate.  Let me now mention the great players /friends of mine that have participated in the creation of this Album Julia Kent Cello of Anthony and the Johnsons, Miss Kenichi  and Saudia Young B,V’s. Cass Lewis Bass of Skunk Anansie. Earl Harvin  Drums, of Meshell Ndegochello, and Tindersticks, Dave Smoots Smith of TV on the Radio. Jason Dimatteo Bass. Michael Timothy Keyboards.

Satch Hoyt, Blacknuss, 2008Beyond The Ring, Steinek GalleryVienna, AustriaAgate beads, steel, mirror, audio componentsoundscapeImage courtesy of the artist

SW: You mentioned one of your life goals is to create an interactive monumental work for world peace that would be installed on or in the close vicinity of a spiritual site. If you could pick any spiritual site – which would it be? You’ve also mentioned you’d love to do a piece on the white house lawn. If you could – thoughts on what that piece would be?

SH: I have not as yet selected the site for that particular project, but I can share a current project with you I have been working with Katerina Oguntoye, founder of Joliba, a Berlin based grass roots organization. With the help of Klaus Singer I have created a 3d image of a monument that I would like to place in the Humboldt university. This is not a spiritual site but the work “Shrine For The Forgotten Souls” is a spiritual and social audience participatory monument honoring black People in the German Nazi time and twofold honoring the Herero and Nama victims of the 1914 Battle of Waterberg  in Namibia. The white House lawn project? I guess it would be a labyrinth.
SW: Last question. What kind of bird are you?

SH: A cockatoo.

THE R A V E N, An Introduction

Since days of yore white has often been associated with peace, purity and love, “the dove” while black is the color of fear, bad dreams and melancholy. Sarah Walko, artist and Director of The Triangle Arts Residency in Brooklyn, will be contributing articles and artist interviews as The R A V E N to eyes towards the dove. Hers will bring a new flight of fancy to the site, not necessarily dark in content, but rather pepper compared to salt; a new flavor.