An Interview with Cy X, Multimedia Cyber Witch
A song is a spell your heart casts.
I don't know exactly when the phrase entered my consciousness, but it's stuck ever since. By sharing it here, I'm not hoping to pin it down, but to borrow it as an introductory incantation. Cy X is a multimedia cyber witch. Sound, video processing, and web platforms are the elemental resources upon which they draw to cast their spells.
I first encountered their work back in May of this year, through their reflections on "sound synthesis, truth synthesis, Cycling '74 and Utopia." The article was entitled In Pursuit of Black Noise, which catalogued their project of the same name for NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. I was immediately struck by the clear-eyed-and-hearted nature of their writing as they unpacked complex topics like "how colonization and race as technologies have led to the erasure of past, destruction of magic, and creation of the 'one-world world.'" In the months since May, I've gotten the chance to communicate with Cy over email and phone calls, as the backdrop of our new reality unfurled. Through the intense extremes of the past year, Cy's work, and the depth of thought which fuels it, has been a waypost to me. Though they are relatively new to Max and are developing their thesis, it's their occupation of this stage of artistic development that makes their reflections, questions, challenges, and curiosities deeply necessary -- both to attend and to spotlight. I hope these captures from our most recent conversation can provide you with the same impetus for exploration of new worlds that they've provided me.
What form of magic do you practice? Everyone has very different ideas of what magic is and what a witch is -- I embrace a basic definition of magic as the art and science of causing change. Recently, I was introduced to this idea of chaos magic. In Europe, there were groups of people working collectively to practice magic and it'd gotten to a point where magic became super hierarchical and very ego-driven. So chaos magic was a response to the idea that there was only one way to [practice magic]. It takes an approach of using whatever ideas and methods are helpful to you at the moment. Its primary phrase is 'nothing is true, but everything is valid.' It doesn't believe in any capital-T Truth -- it believes everything has a limit. And because everything has a limit, you just use what is [available] at the moment. This has been a helpful context to think about what tools I use and different methods of creating art. That's how I use Max -- each individual object can get you closer to what you want to do or further away. Somewhere in the middle is mystery or something you didn't expect that can bring you somewhere you didn't imagine. The fluidity of Max and the ability to work across multiple mediums, to move from video to sound relates to a fluidity that I want to embrace. One of the essential messages of chaos magic is that you just need to do it and assess if something works by your own rubric. 'This is my intention, these are the tools I'll use, here's how I'll tell if it worked or not.' But the essential component is to just do it! Your process seems like it'd be very intentionally executed, especially because of the clarity of your writing about your work, but I wonder if it feels this way to you? I begin with questions and a lot of times, at the end of the process, I end up asking more questions! Something that stuck out for me from the work of Pauline Oliveros is that things become blurry -- people couldn't tell if [her work] was music work or if is was body work. And it really isn't important to distinguish between those two things -- in a lot of ways they are the same thing, but I think that listening is an embodied process. Listening is a very magical process. Directing your attention is a big component of magic. One of the things I realized as I was building a rubric for a workshop [ed. Poetic Approaches to Sound, presented online for women-identifying, trans and non-binary artists through Women in Sound] was that I came up with all these containers, or ways to frame how we could talk about sound in each section. But I realized that those things weren't distinct -- some containers overlapped. In the workshop, we bridged the gaps between these [containers] and I felt, in a way, that it was a prism and we were looking at sound through all of these different angles. They're all interrelated and they're not distinct categories. Sometimes, the way we distinguish things can be helpful temporarily, or communicating something quickly -- but a lot of times, the distinctions between things are very blurry.
Your exploration of self has been a hallmark of your work, to me. Your workshop featured a section on physical and projected qualities of sound -- specifically how race, gender, and community influence our perceptions of it. As your definition of self changes, how does your relationship to these qualities of sound also shift? I've been intentionally focusing on sound more. I've always been thinking about it and making music and approaching it in different ways. But I started thinking of sound [in terms of physical and projected qualities] while briefly enrolled in a class last semester. It was an introductory electronic music and synthesis course. I was super excited about it and in class, we were talking about the physical and projected qualities of sound. I raised my hand and said, 'Time is a projected quality of sound.' And my professor was like, 'No it isn't!' and completely dismissed my comment. He said, 'Five seconds is five seconds and that's it.' But time is [also] a projected quality and not just a physical quality! Even genre is a projected quality. I've thought about projection a lot -- I did a project called the Black Projections project. It was this idea about the lack of control or how our inner thoughts project onto how we experience something that's outside of us. For that project specifically, I thought about what it means for other people to project onto someone else and change how they understand that person. The distinction between self and other has come into question [in my work] more. After Black Projections, I became pretty distraught by this idea that other people can project onto you and their projection can outweigh how you view yourself. I was also reading about worldhood and worlding, creating different worlds. And I came across John Law's One-World World in a book of writings by Indigenous scholars [A World of Many Worlds, edited by Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser]. The idea is that there are many worlds, and the One-World World is the one that tries to negate the existence of other worlds. And I was reading all of this and I was like, 'Oh my god, I have no control over my self and how people interact with me!' It was this super anxiety-inducing [experience] and I kept trying to figure out if there was any way to correct that, so that other people's projections didn't outweigh my own. Some of these anxieties also came through in In Pursuit of Black Noise, but after that project and at this moment I'm kind of like, 'Okay! Other people project and that's okay!' Maybe I don't have to be as concerned with correcting it, and just knowing that exists is helpful and enough. At the moment, I understand that everyone I come in contact with has their own idea of who I am. It makes it so that I feel very connected with other people and my idea of my own self isn't the largest thing -- and so the line between self and other becomes very blurry. It's wrapped into a giant ball of experience and energy. Now I don't feel as much anxiety about it, but it's something I want to think about more and how to feel even better about it.
[ed. Cy's explorations of projections were also influenced by Matthew D. Morrison's writings on Blacksound] Does this new way of experiencing projections allow more room to for you to explore through your work? I think so. My goal isn't to change other people. I remember during Black Projections, there was this one person who came up to me and I shared that the essential thing about this project is that time isn't linear. And he said, 'Are you planning to change everybody's mind about that? How do you intend to do that?' That's not my goal! A lot of people ask me how I expect to change people's minds or the world and that's not the biggest concern for me. My goal is to put the thing out there and it'll cause someone to ask a kind of question they didn't think about before -- and that can lead them somewhere. That'd be more than enough! Being okay with failing is a big thing too -- it's okay to arrive somewhere else and it's okay to fail. There are still meaningful answers in the failure. I think a lot of people are wrapped up in a very narrow idea of purpose. If your art asks questions, [people assume] the purpose of your art must be to fix all the issues. It's a limited way of thinking about the function of something, what something can do. [Granted,] there's a lot of anxiety in not understanding the purpose of something! Sometimes I make something small that I don't consider to be a final project or [something that] goes on my website, but sharing the process of whatever I was going through or thinking about when making something smaller sometimes feels more impactful. Like a starting point into conversations with other people. The past few months, I've felt more connected to community -- maybe that's because people are more open to sharing and conversing over the Internet or maybe I'm just less afraid of reaching out to people. Letting people know that I think we share similar thoughts, or that I'd like to collaborate. We can let people know our intentions and our dreams. Letting people in more has been a huge way that I've been finding community.
While social media and the Internet are steeped in problems, these platforms also seem to unlock new forms of expression and new depths of being seen for people who have been made "other" by traditional forms of media. Can you share a bit about the duality of your experiences online and away from keyboard? I love social media and the Internet! [laughs] I feel like sometimes I have to hide the fact that I really enjoy these tools because of how much flack they get. I've worked in social media and Facebook Ads -- and the program that I'm in, we learn about technology and the oppressive systems embedded into it. The thing I love about Legacy Russell's work is the idea the reminder that things don't have to be binary. There's not an 'online' and an 'offline' -- they're all interrelated. Sometimes people think that something is [solely] oppressive or it's not, and if it's oppressive then run away from it. I think people look at technology in this way. I think a lot of these things are a spectrum, or they're multiple things. These tools are super fraught and are super harmful in a lot of ways -- I don't want those things to continue. As I learn more about technology, I have a better understanding of how these tools work and what's going on in the backend, what they're prioritizing and what that means in terms of how people express themselves or their safety online. Online spaces like Instagram have helped me navigate my world away from the keyboard and help me understand my own self and live as my own self and show up as the person I want to be when I'm around others. With these digital tools, you can create the reality you want people to see, but I think you can also do that away from Instagram. I was doing that when I was first online as a teenager, playing around with avatars. I'm someone who daydreams a lot, in general. Always dreaming about what other worlds can be, who I can be, what the world can look like. I think digital tools have helped me do that. My family doesn't call me the name that I go by and they don't use my preferred pronouns. I've tried to communicate to them the way I want to be seen, and they can't see me that way. It's sad, but at the same time I've been able to be the person I want to be, to build the person I want to be, by doing that online. Using the Internet has helped me reaffirm and be more confident. My family can't see me, but other people can see me. They only know me as the person I want to be -- this is the name I want to use, this is the name I'm going to use, this is the name people are doing to call me. These are the pronouns I use, I can put them in my bio, people can see that. That's something that can take place on Instagram (I can put them in my bio), but also it takes place away from Instagram. Having that validation and being able to create that, for me, has set it in stone and has been helpful in figuring out how to navigate this world that I'm in and the person I want to be.
by dan derks on
Dec 8, 2020 10:20 PM