Brother, Can You Spare a Sample?

What's wrong with turning tramps into pop music?

His tattoo habit, Huiting explains, provided him with his nom de DAT, Weekly. "I went in on my 18th birthday to get my first tattoo, and then I came back every week to get another one. The guy who did them was like, 'We're going to start calling you Weekly.' I thought it was a hell of a lot catchier than Dan." (Though Huiting once worked as a receptionist at the same tattoo parlor, he is currently unemployed.)

Huiting, who grew up in St. Paul and attended high school in Eagan, started playing guitar at age nine. "My dad had this guitar, and I kept breaking the strings. Finally, he was like, 'I'm getting you your own fucking guitar.'"

With time, Huiting branched out: He plays all the instruments on his albums, including, in one case, a banjo someone had left in the studio. He first began experimenting with found sound, he says, about two years ago. "I was working with my dad, installing digital cable, so I was spending a lot of time in basements. There were all these weird sounds down there, and I thought it would be cool to just start recording them."

Laughing with the homeless--not at them: Found-sound musician Dan Huiting
Michael Dvorak
Laughing with the homeless--not at them: Found-sound musician Dan Huiting

Huiting slides in front of a Macintosh computer connected to an Akai sampler to demo his latest enthusiasm, which was also inspired, tangentially, by his father. He cues a track called "Good Pussy." Above a funky slap-bass--the tune sounds a bit like a remixed porno soundtrack--a woman is talking: "A little pussy right now would sure cure all my ails," she says. "I know where you can get some good pussy, but it's going to cost you."

The words, Huiting explains, were culled from audio-book romance novels. "My dad drives a lot, and he'd listen to these things," he says, holding up a novel titled Whitehorse by Katherine Sutcliffe. "His excuse was that he never listened to the really dirty ones. But that's all that's in these things: drugs and sex."

Huiting pulls out a silkscreen depicting, in silhouette, a couple engaged in gymnastic coitus--the cover art for his latest effort. "I'm gonna call it Sportfucking," he grins.


Aural collages like Huiting's are nothing new, of course. Matmos, for instance, has been recontextualizing found sound like liposuction procedures for years (and, if you want to get really technical, French proponents of the musique concrète movement were doing it back in the Forties). The closest comparison to Huiting's street recording, though, might be "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet," by avant-garde composer Gavin Bryars. In that work, Bryars constructs a minimalist concerto around a repeated archival 20-second sound clip of a London hobo singing a popular religious tune. Bryars's piece, though, is a respectful ode to the vox populi. Its theme--inasmuch as avant-garde music ever has a theme--might be that every voice is worthy of attention.

Worlds apart in tone, Huiting's and Bryars's work nevertheless seems fraught with a similar risk. It's one thing to use lines from romance novels, or old 45s, as camp currency; it's quite another to appropriate a living person's voice. There's an arrogance implicit in this latter act--which is not altogether lost on Huiting. "The bum thing can get pretty caustic after a while," he admits.

Huiting clearly relishes the role of the provocateur, to the extent that it's difficult to take his more outré statements at face value. But the songs on Elk in Here, many of which have an almost plaintive quality, belie his insistence that his work is meant primarily as a "comedy album." Listening to it, you might even wonder if, beneath the layers of attitude and malice, there isn't an artist struggling to break through.

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