Standing about six foot three, sporting a mustache and a shaggy hockey-player haircut and a garish red, white, and blue race-car jacket covered with logos, the 33-year-old Spencer Clark doesn't look like your typical avant-garde drone/noise musician. His December performance in Cairo's tiny space during the EXPO 89 festival created a major disconnect from my expectations of him. After hearing his latest LP, The Spectacle of Light Abductions, recorded under the name Fourth World Magazine, I anticipated a severe-looking, buttoned-down, academic type. But Clark's an amiable Portland-based bro who often wears a CIA ball cap and plays baseball in a San Francisco league.
At Cairo, Clark played two cuts from Abductions, 2011's best album, on his low-budget Casio keyboards. They were amazing, like hearing the mating calls and religious sermons of aliens whose IQs register in four figures. The set lasted only 30 minutes, but it should've run all night.
Clark established his reputation with the heralded James Ferraro in the Skaters, who emitted a wild strain of disjointed discord. A prolific musician who's recorded as Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Vodka Soap, and Black Joker, Clark has gone on to create tracks that sound like ritual music, but from unknown cultures, perhaps from extraterrestrial places. I ask if he strives to create music that has no obvious precedents, no roots in anything that people can recognize.
"My goal with all of my music, writing, and art is to create new metaphors for what people have been talking about forever," says Clark, who's also a visual artist, in a phone interview. "But at the same time, I want the music to be more radical and more out there than ever. And I think that that comes from my experiences with LSD and stuff like that, when I was younger and wanting to capture something that's out there. I would like to work on getting further away from musical territory.
"[My output] sounds like ritual music from another place because when you create your own personal world, and add ingredients into that for a long time and have all those things interconnected in your head, it seems like it has some sort of operation to it. And it's kind of mysterious. I want it to have that effect."
To realize his fantastic visions sonically, Clark uses cheap gear and samples his own playing rather than others' records. "Figuring out how to make sounds that come from your imagination, that's the fun part," he says. "That is what art is."
The Spectacle of Light Abductions—inspired by a 1984 gathering in a Salt Lake City stadium where people supposedly encountered aliens—is a rewarding intro to Clark's soundworld. It recalls Jon Hassell's self-described "fourth world" ambient jazz, although Clark claims he'd not heard his music until recently. "[Hassell's] was music like I was trying to make—ethnic, alien, out-there music. I wanted it to have a little bit of earth music and a bit of outer-space feeling. The Fourth World Magazine thing is supposed to be talking about the fourth dimension. I swear to god, I didn't even know Jon Hassell did fourth world music. That's how retarded I am," he says, laughing.
Clark also cites P. D. Ouspensky's theosophical doctrines as influential to his art. "The event in the Fourth World Magazine really does exist in reality, in Salt Like City, and it's combined with fake imagery of alien spaceships—or real ones; I don't know. I'm trying to create a new phenomenon. By combining two things, it creates a new way of looking at the metaphorical idea that we have a history that we don't understand, yet it's entirely spiritual, not material. I want to use aliens and religion to make that said. Those are two things that actually have a dark persona in our culture. Neither of them need to have that. Ouspensky is the guy who enabled me to think like that."
Also on Clark's agenda is a collaboration with Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire called Inner Tube, in which they cover songs on the soundtrack to Australian cult '80s surfer movie Storm Riders. "I never made a record before that sounds like pop music, but it's not pop music, it's instrumental and very melodic."
Clark's music has been dubbed by some as "hypnagogic pop," which often evokes hazy memories of the VHS-visioned '80s. He's okay with that term. "[Hypnagogic pop is like] the state between your dream and being awake, and that's cool. When I first started listening to weird music, that's my best experience with any of those records, when I was 16 and half awake. But as far as connecting that to the '80s, I don't have anything to do with that, except that I'm from the '80s and I like '80s music. It's like, I like beer, but I don't make records about beer."