LEE RANALDO is wearing the Gio gilet no.001. He is an artist and writer, and co-founded Sonic Youth in 1981, currently living in New York City.
What was your last download?
Hmm! Vintage program and photos from a performance benefit for The Kitchen art-center in NYC, two nights in June 1981 at the huge discotheque Bonds here in New York. I performed with Glenn Branca on one of the nights. Other performers included DNA, Laurie Anderson, John Giorno, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, David Byrne, Bush Tetras and many more. It was an amazing time, culturally, in New York just then – we were still an isolated, ‘island’ city, off the coast of the USA…
What do you collect?
As an artist working in sound, I’ve long been using bells and recorded bell sounds in my work. I began my own collection of bells some years ago, and it’s growing. Mostly hand bells which can sound so beautiful, but also industrial bells, church service bells, sleigh bells, the little bell to ring on a hotel desk.
Where do you imagine you would find your doppelgänger?
Sonic Youth was often compared to The Beatles – an extreme high compliment! We were the Fab Four of noise! In that meta-verse I was always deemed ‘the George Harrison’, whatever that means.
What music makes you nostalgic?
There were what we called ‘AM radio singles’ when I grew up, just as the Beatles hit the airwaves and quickly changed all of our listening habits – often one hit wonders from the days of the 45 rpm single – be it Midnight Confessions by the Grass Roots, Dancing In The Moonlight by King Harvest, Be My Baby by the Ronettes – or almost anything by The Monkees – remind me of my earliest listening experiences, when rock n roll was coming out of tiny radios and turning on our young minds and bodies.
What is a rule that should never be broken?
Rules were made to be broken – I’m not sure there is one that shouldn’t be.
What is a rule that should always be broken?
‘Don’t take that apart, you’ll never get it back together again!’
Who is an inspirational figure?
To choose only one is nearly impossible, but I choose American artist Robert Smithson. His works, his writings, his thinking on art and culture have been informing my vision since the late 70s. He brought brand new practice and thinking to the contemporary art conversation.
What takes you to cloud 9?
A sunny day in summer is all it takes.
What should we be reading?
I recently finished The Overstory, but Richard Powers. A magical contemporary tale on the life of trees and the ecological precipice man finds himself in today, it was very moving, one of the most affecting books I’ve read this year.
What thoughts occupy you currently?
I am obsessed with the upcoming US election – between that and the pandemic, it’s been the most anxiety-producing year on record for me and, I sense, many others. First the isolation factor, and on top of that, Tramp. He must be defeated if our country is to survive. We’ll know soon…
What is dear to your heart?
I must tell you truly, my bicycle. I can obsess over my bike, and going out for long rides 2-3 times per week is a must for me, year round. It keeps me sane and is a meditative time with the body and the breath.
What is your perfect meal?
I like food, so this is a hard question! Maybe a Japanese meal of sushi and other delights, with cold crisp sake to drink.
Do you have a soundtrack to your life?
The soundtrack changes constantly – I can be totally hooked on a song or an artist’s catalog, and then another takes its place. New music, old music, music made by friends or made 100 years ago -
What is most difficult to find in contemporary culture?
One of the most difficult things for me to find is time for silent reverie. I obsess over my phone, the information and distraction it presents. Add on the daily news and household duties and work desires. New York is a very active city – there are always 10 things possible to be doing, so carving out quiet time is essential but not always easy.
What do you find most exciting in contemporary culture?
To me adding modern technology into the mix of contemporary art practice makes for exciting new possibilities.
The best arthouse films?
Lately I’ve been immersed in Fellini films! I never knew his body of work deeply, so I’ve started with some of the earliest and working through them all. I loved I Vitelloni, La Strada and especially Nights of Cabiria.
What is good design?
Good design fulfills a function – it can be a fork or a car or a pair of socks – and does so elegantly, made with care and consideration.
Where do you find good design?
Everywhere I look. I was standing next to an elderly Chinese man in Chinatown the other day, and I noticed a tiny pair of folding scissors – bright metal – hanging from his keychain. They were fully functional, and folded for protection and transport, and cheap (he said, “you buy here in Chinatown, one dollar fifty cent!”). Good design need not be expensive.
What do you still wish to learn?
I’ve been trying for many years now to learn/improve my French speaking skills. I start to get somewhere, but then slip back again. I’d also like to learn how to knit.
What do you find humorous?
People who take themselves too seriously.
What is your favorite slogan?
“Change is good”. I found this out some years ago. Change is almost always good, in spite of our resistance to it, and leads to growth and a new look at life.
How do you define the words ‘timeless’ and ‘contemporary’?
Contemporary is NOW, everything that’s happening all around us, and timeless is FOREVER – the quality of being as fresh and ‘modern’ today as at any other point in history, free of fad or fashion.
What does your house smell like?
There are plenty of good food smells in our house! Aromatic herbs and sauces simmering. But otherwise, we don’t burn incense or smoke in our house, and the windows are always open. Occasional smells of men working on the street, construction in New York City is endless! But mostly there is a pure smell of the air – meaning almost no smell, like water tastes.
What does your house sound like?
Sometimes the house is dead quiet, if Leah and I are both home and working. Sometimes – especially in these last months, with pandemic and elections – the news radio is on. Other times there is music, either being made live or records played, lots of music
What stands the test of time?
Time is relative and in constant flux – not much really stands the test. We humans have a warped sense of time - the entire history of our species is just a blip on the cosmic timeline.
Any last words?
Stay safe and healthy out there! I hope we’ll meet again once all this is over.