text by Summer Bowie
When Miles Davis scored Louis Malle’s Elevator To The Gallows, he took a wild approach that was as daring as it was genius. He simply watched the film from beginning to end, took some notes, wrote a few themes in his hotel room and then handed them to a small band in the morning. From there they followed his lead as he improvised his way through a second screening of the film. He didn’t read the script, he didn’t speak French, and he certainly didn’t know much about French new wave. Miraculously, the result was uncanny in its ability to capture the very essence of loneliness and desperation. He had an incredible facility for processing an image and then giving it a sonic projection that glides past the intellectualization process and rings clear as a bell right in the central nervous system. Thus is the facility that is immediately evident in the work of Robbie Williamson, otherwise known as Double Diamond Sun Body.
He is a musician first and foremost, but his work has expanded into a multitude of mediums over the course of his lifetime, and right now his creative juices are bursting and radiating in all directions like a newly born star. Though, that’s definitely nowhere close to the way that he would describe himself. He’s a humble soul with a genuine sense of curiosity, all of which is underscored by a mystical je ne sais quoi. He spent over a decade scoring films and television before he started experimenting with performance and making his own films to accompany his soundscapes, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, this work has proliferated and evolved to include installation, sculpture and paintings, and is now finally culminating in his first solo show at MAMA Gallery in Los Angeles, entitled Saffron Crow’s Associate. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling a little dissociated while experiencing the work. If you submit to that feeling, it becomes an otherworldly adventure that allows you to zoom out and observe Earth from a bird’s eye view. We had the chance to sit down with the artist and talk about his musical beginnings, his spiritual investigations, and the wonders of human nature.
Summer Bowie: Let’s start at the very beginning, where did you grow up?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I grew up in Seattle.
Bowie: What was the atmosphere like at the time? Did you always have creative ambitions and were they always nurtured while you were growing up?
Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, my atmosphere was music in Seattle. I grew up just skateboarding a lot and playing in bands. I would play shows during the era of Nirvana and Soundgarden, and a lot of punk bands from D.C.––that Dischord label––people like Beefeater and Fugazi.
Bowie: Wow, so you were fully in that world while it was happening in Seattle.
Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, I was really entrenched in it. I was in a record label called C/Z Records and playing a lot of shows and touring.
Bowie: What kind of band were you playing with at that point when you got signed?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I was playing with a band that was very math rock, super intense, just very complicated arrangements mixed with punk––that kind of music.
Bowie: That’s amazing! What were you playing?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I was playing bass.
Bowie: And when did that start?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I started when I was fifteen. And then from there I moved to Portland and played in a band called Hitting Birth.
Bowie: Wow, what kind of music was that?
Double Diamond Sun Body: It was very theatrical. Sort of industrial, but very light. Not industrial aesthetically but sound wise it was very rhythmic and heavy, but aesthetically it was lots of white clothing and colors, and the opposite of what you’d think industrial would be.
Bowie: Crazy. And how’d you get into composing music for films?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I wrote a film called Dandelion that starred Vincent Kartheiser from Madmen. I wrote that with my friend and we got it made. It ended up doing really well, went to Sundance and winning a bunch of awards in different festivals around the world. That was the first film I scored. That film did pretty well and a lot of people started asking me to score their films based on that movie, so that’s how I got into it. I just kept going with it and never stopped for a decade.
Bowie: I love that. And there’s really a spiritual aspect to what you do––something kind of ‘otherworldly.’ When did you first get introduced to this side of yourself - or was it always there?
Double Diamond Sun Body: It was always there - since I was around twelve. You know, it started normally with Carlos Castaneda books and stuff, then it just kinda grew and never stopped growing. I don’t know, it was something that was always with me. It came from reading. Then I joined a lot of different groups that were studying various esoteric things. And I never really expressed it as much as I do now because I was always doing things with other people.
Bowie: Wow, and were your parents a part of this or was it just completely your own thing?
Double Diamond Sun Body: It was my own thing, and then when I was around twenty I started to do some things with my mother.
Bowie: That’s so beautiful. And then your name Double Diamond Sun Body...where did it come from and when did you decide to adopt it?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I took on that name from something that I read a couple years ago. It’s hard to explain but it has to do with the Christ embodiment or sort of like a Christ consciousness or Christ energy 2.0.
Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, I really resonated with the ideas around that and how that energy integrates into modern life. So the name just really resonated with me.
Bowie: It seems like a lot of that ethos was evident in your former band, We Are the World, but that work was much different than your current work. What was the creative mission behind that project?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I don’t think there really was a mission. It was a group of creative people coming together and going off the cuff, ya know. There wasn’t a mission but a lot of people interpreted it that way, like they would see us as a cult, or see our performances as very cultish and always wanted to know what it meant. I think it was just the right combination of people that exuded that kind of impression, but there wasn’t an intention, you know what I’m saying?
Bowie: Yeah, just a performative exploration as a group. And do you like being in a band or do you prefer performing solo?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I think that all the different projects I worked with I really enjoyed, but they’ve each served their purpose in getting me to where I am now. I couldn’t really foresee being in another band, but I’m really glad that I was for so long.
Bowie: You blend music and performance in a really unique way. What kind of emotions are you trying to convey or evoke through the energy of your music and your performances?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I think in general I’m trying to express the utter mystery of life and what we’re all doing, while embracing very traditional actions and very traditional institutions in terms of very basic spirituality. Trying to hone that down to a basic thin––not making it very complicated. Traditional values of family, physical labor, children, simple colors, and combining those energies with the ambiguous, ethereal nature of the music. When you combine those two you get something interesting.
Bowie: And do you feel that you’re on a journey or a spiritual path that you’re exploring with your work that’s separate from your own life trajectory? Or are they both one in the same?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I think they’re absolutely one in the same. One couldn’t exist without the other.
Bowie: Your show at MAMA is very unique because it’s the first time that your pursuits as a fine artist will coalesce into something much grander. Can you describe the show and its meaning? Particularly, the meaning behind its title?
Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, Saffron Crow’s Associate is about an entity named Saffron Crow and his associate. They are offplanet entities that visit Earth to basically just check it out. They’re flying by to see what’s happening. They get here and are immediately enamored with the way in which races coexist and battle each other more or less. They’re also very interested in the way the media perpetuates this sort of battle. They find it really unnecessary and sort of comment on all of this, while presenting simple solutions to the problematic way that the races react toward one another.
Bowie: Can you give us an example of any of those solutions?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I think that they really are of the opinion that races should try to have more pride in their race, versus trying to shove their race down other races’ throats, and say “accept me, accept me!” That goes for white races too. All races should. And simultaneously I think they really say that you should have mad respect for all races while letting them be sovereign entities and not give into this forced assimilation constantly. Again this is all their opinion. They think it just causes more problems.
Bowie: Do you believe in a higher power or spiritual enlightenment? Do you think that humans have lost sight of this side of themselves?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I don’t think that question can really ever be answered––in the way that I think any answer to that question would be a complete assumption. So yeah, I would leave it at that. But I think for someone like them and mebecause I feel as though I’m channeling themthere’s something going on. I would be absolutely floored if this was all a result of stars colliding into each other and bacteria growing.
Bowie: So if you were an alien that came to this planet are these the first impressions that you believe you would have regarding human nature?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I think I would. If I really imagine another planet or another race of beings that live there, the last thing I’m gonna do is think, “Oh there are these beings living on this planet.” I would think, “Wow, there’s several types of beings on this planet and they don’t get along? They have bombs pointing at each other, and still don’t understand each other, and are still fighting for equality?” and I’d be completely enamored by this.
Bowie: How does sound play into that aspect of the show?
Double Diamond Sun Body: I’m working with colors and tones in the notes. Specific notes go with specific colors. So the sound of the show is going to be very meditative and very different than the music that I’ve been performing live. When there’s a certain message or certain subtitle, or color, there is a corresponding tone to accentuate the message.
Bowie: It’s almost like you’re sharing a sense of synesthesia with us.
Double Diamond Sun Body: Absolutely. It’s subjective to the most of my ability. But work like that is highly mathematical. Somewhere in the universe of Earth there are objective equations that can get information across better via color and tone. However, I’m no expert at it, but I’m trying to incorporate that to the best of my ability, which will work for some people, but it might not do anything for others.
Bowie: I guess we won’t know that until the show.
Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be very different for everyone.
Bowie: Well, where do we go from here? What’s the most important lesson that we should learn as a species?
Double Diamond Sun Body: In my opinion, I think there should be less identification. That’s what Saffron’s talking about in the intro of the film when it says, “come with me to observe the animal.” I think that that’s what the show is about, observing the animal. And the animal is only an animal when it has lots of identifications. And when you can observe yourself and not identify with everything all the time, then you’re opening yourself up to some potential.
Bowie: My last question is why is Saffron Crow’s Associate the pointed figure?
Double Diamond Sun Body: Because Saffron Crow only speaks when he really wants to speak and he’s busy. So his associate does most of the commentary, but Saffron does appear a few times.
Bowie: GotchaI like it. So sort of like the way Double Diamond Sun Body is just channeling something higher.
Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, maybe Double Diamond Sun Body is someone else’s associate.
Bowie: Yeah. Awesome, thanks so much.
Double Diamond Sun Body: Cool, that was nice. Thank you.
Double Diamond Sun Body "Saffron Crow's Associate" will be on view from November 5 to December 5, 2016 at MAMA Gallery, 1242 Palmetto Street, Los Angeles. Text and interview by Summer Bowie. Photographs by Oliver Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE