There are some serious characters in the world of noise, but I can’t think of anyone with
a fresher, more interesting take on it today than The Rita (née Sam McKinlay). The Rita
essentially pioneered the idea of the “harsh noise wall”: a formless, unwavering monolith of
sound that does to power-electronics what Earth did to metal. In recent years, numerous
other artists have followed strictly to the guidelines of HNW, whereas McKinlay himself has
continually pushed onward, unwilling to plough the same terrain for too long, only content
while scratching deeper into the creative recesses of his mind. Dig into any of the many The
Rita releases and you’ll find a trove of overt sexual imagery, allusions to silent film, and most
interestingly, more shark sounds/references/worship than you ever thought possible, all playing
crucial roles in both the context and actual sound of his music. It’s an eclectic and delightfully
confusing mix, performed with the reverence and dedication that only a true maniac can
provide. The Rita was a mystery to me in a lot of ways before this interview, and after learning
a bit about his personality and gaining insight into his thought process, The Rita has only grown
One of first things that stood out to me about The Rita was the name. I’ve thought
about it a lot, and it strikes me in a strange way, like it doesn’t sound harsh or discomforting,
yet I think it somehow fits the music. Where did the name come from?
The title of the project is taken from the name of the barge that motors up the Amazon in
The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I’m also infatuated with women’s names, especially
actresses from the silent and pre-code film era, so via my personal tastes, it’s thematically nice
to have The Rita up on the releases and posters, as it constantly brings to mind for me Lya De
Putti, Evelyn Brent, Carmel Myers, etc.
I understand that The Rita plays “wall noise”, which I think is a fairly apt descriptor. How
does this differ from, say, harsh noise, or power-electronics, in your perspective?
The Rita’s style of “wall noise” is straying further and further away every month from the
contemporary strategies of the HNW (harsh noise wall) artists of today. The early years of the
project was focused on violent and moving harsh noise, but always with a gelling factor that
caused the works to be one constant moving ocean of rough sound. I was (and still am) a big
fan of harsh noise projects like Dead Body Love, Macronympha, Skin Crime, Ovmn, Incapacitants,
etc., and I was participating in the genre I personally thought they represented. In the early ’00s,
the direction was made a little more directed by “deconstructing the harsh noise object” and
defining factors within the avalanches of ’90s American-style harsh noise. The resulting works,
such as (the developmental) Magazine and Total Slitting of Throats, represented
harsh noise as a massive unchanging wall that took my colleagues and I’s favorite aspect(s) of
gritty harsh noise and magnified the sounds for maximum obsession and enjoyment. The “wall
noise” I play, especially with the more recent works, sits me right back into the harsh noise
genre, the early ’00s acting like a developmental stage for me as now the extended “walls” of
texture are articulated within a more animated conception. The strategies of “drama” and
segmented sound areas to build violence via power-electronics interest me also; projects like
Con-Dom, Ultra, and Iugula-Thor being incredibly influential to Josh Rose (Rundownsun) and I’s
power-electronics project BT. HN.
How did you first find out about noise as an art form?
I have always been interested in the arts as far as I can remember, from drawing sharks
repeatedly as a little kid, to realizing the sound/noise tendencies of the feedback solos of Big
Black in high school as I began to do abstract expressionist painting, etc. So, it didn’t take long
for me to perceive harsh noise as a variable of “sound art”, as harsh noise is abstracting sound
texturally, dynamically, or otherwise. I took a hiatus from recording when I did my BFA; focusing
mostly on minimalist painting, installation, and landscape pieces taking influence from artists
such as Richard Serra, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Long, Barnett Newman, George Trakas, etc. I
started recording again when I got my degree and immediately started to translate what I studied
and articulated in school further into the harsh noise technique that I was interested in doing.
Most recently, the physicality of the source sound recordings, live and pre-recorded, has begun
to take the project down to more of a “performance art” avenue, which I still equate with
deconstruction and power through minimalism.
How important is the sound source for a The Rita recording? For example, if a recording is
based on the sound of grinding skate trucks instead of a no-input mixer, what difference does
that make to you?
Source sounds are the primary driving force behind my work, especially in the last few years as
drawing from personal dynamic interests can be pencilled with harsh noise technique, virtually
bringing forth the various passions into different harsh sound works. I don’t ever use feedback
loops, so my version of a “no input mixer” would be a white noise generator that is sculpted
personally (like a guitar) with a harsh noise artist’s specifically chosen and articulated chain of
effects. I have been lucky enough to have colleagues that have built me specific white noise
generators that do different things I’ve asked for, from the original WNG #2 from Sirkut, to the
dual-filtered “THE RITA IN A BOX” from Damion Romero, to the deep filtered feature of the
Traumatone WNG – all great pieces that generate the sound that set the stages for either heavy
textural manipulation, or set a stage for a violent mic’d source (live or otherwise).
Are there any sound sources you’d like to work with, but haven’t yet been able to, be it
for financial or physical limitations?
Years ago, I tried to mic the surface feeding tendencies of the Great White Shark they had at
Monterey Bay Aquarium, but as expected (and I very much appreciate) they didn’t want anyone
uncertified in there messing with the feeding program – even if I could possibly get a grant from
Canada Arts Council. There are plans in the works for recording a live Reef, Bull, and Whitetip
shark feeding; being part of a group dive in the Caribbean that has the sharks all around them
as they feed, nudging and scraping past the divers. That’s looking far into the future though,
as it means raising the funds to do so. This summer I’m hoping to do mic’d surface ocean fishing,
work more with the voices of women, and look further into the inherent abstract harsh noise
dynamics of Vodou percussion.
Why do you think you’re so interested in sharks? What draws you to them?
My deepest rooted interest is in sharks. I was born in 1973 and remember at a very young
age being exposed to a lot of the JAWS movie advertising, and as we all know, JAWS
was the first film to fully embrace the blockbuster and tie-in marketing phenomenon that is
now standard. I still have the first large rubber shark I got as a toddler, and its characteristics
are very much like ‘Bruce’, the mechanical shark from JAWS. Because of JAWS,
the ’70s were inundated with exploitive shark paraphernalia via magazines, articles, and TV specials,
and I was always front row center to cut out the pictures and watch all the different shows. I
think that’s why these days I’ve really embraced more than ever the interest in the shark as
human predator; I’m incredibly fascinated with the legendary Great White, Oceanic Whitetip, Bull,
and Tiger shark attacks of this century. Many know that I am also a classic horror and monster
movie fan, so the true-life visions of something like the monstrous shark attacks on the Jersey
coast of 1916 and the California coast of 1959 really feed the flames of my interest in the shark
and especially how it’s seemingly vicious characteristics are translated through cinema, books,
comics, and most especially the exploitive shark magazines of the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong,
I can definitely be called an arm chair naturalist when it comes to sharks and their biology and
protection, but I also have an unquenchable interest in the shark as some abstract killer created
by man’s imagination. Sometimes I think that I like Bruce from JAWS more than I like real
I feel like there is a lot of creativity put into each The Rita record, but I can’t say I really
have much understanding of your personality, or the person behind The Rita. Is this intentional,
or am I just missing something?
It’s obviously hard for me to describe how I convey myself to friends and people hanging out
in a social environment, but some have told me that my various obsessions and interests usually
emanate from my personality as I randomly discuss topics and objects. So yes, much of the
time my creative drive and portrayed interests though harsh noise are very much extensions of
my direct person. Much like Joe Roemer and the girl he had on stage at the first Macronympha
No Fun Fest performance, to me she was a direct action/portrayal of his personal obsession(s).
Basically, I will play a live set with shark, diving, and nylon samples; then I will proceed to hang
around the rest of the night thinking only about the Decima MAS, Oceanic Whitetip sharks, and
the tangible small group of women across the room wearing American Apparel stirrup stockings.
Is the loudness of your music crucial to its enjoyment? Would it be a waste to listen to
The Rita at a lower volume?
The issues of volume come up a lot in conversation with peers, and most of the time it’s conveyed
that the textural, shifting, and “dynamic” areas of harsh sound can be appreciated on a “quieter”
level; as long as it’s audible, the sound and construction can be appreciated. There are obviously
different issues though, as many works from projects like The Incapacitants have to be literally
turned up on the stereo to massive levels to appreciate all the punishing low end that acts as a
base for the feedback and mic work. As a harshhead, I like to personally play The Rita sets very loud,
but have had times when the PA isn’t really up to par, making me almost subconsciously play more
with textural detail and lines of sound. It’s like going into a studio and being presented with a large
canvas and then a small canvas; essentially the same ideals are there, but they are played out
with different physical natures for the audience and artist due to the pure volume.
Do you picture The Rita growing into something different over time, or can we always expect
a fairly similar result from each new release? Is there room for “wall noise” to grow into something
different, or is its monolithic presence essentially the point?
Again, I don’t consider myself a “wall noise” artist when compared to the lengths that contemporary
HNW artists have taken the genre. My peers and I, in the “early” days of the sub-genre, considered
acts like The Incapacitants and Ovmn wall noise. I have been referred to recently on a few
occasions of being “American style” harsh noise, and I have always seen myself lumped into that
space and time; developing personal sample work into harsh noise. The more “militant” works of wall
noise I participated in I see as a very important time for me where I looked deep into the construction
of harsh noise and picked apart the elements that interested me. Like looking at the ingredients
and finding out why you like the taste of something. All that said and done, some of my
recent works that are studies of sparse crunch and crackle (two harsh noise elements I’ve loved
from the beginning) are a natural extension of HNW – looking in between the spaces of texture
and movement in the sound.
If someone was interested in checking out The Rita for the first time, what release
would you recommend?
I try to put a lot of time and conception into my harsh noise works, so they all act as a stage of
development for me, but if I had to pick one it would be Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence.
Runners up would be:
Thousands of Dead Gods
The Voyage of the Decima MAS
Flapper Influence From French Prostitutes
Sea Wolf Leviathan
The Nylons of Laura Antonelli
The Tortured Ghosts of Creeks and Rivers
Snorkel / Skate
What can we expect from The Rita next? Any upcoming recordings or tours?
No immediate tour plans as of yet, but this year I have some upcoming releases, most notably a
CD released by R Loren, a 7″ collaboration with Prurient, a 7″ with Presto!?, a 7″ with Ketchup
Cavern (featuring women singing from Eurocine SS exploitation films), and more work with Vice
Wears Black Hose. My label Lake Shark Harsh Noise will feature a pro-cassette release from Vast
Glory, a solo project by Ian Gregory James, a Canadian master of the noise medium who has also
worked with Josh Rose (Sick Buildings / Rundownsun) in the power-electronics project Blouse.