Inner City Sanctums
East Austin's Monofonus Press cranks out creative collaborations
Something new is in the works at Monofonus Press. But that’s pretty standard here at this East Austin record label and multimedia organization.
I stopped by recently to talk with Morgan Coy, the founder of the label and press, to find out more about Monofonus — voted “Best Multiple Media Idea” by the Austin Chronicle in 2010 — and their latest release, an LP entitled Nightmare on Silly Street, which features Coy and local artist John Wesley Coleman.
But Monofonus isn’t just a record label. It’s more like a bubbling over, creative think tank of all types of art and artists, specializing in “metaphysical and digital music, literature and visual art.” And the expansive shared studio space, located right off East 7th Street, is an inner city sanctum for some of the most innovative minds in Austin, including the boys of the Boozefox art collective and Andy Rihn, the twisted mind behind the Texas Longest Hammer Choir.
Coy, who started out making documentary films in New Orleans, ultimately founded the wonderfully wild multimedia operation a few years ago to provide a local alternative to mass produced art by featuring the passionately powerful examples of Austin’s most influential and underrated artists.
“We’re trying to do things in interesting ways,” Coy says. “And that usually comes from getting inspired by little things.”
And with creative conspirators like Thor Harris, Karen Davidson, Black Gum and Storm Shelter, Coy says there isn’t a challenge in finding inspiration.
Coy is especially intrigued by “trans media” and most of Monofonus’ releases, whether it’s a rock album or a book of haikus, feature a collaboration of some sorts — either between different artists or different mediums. Take for instance, the new LP release, Nightmare on Silly Street. It’s not just a charmingly bizarre record — kind of like a fun, drunken experiment by a more imaginative Wilco.
It’s accompanied by a video game, Wild Zoo, which lets players “Be John Wesley Coleman” in this fun pixilated throwback. (Whether players quit immediately or get hooked after the first high jump, they can preview tracks from the upcoming album.)
Other intriguing examples of Coy’s trans media work include power animal videos, a flipbook illustration of fascinating beasts, made in collaboration with local artist Jules Buck Jones — and Dry Hump: The Video Game — an amusingly lascivious game, incorporating the unique form of interactive YouTube videos. (It’s like a raunchy, digitized, “choose your adventure” game, Coy says.
Most of Monofonus’ literature releases, like Thor Harris’ incomparable A Post Apocalyptic Tale of Friendship, also come with a corresponding audio CD.
It doesn’t take long to read through and enjoy all of Monofonus’ assorted zines, flip books, graphic novels or poetry collections. And that’s a big part of the charm. It’s like looking over a 21st century collection of love letters to ephemera. The important thing is that Austinites are still taking the time to seek out and experience the inventive works of their city’s most influential, underrated artists.
Coy says it’s generally difficult to successfully advertise avant-garde art. Sometimes he achieves funding for his projects through Kickstarter — a great way for people to donate money online in exchange for a cool, creative project. But what it really comes down to is people’s willingness to look outside their blinders and pay attention to the inspiring bursts of locally crafted creativity that Monofonus is sending out to the Austin atmosphere.