Island of Misfit Noise: SKN KVR and Castle Numbskull

Jacob of SKN KVR - Photo by Matt Stieb
Photo by Matt Stieb
Jacob of SKN KVR

Castle Numbskull’s ceiling fans spin on overtime as Jacob of SKN KVR (pronounced skin carver) sets up the assorted junk, contact mics and distortion pedals that make up his noise set. Caught in a maze of cables, the setup looks like a bin from a mechanical yard sale, a forgotten mix of broken things. But Jacob—who prefers not to disclose his last name—specializes in making music from misfit toys, soldering metal and tweaking circuit boards to mine harsh, Eraserhead music from non-musical stuff.

SKN KVR’s most important instrument is the contact microphone, a small pickup that captures the sound of vibrations within objects. With the mic as his guide, he turns anchor chains, broken glass and scrap metal into musical textures, like John Cage in an industrial park. The mic’s fling with a large coil spring was especially arresting, a helix of drones wobbling through the speakers.

SKN KVR’s HQ is Castle Numbskull, a storefront-turned-punk house and art gallery just south of Southtown. Inside the compound, the two massive rooms are covered with murals, band stickers and assorted debris intended for some uncharted creative journey. Lit by chandeliers and dangling bare bulbs, Numbskull is the home to a small collective of rotating artists and residents, steered by the workhorse ethic of SKN KVR. To find it, SKN KVR and company prefer the Ask a Punk method to Google Maps.

Last week Castle Numbskull posted a crowdsourcing effort, looking for a restoration budget to make the venue more suitable for shows. To understand a bit more about SKN KVR songs and the Numbskull setting, I sat down with Jacob for a Q&A within the Castle walls.

What aesthetic umbrella does your music fit under?

I see it as experimental music. I don’t sit there and practice before my set. I don’t bring lyric sheets with me. Half the time, I don’t know how I’m going to plug it in, I just do it on the spot. I do that on purpose, it keeps things interesting.

What does this type of music allow you to do that wouldn’t be possible in more traditional forms?

It’s an outlet for me. I deal mostly with the self, my health, which is probably declining. There’s not really a big market for it in San Antonio, but that’s not what it’s about. I don’t ever make a dollar off my music, and I don’t ever plan to. It’s just art, passion, that kind of stuff.

How do you approach your live set?

I think of it like neo-Dadaism. That’s how I feel about noise: It’s anti-music but music at the same time. In itself it’s a contradiction. I have a lot of fun with it. I consider it performance art. I usually end up a little bloody… but it’s not physical masochism. I like the term “physical fulmination.” It’s an oxidation process in chemistry, to burn up quickly. I use that term a lot, like things in the world are crushing my soul, and I have to do this, or I’m going to be an asshole to everybody. It’s a good outlet for me, and it keeps my mind occupied. 

Your setup looks confusing. How do you keep it together while performing?

I like it like that. Sometimes it does weird things. If you have two cables winding together going to two different pedals, just because they’re in a spiral around another electrical current, it’ll make it sound different. 

How do you collaborate with this kind of music?

When I like to collaborate, I set guidelines to it. [The collaborator and I] both have phones out and a timer going. One person does something quiet for a minute and the other guy comes in louder, and it grows and grows. 

What is your vision for Castle Numbskull?

I feel like I’m the only permanent resident here. I want to be here for 10 fucking years and build a community and start a noise thing that doesn’t exist in San Antonio.

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