In Conversation: Trippy Talk with Relaxed Uterus Project

While many think of the Upper West Side as the home of Seinfeld’s famous diner and rich white folk, there are other worthy things of note there. For example, GSC editor-in-chief’s homebase is there. The AMC theater I frequent the most, no disrespect to Magic Johnson, is located there. Perhaps most importantly it is where pro-cannabis assemblymember Linda Rosenthal resides. Earlier last month, Rosenthal introduced a bill to decriminalize Psilocybin in  New York State. For the rookies, Psilocybin is the active chemical in magical mushrooms that may be able to help treat depression

Regardless of how you feel about drug usage, the so-called War on Drugs is a spectacular moral and legal failure that has destroyed the lives of millions of black and brown Americans while white people have once again seen a majority of the benefits. While sitting in quarantine pondering the unfairness of society and trying to let go of the things I cannot control and focus on what I can do with my own platform, Higgie-Smalls recovered my long lost interview conducted with Emma from the Relaxed Uterus Project, a self-described, “group doing live visuals and music videos with the goal of providing an open space for female and gender nonconforming individuals in stage production”. I linked up with Columbia undergraduate student Emma Schechter to hear more about her one woman act Relaxed Uterus Project

First discovered in an Instagram hole, I came across the Relaxed Uterus Project page and was instantly taken in by the bizarre trippy cartoons, vibrant colors, and image of Reptar. With some finesse (shout out Cleome of Invertebrate) we were able to link up and drink a couple coffees in West Harlem while discussing misogyny in STEM, the circus, being trippy over psychedelic, and people who take themselves too seriously. 

Shannon & the Clams backed by Relaxed Uterus Project visuals

For clarity, this interview has been edited for length as well as lost audio due to the busy nature of the coffee shop. It was a long-winded conversation that picked up quickly without an official start. In an effort to make the read as smooth as possible, just know that Emma is graduating from the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science this fall. STEM, as you may or may not know, is traditionally very male

RUP: So theoretically I was supposed to work on a set design job this year, I don’t know I like a lot of different things.

GSC: Set design? That’s cool.

RUP: And I’m doing sound design for a thesis show at Columbia next year.

GSC: When’s that?

RUP: Next spring. I’m in a sound design class right now. I guess I am trying to figure out if I want to keep doing the more engineering type stuff or if I could do something more creative.

GSC: Is it possible to do both?

RUP: Yea I guess, I was rejected from a fellowship where I was supposed to do arts and computation where I was supposed to get an MFA like in installation work involving coding and other things and I was rejected, but we’ll see.

GSC: My best friend’s fiancé does installations.

RUP: It seems really cool. I would love to know it more, I have a little experience coding 3D sound.

GSC: Coding 3D sound?

RUP: Yea, like you know if you listen to those YouTube videos like the barbershop ones?

GSC: Yea?

RUP: I did a lot of research a few years ago where I had to code that. I really don’t like computer science though.

GSC: Why not?

RUP: I don’t know why. I like the coding I get to do but I don’t like pure coding. I guess cause, I don’t know I guess I get kinda bored. It’s not that good of a reason

GSC: I think that’s a fine reason, I get bored of things all the time and stop doing them [writer’s note: I did not get bored of this interview. It was lost for other silly reasons] How do you identify?

RUP: She/her/hers pronouns, I don’t know exactly…I’ll do the basic one I guess.

GSC: Really up to your judgement.

RUP: Okay. She/her/hers pronouns, cisgender woman, lesbian, then beyond that I don’t know. I guess I’ve grown more and more tied to my identity as someone who is pursuing an engineering degree.

GSC: Yea you’re STEM.

A: Yea I’m STEM which I used to shy away from and now I’ve just grown really fed up I think that’s just half of my journey really of what I do is just going fed up with cis white men mostly in the various things I’ve done and just I can do that too *laughs* but yea that’s pretty much how I identify.

GSC: Why the name?

RUP: Relaxed Uterus Project? I don’t exactly remember. I think it stemmed from a conversation about cramps if I’m being perfectly honest.

GSC: Really?

RUP: Yea, with my friends and then I thought it was kinda funny, I think a lot of the stage, so Columbia has a music festival. I’m co-president.

GSC: Oh shit that’s sick.

RUP: Yea bacchanal, I did tech for them for two years and I’m pretty involved in the DIY show scene in Columbia and I think, I just had so many experiences where men I guess have told me to coil a cable, so I like have in your face like female anatomy focused it is, and I also think it’s funny. I like anthropomorphizing these weird things. I hope it’s not like a visual thing, in my dream it was supposed to be a production-based thing. If I had all the space in the world, I would love to do visuals with a few people who I’ve been slowly teaching how to do it, but I’d want to incorporate performance stuff whether it be music or dance or I mean I would love to have a circus.

Britney Spears – Circus

GSC: A Circus?

RUP: Yea, I think that would be my dream project, this like gender bending circus where everyone is gender neutral, and I think lighting and sound production in concerts is just not a diverse group of people, so I think I have the project part because I think it would be my dream to eventually like run a group or even a venue that’s run by people who don’t feel comfortable in the groups that stage and like do any sort of concert production. I don’t know where someone finds that sort of space, but I like how my name is tongue in cheek and still has that project side to it because people take themselves way too seriously. That’s my thing with everything.

GSC: People definitely do take themselves too seriously.

RUP: Especially, and not to shit on them but production people, just because I know so many of them at this point and they’re good but like a lot of people take themselves seriously which is why I’ve developed this unique aesthetic if you look at other psychedelic productions at concerts

GSC: Do you consider yourself a psychedelic production?

RUP: I mean, my training was originally in that. This guy who is great, Steve Pavlovsky, started Liquid Light Lab, he’s pretty big. He’s close with Joshua White of Joshua’s Light Show who did productions for Jefferson Airplane and Steve is big in his own right. I started him and he taught me a lot of things. I used to do a lot of liquid shows like liquid light productions with an over light projector. I’ve kinda moved away from that. And then a little more like video feedback stuff I’ve learned from him, again I’ve moved away from that a little bit. My roots are in that, but I don’t know if I’d call myself psychedelic, maybe trippy, but it’s also not the techniques they used in the era of Woodstock, it’s slightly different.

GSC: Have you ever been to Woodstock?

RUP: No, have you?

GSC: Yea I just went this summer.

RUP: I hear it’s beautiful

GSC: It is! So I guess these guys were your original influences right?

RUP: I am really lucky to have had help, I emailed this guy Steve because I liked the liquid light shows and asked if I could shadow him and the people who were supposed to help him at this rough trade gig party, they’re getting pretty big. He asked me to step in via email, “I can teach you on the fly if you wanna help.”

GSC: That’s dope.

RUP: Yea, and then he hired me, he basically used to sell liquid light show kits so I’d package glass cases and dyes and he’d pay me but he has this big studio in Astoria so he taught me in his studio in Astoria so I am very grateful for him. He recently downsized, doesn’t sell kits anymore. He didn’t like commercializing it too much, and he also had to pay me to help out with gigs so he wasn’t making enough money. I’m pretty sure to actually hire a lot of people so I stopped but we still keep in touch and he’s great. I definitely learned everything I know from him alongside YouTube, but I’d say he’s my only influence as far as the projection people go. I am not into a lot of the stuff that people are into right now, not to be shady. I think it’s cool, but I don’t want to do it right now. A lot of it is like you know how math rock is really in your face.

GSC: Yes *Laughs*

RUP: I think it’s in your face.

GSC: I didn’t really appreciate it at all till recently, one of my friends is in a band so I have to listen to it now.

RUP: I like math rock, that’s how I feel about this video feedback stuff like there’s this guy Jason Galea. He’s like the biggest video feedback guy and he travels with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and I think a lot of people are trying to be Jason Galea when Jason Galea is Jason Galea so that effect is sick, the crumbling castle video is feedback and when you feel like you’re in infinite tunnels. It’s all video feedback stuff and it’s sick but a lot of the time it’s just strobey and overwhelming and I don’t want to do that too much.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Rattlesnake

GSC: What do you want to do?

RUP: Um, well I’m slowly acquiring more and more stuff, but I also live in a dorm and I live in a walk up so it’s like hard to acquire things but I just got a DVD player. From the beginning I was using my VCR but now I got a DVD player so I’m hoping to mix multiple cartoons together, and then my video SIM which is incredible love it, I use this program Lumen where you can make your own patches and use the midi-controller to control your own video synth. I have an Ableton controller basically that I use and I really like how it’s more smooth, I like it when people recognize the cartoons I’m using.

GSC: How do you find them?

RUP: I go to The Thing a lot in Greenpoint and eBay. There are also some obscure cartoons I use that I really like but I’m slowly acquiring stuff. I use a camcorder depending on, I did stuff at a club over the summer. 

GSC: What club?

RUP: Lola? Its new its on Ave A its 169 AVE A, there’s not a sign it’s pretty hip and I was doing projections there where I was recording people dancing in a cartoon or in my more abstract, psychedelic stuff, and then I just got a DVD player so I can mix more stuff but I’m limited by my gear because my mixer only has two inputs. To do cooler things I’d need another mixer which is more space and more money.

GSC: How do you decide who to work with?

RUP: So my first solo gig, I just started doing by myself besides a few random things at Columbia I did but my first real gig was 4/20/2019. It was a lot of fun, I was a headcase cause one of my best friends who is the co-president of the music festival with me, Joy Barrett, she is really the one who keeps me from freaking out every time I do something. Because I work in analog video and I work in analog to digital conversions there’s always a box or a dongle that breaks and it’s always stressful, but yea evolve go at mercury lounge was my first solo gig and I got that through word of mouth. I help out with this record label King Pizza Records, a Brooklyn based garage rock label, and I started out there when I just hated Columbia as a freshman. I just needed to meet people through the music I liked and I just needed to get away from these kids and I met them and have been helping out there ever since. And the person who started that got me my first job and then it’s a mixture of word of mouth and like Shannon and the Clams, I just emailed by far my biggest gig yet, was 400-500 people and it was smooth, everything went really well which I was so thankful because they were a huge part of my life in high school.

Shannon & the Clams – The Boy

GSC: Why did you hate Columbia so much? 

RUP: Well I had a hard-living situation my freshman year and also, I felt kinda old when I got here.

GSC: Why? Were you 21?

RUP: When I got to Columbia I was 18, I felt older and I didn’t wanna do what other people were doing and I always wanted to be involved in music stuff and always wanted to be involved in garage rock, psych rock, so I reached out because I wanted to get involved in something off campus. 

GSC: What is your process like when you go to make something? Do you know what you’re gonna do or like?

RUP: No, I mean it’s hard, I feel like everything I do live is better which kinda sucks because it means that, I mean I do everything live but I prefer to do work live at venues even though I do make videos in my room as well. And I just kinda wing it. I mean for Shannon and the Clams that was definitely the most thought I’ve put into what I chose. I opened with, I went through all these tapes I got and focused on stuff from the 50s and 60s, I watched everything through and got a Mr. Magoo tape and stopped it with Davey Jones Locker.. And then other than that I will pre-prepare some patches on my video synthesizer and will manipulate them live. It’s really easy too. Basically you’re mixing light waves so if you fuck up a frequency too much it’ll start vibrating and look awful and make you dizzy and I don’t like that, I mean it’s good in certain context but not for me. So mostly it’s winging it, I think the STEM part of me gets really into the synthesizer because I understand the physics of how it works and like you can manipulate shapes of waves and the modulation and filtering. There’s all this patchwork I understand.

GSC: When do you feel most inspired to create?

RUP: That’s a good question, I saw that in the interview questions and was like I don’t know. Um, when I have time which is bad. I don’t know if that’s bad, I’ve just had a lot of work lately but I think ever since I got a response from Shannon and the Clams, just because I was so surprised they hired me, I’ve felt more inspired, also when I get a new piece of gear, like I have this old color corrector I use for rainbow glitchy things and I don’t bring that to gigs because it’s like blown out things in my gear before because it’s just really powerful and it’ll black out a screen and it’s too unreliable, but when I got that I made a lot of videos with it, so I think when I get gear when I get gigs or honestly because everything I do is pretty different, if I get some sort of validation from someone I feel more inspired because it’s not like I have a fragile ego, I don’t know, I feel like everyone feels inspired when they’re validated. 

Like this vinyl DJ I love followed my visuals Instagram account and I was freaking out, like Johnathan Tubin likes my stuff? That’s cool, so I think it’s just like random things where people I admire acknowledge what I’m doing where I get so inspired cuz its hard, the thing about having such a social, I hate self-promotion and hate social media, I hate posting on Insta for my visuals but I also don’t get work if I don’t do that, so any sort of. And just with Instagram’s algorithms I don’t have enough followers where sometimes things that I post just get lost in a void, so if I know that I’m making stuff that’s not just being sucked into a social media void it inspires me 

GSC: A lot of the stuff I do gets lost in the void.

RUP: It’s hard.

GSC: It is, it really is. I think it gets better I guess, or I hope.

RUP: Are you in a band?

GSC:  No, what do I do, I guess I write, and I am a performer and kinda a director. Me and my boy started this comedy improv show this year. We’ve only had three shows this year, we have five planned in 2020. The last one was off Broadway and sold out.

RUP: Oh! That’s sick, really cool.

GSC: Yea, like 120 something people came, and then we started this blog, we started the blog in like May and like we’ve just been writing about what we like about local shit, trying to get some traction. One of the Pitchfork editors followed us last week on our personal shit and the blog is cool.

RUP: Oh wow that is so cool! See, it’s stuff like that that gets you gassed.

GSC: It’s like here is someone who sees what I’m doing, that’s cool. I don’t really like doing reviews for albums. I like talking to people.  I’ve never interviewed a visual artist before.

RUP: I am really excited.

GSC: And your page is dope as shit.

RUP: Thank you!

GSC: Do your images mean anything or is there a story?

RUP: It’s the type of thing where when I’m doing it, I think it means stuff but it’s so music dependent, although I draw, like everything I do is rooted in the song it’s paired with. I mean not all my art has songs, I’ll post them with music, I don’t do it in silence. So I think it just depends, I think they do have meaning but it’s not like I go into it with meaning intended. But I remember I have this video right when I was starting, like I just got my video mixer and I was just doing the Flintstones on like a rainbow background it’s like not as dynamic as what I do now, but you could see fred flintstone tapping on the rainbow and spraying and I was laughing in the background because I thought it was funny

And I think it’s just like again I hate people who take themselves too seriously. I love nostalgia and reinterpreting nostalgia and reinventing something that you find nostalgic so I think that would be my meaning. I did Pizza Fest which was King Pizza Records festival and I did that at Gutter Bar, I did that there and then started working there, but people would come up to me during it, I would use hamtaro and people would be like holy shit I haven’t seen this, or id use recess and people would just get really pumped. Or Space Jam I used, my Muppets in Space broke my VCR but when I used that people, I just like eliciting responses from people who, I like making other people nostalgic. Maybe it’s not as much my feelings as it is, I want other people to feel.

GSC: I feel that. What does femininity mean to you?

RUP: That was another question where like, I know the name of my group is the female anatomy but I do identify as a cisgender woman, so femininity is, I don’t know, because I would consider myself in touch with my femininity but don’t think about it too often, so yea, that was a hard question. I feel like I would need to unpack it more, because like binaries like masculinity and femininity are so hard to deal with and are sometimes othering which is sometime I like anthropomorphizing a uterus because it’s something feminine I guess even though we don’t consider biological things feminine necessarily but I don’t know if I would consider a uterus feminine or if I would consider it something else? I don’t know, what do you think? Do you think feminine things are things that are inherent to women? Or like? It’s hard.

GSC: Yea I think it’s like, I don’t know. That’s why I asked you.

RUP: I don’t think I have an idea of what femininity is except not masculinity and then masculinity is not femininity but like so much of it is in-between, like even like, I have like different settings in my life. where I will be different things. Academically I can be kinda an asshole, I know, just because I have dealt with so many assholes in my academic life that I think I can have maybe what is considered masculine energy when I work with academics or my rituals, but even though I cannot say enough nice things about certain men I work with, like the sound guy at the Gutter, he’s amazing the best person, very kind not rude at all. It’s mostly my peers who will be rude and it’s in academic settings. Like if I do a tech at a club or if I help set up at shows people can be jerks. But I don’t like that I associate that with masculinity either.

GSC: But you do associate it with masculinity.

RUP: But I do, um, but I think that’s just why I started, that’s why I want to be like hey, like I don’t want it to be exclusive to anyone. It’s nice to have a more inclusive setting. Its techy in addition to artistic, I know some electrical engineering stuff, I know like general things about power, I don’t know there’s just a lot of elements to it where I like how there’s different elements of gender, sexuality it merges a lot of things that are associated with a certain type of people probably.

Shannon & the Clams backed by Relaxed Uterus Project visuals

GSC: Do you mostly create while sober or nah?

RUP: Normally I do it when I’m drunk a lot, I like to do it with friends sometimes if we’re all drinking. It’s mostly when my roommate is doing homework and she’s drinking while she’s doing homework and I’m drinking while I do this. 

GSC: I’ve never done that before. I guess it’s too late for me now, I guess.

RUP: I code best when I’m drunk. I have this theory about so many things, I think half of any task is having an ego big enough.

GSC: Half of any task is having an ego big enough…

RUP: I mostly tutor middle school girls in math and science and a lot of it is not having the confidence to say, “I know how to do this” and when I’m drunk my ego is gigantic. If you have an ego big enough, even test taking I’m like I can’t be that much more dumb than the other people taking the test, so if this is this hard for me it must be at least that hard for them so it just helps me put things into perspective to be like I’m okay at everything that I do and I am probably good at a lot of other things. I mean I’m bad at some stuff too.

GSC: Like what?

RUP: uhhhh, let me think, I’m not a great musician. I play drums but I’m not good at it. I’m really bad at painting. I like drawing with pencils, I do a lot of anatomy drawings.

GSC: Where did you start anatomy drawings?

A: High school I would say, I’m really bad at memorizing, I have the worst memory that’s why I like math. If you give me a logic thing, I’m fine, but I was never good at history or bio or other things where you just have to memorize things.

GSC: How are you feeling right now? Mentally in the world?

RUP: Good, I am a little stressed. I have the equivalent of my thesis on Wednesday, my presentation on applied math, so I’m presenting for two and a half hours on Wednesday btw two different things. But honestly okay, I don’t care, I mean I care about school, but I think I have a healthy perspective on school because I spent a lot of time unhappy and I realized if I spend a little less time at school and spend a little more time on things I love like visuals or I love my job or I like to go dancing. It just helps. It makes life more enjoyable to care a little less about school.

GSC:  Good, I’m glad I’ve been doing the same shit.

RUP: People take themselves too seriously. People stress themselves out too much and like bad shit happens and you don’t know when the bad shit is gonna happen.

GSC: Bad shit is gonna happen. 

RUP: Yea and like it fucked up but it happens. I don’t know I know I’m not gonna be sad, I know like I have been going out a lot on weeknights for concerts and I’ll be happy I did that. I won’t wish I had spent an extra hour doing whatever. 

GSC: Studying.

RUP: Yea. 

GSC: Who’s your dream collaboration?

RUP: I have so many, I mean Shannon and the Clams was really-

GSC: Dam you already hit it!

RUP: I have a lot, but I just thought their music fit what I do so well. Punxen is Punx. That would be great, its Shannon from Shannon and the Clams but also an iconic queer band so I’d love to work with artists that have similar focuses to what I do, much like the OC’s they’re my favorite band. I’ve seen them so many times live, but I know that my visuals wouldn’t work for them. Like I worked with someone who did a music video for them and his visuals are perfect for the OC’s but I love the OC’s. I would do it for OCS which is like the side project of John Dwyer. I would do Damaged Bug if he did that. Kim Petras would be fun, Charli XCX would be fun.

Next Level Charli by Charli XCX

GSC: Next Level Charli! That shit bangs.

RUP: Sophie would be fun ugh, oh my god there’s so, I mean there’s some rappers I fuck with like Leikeli47, he would be amazing, Tierra Whack but she has the best visual person though. The person who did the visuals for her at Coachella. I also stage-managed Tierra whack last year.

GSC: Oh really?

RUP: Yea, she’s just, she doesn’t take herself seriously. Her songs are pretty funny, her videos are incredible, like her unemployed video with the talking potatoes. So I’d love to work with female rappers, um, trying to think. I’m gonna hit up The Paranoids who are performing at Baby’s. They’re like a punk band from LA. I think if I could do some female punk bands that would be cool too. Perfume Genius would be fun! *laughs* yea I love perfume genius, I feel like one day that would be doable. Dumbo Gets Mad. Any of that stonery stuff would be fun, I think those people would like my visuals.

GSC: Yea I think they would too they’re pretty fuckin sick! You watch a lot of tv and movies?

RUP: I watch a lot of TV, so like I haven’t seen a lot of recent, I mean I loved Fleabag.

GSC: I keep hearing good things.

RUP: As far as tv goes Tig Nataro is one of, she’s my favorite comedian probably, and One Mississippi. Not enough people have watched.

GSC: What’s that?

RUP: it’s her Amazon show. It was a while ago it got cancelled or something or ended but it’s based on her life. I’m rewatching The L Word right now. I have kinda shit taste in tv.  Probably cause I like to read honestly

GSC:  What have you been reading?

RUP: I read this really really cool book by this, if she were performing I’d love to do visuals for her, Vivian Goldman I saw her open for Cate Le Bon this summer. She wrote this book I read over the summer called Revenge of the She Punks and she’s so she produced one album in 19 years or made one album in 1979 and was part of this punk band the Flying Lizards and she’s just this badass lady who’s maybe in her 60s and I saw her perform live and read her book. It’s like about the history of women in punk so it has, like I listen to a lot of old music and it has Patti smith in it and I love her

GSC: Patti Smith is dope!

RUP: I was her for Halloween.

GSC: Really?
RUP: Yea because my hair is dirty, and I have her hair when it’s clean more or less

GSC: I was Robert Pattinson only.

RUP: Like from Twilight?

GSC: Like from The Lighthouse. Are you a Rob Pattinson fan?

RUP: Not really *laughs* 

GSC: I’m a huge stan.

As the conversation veered into my history and the subject became the interviewer, I remember how incredibly enthusiastic, curious, and friendly Emma is. Sadly COVID-19 has stopped all live shows for the time being, but you can dig through her Vimeo account to peep the archives. We caught up recently to put the final touches on this piece and she let me know that she has plans to update the account soon with new videos. In the meantime, she’s applying to MFA programs for creative computing while building a new touch activated hoarding simulation that plays ambient and cartoon sounds when touched. Check out the visuals, follow her Instagram, and support a very different type of artist representing the underrepped queer women in a very white male dominated industry.

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