the friday cinco 1 – ben houge [my coolest and most-interesting friend]

[Ben Houge is an American composer and sound artist, based in Shanghai since 2004.  A 13-year veteran of the videogame industry, he most recently served as audio director for Tom Clancy’s EndWar (Xbox 360/PS3, Ubisoft, 2008), and has previous contributed audio to Half-Life: Opposing Force, Leisure Suit Larry 7, King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity, and Arcanum.  More recently, he has been applying techniques for structuring non-linear sound honed in the videogame trenches to sound installations in such venues as Beijing’s Today Art Museum and Shanghai’s Art+Shanghai Gallery.  In the last year Ben presented a solo exhibition of algorithmically-generated visual art at [the studio] and released two CD’s.  An active participant in Shanghai’s new music scene, Ben has performed at the Shanghai eArts Festival, Shanghai Conservatory, Zendai Museum, and multiple NOIShanghai, RESO, Brainwave Communication, and Antidote events.]

Complete Ben Houge information is available at

I’ve often called you my ‘most coolest friend’. now be honest, why is that?

I thought it was because I could put my cell phone in my mouth.  Or sing Happy Birthday backwards?

rumors fly around to you being from Africa? the son of a preacher man? seattle-bred? please explain.

Yes, pretty much.  If someone asks where I’m from, I say Seattle.  But if they then ask where I’m from *originally*, that usually kicks off a 5 minute monologue.  It goes something like this…

I was born in York, NE, then moved to Milwaukee, then lived a few places in Ohio (where my kid brother was born), then on to Riverside, southern California, where I did most of my grade school, except for the year I spent in the outskirts of Dallas (attending 3rd grade in Duncanville, which I hated), a summer in Norman, Oklahoma, then back to Riverside for a bit before moving to Liberia, West Africa, during which time my family lived among the Vai people in 2 small villages (Gbese, 2 miles from the Sierra Leone border, then Madina, closer to Monrovia, the capital), while I attended boarding school at the International Christian Academy in Bouake, Ivory Coast.  We left due to political unrest in 1990, and headed to Seward, NE, and where I finished high school, and then I moved to Northfield, MN, to attend St. Olaf College, while my folks moved to St. Louis, then Lincoln, NE.  After graduation I moved to Seattle, WA, to take a job working on the videogame Leisure Suit Larry 7 for Sierra Entertainment.  At this point I calculated I had had 21 addresses in 21 years.  I pretty much stayed put for a while, until I moved to Shanghai in 2004.  If I stay overseas for one more year, my ratio will be back up to 1/3 of my life spent abroad, which is where it was when I was 15.

The reason for all this travel addresses the second part of your question.  In the 80’s my parents served as linguists with Lutheran Bible Translators in Liberia (doing things like training teachers, collecting folk tales, and developing new orthographies for indigenous languages).  After we left Africa in 1990 my dad became an official pastor, and my folks now work with the Lutheran Church in Kenya, where I am planning to visit them this winter when the weather gets miserable again in Shanghai.

having known you for a while now, you seem to live by a different code than most do. can you pinpoint a certain time in your life where you took on the antonin artaud-esque mindset of ‘that’s not right, I’d like to try things differently’?

It’s hard to point to a specific epiphany.  I used to be a picky eater as a kid, and at one point I realized that all of these decisions I had made about the kinds of foods I wouldn’t eat had been made by a five year old, and I started reevaluating everything, and I found that mustard and olives and mushrooms and all kinds of other foods are really quite nice.  So I try to live with that kind of mindset, that you’ve got to question what you think you know, or what other people tell you.

Travel helps, too.  You notice new things about where you’ve been when you view it from somewhere else.

most-underrated movie of all time?

Well, I can recite Three Amigos in its entirety, since it’s the only VHS tape we had in the village in Africa, but that doesn’t really count as underrated, I guess.  I’m tempted to say Prince’s Graffiti Bridge, but I can’t honestly tell you it’s a great film.

A long time ago at the Seattle International Film Festival I saw an Italian film called Denti that I thought was amazing, and I’ve never heard of it again.  Funny, creepy, full of Freudian surrealism.  Let’s go with that.

what will you be for halloween?

I don’t plan to celebrate, if I can get out of it.  I’ve always had a grudge against Halloween, since it’s the day after my birthday, and it always stole my thunder.

..and now, a bonus – I think they do this on av club, but I want you to set your iTunes to shuffle. no cheating, let it play and let us know who and why you have it. even the embarrassing ones.

Vanessa Paradis, L’Incendie, from her 2007 Divinidylle album.

I’ve got a soft spot for French pop.  I’ve been curious about French culture since experiencing its colonial manifestation in Ivory Coast.  The first time I heard Vanessa Paradis was in high school in Nebraska.  A classmate had picked up a compilation of French pop at the clothing store Express, and she didn’t dig it, so she gave it to me.  It had two songs by Vanessa Paradis on there, her huge hit from her first album “Joe le taxi,” and another song called “Soldat.”  Later on, after I got into Serge Gainsbourg, I found out he had written all the lyrics for her second album, Variations sur le même t’aime (a typical kind of Gainsbourg pun, substituting “theme” for its homonym “love you”).  I didn’t pick up her 3rd album, since it was in English, produced by former paramour Lenny Kravitz (she has since settled down with Johnny Depp).  So I’ve kind of stayed aware of her over the years, seeing a film or two of hers (Girl on the Bridge), and when I was in Paris for work a year or two ago, I picked up this new album, which is pretty pleasant.

This song, like most of Divinidylle, was produced by French pop polyglot –M– (for more on him, check out the French version of Rough Sundays!).

In fact, I don’t listen to much music on iTunes, still prefer CD’s, so it’s a weird selection on my iPhone.  I probably listen to my own stuff on there more than anything (the way David Byrne describes Prince in the Sand in the Vaseline liner notes).

Ben is opening for Owl City in Shanghai on November 20.  Please listen to his songs on MySpace (or buy them in iTunes) and help him become the next internet pop sensation.


Got something to say? Feel free, I want to hear from you! Leave a Comment

  1. SD Steve says:

    Yes, but what has Ben done lately??? Such a boring life! 🙂

    Seriously, nice interview. Now I gotta check out Vanessa Paradis, Ben’s myspace page and -M-‘s version of Rough Sundays. Aric, you’re always keeping me busy…

  2. Zanzuki says:

    Ben is awsome and hope to meet him again.I can learn more sound technic from him.

Comments are now closed for this article.

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