Name: Andrew Tasselmyer
Occupation: Sound artist, field recorder, composer
Current release: Andrew Tasselmyer teams up with Blurstem for Duets, mastered by Ian Hawgood, and out now via Fluid Audio / Facture. Also available now is Music for Nonexistent Films, mastered by Taylor Deupree, and published on Andrew's bandcamp account.
[Read our Blurstem interview]
[Read our Ian Hawgood interview]
[Read our Taylor Deupree interview]
[Read our Taylor Deupree interview about collaboration]
If you enjoyed this interview with Andrew Tasselmyer and would like to know more about his music, visit his official website. He is are also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I think about this topic a lot. I treat recording a lot like writing in a diary. Some people journal with pen and paper, and that practice of daily expression is helpful to them. I just happen to do my journaling in a DAW or with a recorder (many of my previous albums are based on this notion of recording the moment – such as Formosa and Maui).
I don’t even know what it is I’m after sometimes; a lot of times it feels like scribbling aimlessly, but it just feels like something I have to do in order to feel like “me.”
As far as those other sources of inspiration, they do shape who I am, so there is an indirect inspiration there. I don’t think anybody can make music without any influence from their personal circumstances.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I don’t need any idea to start. There is a huge amount of chance and randomness to what I do, whether that’s playing with a sound in a sampler, field recording in a new place, or just simply designing a new instrument in Kontakt or something.
The start is always the easiest, in that sense, because I play around with new ideas on a nearly daily basis in the studio. But to finish and idea, a healthy amount of planning is definitely needed.
When I determine I am going to record multiple pieces and make an album, I always pick a detail, story or idea I particularly enjoy from my studio “play time” and focus on an end objective. I can’t develop a series of songs if they don’t have a unifying theme behind them.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Earlier I referenced “play time” in the studio, and to get that going I always start from a blank slate.
I’m pretty diligent about making sure that all of my instruments, pedals, cables etc. are packed up and stored away after every session, so that the next time I want to play around I am working from a clean slate and picking only the things that seem worthwhile to use. A pile of gear, clutter, and endless choices in front of me is the most overwhelming thing to my mind. I’d get nothing done without a clean and minimal desk to start.
But after that, there are no rules … whatever I grab I use, and whatever happens, happens. I tend to not over-analyze anything or be precious about the results.
An example of this would be my album May Mornings which is essentially an improvised session on my kitchen table.
Normally, I would take those fragments back to the studio later to reshape, but in that instance I felt it was an accurate representation of how I felt in that moment, and it seemed appropriate to document it with minimal production.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
They’re simple things, but walking, coffee, and natural light help me more than anything. I love working in the morning hours. But it’s hard to do that all of the time because I have a day job that keeps me in an office from 9-5 about 50% of the week, with the other 50% spent working from home.
When I do have the option, though, I usually get going early. Soft morning light is plentiful in my new home studio, and I’ve noticed a huge positive change in my mental state after working in a basement for years, where work felt clinical and laboratory-like now that I look at it in retrospect.
Music is much more fun and playful for me these days. Throughout the day I take a lot of walks with the dog, and at the office I always make it a point to leave my desk for moments of fresh air. Those moments put my brain in a different place, and are often when something comes to mind that forms the basis of what I want to work with later in the studio.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
It’s hard to say. It depends on my mood that day … if I’m not feeling adventurous or inspired then I will usually let a sequencer begin a melodic phrase and I’ll sample portions of it to form the foundation of a song. Sort of like a collaboration with someone more motivated than I feel.
But if I am feeling really motivated to try a new feature on an instrument or effect, or if I have definitive material I want to work with, like a field recording or drum beat stuck in my head, I will pull that up and begin testing it for opportunities. Either way, it’s not hard for me to start.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
That process of “something” emerging from “nothing” is the best part of the process, but also the most difficult to describe unfortunately. When you hear a track or two click together for the first time, it’s a magic moment. It’s just a feeling of satisfaction and confidence that I made something I like and feel good about.
That’s part of the addiction that keeps me going – pushing myself to find those little moments.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I couldn’t agree more with those writers. Once I arrive at a common theme or set of parameters to guide my instrument selection and recording process, I’m very open to letting things go wherever they go.
In some sense I never truly believe I have full control over the narrative, and it’s easy for me to let go of my work (I literally have “let go” tattooed on my arm). I can offer my perspective and explain the context of its creation in liner notes if I want, but the way another person’s brain interprets some soundwaves I recorded isn’t up to me to determine.
I can see the merits of dictating narrative in things like site-specific installations and sound art, but for my purpose and process, I strive to keep a pretty loose grip on everything.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
This happens frequently and I welcome all of the alternative roads that might open. As long as I am staying true to my initial parameters (instrument selection, creative process and recording choices, etc) I fully expect whatever I’m working on to sound very different from my initial idea or thought.
It goes back to that idea about having a loose (or no) grip on the narrative and maintaining a playful state of mind when making music … when things get rigid and frustrating, I know I need to stop what I’m doing and reset. Those ideas are abandoned. More will come in due time.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I think of my creativity as a part of my personality. I love to learn, tinker, travel, and explore new places and things, so making music feels like a natural extension of that. Every time I make something, it feels like stepping into the unknown, and I love that thrill.
I feel like I keep using the word “playful” but I really do feel strongly that whatever I’m making should have some element of fun and play involved. In that sense, the creative state probably feels like a playground in my mind …just trying stuff, seeing what sticks, learning new things.
I don’t like the idea of excessive reverence for music, or the inflated sense of self-importance you sometimes hear when people talk about music they’re making or enjoying. Just not my style.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I personally recognize the end of the process as the first point in time in which I catch myself thinking too hard about something, to the point of frustration, annoyance or negative emotion. That’s a signal that the piece is ready to be wrapped up into a final form of some kind.
If I feel like I’m “wrestling” with something for too long, I start to check out and I think some authenticity is lost there. I don’t like the idea of having to fight against an idea to turn it into something meaningful. I’d rather focus on things as they are and retain my original excitement for something, as opposed to pummeling them into becoming something tolerable.
This isn’t to say that folks shouldn’t push themselves in creative ways and be careful about what they produce. Diligence, patience, and care are all good things to have. I think I’m just personally wired to be less strict and protective of my creations than other people.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I do listen to things several times once I’ve finished, and it’s mostly from a purely technical standpoint: things like resonant peaks, phasing problems, and other technical aspects that would negatively affect the listening experience.
I don’t do a whole lot of additional arrangement, re-recording, etc. In practice, this is me listening to the music on walks and in my car to take note of anything wildly out of place. If I can hear it twice in a row without noticing anything I hate, I call it done … haha.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
All of these things are essential parts of the process.
I spend a decent amount of time mixing my music as well as I can, but mastering, in particular, is something I will always ask a professional engineer to do. I absolutely depend on a 3rd person, expert perspective to listen to a recorded piece of music I’ve provided them and accurately assess its technical readiness.
I deeply appreciate the insight and perspective I’ve gained from listening to mastering engineers explain their decisions and ideas. It directly affects how I record and mix to begin with, to minimize the chances of a disruptive event needing fixing later on.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I’m very good at letting things go these days.
The last couple of years, with so much loss, damage and pain, has really helped me accept the impermanence of things. I don’t really dwell on past projects and rarely listen to them again after they’re finished.
I’m always ready to move on to the next project because creativity is a daily practice for me.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
It’s a good question and I’m not entirely sure how to answer it. I do agree that creativity is an omnipresent thing – we always have the opportunity to approach the day with a new perspective and make choices that test our understanding of things, expose us to new ideas and so forth.
I think that with music, there is a unique ability to revisit the past through the process of recording sound. As long as the tape was running, we have a copy of the past that we can revisit and experience. It’s an extraordinary and powerful thing to be able to re-shape, re-direct and re-position an idea that occurred previously. We don’t have that opportunity in daily conversation with other people, while making coffee, or in most other actions.
Musical expression is really beautiful in its relation to time. We are always revisiting different points within our process to make it happen.