Name: Jason Charles Beck aka Chilly Gonzales
Occupation: Pianist, composer, improviser
Nationality: Canadian
Current release: Plastikman & Chilly Gonzales's Consumed in Key is out April 1st 2022 via Turbo.

You can't plan great art. That may sound like a cliché. But it was certainly true for Chilly Gonzales. After years as an improviser and bar pianist and working with beats and hip hop elements, Gonzales spontaneously decided to record a solo piano album. The music, which transported Chopin and Debussy into a 21st century jazz bar, felt like an open statement of defiance against the modern classical movement, its harmonic simplicity and melodic poverty. Perhaps precisely for these reasons, it turned into a commercial triumph – to date, some of the pieces contained on Solo Piano have racked up almost ten million streams.

For Gonzales, too, Solo Piano would become the point of departure for one of the more colourful careers in the current music landscape. Gonzales has recorded a remarkably successful Christmas album, recorded for the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon, worked with Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, written a book about his love for Enya, compiled an album's worth of electronic music cover versions and established an instantly recognisable stage persona.

And yet, Consumed in Key may well have been his most challenging project. Realised over a period of several years, the album blurs the borders between remix, cover version, interpretation and collaboration. Initially, Gonzales simply recorded himself improvising over Richie Hawtin's minimal techno sculptures, adding his own vision of what had become an iconic release. When he first heard these renditions some time later through their mutual acquaintance Tiger, Hawtin was both confused and intrigued and agreed to work on a new version of Consumed – but under his own conditions. For both sides, it wasn't an ideal situation, one which led them into equally uncomfortable and rewarding territory.

As Gonzales remembers:

"It's hard to collaborate. You know, you have to accept that there's give and take. Artists tend to take time to be sure about things. But once they're sure, it's sometimes hard for them to move off of that certainty. My fear of collaboration stems from needing to know people extremely well before I can collaborate. I was so convinced of my approach to Consumed, that it should stay in its exact form and that I should just be adding to it. But Richie said, "I'd like to do this, but I want to integrate this into my world, and I want to get my machines going again. I want to remix the album with the new elements in mind."

That was terrifying for me. I thought "no, now you're getting involved in your own album from 20 years ago. This is a recipe for disaster. You'll never be able to let go of it. You're not objective." So it was going from a relationship that I've been having for two years with a piece of work, and now is the very beginning of a relationship with a person."

Ultimately, as he describes in this interview, he did manage to discover the same ebb and flow in his piano lines as Hawtins had found in his original electronic arrangements. All he had to do to get there was let go – and stop believing he could plan this. And so, what had started out as an emotional response ended there as well: "I had a couple moments of crying while making Consumed In Key."

If you enjoyed this interview with Chilly Gonzales and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

We also recommend our Richie Hawtin / Plastikman interview in which Richie offers his perspective on the process – and talks about the role of technology for his creativity.

[Read our Tiga interview]
[Read our Matthew Hawtin interview which considers the design aspects of Consumed in Key]

Chilly Gonzales:

"I listened to the opening of Consumed. And the first thing I heard was that it was in shuffle time. It wasn't your standard four-four, broken down into 16th notes, that you hear in 99.99% of electronic music. Subdivided with four beats - "four on the floor" as they call it.

And that's really what 99% of all electronic music is based on. It's kind of a grid within which all techno, house music, and the other subgenres you want to name, usually fall. They will really use these four groups of four as the main prism within which rhythm is seen. Maybe it's because some of these machines that these electronic musicians are using actually have 16 pads, which breaks down perfectly into the four times four. So before an electronic musician has even had the chance to think about what rhythm they might want, the machine has, in a way, pre chosen the grid, and they're living in the grid, often without even knowing they're living in the grid. Something like living in the matrix without realizing it.

It seemed from these first few bars that Richie had found a way to break out of that grid, at the beginning of Consumed, and those first few bars just hooked me.


"There [has historically always been] a lot of rule breaking. People thought Debussy couldn’t play the piano because he was just hanging out on a chord for two minutes and that wasn’t what people were used to. There were those who believed Thelonious Monk literally couldn’t play the piano.

So if you just look at the history, there’s this cycle where generations always think that the music their kids listen is the final step down, more or less, and now music has officially become bad. That’s a very egotistical assumption to make.

For thousands of years, music was performance. It was just people playing in rooms for each other and creating connections. Then recording happened and the focus shifted to making these sort of definitive versions that exist forever, which performance will always be compared to.

I think that gave people an illusion that music could be something different than performance. And of course there was also an infrastructure, a business built around it, which attracts people who want to make a living from it – reinforcing this illusion of what music is: “We make permanent records.” It’s why a record is called a record!

But with classical music, folk music, the music people made in town squares or even caves – none of those ever had a permanent version. Sheet music was understood to be an imperfect document that could at least generate a new performance, but it was just notes on a page. And in a similar way, records are just sound waves on a piece of vinyl or plastic or whatever." [From: Huck Magazine]


The negative space in Consumed was such a positive void, let's call it. It almost allowed me to imagine that there was space again for the kind of jazz I could make, that would not be about showing off, and not coming from the place of being a virtuoso, but would be based on the gestures of jazz. Because that's what I heard in the original.

"Music has always been reduced, starting from the moment that it became a commodity. […] And that’s what we’re still dealing with —there’s no Kanye West without Liszt. He was the first to make the music more powerful if your personality is there to amplify it, make people feel closer to you. The irony is you do that by being larger than life, in the way that Liszt essentially allowed the rumour to be spread that he was possessed by the devil. He knew it would increase the powers of his music, and this got coupled with the birth of the bourgeoisie and democracies, concepts that informed our modern society, culture, capitalism, the role of the artist. That all got invented in Europe somewhere between 1830-1880. We’re still sort of living in that time, and since that moment music has been reduced, there’s less and less but it’s still telling a story.

I still like to listen to music that supposedly has nothing in it, but if you take the microscope deep enough, you’ll find storytelling, you’ll find theme and variation, tension and release, question and answer, the hero’s journey.

Whatever you want to call those concepts, those are storytelling concepts. Even though music seems more and more repetitive, it’s not what you think. There’s always some element of change, and of contrast, otherwise it wouldn’t work. Especially in big pop songs, because they can’t become big if there’s not some element of storytelling in it. You can’t reach millions of people without the storytelling element." [From: Ottawa Showbox]


You hear an album like Consumed, and it's so expressive. It expresses a great amount of freedom, with very little. And to understand that there is melody, and an instrument that can't actually hit what we would, in the traditional music world, called a recognizable pitch.

That's just simply being an artist. I think in 2021 and soon 2022, that's what being an artist is about in this present moment. It's understanding that melody will never go away. The trap to avoid is thinking that melody has to be played in a certain way, on a certain instrument. And listening to Consumed, I was reminded of how much I can appreciate hearing harmony by other means. And hearing the suggestion of these old styles of music like jazz.

I think the mistake that many electronic musicians make is thinking that sound can replace the idea of melody or harmony. No, it can't. I think what I heard on Consumed is a musician who knows that the sound IS the melody and the harmony. It's not replacing it. It's not that sound is the new king, and we murder the old king and screw melody.

And so to hear sound, and the choice of a sound as a determinant of melody and harmony was a step that I'm grateful I was able to take, with the help of some other musicians also guiding me. And in a sense, some other musicians who weren't open to it, and feeling sad for them. Feeling sad that they were going to get left behind and stuck in the past, as the kind of jazz or classical musician who lives in a kind of museum. And that was something I desperately wanted to avoid. I wanted to make sure I could live in the now, even if I was going to be sat at the piano bench.

That's why both rap and electronic music are recurring influences for me, in either very obvious ways, or sometimes really unobvious ways in just how I might approach playing certain chords a certain way on the piano. There might be an esthetic of electronic music, or hip hop music, or the idea - does a melody have to be based on traditional ideas of pitch? The idea of a sound that is constantly being triggered at the same velocity, which is to say, is being hit with the same amount of hardness or softness each time. Traditional musicians always think on acoustic instruments, we have the choice to play every note a little bit differently, and that's what creates humanity - the constant variation of expression.


The thing about what I added to Consumed is, I just looked for everything that was already in there and tried to find a counterpart in the acoustic world. I didn't really add anything. I only translated what I felt were suggestions of gestures, and translated that into my musical language - my musical language being a hyper photorealistic acoustic image of some of the oldest instruments that we know in Western music. The piano, the cello, the harpsichord, the human voice. These are all of the instruments I used to add to Consumed, which had none of those originally.

In some way, Consumed was almost threatening to me - how empty it was. And my reaction, I'm not sure exactly what place it came from. It was not necessarily a fairy tale of what people might imagine people get inspired by. Sometimes people think that inspiration is this fairy tale of pure love and positivity and divine chance. I tend to not believe in that kind of inspiration. My inspiration tends to come from a lot of negative feelings. I believe the negative feelings are a great source of energy. Holding a grudge against someone. Wanting to prove something to somebody. Wanting to respond to a feeling of being threatened.

So in one sense, having one part of me that is a deeply conservative musician, who believes that melody played on instruments is still the highest form of music. To hear Consumed, to hear the freedom, and to hear the confidence within which it stands behind so few elements, was almost like a threat that it had to respond to. It's almost like the music was daring me to add to it. Is it possible to take my sometimes very conservative musical worldview, and test it against the barriers and the boundaries of what Richie created.


I've made many albums with great electronic musicians. I've had studio sessions with Daft Punk. If you can call Drake an electronic musician, which in a way I think you can, because hip hop is essentially electronic music too. These are the only styles of music that have truly been born during my lifetime, as someone born in the 70s.

I can't think of any other styles of music that are so different, that have a true new aesthetic to contribute to what was existing before. And I want to be an artist of my time. I use old fashioned tools. I believe in old fashioned musical aesthetics of melody, harmony and rhythm. And I was lucky enough to be around people who introduced me to very high-level electronic music when it was evolving at a very, very fast rate. I just had be open enough to hear that melody and harmony and rhythm can be produced in ways that I hadn't imagined yet.


"Analysis and all the things I do to sort of bring people into the music, it’s all in service to the great mysterious moment of creation. And I hope that no one would misunderstand that and think that I’m trying to give up the formula of how to create great art. There still has to be that mystery because if you could just wake up in the morning and decide, “Here are all the tools I’m going to use, here’s the formula I’m going to adhere to,” it removes that exciting eureka moment where you surprise yourself. I’m just taking a shot in the dark like everyone else." [From: The Talks]