Name: Ben Vida
Occupation: Artist, Composer, Sound Artist
Current Release: Damaged Particulates on Shelter Press
Recommendations: Kevin Drumm’s Bandcamp page. Thomas Berhard’s book The Loser.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing music as a little kid - first piano and then trumpet. In Jr High I began playing guitar and that was when I discovered I could write my own songs. While in high-school I got to know the Minneapolis based improviser Milo Fine. Through our friendship I was turned on to the music of Derek Bailey, Xenakis, Morton Feldman … who else? Just a whole world of improvised and composed music. I think that by having my understanding of technique, composition and collaboration expanded through the lens of free improvisation, and pretty early on in my life, kinda set the stage for any musical or artistic developments that have happened since.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
This is an ever evolving thing. At this point I guess it might be more about filtering inputs then anything else. But I am happy to still feel inspired to emulate . . .
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
When I started making music, and through the ten years I worked with Town and Country, I was mainly functioning from the point of view of an instrumentalist - that is, even if I was composing pieces for that group I was still taking part in the performance of those works. That meant I was always trying to develop my skills as a player as much as as a composer. Since I started using synthesizing systems I’ve mostly just worked on becoming a better listener. This has opened up a completely new set of considerations in terms of composition, both musical but also, in a wider sense, considering form across multiple mediums.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your setup evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
First studio was boombox to boombox. Now it’s a computer, a pair of monitors, a sound card and a few mics. But I guess it could really be anything. I like to change things up and not become too concerned with any one piece of equipment for too long.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I think this goes back to working on becoming a better listener. Since the technologies I use often excel at producing a lot of content in a generative fashion, I find that I spend a lot of my time listening and learning from how these systems are operating. Of course I am building the patch or setting parameters, interfacing with the machines, but it is when I step back and slow down that I really start to receive what is actually being developed. Right now, even as I am working a lot with text and vocal groups, I still feel like so many of the formal and aesthetic decision I am making are informed by having spent the last 9 or 10 years using synthesizers.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
It’s nice to take turns making choices. Sometimes I can do the work, sometimes the technology can take the lead.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
It changes from project to project. Recently I have been interested in constructing compositional systems that leave space for collaborative intervention - though this mostly has to do with the work that I have been making that finds its home in galleries or art institutions. These are works usually realized as video or text or works on paper, and the inclusion of collaborators is often counterintuitive to the logic of these different mediums production chains. That’s really why I find it interesting. But also, in recent years, I have started a number of collaborations with artists I really love and respect - Ty Braxton, Marina Rosenfeld, Lucio Capece . . . these days it’s through these relationships that I am finding inspiration in regard to new forms of composition and performance.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
If I can get up and take a walk first thing that is best. With anything involving language and text I like to try to get to it early. But for the most part I find that I can’t really get rolling in the studio until later in the afternoon so I’ll spend the early part of my day reading, taking care of admin or sort of bumming around the studio until things get going. I think the trickiest thing, the thing I am trying to be more conscious of, is turning off the music and turning off the work and giving my ears a break. For the moment I am living outside of New York and where I am living is quiet. I like getting the chance to enjoy this quiet.