Name: Charlie Rauh
Occupation: session guitarist / accompanist
Bands/Projects: solo guitar composer / performer
Labels: Composers Concordance Records / Naxos of America
Musical Recommendations: We Float - A band based in Malmö Sweden build around the beautiful writing of bassist Anne Marte Eggen / A Microscope (Kris Wettstein) - Kris is one of my favorite composers in NYC, and easily one of the strongest and most original stylists I am aware of.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I first started writing my own music when I was 13. I had been playing clarinet and saxophone, and that year began to learn the guitar. Playing guitar really opened up a lot of creative momentum for me as I could play chords as well as melodies and form more developed ideas. I was (and still am) very influenced by Duke Ellington. I'd say that he and his music first inspired me to want to be a composer due to his wonderfully lyrical melodic sense intertwined with dense, idiosyncratic harmony.
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?
The first guitarist I really took an interest in was Django Reinhardt. I was never good enough to play along with his records but I definitely tried to emulate the over all sound in my playing. I loved the consistency in his improvising - always fresh but also familiar to his own vocabulary. Early on he was the first artist to spark an interest in developing a personal sound. I started paying attention to things like: what feels comfortable in my hands when I play? What phrases do I tend to favor? What kinds of chords do I use often? This idea lead me to get into other artists that have really impacted my writing and playing styles like Bjork, The Innocence Mission, Hildegard Von Bingen, and Glen Campbell. I’m still not at a point where I'd say I have an original sound, but I try to approach my music with my own voice constantly learning from artists like these.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
When I first started making my own music, my main challenge was really that I had ideas that were more advanced than my ability. I wanted to play a certain way but simply had not put the time in yet to translate the concepts to the guitar. As I played more and more, and listened to more and more music, this started to change.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I actually have never had my own studio. I move around a lot and do not have a lot of equipment to make being mobile easier. As far as my creative process goes, I make music at various points throughout my day. I work as a session musician and also work with infants in a program that utilizes music for their development. Playing with many different artists in different styles has been important to me. I have to write guitar parts for pop, indie, jazz, folk, and Americana songs all the time - so from that experience I come up with a lot of melodies for my own music. Likewise I write solo guitar songs while working with infants very often. I'll play a melody and see what they respond to and then flesh it out. If I remember what it is I make a quick demo when I get home and start practicing it. My music is always written on solo guitar so technology does not really factor in as much for me. I don't know how to use most music software or even many guitar pedals.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
I always play Fern, my custom built instrument made by Christopher Forshage. I can make it sound exactly how I want, and it's a smaller build so when I do solo guitar touring my entire set up can fit in a carry-on even on small planes. I currently don't even have a backup guitar. I also almost always use a Hilton volume pedal, and a Strymon Flint (tremolo and reverb). Since I usually perform solo - those pedals help me create a clean, swelling, atmospheric tone similar to a pedal steel guitar, or just a sustaining clean sound to deliver the melodies.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
This is actually a topic I am embarrassingly not well versed in. In my own music I usually do not even notate my compositions. I hope to write simple melodies in short form engulfed in a harmonic language that is not only conducive, but inviting for the listener to immediately remember what they heard. I like to think my compositional work is more similar to creating lullabies or hymns than symphonies or sonatas. I don't feel production tools limit my creativity as much as I feel my creativity is inherently limited in its smallness. I don't hear grand scale creations, or feel them. Although I adore so many larger works as listener, what naturally occurs in me are little sounds. Conveniently, the set up for that is my guitar, and a backpack!
For me the triggering of new ideas has to come from new experiences, so I particularly love to travel with my music. During those times I write the music I am most proud of.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
As far as process, I tend to write the whole song at once. I often start with improvisation and see what I like - sometimes I like nothing, sometimes I like the first idea. I don’t really ever sit down with the intention of writing a song, but sometimes I'll have an idea in my head and go to the instrument with it.
My ideas are almost exclusively based on places I have traveled to or people that are important to me. My greatest influence is The Innocence Mission. They just released an album called “Hello, I Feel The Same” that to me is absolutely perfect. Their writing is very simple, melodic, and image-laden. In my own process, I hope to wind up with music on that level someday.