Name: Chet Doxas
Current release: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen Part 1 on Puremagnetik
Recommendation: The Jack Pine, a painting by Tom Thomson / Turning Point by the Paul Bley Quartet
If you enjoyed this interview with Chet Doxas, visit his website to hear music and gets news about shows.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My father is a musician. He is a classical guitarist, choral director and a retired educator. There was a lot of music in our home, both live and recorded, and my older brother, Jim, is also a professional musician.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
The older I get, the less analytically I listen to music… which I’m very happy about. During my formative years of study and for many years after that, I would have a hard time listening to music without trying to figure out what was happening with the harmony, rhythm, etc… Now I find myself listening from a place that’s more emotionally connected to the performers and composers. For instance, if I’m listening to Beethoven string quartets I’m hearing more of the composer’s and performer’s personalities than before. It’s a more soulful listening experience.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
For the last six to eight years, my primary focus has been my sound. Before that, much of my development was content driven. I received some advice from the great bassist and composer, Steve Swallow, about eight years ago. I was struggling with the question, “what do I want to sound like?” He asked me if there was any object that I could picture whose sound appealed to me. I said a wooden bell… not knowing that such thing existed. I look online and, sure enough, there are such things and they are used in Buddhist prayer ceremonies. I bought one and then began trying to match the sound of my woodwinds to the sound of the bell. This practice provided some fast results and I have continued to add objects to my collection. I think of it as a collection of things on a sonic shelf that help guide my voice.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I never consider my identity when listening or creating music but I guess it’s there whether I like it or not. I think that identity is mostly perceived by the onlooker. That being said, I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, and I do have an affinity towards “cold” sounding music such as, Arvo Part and Jan Garbarek.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
My best work has always been done from a place of positivity and I even get physical highs when practicing and writing. I feel fortunate to have access to this amazing force in the universe whenever I choose. As long as I am doing my daily musical work, I feel very fulfilled and in a place to make compassionate choices in the rest of my life.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Soulful music is timeless. That is to say, sincerity and the vulnerability, honesty and work that it takes to make sincere artistic statement exists in multiple realms; the present, because it marks the moment in which it was created, the past because it represents a culmination of what’s come before, and the future because an honest work of art lights the path ahead on which others will walk.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
The tenor saxophone and clarinet have been the most regular filters through which I interpret new information and continue to develop ongoing practices. I continue to strive towards being able to play precisely what is in my mind’s ear in real time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Up at 6am, feed my children (13 and 15) and get them off to school, hopefully exercise, 8am: take care of any high priority emails or administrative work, 9am: begin my practice and writing routine. This begins with ear training, then sound development, harmonic research and development, composing, and practicing drums, 12pm: lunch and emails. 2pm-5pm: improvise with other musicians in my studio 5pm: cook dinner 9pm - onwards: maybe back into the studio to put finishing touches on a composition from early that day
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
On the piece “All the Roads” I matched the pacing of the melody to the rhythm of my breath during a meditation session. The piece is meant to act as a contemplative moment for the performer and listener alike and creates a space in which each person experiencing the piece should consider all the roads that have lead them to that particular moment.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I have always enjoyed being around other musicians and get energized from the experience. Whether it’s listening or creating, I don’t shy away from the company of others. Music is fun and the people who make it usually are as well.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music is a phenomenon which is uniquely human and celebrates some of the best attributes that our species possess. I try to create from this mind set and hope that the listener gleans some of this positivity from my offerings.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
It’s hard for me to draw any direct lines between life events and my work but I think that is a good thing. Music is a stable force in my life that keeps me company and is always listening. As I stated above, it is a very positive energy that is never far from me.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
They both respect the infinite and know that few answers are ever final. There is a built-in humility and reverence in each field that rewards the practitioner who is willing to be of service to the greater good.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing 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?
Soul. I can best express and share my soul with others through music. I suppose people in other fields may have a similar answer such as, a chef, painter, clergyman…. Or maybe even a barista;)
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Again…I think the word soul is important. When people hear something that makes them learn or take note of something in themselves, that’s the magic of music.