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?
I like to take samples from friends and incorporate their input into my compositions. I did this with my more recent record, Natural Mind. In general I prefer to work alone, and like having control of a final product within my own creative decisions. If I collaborate with others, it will be under the heading of a different project entirely, and I tend to have a lot of opinions and generally will have a hard time compromising when it comes to how something makes me feel. Either it’s on, or it’s off. I can’t help it. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to attention to detail! Many people are unwilling to admit this level of intensity into their creative collaborations, but in my experience the fight for dominance of ideas is an expression of deep care and love, and ultimately leads to better, more interesting work.
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?
This is not possible, as I have not had a fixed schedule for well over five years. I think that moving forward I will, though—it will resemble the standard mixture of working for money in order to spend as much time with family and friends, carving out a good deal of time for working on creative projects with others and alone. I work for money only as much as I have to, and I don’t really have any interest in making money from creative projects. The introduction of money into my creative life is largely an afterthought to me. I don’t have much patience for frustration from not being able to make money with art. It’s cool when it happens, maybe, but also kind of weird, ultimately.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
With the latest record, Natural Mind, I formed the initial idea from listening to Hiroshi Yoshimura and really appreciating the tension there between empty space and calculated precision. I wanted to make something that evoked the concrète, episodic flow of a sound art installation, like Alvin Curran’s “Natural History,” but at the same time I liked how emotionally-resonant Yoshimura’s work was. I was pretty tired of wallpaper music—in the sense of ambient music just being like a “Chill-out” Spotify playlist—and wanted to try to tell a story or evoke a kind of philosophical framework that was concerned with sound events and emotional events as purely physical phenomena. I tried to highlight ideas from Vilem Flusser’s phenomenological writing in order to structure this, somehow. His writing tries to establish a relationship to emotional events under a kind of bounded code created by the mind. His work also encourages an observation of physical events and objects in a kind of detached way, removed from a cultural framework, as if seen for the first time. I used Flusser’s book title for title of the record—“Natural Mind”—as well as some of the chapter headings from that book to title tracks on the release. I liked how his approach to technology is so purposefully naive, how his observations of the complexity of pressing a trigger of a camera warrant an investigation of the entire history of its mechanistic process, simultaneously calling into question the dominance of images and their power in creating meaning, and then filtering it all through the singularity of the actor and their bounded conceptual framework. Flusser was able to make human culture seem like a series of overlapping codes and perform a conceptual leap to computers as an extension of this code—pointing out how programming in computer language and conditioning in human language are analogous in a way that doesn’t put the natural world on a pedestal or create a dichotomy between culture and nature. I wanted to make a record that recorded the emotional intensity of the insane moment we are all caught up in, but in a way that was depersonalized like his phenomenological investigations are.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me, exploring creative tension is most often about asking “how are my emotions a product of the past, and of culture, and of the mind?” — in a way that is resonant with Buddhism, which has been a valuable creative perspective. Meditating in terms of being able to relate to feelings without necessarily prioritizing certain ones over others is a great tool for focus, and helps me to make better decisions, artistically. The result of this intentional approach is a kind of hyper-emotional focus within a framework of indifferent concrete sound events and experiments, creating tension and balance in a way that is not about “relaxing” or “chilling” as a method for some kind of bliss-out session, but tries to constantly cultivate awareness of an emotional progression. In my experience, meditation is a very active experience, intense even. You are able to really see what’s behind your initial impressions, to turn the emotional intensity there over and over until it’s not buried anymore and it just hangs together. That’s when you can actually, truly relax. When that feeling happens within the artistic process, that’s a signal that “it” is done and that I’m ready to move on.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Playing live for me is about allowing people into a fragile kind of attempt to recreate the initial mood or combination of sound events that led me to make something in the first place. I try to create records that are very composed, ultimately, but they come from a lot of improvisation. The recorded compositions are like a Star Trek replicator version of the thing. It’s an ideal, but also...it’s a hologram. Cataloguing moments of creative intensity and arranging them into a composition or “ideal” is very different from arranging things as a live performance. The recording has a longer time frame of relevance, so it’s crafted with that in mind. Live performance, on the other hand, is more about going back over the foundational elements of the composition and then creating a “shopping list” for the “meal” I’m going to cook. I literally use a shopping list app in my phone to write setlists! I make them by going over those original elements and then I sequence them in a way that allows relative ease of execution within whatever technological process I set up to do the show. A performance is then about me “cooking” with the ingredients, adding in some glitz and flair for the sake of whatever visual element is called for. Like cooking, there is always a progression, or an order of operations. You can overcook certain elements, you can undercook others, things can be over-spiced, and you can even substitute different ingredients if you run out of something. Sometimes the recipe turns out a little different than expected, but ultimately if I’m cooking with friends the purity of intention and effort is more important than getting it “perfect.” I feel like the higher up one goes in the music world, the more it’s like The Great British Bake-Off. Creativity is rewarded, but within limits. Skill is required, comfort with processes and equipment is a must, and if you really bungle that pie, Paul and Mary are not going to be pleased and you won’t progress to the next round.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Emotional resonance is everything for me. Sometimes a sound happens and I can form an entire composition around it. Sometimes I have a compositional idea that drives the initial exploration. I’ve formed compositions entirely based on exploring an unintended glitch in executing a sequence, and I’ve made compositions with prescribed rules in mind put in place before recording. I generally try to focus on surprising myself or maintaining a balance between creation and destruction when working in a studio mode.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
When I was in high school, I took a MiniDisc recorder and a binaural microphone on a trip abroad to London with the express purpose of making “audio postcards.” This was an important step for me in suspending the dominance of visual modes of relating to the world. Buddhism teaches that the sense mechanism is an extension of the mind, regardless of whether it’s smell, touch, hearing, etc. At its outermost borders, sound is purely vibrational energy, and by extension, all material phenomena are vibrational energy. Check out Chladni plates and how different frequencies create distinct patterning in particulate matter for examples of this! Sound is the most immediate way to bridge the separateness of human experience. Pauline Oliveros comes to mind here, especially.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
“I don’t want to fuck up anyone’s day on their way to work. I want to fuck up their whole life. The only way to do that is to present things that, in order to engage with, they have to change their mentality.”
- Lawrence Weiner
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
It depends on what happens with technology. I’m way into creating the audio portion of a virtual reality experience, which is kind of conceptually explored in my record Thee Omega Seed by the way. I’d like to see more and more embodied integration with regards to music making, like Rafael Toral’s or MSHR’s work. I’d also like to see more engagement with leveraging data to produce sound events, like the Listening to Wikipedia project.