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?
I operate a pretty loose definition of "routine", and this quarantine could not throw this more into focus. The mainstays are: shower, floor exercise, coffee, breakfast after noon. I've recognized that I have peaks and valleys in my creative drive, and I've learned to be at peace with that ebb and flow. These last few months have been mostly email correspondence with the label and designers, cold-calling freelancers, organizing rehearsals with Rachelle, and preparing for any live performances, usually weeks in advance. I can't claim that I've been that effectively creative in the run-up to Concentration Pattern's release, but I consider all of this part of the process for me. Once this is off my desk for good, I look forward to being able to stare at a blank canvas and start again.
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?
I guess I would be remiss if I didn't highlight Concentration Patterns for this one. It initially started as a self-directed solution to my anxiety, which I found really had begun to amp up as I approached the end of my twenties. I wanted to have a piece that I could fall into for long periods of time, formless and actively moving, like the ocean I grew up near. The act of improvising with no set strategy but to keep the movement flowing for up to 40 minutes, actively restraining myself from anything more than nudging it forward. I had the opportunity to perform in this style at a yoga studio during this time, which in retrospect was probably enjoyable only to me. I recorded about 6 of these 30+ minute improvisations, which in the end were collaged into the total sum of Concentration Pattern's 75-minute runtime. I hadn't really considered it for release, but I had the opportunity to apply for a sound installation at Calgary's Arts Commons (which eventually debuted Concentration Patterns in January of this year), and from there interest grew from Valentin at Hidden Harmony, and here we are today.
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?
It sounds rote to describe creativity as being this elusive abstraction, but I still haven't gotten the hang of summoning it at will. Most of the pieces I'm proud of creating have come about when I was improvising without intent, and just happened to be recording. It's a practice I need to utilize more regularly. Alternatively, nothing seems to lead to a finished project faster than a deadline for me, so when I'm composing commercially, the pressure and anxiety over not delivering leads me to make more determined decisions and builds momentum as I work. As far as distractions go, I've been blessed by a home studio with large windows, so the pull to go on walks to record stores is a fair trade-off for the vantage I get while working.
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?
When I first started recording, the idea of transferring the music I "assemble" in the studio to a live setting seemed really daunting and unlikely. But once again, I accepted a gig that became a deadline for me, and I started to find ways to make it work. I would describe a live performance for me as akin to juggling, as I'm basically trying to keep several machines working in tandem while moving through chords and transitions. Luckily, I've been working with Rachelle from the very beginning, so that removes a lot of the pressure of looking cool while hunched over a bunch of gear on a table. We both have endeavoured to make improvisation central to our performance, working within a set of patterns/sequences/images and playing against each other's input. Rachelle and I try to record most of our performances, and sometimes these recordings make it onto the records, like "Five Point Five" from Séance Works. I would say that live performance, and the preparation I take to enable that improvisation, has now become rooted in the composition process itself.
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?
I think the aspect of "sound" or timbre has been really central to how I've developed my own artistic approach, all the way back to Audacity and trying to make my acoustic guitar sound like a reel-to-reel recording from 1940's Hawaii. Timbre provides context to what we hear, the images your mind summons can be completely different depending on the condition and elements of the sound source. Close miking provides intimacy, reverb adds depth and space, phasing and echo imparts a surrealism in mundane sounds. Of all of these, I think surreal is what I've embraced most thoroughly; the goal of my music is transportation, whether you want to describe it as "trippy" or experimental, the real intent is enabling these unrealistic or artificial images in the listeners’ minds.
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?
Growing up while actively immersing myself in music and record collecting provided me the ability to take "snapshots" of certain experiences or events within the albums I was enjoying at that time. A lot of the time it would impact on the books I was reading, so now I have a permanent association between the works of Stephen King and the earlier Mogwai albums I was listening to in high school. Now, I think the associations are more involved in the long walks I take or with road trips in other countries. Most recently, I have a wonderful affiliation between Franco Battiato’s La voce del Padrone and driving along the Croatian coastline on vacation with my wife and our friends last summer. Not exactly synaesthesia, but that transportive quality is still central to how I digest music today.
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'm a pretty self-conscious person in both art and everyday life, so the idea of mainstream attention is not only unrealistic to me, but also anxiety-inducing. Up to a couple years ago, my main goal was to just see my work in the physical format; that, to me, was all the accreditation I needed or wanted. Today, I've been lucky to see a wider circle of people enjoying what I create, and I find that very satisfying. Now I look at the possibility of being able to make sound-art as a vocation, if not an actual career, and the idea of being able to continue to create and build a discography in the style of the artists I admire seems like the ultimate achievement. The idea that someone in a place I've never been to could find and enjoy my music is what keeps me creating in the times I feel like I've lost the taste for my own sounds. To me, my responsibility as an artist is to be constantly absorbing, refashioning and expanding the connection between myself and what I create.
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?
I find it hard to speculate on what music will sound like in the next decade, but in light of our current quarantine situation, maybe it’s more intriguing to consider what the concept of “audience” will look like going forward. As someone who finds it exhausting to stand for 3+ hours (let alone in the hot sun of a festival), I’m fascinated at the adaptation by a lot of artists who’ve moved to online DJ sets or remote-viewing performances. I’m not saying that we’ve mastered the art of capturing attention for extended periods at this stage, but it’s exciting to imagine the possibility of reaching a wider audience than is dictated by geographic location or venue capacity. Depending on how long social distancing is in place, we could see a rapid expansion of the definition of “concert”, driven by necessity and the passion of performers.