Name: Daniel Klag
Occupation: musician / educator
Current Release: Arbor on Soap Library
Recommendations: The illustrator known as Lando created the cover art for my recent album Arbor. He founded Decadence Comics with Stathis Tsemberlidis in the early 2000s, and the two have since released a steady stream of mind-blowing wordless science fiction works. The collection Gardens of Glass is a great entry point into Lando’s universe / Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest is a dreamlike installation of 49 dead cedar trees in NYC’s Madison Square Park, just a few blocks from my home. Aside from its climate change themes, I can’t help but view the towering work as a memorial to all the grief and devastation we have experienced in our city and around the world in the past year.
If you enjoyed this interview with Daniel Klag, you can follow him on Facebook and keep up to date with his releases on bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing 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 first experience making music was in elementary school, when I played the trumpet in the school band. I chose the trumpet simply because it had the fewest number of buttons, which I thought meant it might be easier to play than the other instruments my school offered. I hardly practiced and, not surprisingly, did not improve much before giving it up after a year or two.
My next attempt at making music was as a teenager in the early 00s. I briefly sang in a band in high school and soon after moved to bass. In one of my first bands, we were all still learning the basics of our instruments, so our most discernible influences were artists whose songs were fairly easy to play – particularly Joy Division and The Cure. I later took an undergraduate course in audio production, which set me down a path of making electronic music as a solo artist.
For most artists, originality is 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?
In my earliest solo recordings, I was trying my best to emulate the band Suicide: sung-spoken lyrics over looped synthesizer phrases and simple drum machine rhythms. I was self-conscious of my vocals and so they were soon eschewed for a mostly instrumental approach. It wasn’t until I started using sampled guitar sounds a few years later that I felt like I was starting to establish my own style. The use of a sampler (with limited memory storage) as my primary instrument forced me to select a limited palette of source sounds, avoiding the pitfalls of having too many MIDI presets to choose from.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Ever since I was young, I have approached change with caution. I am curious about the possibilities of new technologies, but I am slow to adopt them. Once I find tools or methodologies that work for me, I tend to stick with them. When starting a new project, I must remind myself to try new things, whether they be sampling from a new sound source or digitally manipulating a sound in a new way.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
One of the things I have always struggled with as a musician is that I have never reached mastery (or even proficiency) on any one instrument. My production technique typically consists of sequencing and editing sampled sounds in a digital environment, where I use a sort of trial-and-error approach as I layer combinations of sounds. While other musicians may be able to quickly articulate an idea on a keyboard or guitar, my process is a little slower.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Living in a small apartment (and my desire to keep a neat and tidy home) has led me to have a simple home recording setup – just a laptop, an audio interface, and a hard drive containing a library of sampled audio I have collected over the years. My live setup is also largely motivated by my living situation. I travel to most gigs by subway, so I use only what I can fit into a backpack: two samplers, a mixer, an iPad, and some effects pedals.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Switching to a sample-based approach had the greatest effect on my music practice. More recently, I have started to explore the use of computer programming as a creative tool. My academic background is in computer science, though I never previously made direct use of my programming skills on a creative project.
My latest album Arbor is coming out on Soap Library, a small tape label that pairs each release with supplemental material. Arbor is released alongside a small vial of chaga mushrooms and a short text-based choose-your-own-adventure computer game that I wrote.
The game is intentionally self-destructive – at some point players will start to notice that alphanumeric characters in the text output are replaced at random, and the replacement rate increases as the game progresses, creating a sense of disorientation. Eventually the story becomes completely indecipherable and the game ends shortly thereafter.
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 most enjoy collaborating in a live improvisational setting. There is an excitement to not knowing what will happen when two or more musicians get together in an unplanned performance. Will they complement each other, compete with each other, or do something else entirely? The endless possibilities can lead to all sorts of happy accidents.
That said, I haven’t had made much attempt to collaborate outside the occasional live jam. Since moving to NYC, I never felt I had an adequate amount of time or space to devote to being in a band and I never wanted to subject a potential collaborator to my desire to endlessly edit.