Name: Dave Phillips
Occupation: Sound Artist, Field Recorder
Current Release: Ritual Protest Music on Urbsounds
Recommendations: My cooking.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Dave Phillips, check out his information-packed website.
When did you start recording in the field - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I reckon early 90's is when I started recording in the field, but my first trip to South East Asia in 1994 really opened doors for me and caused a deeper focus on field recordings.
Early passions – many, but some cornerstones were hardcore-punk, metal, literature, animal rights and horror films and their soundtracks. Early influences in field recordings: Etant Donnes, Hafler Trio and John Cage's theory.
What drew me? Creating/playing/listening to/searching for music is like breathing for me.
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? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
When I was 7 or 8 I'd dress up as a member of 'kiss' for carnival, my first instrument was a painted piece of wood with rubber bands over it that tried to look like one of the 'kiss' guitars. My development was and is still informed by all that I hear, see, read, eat, touch, love and so on, It's an ongoing process. I might have more of an own voice than I did 20 years ago but who knows what it'll be like 20 years from now? My feeling is that so many things connect, many beyond our perception, that all flows into each other so that copying and learning and finding an own voice is driven by the same thing.
What were your main challenges when you started out recording in the field and how have they changed over time?
A main challenge will always be how to capture something that seems rather uncapturable, like what happens sonically in a field. I mean, there's a big difference between hearing on location and listening to a recording - field recordings are always a reduction of a recorded event. Working this discrepancy is a major challenge.
What was your first set-up like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
A walkman-recorder and binaural microphones. The walkman over time got replaced by a mini-disc-recorder, then a digital recorder, my set-up changed as available technology changed. I'm not really a technically knowledgable or inclined person so as long as the gear records I'm good to go.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I assume that “technology does not deliver” and thus avoid disappointment and frustration. Technology is human-made so it will include error. Technology also seems to usually be one aspect of human skills or one particular type of skill investigated to its end. It's likely it will excel in that particular and specialised field, but that's a limitation in comparison since technology will always miss the main aspects of what makes humans human, namely those things that are not a 0-1-0-1 thing of life.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Hm, well, there are tools and I use them as I can, and through repeated use one learns how to use them better and/or differently, like learning an instrument. Not sure how to answer this otherwise.
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 or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations are a great way of learning about other approaches, aesthetics, reasoning, choices and so forth. I prefer to collaborate with people that I (get to) know on a personal level, have a few drinks with, the resulting way of engaging then is not that important, and usually subject to the given situation and practicality.
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 don't have a fixed schedule. Things I do daily are exercising and, if I'm at home, cooking. Depending on what I'm up to my days can be very focused working on one thing from rising til bedtime (which can last days), or can be all over the place making ends meet and doing administrative stuff.
All aspects of my life feed into each other, I find it hard (and unnecessary) to separate. All I feel, hear, see, touch, sense, read, experience, eat and so on can be an influence/inspiration. Distinctions such as public/private, political/personal, work/leisure, artist/model, subject/object, reality/dream, conscious/unconscious/subconscius etc. I find difficult. For me in this hyperconnectivity, all things eventually feed from and flow into one thing.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a recording 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'll use the example of my new solo album which currently is in its last phases, called 'ritual protest music'. End of 2016 and beginning of 2017 I found myself, over two stretches of about a week each, in total recluse mode, where this album “poured” out of me. Preceding this was a time of increased reading of philosophical/political and ecological works. It was also a time where I was following the news more than usual. The event of a particular clown getting elected into presidency marked a turning point, resulted in a decision to cut myself off from any and all news.
At the same time, more important I think as a trigger to this album, regarding matters of the heart, I found myself in a situation where I was on one hand overwhelmed by the many gifts that life offered me, and on the other hand unsure as to where I would want to put my heart's attention, but wishing for such a focus. There were other triggers, one being asked to do the live-soundtrack to the film 'coward bends the knee'; this film struck more than a chord in me. Add to that the hypocrisy of the festive season in a country where this is translated into extreme consumerism. Those are maybe the circumstances – and there I found myself retreated into my room/studio, where this (and more) channeled into recordings and pieces that were constructed in a “fever” - intense days of doing nothing else but being locked in and living that “fever”.
The 1st week saw me make recordings according to notes I made, about 93% of the compositions were created in the 2nd week.
An intensification of a friendship at the beginning of 2017 into the spring allowed me to gain confidence about and refine these audio pieces. A gift in the form of an artwork that a friend sent me unannounced formed the starting point for the artwork, and a novel I read in May refined my ideas for a conceptual frame.
The more I write the more I realise there were other aspects that played into this ...