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?
Given the choice and total freedom, I would spend my every waking our in the studio quite simply because I am at my happiest creating. Looking at things from that frame of reference, it's quite tempting then to come to the slightly nihilist conclusion that everything else is a distraction. In truth however it's quite the opposite. “Everything else” in my life provides the inspiration for my studio work. My family fills me with inspiration everyday, as do conversations with my good friends and total strangers, playing shows, travelling, eating good food, and drinking good wine. Unfortunately the economics of the modern music industry involves a great deal of activities which are real, energy draining, soul crushing distractions. While I've learned to do it and accept it to some extent, I am utterly allergic to the idea of self promotion, and resent every moment I spend posting pictures, music and and self aggrandizing text online as it quite simply feels like wasted time. I am also disgusted by the power social media and online life in general holds over me and everyone else, and the culture of instant gratification it has birthed. I've developed strategies to limit my exposure to this, but unless a mass rebellion of some kind occurs I fear things are only going to continue to get worse in the years to come.
The most pressing relation this has to the initial question is that we all have a limited amount of energy and time each day to devote to things which don't fall under the essentials of basic life (eating, sleeping, etc). The problem with social media in general is it spends that limited energy and creates a fleeting sense of having accomplished something. If I spend time promoting my music online, it creates the illusion that I have spent time “working” on my music. If I spend time writing a scathing political rant about something that has been circulating in the news, it creates the illusion that I have registered a meaningful public protest. As such, I think it is absolutely essential in this day and age to completely turn off all channels of non-face-to-face communication, (phone, email, social media) when one wants to think and act creatively.
This remains true regardless if you're talking about making music or finding a creative solution to an issue in your work or personal life, for the simple fact that without doing so, you aren't really listening, be that to the sound coming out of the speakers, the thoughts and feelings of the person sitting next to you, or your own internal voice. My New Year's resolution this year was to become a better listener.
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?
I think I have become less and less improvisational over the years in terms of my live performances, but I think that is more a reflection of my love of being in the studio and the confidence I have developed with my arrangements and compositional methods. I write enough new music that people will hear a lot of stuff that they will not have heard before at a show that I don't feel the need so much any more to dress things up live beyond some classic reggae style dubbing. I'd like to explore playing live with other people again soon as that aspect of interaction has been really gratifying for me recently with some new studio projects I've been working on. I kind of feel like the age of the laptop as a performance interface is coming to an end in some ways, and I hope developers continue to offer affordable hardware solutions “outside the box” as they say purpose built for presenting electronic music in a live context, effectively some kind of DJing 2.0.
I think Djing is a very honest way of sharing music with people as it removes the ego driven aspect of the experience. It's that anti-rock-star-ism that drew me to electronic music in the first place. That said, performing or playing music regardless of the technical solution employed is an incredibly important part of the music creation process for me, and the real time feedback it provides is crucial in determining whether I've said what I intended to in a comprehensible way. I've been increasingly drawn to lyrics and singing in recent years as we are living in a time when the ambiguity of instrumental music some times just doesn't cut it in expressing informed messages of protest, be they abject or veiled, and it's likely I may at some point summon up the courage to take this to the stage.
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?
The process of sound design and composition are intrinsically linked for me, full stop. Having had no formal education playing any individual instrument and being a predominantly computer based composer, the two go hand in hand. Interestingly, a good friend pointed out to me once that no matter what synth or software I was using, I gravitated toward very similar sounds. I made them mine regardless somehow, and for better or worse, I'm completely at peace with the idea that from a raw sound perspective, I've found the voice or voices that belong to me at this point.
Going back to the math analogy from the beginning of this interview, even if I use the same collection of “Deadbeat” sounds over and over again, I can take solace in the fact that the possibilities for combining them are nearly infinite, and by learning by doing each and every day, I will constantly find new pathways through the labyrinth.
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?
The idea that starving one or more senses heightens the others is laid bare in the incredibly powerful experience of listening to music on a powerful, well tuned sound system in a pitch black club. Similarly, the inclusion and reproduction of inaudible frequencies at the extreme high and low ends of the range of human hearing can have strange effects on our other senses.
The two greatest examples of these phenomena that I can recall from personal experience were sitting on the floor of Ryoji Ikeda exihibition which imployed his typical use of extreme frequencies and data driven minimal visuals. Closing my eyes and listening intently to the sound in the room, I was certain at some point that strobe lights were going off. When I opened them and watching the goings on in the room for several minutes, no such lights appeared, yet sure enough upon closing my eyes again, the strobe light effect reappeared. The other was perhaps the greatest performance in Berghain I have ever seen by my good friend Tim Hecker. Berghain is a dark place to begin with but he took this to the extreme by completely filling the space with smoke, essentially erasing the physical space all together. The hallucinatory effects on my other senses were the most extreme I have ever experienced sober. I felt non-existant cool breezes on my skin, smelled nostalgia inducing scents from my childhood, and heard echoes of sounds which had long stopped playing. While these overlaps can no doubt be explained by the complex chemical reactions of neurotransmitters struggling to compensate for the lack of sensory input, the effects felt like nothing less than pure magic.
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?
When I first started to be able to make a living from my music, I felt like I was living in a perpetual dream. The idea that anyone would want to pay me to fly to the other side of the world, offer their friendship, a meal at their favourite restaurant, and a tour of their home town that would put the most well researched guide book to shame simply to share my music with them seemed like utter insanity. I try to be mindful of that feeling each and everyday, and particularly at times when the stresses of day to day life start to feel overwhelming and unmanageable. The act of making music also plays an important therapeutic role during those times and gives me the space and energy to work through whatever emotions and issues are causing me stress. On a personal level then, it's entirely fair to say that I make music for my own happiness and health, and would continue to make it even if I never made another cent doing so. I do my best to express myself as openly and honestly through my work as possible, both in terms of my inner life and thoughts, and my relationship with the outside world.
Few people would argue against the idea that we live in particularly precarious times as a society, and as someone with the extreme privilege of an attentive global audience, small though it may be, I feel a strong sense of responsibility these days to make the music I share with people a source of positivity, be that through the literal expression of truth via words and lyrics, or by simply creating a virtual space within which people can escape from the trials and tribulations of their everyday lives, if only for the length of a single song. There is a great tendency these days in electronic music circles, particularly of the more experimental “serious” variety, to make everything very much doom and gloom. I see this as at best a missed opportunity, and at worst simpleton and juvenile. I enjoy employing extremes of volume and frequency in my work particularly in a live setting as much as anyone else, but to use those tools to simply amplify the fear, anger and frustration we all feel as citizens of the modern world without presenting any alternative or respite is little better than wasting an evening ranting on Twitter or Facebook. Getting angry in the face of adversity is easy. Finding the hope and courage to overcome it, and coming out the other side feeling the triumph and elation of having done so is painfully, horribly difficult, but for all the best reasons.
I spent the last 2 years working on an album that for me is the personal embodiment of exactly this process, and thanks to a great deal of help from some of my nearest and dearest friends will finally see the light of day in April. In the context of the original question then, in the same way art has always served a very important purpose for me personally, this new album is in my mind my first real expression of art with crucial, urgent purpose.
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?
In all honesty I really hope it doesn't change much. Music transcends language and culture, and exists and continues to flourish in both times of celebration and great hardship. The tools for creating and experiencing music will certainly continue to change in ways we can barely imagine, but the act of making music and sharing it with others I dearly hope remains the simple, universal pleasure that it is no matter how “advanced” our society becomes, and regardless of the economic, political, and technological control mechanisms enacted as the price for that advancement.
In the right context, listening to Pete Seeger pluck his banjo and sing “We Shall Overcome” with an impassioned audience fills me with exactly the same emotion as flailing around like a maniac with my head in the bass bin listening to a DJ blasting Steve Poindexter's “Work That Motherfucker”. If that's not an example of a transcendent, universal feeling then I don't what is.