Name: Gareth Jones
Occupation: Producer, composer
Current Release: Nous Alpha. Gareth Jones's collaboration with Christopher Bono, has a new album out on Our Silent Canvas, called A Walk In The Woods. Gareth also has a new release out with Daniel Miller on mute as SUNROOF.
Recommendation: Iain McGilchrist “The Master and his Emissary”. David Fincher “Mank”
If you enjoyed this interview with Gareth Jones and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. There is also a Nous Arts Facebook page.
For insights from his Nous Alpha partner, read our Christopher Bono interview.
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 father loved his record collection, it was all classical music and he had home-made mono base-reflex cabinet across one corner of the living room. So my earliest musical memories are of magical experiences shared with my transfixed ecstatic father. Influences included Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Bach.
I started writing music as a teenager and then embarked upon a career in recording studios where I helped other people finish their records as a sound engineer, mixer and producer. In over three decades I made many sketches but hardly finished any original compositions other than remixes. In the last decade I have managed to negotiate successfully with my inner critic and complete original non-commissioned work, that I’m delighted to share with anyone who is interested.
Of course this process feeds itself in a positive feedback loop of reinforcement. Like love, creativity is boundless and doesn’t run out.
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?
I’ve answered some of this in the previous question, but I need to add that I learnt so much from so many of the artists that I was hired to work with in the studio.
At the start of my career, my journey, I felt the studio was my instrument, I was the one “playing“ the studio in collaboration with musicians who we are playing their own (separate) instruments. As technology developed, studios changed from being expensive temples of sound available to the few, into powerful and compact digital workspaces on laptops, iPads, whatever. Studio has become a state of mind, a state of heart. Most modern musicians “play the studio.”
With the trailblazing work of Dieter Doepfer and his determined and passionate advocacy of the eurorack format, I rediscovered modular synthesis in the last decade. It’s a broad church, obviously. It’s a church where I feel at home, and where I feel able to access the leadings of spirit, which I attempt to manifest in my musical work through my deep connection with the instruments invented by Tony and others at Make Noise, from Asheville, North Carolina.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I’m not sure my sense of identity helps me. I associate that with ego, and I try, I must, put ego aside in order to manifest spirit in musical form. Otherwise, I would never complete anything, I will be crushed by the weight of history and an enormous talent of all the wonderful musicians around me. Only by putting my ego aside, my sense of identity, can I move forward musically. Naively perhaps. Optimistically. Hopeful.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Fear was my main challenge. Fear of “not being good enough” fear of ridicule, fear of completion. So, for many years I existed in a world of uncompleted sketches. Through a demanding process of self examination (meditation, journaling, therapy, negotiating with my inner critic) I came to a point (working with my Spiritual Friend, Nick Hook) where I was able to put fear and judgement aside and simply complete. Obviously this was life changing and part of a positive feedback loop that continues. So far.
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?
I played piano (badly but passionately) as a child, because it was available. Later, I experimented with other instruments: brass (trumpet and French horn), strings (cello) and woodwind (flute). I had no real facility with any of these instruments, but I experienced joy. And then I discovered the tape recorder and editing. This led me to the recording studio, and for a long time I felt that this was my instrument - it’s where I have spent many decades. Later the sampler was invented - that changed everything.
I was always interested in using the sampler to perform rhythms and melodies from found sounds and field recordings. (I never had much interest in sampling other people’s compositions). 35 years later, this aesthetic and passion found expression in the groundwork we did for “A Walk in the Woods.” In the 21st century, I became entranced by the (somewhat affordable) possibilities of Eurorack Modular synthesis. I feel I have connected with a powerful process - I make connections between modules and I hope this illustrates and channels a sense of wider CONNECTION.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Yes. The tape recorder. The sampler. The DAW. The Modular Synthesizer. Connecting with these technologies has profoundly changed the way I lead my life. Which I give thanks for every day.
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?
The support of collaborators has been central to my accomplishments (such as they are). I could not have done anything without them. Collaboration is a very extended web. Someone generates electricity. Someone makes steel. Someone built a subway system that gets me to my workroom (which someone else built). Someone built my bicycle and made the road I cycle on. And so on. It’s deep. We are MASSIVELY CONNECTED. A 4 billion year unbroken chain of life.
My work with Chris in Nous Alpha is unique and specific. Without Chris the work would not exist. His huge talent and loving kindness creates a safe space to explore. A place where anything is allowed. Where anything is possible and every intuition is allowed to flower. We are very committed to being physically together for as much of the creative process as possible. We focus on making this happen. Our time together is rare and precious. We plan remotely and we draw up a manifesto.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
My morning starts with a moment of calm as I embrace and run through any dreams I may be fortunate enough to recall. I take a flask of green tea to my desk and write in my journal for as long as I need to, or time allows. This is my approach to morning meditation. Radio 3 (BBC classical music station) is often part of my morning when I leave the journaling space.
Basically I’m a drifter. A feather on the breath of God. So I do not have a fixed schedule. Except when I arrange to show up. Then I show up. As I pay more and more attention I come to realise that all aspects of (my) life inform and connect with each other. We indicate this with the journey of “A Walk in the Woods” I hope. We connect wood and stone and water with Ableton Live and the recording studio. With all that entails.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My solo debut project “electroGenetic“ was a breakthrough for me. I started working on it many decades ago. I was inspired by my collaborative work with “Spiritual Friendship“ and “Nous Alpha“. In both of these projects my collaborators had already released solo records and at the start of 2019 after the death of my mother and mother in law (in the second half of 2018) I felt moved to commit to the completion of a solo project within the space of that year. I made a contract with myself and I mentioned this to a couple of dear friends. This sharing helped me complete, because I would’ve felt like a real dick if I hadn’t fulfilled my promise to myself, that I had shared with others.
I wanted to celebrate and commemorate the presence of these two important women in my life, I wanted to say goodbye, I hoped to find a suitable expression of this in my interaction with modular electronics.
I try to underline this working process with the title of the project “electroGenetic“ - Interaction with the electronics is the trance state that’s births the motifs & moods that comprise the album.
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?
My friend Chris has spent many years practising a deep meditation, and in our work together I am inspired and led by his meditative practice. A calm mind is a creative mind. Many, most of our studio days started with a meditation together, and we also evolved a process where we took walking meditation breaks or sitting meditation breaks during our studio practice whenever it felt appropriate.
Of course we stayed away from our phones and our Internet connections whilst we were making music. Always. Plant medicines and sacred psychedelic rituals also play an important role in our loving and creative relationship.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music has been a great solace in my life for many years as a listener I felt closely connected to humanity through shared musical processes. Listening, singing and playing various instruments as a child. I have found that “making music“ or allowing musical vibrations to appear through my handiwork has been enormously healing for me personally. It has calmed my spirit, connected me to the promptings of an inner voice and is a very important part of my individuation.
This growth process is profoundly healing for me. That’s my personal experience. The sacred energies that flow in these processes are so powerful that I hope others find healing through our sharing. In (my musical partnership) “Spiritual friendship,“ I have collaborated in the recording and performance of a series of seven drones, made with electronic oscillators. Listeners have reported that they experience profound connection when incorporating these drones into their special practice. We are deeply and profoundly connected when we make these drones. That’s healing.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
No one is interested in what an old privileged straight white guy has to say on these issues.
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?
I don’t know how the senses work, but I appreciate that I only know the world through my senses. So what I know of the world is deeply (AND COMPLETELY) defined by what I can sense. And what I sense is a tiny proportion of the energies frequencies and vibrations that make up this universe. I have a tiny window to God.
In deep psychedelic voyages, opening the doors of perception, I have marveled at the way that sound, and particularly music colours and forms visual experience. And vice versa. It’s all one.
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 very suspicious of a cultural view that separate art in some way from the rest of our lives together. I feel this may be a recent division, perhaps this is nostalgia, but I like to believe that along with copyright laws recording and mass transmission of sound and image this division is relatively new in human life. I long for and I believe in a time where we are all artists, because that’s what culture is for me.
Again, and I keep coming back to the same idea of deep connection between us all, I have to underline as I can’t make the art that I make without the rest of society around me. Society is embedded in the art and I am embedded in society.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music is flow. Going with the flow is sometimes very relaxing and sometimes it’s very turbulent. When we join the flow of music we start at a point, we journey with the notes and sounds and we arrive at another point. Emotionally. Spiritually. Physically. We may only be a few minutes older and still be located in the same place in three dimensions. But we have moved to the fourth dimension accompanying and being accompanied by THE FLOW OF MUSIC. And as listeners we do not decide the velocity of this temporal flow, we go with it. (Perhaps something similar happens in film and theatre, I’m grasping at straws.)
Personally I chose in my work with “electro genetic” and my other collaborative projects to make observations about life and death in a musical language of sorts. Always challenging my fumbling lack of fluency, I nevertheless am able to attempt a conversation, statement, a discourse, a suggestion, that I would not attempt with words alone. I don’t know what music can express. The ineffable? It’s a mystery to be experienced.