Names: (JC) Jeremiah Chiu, (MSH) Marta Sofia Honer
Nationalities: Taiwanese-American (Jeremiah Chiu), American (Marta Sofia Honer)
Occupations: Composer, producer (Jeremiah Chiu), violist, violinist (Marta Sofia Honer)
Current release: Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer's Recordings from the Åland Islands is out via International Anthem.
Recommendations: Franco Battito’s Clic and Café Table Muzik
If you enjoyed this interview with Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer, visit their respective homepages for more information and music: Jeremiah Chiu; Marta Sofia Honer
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
(JC) I grew up playing piano and violin starting around age 6. When I entered high school, I gave up the violin for the guitar and it continued to evolve into synthesizers and more. I distinctly remember learning how to multi-track at a pretty young age. Each night as my parents would be preparing dinner; I would be noodling in the dining room with this Casio keyboard that could record 6 short parts using the internal sounds. I would stack a bass, chords, leads, and drums. Everything basically evolved from there to 4-track recorders, minidisc sessions, etc …
I feel fortunate to have had a fairly eclectic mix of music being shared amongst friends. We were playing in punk bands that eventually became emo-punk bands, but we were also simultaneously learning how to use drum machines and DJ—listening to Chicago-House & Detroit Techno. In college all of that fused with Jazz, neo-classical, and out-sound/experimental music.
(MSH) I grew up in a musical household, and my mom is a violin teacher, so I started very young, around 4 years old. I grew up playing classical music, playing in youth orchestras and string quartets, but also explored learning Celtic music alongside my dad, and was in a post rock band in high school that recorded a full album.
The early influences and sounds of music at home was largely classical music and jazz, but I also got really drawn to different world music and the concept of ethnomusicology before I knew the term.
I’ve always been very interested in how music is created and shaped within different cultures, and how traditional/folk music gets adapted and evolved as time progresses.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
(JC) I definitely consider myself an active listener, listening equally to the performance and composition of a work as I am listening to the production and technique of the recorded artifact. I’m still a digger, spending a lot of time on music blogspots, Youtube, etc … looking up the engineer’s records, the session-musicians and performers.
As someone who primarily composes through programming and sequencing, I’m drawn to pieces—especially in the realm of electronic—that have a human quality to them. They’re not perfectly synced, you can feel the motion in the music.
(MSH) I do not avidly listen to music as much as I used to after becoming a session player– my ears get tired after a day filled with sound at a studio! However I still enjoy listening to music, often now with a more analytical ear as I am focusing myself more on string writing and engineering, and how acoustic and electric instruments can be fused together in cohesive and interesting ways.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
(JC) Searching for a personal voice has been a lifelong journey thus far! I think a lot of it has to do with confidence. Because I stopped playing classically in my teens and didn’t study music formally from there forward, it’s been something I, personally, grapple with. However, I’ve recently started to realize how much time and experience I have programming synthesizers, recording music, and improvising on electronic instruments—and that is wholly it’s own skillset!
(MSH) I feel like I am just beginning to really explore what it means to have a voice as a solo artist after focusing most of my energy the past decade on being a supporting role to others. It is a new and special space to be in!
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
(JC) Hmm … well … I identify as a Taiwanese-American artist-musician-designer-educator. (laughs) It’s a bit of a hybrid of disciplines that inform my own approach.
For example, a lot of my practice focuses on the overlap—instead of translation—between disciplines. Composition is a word that can be applied to all creative disciplines—art, music, design, etc …—the vocabulary is similar: composition, concept, balance, dynamics, tension, narrative, and so on.
I suppose these ideas often influence my listening habits, and probably how I find myself spending equal amounts of time listening to academic music, neo-classical, experimental, pop, electronic, etc … (I realize I’m saying etc… a lot, laughs)
(MSH) I identify as a musician / educator / knowledge seeker / problem solver. I am currently very engaged in learning skills within the music industry beyond playing my instrument (sound engineering/editing, contract writing, music business) and how to provide easy access to information to empower others on their journey.
I also am keenly aware of how classical music has been baked into my identity and am focusing using what I’ve learned from it over the years, but push it into a new direction.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
(JC) Each project begins with a different premise. When I teach graphic design, I spend a lot of time talking about practice, process, and possibilities. On of the opportunities you have when with a project of your own making is that you get to push yourself. You get to decide your limits and you form new and meaningful connections based on your own experience and skillset.
(MSH) Always starting with a resonant and beautiful tone.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
(JC) I guess I’m interested in all of the above. I love that there’s an infinite world of music out there and there’s infinite ways to approach it.
As mentioned, I’m a pretty voracious listener and I really love spending time with different kinds of musical experiences and worlds. As an artist, I’m always pushing to find something new to me—often to my own detriment. (laughs)
I think everything “continues a tradition” whether or not that is the intention of the work. If it’s something we can hear/see/experience, it's participating in a conversation.
(MSH) This question is a little ironic since I am still active as musician in the classical field that is all about perfecting and performing pieces that are not necessarily timeless to all listeners, but have become firmly canonized.
Compositionally on my own end I think it is impossible to not be inspired by other things, but necessary to take them with you and evolve them into your own.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
(JC) Synthesizers! Over the past few decades, I’ve gone through so many of them. There was a time when they weren’t expensive and no one wanted them, and so you could basically buy, sell, and trade them and hold onto the ones that you vibe with the best.
In terms of strategies with synthesizers, I’m working a lot with sequencing and playing / performing with chance, probability, and polymetric lines. With synthesizers, I often find that there’s a threshold you reach—if you’ve come to it from a piano-playing perspective—where you understand that synthesis is not a 1-to-1 relationship. When you press a key, or generate a note, it doesn’t always have to make a single sound. CV/gate is more flexible than MIDI … I’ll stop here as I could easily do a 15 questions just about synthesis. (laughs)
(MSH) Beyond my instruments (viola and violin), the most important tools have been for me tools to self-engineer, and with Jeremiah, exploring granular synthesis in connection to my acoustic instruments.