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?
I have a day job, so by necessity there’s some separation between the different spheres of my life.
I do most of my creative work in the evenings and at the weekends, but I really don’t have a fixed schedule. I always have a notebook around to collect ideas, and most projects seem to go through similar phases of researching, collecting material, making visual sketches, recording rough drafts, refining, mixing, editing, etc. How long whichever stage takes and how each working session unfolds is really different from project to project and from day to day.
This is actually something to relish about creative work in my opinion: You don’t have to go through the same motions each day, but you can let the process itself dictate what is going to come next and each day can be totally different.
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?
I can’t really think of one big breakthrough event. With every project I work on, there are small breakthroughs and things I learn. I think this is in fact what draws me to certain ideas: the sense that there is something about them that I’m genuinely curious to explore.
By the same token, every piece of work feels special in its own way and that in turn means there is always some anxiety around whether people are going to like it or give me the opportunity to present it, be it in concert or as a release – so also, every “yes” is a breakthrough in its own way.
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?
For me, that ideal state of flow basically just means complete focus on the task at hand. In some ways, external circumstances can force you into that state, like deadlines or just the limited time you have to make music if you also have a day job. But essentially, it’s a mental state and the challenge of getting there is really about finding a path in the mind, so to speak.
For me, one strategy that works really well is Hemingway’s recommendation from “A Moveable Feast” to always stop writing for the day when you know what will happen next. Stop working when you know what the next thing is that you really want to do. I think this actually works, you’re looking forward to your work each day and you sort of hit the ground running rather than not knowing where to begin.
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?
In terms of hurt, in my experience it’s the systems that have been built around music, all the rituals and mechanisms of gatekeeping, that can inflict a lot of damage. The social reality of music making is that there can be a lot of pressure to conform, a constant sense of competition, really toxic forms of teaching – at worst, these things start ruining music itself for you.
On the other hand, music provides company when there is none, both literally and metaphorically. The same thing can probably be said of literature and other art forms as well, so generally I feel that art’s power to heal has to do with giving you some sense of being understood, of not being alone in your experience of life, whether it is that art seems to be an expression of your experience or just becomes part of it and accompanies you on your journey.
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?
I think there should always be an awareness of the real-world power dynamics inherent in an act of copying or appropriation: Are you messing with a culture that you’re not really invested in and that you’re coming at from a position of privilege or are you subverting some notion of tradition that is being leveraged for the sake of not having to give you a seat at the table?
As for the social or gender specificity of art: I’m not sure these things exist in art itself. Labelling artists as women artists, queer artists, working class artists etc. can also be a form of ghettoization and Othering. But of course art always bears witness in some way to the social circumstances of its production and I think we should really look a lot harder at those social and material realities of music making and how the experience of being a musician is shaped by things like gender and class – and how certain forms of creative expression are just not equally accessible to all people.
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’m pretty intrigued by the connection between sounds and scents and the way they can trigger memories. Interestingly, they’re also both used for measuring time: We’re very used to sonic cues marking the passage of time – alarms, bells, ticking watches – and incense burners used to be employed as clocks in Asia. I don’t have any definite answers or theories on this connection, but I think it’s really interesting to consider why certain sense data affects us in certain ways.
These associative connections between perceptions and memories really underscore how fluid and essentially creative memory is and this kind of unexpected resonance between sense registers can make you question the things you take for granted about music: How do things affect you emotionally? How are memories brought up and remade in the present moment? How are memories haunting you?
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?
The social impact I would like my music to have is actually happening on a very small scale: it’s that real, direct, one-on-one connection of the artist and the listener. If my music is socially engaged, then it’s not in the sense that it communicates some political message, but in the sense that it’s about the connection to the listener, the privilege of one’s work being let into someone else’s life and mind and thus counteracting that sense of drifting apart, of withdrawal and isolation that is so ubiquitous and disheartening in this moment we’re living in.
Also, at this point imagination itself has taken on such an existential quality when it comes to the future of everything, basically – can we imagine different ways to live? Can we imagine what may be in store if we fail to change things? – just the fact that art is constantly exercising that muscle seems radical.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music as a primarily time-based art form uniquely speaks to the transient nature of life – yes, there are also spatial conceptualizations of music and the perception of every work of art unfolds over time, but still, I have always felt that music somehow brings you in touch with how time passes and every moment can only be lived once.
As Laurie Spiegel says in the wonderful short film “Little Doorways To Paths Not Yet Taken”: “I’ve always sort of had a compulsion or a need of music, it’s always been a way to deal with the intensity of being alive”.