Name: Keith Tucker
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Under his Optic Nerve moniker, Keith Tucker has just released the Far Away EP on Soma.
Musical Recommendations: The book “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler and Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot"
If you enjoyed this interview with Keith Tucker, stay up to date with his work on facebook. Keith mentions his upcoming release on Jeff Mill's Axis Records. Check out our Jeff Mills interview we conducted a short while ago.
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?
Started producing music just out of high school in 1984, and got heavily into electronic music from Europe. I was part of that first MTV generation. I was drawn to Human League, early Detroit techno like Cybotron and of course Kraftwerk
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?
Well I started out as a local DJ and soon turned to buying my first synth, a Casio CZ-101 and a Roland S-10 sampler. Joined up with 3 likeminded friends to form RX-7 and started performing early electro tracks like Automatic by freestyle, When I heard music by Debbie Deb, This in turn started my journey in to emulating all the songs of that time like "Planet Rock" and "Clear” by Cybotron just to name a few.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Coming from the second wave of Detroit techno I feel like I must carry myself in a certain way, as in Detroit techno music it’s intelligent, thought provoking and dark and sometimes mysterious at the same time. My creativity is fed with my various aliases. This allows me to take the music deeper, not just thumping bass but in to another world SPACE.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenge was to figure out how electronic music was made. I did not know what a sequencer was, so not knowing helped me to learn how to play and keep in synch – or, as we call it, “Staying in the Pocket”. It made me learn that it’s not the machines, it’s what you put into the machine.
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?
My first synth was the awesome CASIO CZ-101. It taught me how to make and create my own synth sounds. In the early Detroit techno sound everyone created their own patches. I in turn eventually bought a mac se and used an early version of the performer sequencing midi daw system. I chose it because you could now do unlimited tracks and instant recall and edit you sequences. I learned how to stack synth sounds. That’s why I started to amass a lot of synths like everyone was doing.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Most definitely when I discovered the triggers on the early Roland drum machines and CVS. That was something that took my programming to a new level. It was easy to get motivated with making something that was not easy to play by hand.
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?
When I collaborate now I think it’s best to let each artist create in his or her own space because this music can be time consuming and every one does things in so many different ways. And it’s easy to just do parts and send to each other or let one person do what he or she does best.
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 get up every morning from about 4:30 am 6:30am take a five mile walk or work out. Then, I'll go downstairs to my office and studio and check my email and take care of most of my label chores like new release artwork. I work on all office work till about 11am then fire up the studio to play keyboards for about a half hour then on to remixes, new tracks and experimenting until about 7:00pm
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 think my newest upcoming Sci fi project for Jeff Mills is some of my best work under my alias Optic Nerve. The New LP is titled “Uncharted”. I was contacted by Jeff in late 2020 to create an LP. I was truly shocked, but very proud that he was familiar with my work with my different aliases. It’s truly special because it’s Jeff Mills … And I felt like I had to make the project be great but different than anything on his label. Jeff instructed me to have concept and story for it and be prepared for interviews to explain it. I created a story of the origins of Optic Nerve with the beautiful artwork of a fiend Kyle Irvine from Scotland.
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?
I try and keep a stressfree life and keep positive and work only with the like-minded. My ideal work environment is a dark, calm mood in my studio after being inspired by some sci-fi films or music artist. Distractions can sometimes come at the wrong time. When you are too accessible to everyone you have to know when to block everything out and focus … no phone or social media.
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?
I think classical music is the birth of music … It’s the strings that create a beauty and moods to everything in music.
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?
There isn’t anything that can be done that has not been done. You’re just taking something from everyone that’s already been done in some way. It’s always great to share all cultures in everything in the world.
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 think hearing and eyesight are the most inspiring senses as you listen more intently if you close your eyes and you discover even more.
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 approach my musical art with a name first. Then there's a visual concept in my mind. Only then will I create melodies with arps and strings.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music is life. Every emotion can be brought on by music - from death to life to sheer bliss.