Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?
Honestly every day is really different, but they always start with my trying to get as much of a sleep in as I possibly can followed by coffee. I definitely don’t have a fixed schedule, and honestly I don’t feel like schedules work very well for me. A lot of the morning is spent wrangling my children and working out what’s going on for the day. The bulk of my day is looking after my children and running to and from various activities. I also teach music technology classes a couple of times each week at the University of Queensland.
I get the majority of my work, including music making, done at night time when everyone is settled and I can have a few hours uninterrupted. At the moment, music is a fairly compartmentalized aspect of my life, but as my children grow older I’m hoping that it will be able to blend in a bit more with the rest of my day.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I often set out a ‘premise’ for the music I write, for example ‘Metropolitan’ used software to process images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, ‘Lunar’ used samples from NASA and ‘SOS’ was derived from a dance score I wrote for the New York based dance company VALLETO.
However, when writing my latest album “Ithaca”, which I wrote soon after I relocated from New York to Brisbane, I allowed myself to be completely guided by my emotions, without setting any real constraints on my process, or even any real expectations. The album is ultimately about returning home after many years living away and the complex emotions that can bring up. I would allow myself to sit down and write music that was a real reflection of how I felt at that time and as a result I hear many different emotions on that album when I listen to it. Writing “Ithaca” was a really cathartic process for me.
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?
To be honest, I used to focus on trying to get into the right state of mind to be creative, but nowadays, I just don’t have the luxury of time to be able to spend a lot of time getting into any sort of ideal state. I actually try really hard not to be too precious about getting into the right frame of mind otherwise I wouldn’t get much done. If I’m able to carve out a few of hours to be able to write music, even if I’m not feeling particularly creative, I start writing and often that will get me going (even if the first few ideas are absolute rubbish). Of course there are lots of times when I do this and it’s pretty evident that it’s not going to be a particularly productive session so I just let it go and I make sure I’m not too hard on myself.
Funnily enough, I think I am much more productive and creative now that I am time poor and just get on with it, because when I used to have the luxury of time I would often just get stuck on a negative loop inside my head for hours instead of actually writing anything.
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 haven’t played live for about four years now and the last performance I did was a live film score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” which was commissioned by the North West Film Forum in Seattle. I was going to play some shows this year but COVID-19 has shut those down.
For me personally, there isn’t a particularly strong connection between playing live and writing music. When I write music, I don’t write it with the idea that I am going to play it live, so when I do live performances I need to figure out how to adapt it to a live setting. I definitely prefer writing in my studio to playing live shows but I have been thinking of getting back into it.
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?
For me, the ‘sound’ and ‘composition’ aspects of music are completely and utterly intertwined. I think all sounds are on a spectrum. I love making field recordings, or noises I have created and manipulated, and them using them as a foundation for a piece that may or may not include more ‘traditional’ compositional elements.
One of my favorite pieces of sound design was a collaboration I did with textile designer Monique van Nieuwland on her project ‘Ocean Forest’, whereby she recorded the sounds of her weaving on a loom, and I turned those sounds into a vast ocean soundscape that was played at the gallery she was exhibiting in. I slowed down one of the sounds she gave me by about 200 times, and some amazing microtones started to emerge. It sounded so melodic and beautiful. So many sounds have an innate sense of melody within them if we just listen closely.
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 most inspiring overlap of senses for me is definitely the overlap between audio and visuals. I suspect a lot of people would probably answer the same way. The combination of audio and visual is so powerful and it enhances both senses at once. All senses are connected and the brain is such a complicated organ that I think many of the connections between our senses probably go unnoticed by us as we take them for granted. I love the concept of mindfulness where we focus our attention on what is around us which forces us to really observe and appreciate what senses we have.
The question of what happens to sound at its outermost borders is a fascinating one. When I listen really closely to a sound that is extremely quiet, I often wonder how much I am actually hearing, and how much I am imagining that I’m hearing. It becomes quite abstract and hard to know what is real and what isn’t. On the other end of the spectrum, when a sound is incredibly loud you have a physical sensation where you can feel sound in your body and your chest cavity fills with vibrations.
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 am really drawn to political art and how powerful it can be, and I would consider myself to be a very political person. However, when it comes to my art, my music feels like an extension of my emotions, so on the surface, it isn’t overtly political. That is not to say that I won’t create political art in the future, as I am sure I will.
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?
I don’t think music and sound has ever been more accessible than it is now. There are so many powerful and affordable tools for people to be able to create their own music and sounds. I also think now is one of the best times to be a fan of music and sound because there is so much available.
In terms of progression of music and looking forward, I think there is a shift towards loosening the boundaries of what music is and being much more inclusive with sounds. For example I wonder how someone 200 years ago would have reacted had they heard William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops?
However, I would temper my answer to this question with the fact that I don’t have a solid appreciation of music history beyond an understanding of Western music, and even then I wonder to what extent our knowledge is limited to what was recorded and notated. In the history of the human race across countless different cultures, there must have been some incredible and progressive views on sound and music that would still be visionary today. So perhaps the trajectory towards progressiveness in music and sound (and our consumption of it) is not necessarily a simple upwards trajectory, but a much messier series of waves of progression and regression.