Name: Richard Melville Hall aka Moby
Occupation: Producer, composer, songwriter
Recent release: Moby's Reprise Remixes is out now via Deutsche Grammophon. It featuring remixes by Bambounou, Topic, Felsman + Tiley, Max Cooper, and Peter Gregson, among others. These reworkings are based on the new, orchestral arrangements of select pieces from Moby's catalogue on Reprise – which we talk about in this interview.
Recommendations: The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. And "Dark was the night and cold was the ground" by Blind Willie Johnson.
[Read our Bambounou interview]
[Read our Topic interview]
[Read our Max Cooper interview]
[Read our Peter Gregson interview]
[Read our Felsmann + Tiley interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Moby and would like to find out more, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, soundcloud, and twitter.
Reprise is your 19th studio album in roughly 30 years. What is it about music and/or sound that still draws you to it?
Essentially it’s the ability of music, which is inherently non-corporeal, to create profound emotions and build entire worlds. It’s remarkable when you think that music is simply air molecules moving around slightly differently than if the music wasn’t being played.
I’m not saying that my music creates profound emotions or builds worlds, but it’s what I aspire towards.
Reprise is a look back and a step forward at the same time. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?
I’ve never been concerned with the new or original.
For me the sole criterium regarding music is its ability to create emotion. And, to state the obvious, that can be achieved with the very new, the very old, and everything in between.
No genre or technology is better or worse at creating emotion than any other.
Thanks to Reprise, many will listen to your music with fresh ears. Certainly, some of these arrangements seem to reveal new layers of your musical personality. How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I guess in the way that I’m both creating the music and responding to it subjectively.
I can’t expect anyone to have a reaction to the music that I make that I haven’t also, or already, had.
Can you tell me about the conceptual part of preparing for Reprise, please? How did the arrangements gradually take shape and what were some of the considerations for them?
Conceptually, and not logistically (although the two are inextricably linked), my thinking mainly involved intervals … which might sound odd, but that’s really what was going through my head: What intervals between notes would best be represented within the different instruments and voices.
It’s a fun exercise, also thinking about anchoring certain chords and phrases unconventionally, with thirds or fifths or sevenths or even seconds, and then combining intervals with timbre and the practical range of acoustic instruments.
Working with an orchestra is a very different experience from producing within a DAW and even from working with a group of live musicians. How did you experience it – and how did you communicate your ideas and impressions to the orchestra?
In working with orchestrators and arrangers and classical musicians I described my goal as; let the quiet parts be extremely quiet, let the loud parts be bombastic.
I think I described it as ’the quiet parts should sound like ‘Claire de lune’ played on an old piano, and the loud parts should sound like the ride of the valkyries'
Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it played in these arrangements?
Time is a fascinating variable, as ultimately I don’t think there’s such a thing as universal time. That temporal perception is something unique to biology, and not cosmology.
So one could posit that time, or temporal variables, are accepted a priori, but are actually subjective. And playing with time is something that a composer or arranger does both intuitively and academically.
To many producers, sound is everything. The re-interpretations on Reprise question this. How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects?
Honestly I don’t differerentiate between any / all compositional / sonic elements.
Timbre and composition and tempo and instrumentation and arrangement all have the same importance and weight - to me at least.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role did they play for Reprise and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?
It’s hard to generalize, as making an orchestral / choral album involved so many people … the classical musicians, the composer, the engineers, the mixer, the choir, etc etc.
Selfishly it becomes my goal to work with each person in a way that brings out the best of what they can do, but to my ends.
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 wake up at 5 am. Have breakfast and read the news. Drink tea and read a book. Check emails and do ‘office work’. Clean the house. Then work on music and other creative projects all day.
And at some point go hiking and exercise. That’s every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
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?
Being home. That’s it. I toured for decades, now all I want to do is stay home and work.
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'm on the board of the institute for music and neurologic function, an organisation started by Oliver Sachs. They use fmri’s and other diagnostic tools to show that music is a profound and legitimate healing modality.
As far as music that hurts …I’d have to say that’s up the listener. I love Pantera, but I can see how some people would be hurt by listening to ‘war nerve’ ...
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?
As a cisgendered white man in 2022 I have to refrain from answering this question.
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?
Hm, it’s interesting, especially synesthesia, but I have no experience regarding that. So sadly I can’t answer this.
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?
Such a big question … I guess I see my role as an artist as one of practical awe, and humble frustration.
Humans exist in a state of separation; from nature, from the divine, from each other, from themselves. Music is for me a way to get a sense of what the lack of separation might be, or feel like, if only for a fleeting second.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
It is of course kind of ironic to try to use words to answer this question … but from my perspective words are remarkable, practical, and even beautiful, but ultimately limiting.
Music has the potential to show what words can only clumsily describe.