Name: A Path Untold / Daniel Merrill
Occupation: Composer, Producer, DJ
Recent Release: A Path Untold's Sourcery is out via The Chambers Project.
Recommendations: As far as paintings go, "Dystopia With a Glimmer of Hope", which is a collaboration between Ralph Steadman and Mars 1, is one of my favorite visual art pieces of all time. I was introduced to it through my collaborations with The Chambers Project. It contains the spirit of both painters in a symbiotic and psychedelic union that only the two of them could manifest into reality. It’s a highly unique piece and is the only collaboration Ralph Steadman has ever done with another artist.
Musically, “The World In A Nutshell” by Kilowatts is one of my favorite pieces of music and I find its melodic story to be timeless. It transitions through many bold and emotive movements, and by the end it feels like your world-view has shifted somehow, like looking through a piece of colored glass…which I find to be an effective measure of a musical experience. He also happens to be a good friend and sometimes collaborator.
If you enjoyed this interview with A Path Untold, visit his homepage for current updates and more information. He is also on Instagram, Soundcloud, and Facebook.
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?
I’ve always been moved and excited by music since I was very young, and was exposed to a wide range of sounds by my father, who is also a lifelong musician (guitar and banjo) and taught me the fundamentals of guitar. Music has always just felt like an inexplicable “magic” to me, a spellbinding experience that transcends language and is much more effective at communication.
As a child, I mostly absorbed my father’s record collection that encompassed a range of vital records, from Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles to The Cure, The Police and Kate Bush - a lot of variety. He also was/is heavily active in Appalachian mountain music and bluegrass so I was very exposed to that, which I strongly rebelled against around age 10 as I discovered rap/hip-hop. I got really into NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Run DMC and many more, and realized the power of discovering music for myself. I became fascinated with discovering music that wasn’t around me - exotic, alternate cultural expressions and counterculture. This became a running theme in my life.
I began my music making path around the age of 13 as an aspiring metal guitarist initially inspired by Nirvana and the grunge movement. I grew up in a very isolated, rural area of the Appalachian mountains in western Maryland (U.S.) in the 90s. Because of where I lived, finding people to start a band with was quite difficult, so I started tracking/recording myself with a 4 track. That was the beginning of my fascination with music production and what was possible as a one-man band/composer.
Through a number of twists and turns, I became deeply absorbed in melodic, gothic metal: Paradise Lost and Type O Negative being some of my favorite bands, and then came my introduction to Nine Inch Nails around age 16.
My father would also religiously record the weekly Hearts Of Space radio show which was my first real exposure to electronic music and had a massive effect on me, but those influences didn’t manifest until a bit later. I discovered Leftfield’s Rhythm and Stealth album on New Years Eve of 1999/2000, and that album changed the way I heard music forever. Futurism, mysticism, euphoria, wildly fantastical realms of sonic color …
I knew I wanted to dedicate my energy to electronic music, and started to get serious about teaching myself production, ravenously learning everything I possibly could about the history, cultures, sub-genres, technologies and methods of its creation.
I discovered Ableton Live in its beta version during 2001 which became a way of thinking and creating. It has been ever since, and that’s where my substantial journey with music began.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colors. What happens in your body when you’re listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Music that really moves me causes me to experience musical frisson (goosebumps from a sense of elation). That tends to be the most dramatic physical effect, and can sometimes be sustained for long periods of time, which is truly one of my favorite sensations in life. I tend to experience more visual reactions like colors, places and stories when I’m purely listening, versus when I’m creating.
When I’m writing music, I actually feel that the visual part of my brain disengages a bit so as to allocate those resources to the pure emotional experience, although I do feel shades and colors and things. During the act of creation, it's very purely an aural, heart-based experience. It’s almost as if experiencing anything visual during that part of the process would detract from it, for me. The majority of it resides in my emotional core - the melodies, timbres, textures, harmonies and rhythms interact vibrationally in my body, in the center of my chest.
There are people around me who have powerful synesthesia experiences and entire visual worlds/stories unfold before their eyes to music, and I’m a bit envious!
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
My development as an artist and what I feel compelled to create has always been a direct reflection of my life experiences. I see music as the opportunity to be as honest as possible and to transmute challenges into breakthroughs. I’ve always found a lot of relevance in the view that “Life unto itself has no meaning, life is an opportunity to create meaning” (Osho). I’ve always utilized music as a powerful form of self therapy, to ascribe meaning to my experience of life and existence, and to tell my story.
I’ve undergone a fairly extensive list of life affirming and near-death experiences, each of which has significantly influenced me and shaped my music. The more music I’ve made, the more I’ve learned about myself and the universe we’re all a part of. I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am for that in my life. Music has been present as a light of meaning and direction throughout tumultuous ups and downs, and has without fail, been a way to move forward. It has also, perhaps most importantly, been a way to share with other people who can deeply relate, creating a dialogue of reciprocity.
Regarding the development of my personal voice, musical style and the intricacies of what that has become…it has of course been shaped, layer by layer, by many formative experiences and influences. I’ve always sought after and been most moved by artists who speak creatively from their heart as a unique individual, rather than any trend, fashion or aesthetic. If someone is truly tapping into their imagination and heart, it shines through right away. It's something that is instantly recognizable and universal.
I found my personal voice and style when I stopped looking for it or trying to define what it should be. That shift came about naturally, when I became too busy trying to genuinely express myself to judge what I was making. Instead, I shifted my perspective to simply being authentic at each stage of the music-making process. I worry about how it’s all adding up only in the end, which is the grand reveal. I feel that doing that consistently will ultimately come out sounding like a “signature sound”, because one’s energy and personality shines through with every step along the way.
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.
I’d say that my sense of artistic identity has always been that of a wildly multi-faceted outsider. Based on where I grew up and how I evolved throughout my music path, I’ve never thoroughly felt a sense of belonging in any one genre, scene, style or community, but have taken influence from many.
There are remnants and residual influences that have stayed with me from each period of exploration within a particular style of music, culture surrounding it, etc. All of them add up to result in my creative profile, making me sound how I sound and value the things that I do.
This approach caused me to arrive at the sense that “when you don’t fit in anywhere, you’re at home everywhere”. That was something that I loved about the electronic music and rave scene overall back when I first discovered it. It felt like a place for people who didn’t belong, to not-belong together, and at its best, it still does. That feeling helped me embrace and explore that sense of untethered freedom to be who I am, regardless of trend, fad or fashion.
I have a sense of being a radical individualist, which is something I look for and value in other people’s work - a sense of uncompromising individualism through creative expression that is universally relevant. I think this is something that happens when an artist absorbs many disparate influences, shredding preconceived notions of identity that came before them. I think the most interesting artists have that in common.
It can also be a somewhat lonely place to occupy at times, because people often want to fit you into a neat little box. It can take major time and patience to gain the exposure you want as an artist when you’re wired this way.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Honesty and authenticity. Wanting to transport myself and listeners somewhere beautiful that they’ve definitely never been before. A desire for adventure into the unknown. Creating a tangible sense of place. Emotion at the forefront. Emotion is literally why music exists … so why not explore that to the fullest potential?
Boldness. Music, and art, at its best, contains an element of danger. I feel it should thrill the senses with something unknown. To defy convention and be oneself. Exploring contrast and the relationship between opposites - representation of duality. Transmutation and triumph. An emphasis on melody and harmony.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music?
In my experience, originality is always a natural byproduct of complete honesty, which comes from following one’s intuition and tuning out external elements of comparison or distraction.
An artist can, should and will take influence (it’s impossible not to), and assemble an internal palette of flavors they love and draw upon - but originality requires re-interpreting, combining and expressing those things in a way that is honest and unique to one’s intuitive ecosystem. Everyone has a completely different intuitive ecosystem, and exploring that, and to what degree, is the responsibility/choice of the creator.
I think originality is the first step to innovation, and innovation is about implementing the original idea in a larger way that has a cultural ripple effect, and changes the way others think of and perceive something. Much of innovation has to do with community, and can therefore come down to things other than the creative act itself - like marketing, advocacy, community sharing and collaboration - which are all creative acts unto themselves, one might argue.
Perfectionism can of course be very much a subjective thing, and totally depends on the experience/perspective of the beholder, so I see it as two realms: 1. the creator’s own sense of what they are capable of and what the potential of the work is … and 2.: the assessment of those same things by perspectives outside that of the creator. Chasing perfectionism has a light side: empowerment, aspiration, refinement - as well as a dark side: paralysis, doubt, unworthiness …
It’s such a tricky and almost impossible thing to quantify, so it’s more of an arbitrary measuring stick than one of any precise accuracy. I think that an impression of perfection CAN be attainable in both realms of perspective …but it's vitally important to “not let perfect get in the way of good enough” (Stephen King) - meaning, don’t let it become a bottleneck in the creative process. I think a sense of perfection arises naturally over the course of lots of creative work.
Timelessness is a result of universality - which I think can only be achieved through being as authentic as possible, and expressing emotions that all humans can relate to, regardless of time-based circumstances or cultural changes. I don’t think timelessness can be set out to be accomplished, it has to just happen of its own accord, again through the course of lots of authentic creative work. Create first, judge later.
Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I’m interested in the music of “now” ....Music that is reflecting and expressing the current moment. I’ve never had much inclination toward tradition in any aspect of my life or work, but I do appreciate it and admire it in other people’s work in certain contexts.
I’ve always loved the idea of a “music of the future” - futurism in music/art, etc. However, I feel it's ultimately an aesthetic and essentially an illusion, even though a fun and beautiful one. Great artists are always a step ahead of the rest of us, but in reality, there is only ever the music of now or the past, it's just that the artist who brings it into being gets to experience it before the rest of us.