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?
Jas: Collaborating with Bas was odd because we really didn’t know each other at all and then by the end of the the weekend we were good friends and had some recordings that neither of us expected to make. I doubt that could have happened if we had just sent each other stems and I’m very glad that we made the effort to meet up to collaborate. Equally, now we are all on lockdown, I suspect that we will send each other stems and I hope that this can work for us too.
Bas: I am sure it will, but a main reason for this is, that we have a history of hanging out, recording, working together, exchanging ideas.
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?
Bas: Since I have always been between doing my artistic practice and a day job to pay the rent, of course all aspects of life somehow feed back into each other. But I am trying to separate a job which pays my bills, even if it is in the music context, from my artistic practice and try to make fixed times for each. When Jas and I were in the studio we had pretty scheduled days though, wake up, breakfast, walk the dogs, make music, eat lunch, make music, eat dinner, make music.
Jas: It’s pretty simple, I just do stuff in the studio whenever I can. Touring, childcare, seeing friends, chores, all take up time and must be done and really the rest of the time I go into the studio and see what happens.
When working with Bas we had very little time with the Disklavier, so we just worked until we were too tired to carry on. It’s always me that flakes out first, which I can partly blame on my being ill and partly attribute to the amount of Mate that he drinks.
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?
Jas: I think that this new record that I’ve done with Bas is a really good description of how things go. We went into the studio with a plan, to record some synths, and abandoned the plan when we saw the Disklavier. It was a kind of risky thing to do because we didn’t have that much time together and didn’t really know each other very well. But it felt like the right move.
Bas: Yeah, and once we got the piano set up we recorded takes when it started to do interesting things, and some of these takes are pretty much the final version on the album - just mixed and eqed. Then, we took that material and started to treat it, and retreat it, letting it become something else. And we would just go round and round, the sound changing, sometimes making something that we could finish but sometimes needing more work.
Jas: If you take the piano bit off the table I suspect that this is more of less the process for a lot of people - certainly that’s a fairly recognisable pattern for me, just usually with drum machines rather than a fancy piano.
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?
Bas: If someone has a strategy which always works, please let me know! But from my experience, no matter if you're working in fine arts, choreography or music, you can’t force that state of mind. You can get rid of all distractions and whatnot, but still not get into it. Or the other way around. Certainly everyone has something that inspires her/him, but I guess it is more about accepting that it is a very unspecific and un-projectable thing.
Jas: I’m not a big fan of the idea that people force creation to happen by sheer will of their mood or state of mind. My experience of it is that it happens when I’m able to, and enthusiastic about, exploring something. The music isn’t forced into occurring, it’s ready to happen if you are keen enough to keep messing about until it’s time for it to happen.
Bas: Exactly, couldn’t agree more on this.
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?
Bas: Since Jas is way more experienced in playing live, I think he is the right one to answer this.
Jas: Playing live really teaches you what bits of your gear you need and which bits you thought you needed. It’s a great way to learn because during preparation you are, particularly in the latter stages, very aware that anything you forget will make you look like an idiot in front of a lot of people. That pressure is tough but makes things stick in your mind.
There’s certainly things that have happened in the SMD liveshow that happened in a panic to cover up a mistake that we ended up using in the studio when we got home because it worked so well. Equally, there’s a degree of subtlety that’s lost in a liveshow. I can fuss over making a feedbacky matrix of effects in the studio and really hear the benefit of this, whereas this would be a total pain live and almost certainly end up with me trying to figure out which bit has gone into uncontrolled screeching feedback. So, there’s lots to learn from both environments.
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?
Bas: For me it is always the combination of all together. Of course, if you for example came up with a meditative loop, then maybe this can give you the idea to stretch it over the full length of the track, so it might give you some compositional ideas. But for me personally, and also with "Klavier", I always had the feeling that all aspects kind of influence each other.
Jas: True, I have always felt that the sound is the song just as much as the notes are. There’s a generally accepted concept that songs, or compositions are somehow magical and the instantiation of them is kind of less important and I think this is bullshit. If it were true then muzak would be good and it’s not. It all needs to work together, the notes, the arrangement, the mood, the timbre. I treat it all as the same - in fact, at mix stage, if something really needs eqing then most of the time it needs to be muted or played in a different register or on a different instrument, or different notes. It’s all just making musical decisions.
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?
Jas: Relating to music I’d say that when it’s really loud, like in a club or in a studio with really excellent monitoring, there’s a definite blurring of listening and feeling. I really think that the reason that many people don’t ‘get’ club music is because they have only ever heard it on laptop speakers, and they are right, on laptop speakers it’s pretty nothingy. For it to make any sense you need to hear music in context.
Bas: Indeed, the right context can influence your perception massively. And this also could mean your state of mind, your physical sensation, the surrounding, even smells and tastes. Obviously it is all connected and there are tons of theories and scientific research out there. For me the most inspiring overlaps happen when I am physically active while listening to music, mostly meaning dancing. Sometimes I even use physical practices for example from a dance context, to get in a certain state and then listen to a production again, just to see what it does.
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?
Jas: This is really a question for Bas, he’s a proper artist. I just have strong views on sound and lots of synths.
Bas: Haha, come on mate, I don’t think there even is something like a "proper artist". I’d prefer your strong views on sound over any overtheorized art practice out there and your artistic approach definitely feeds back into a lot of peoples life's.
However, this is a complex question I guess. I used to make a lot of, well, "political art", if you want to put that label on it, but came to see that having direct messages or intentions for engagements are better placed in political or social activism then in artworks. Depending on how it is done of course. For example, the complex works of a Santiago Sierra, whom I admire a lot, are still giving me the chills and I still believe they have an influence. But for me personally, especially since we are living in times where basically everything is or is made political, I try to think more about the subtle levels of a work.
This means I try to create experiences for an audience, but without a teaching finger saying "Hey, think about this or that". If someone, after a performance or even a DJ-Set goes out and reflects on her or his experience in a political context, great. If not, also great. I just think there is a certain power in openness, where everyone individually and in relationship to others, can find different and mutual things alike.
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?
Jas: That seems like an odd statement to me. In a time where you can access decades of music of hugely varying types, music that works in completely different ways and designed to fit totally different environments.
There are mainstream, consumer synths that allow you to load microtonal tunings, there’s a thriving modular synth scene with a huge emphasis on new synthesis techniques rather than just cloning old circuits. There’s people making very tactile instruments that interface with custom software to provide a very traditional feel to new sound engines. There’s, in London alone, a new sub genre made about every 4-6 months, this doesn’t take into account the enormous range of people worldwide that are making use of affordable production software to do their own thing. I would agree with you that the music industry is in a mess but I’d argue that music is thriving creatively.
Bas: I second that. And that "basic concept of music" you are referring to, is pushed and ever evolving, no? Of course we can look back into history now, but also at it’s current state. If you look for example at festivals like Atonal or CTM in Berlin, you can go out there packed with never heard approaches, perspectives and inspirations to last a whole year.
Jas: If you want to argue at a more abstract level I would agree that perhaps it’s odd that we have broadly settled on a chromatic tuning and 4/4 format for most of this stuff. But you really don’t need to dig far to find people who are outside of this norm.
If we categorise music as sound that transmits emotions or thoughts then I’d say the range we have on offer is pretty daunting, I do this for a living and struggle to keep up with just a few corners of it.