How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
The big problem of electronic music is the dependence on technology and all of its consequences. When I listen to various productions I can tell you right away whether a given artist wrote a song with full awareness or just pressed something there, recorded something there and it worked out for him – for better or worse. Dependence on equipment, and the possibilities that come with it, can be very misleading. It kills the creative process, because it's the machine, the laptop, synthesizer or sampler that make decisions for you. This is terrible. Companies that create hardware and software, put a lot of emphasis on the fact that "you" as a consumer, without any knowledge and skills, can produce a song reasonably well. This is obviously caused by the desire to earn money and sell their new toys to create the largest possible market.
Look at how much the DJ scene has changed at the turn of the last decades. All you have to do to become a DJ now is to download an app on your phone. And here the question arises whether we have more great DJs now or more amateurs, without musical awareness but with new toys in their hands. I recently played in a club, and I was followed by some "DJ" who was surrounded by glowing controllers - he looked more professional than DJ Shadow. The problem was that he was unable to mix two simple techno tracks. I was astounded. The worst part was that, when I was sipping a drink by the bar, he approached me to ask what I thought about his performance. I didn't know what to say, because on one hand I saw that he spent a lot of money on his equipment, that he is ambitious, but on the other hand he should never work with music. There are more and more technological “casualties” like him. We, as a species, have several qualities that machines lack - sensitivity, instinct and the ability to be creative. This should be our starting point. I've never touched a laptop or sampler without being aware of why I need it at that particular moment - it's a skill that bears fruit later.
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, including the artists performing your work?
It depends on the project. When I work on a studio album, the choice of musicians depends on the concept, which I most often look at through the prism of the sound. I never work with people I don't trust musically. I'm talking about openness to search, experiment, and a broadly understood musical trust and communication. This, of course, works the other way around too. As a producer and composer, I have to be fully prepared, but also the concept has to be convincing enough that everyone in the studio knows that this is not a wind-up. If this condition is met, then working in the studio is pure poetry. When it comes to working with my trio Nexus_3, consisting of DJ Alexander Erdmann and jazz saxophonist Adam Kolacki, the process is a bit different. We work in a democratic manner, everyone contributes ideas to the concept I've created. It develops in a completely different way, quite frequently there are too many ideas. We have to throw a lot away. For a band, studio work is only half the action. It's important to play live and make music together. This is a completely different type of energy, it's like the difference between a chess game and a boxing match. I really like the state of playing together. It's like a conversation from outer space.
How is writing the music and having it performed live connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
When, a few years ago, I stopped playing live, I felt hungry for improvisation. Playing live and improvising is an integral part of the musical world, cultivated since the beginning of our species. And it doesn't matter if you play the violin, gramophone or using a laptop, what matters is if you have something to say, if you feel the energy and can control it. I really enjoy playing in small clubs. I use samples from my own music, sometimes I dig up some old, unused ones. This type of concert often gives birth to ideas on new pieces, new sound combinations, new tones. I don't understand composers who spend all their life behind a desk working on a score; they miss out on a lot.
Time is a variable only seldom 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 plays in your work?
Lutosławski once said that “music is an art that exists in time” and this is absolutely true. The problem that has emerged in music, especially in music that is more demanding for the listener, is the relationship with the recipient, or rather a lack thereof. Time exposes all of the shortcomings and the imagination of the author. Unfortunately, the most common defence of such artists is the characteristic “it was supposed to be like that”. If we assume that everything is possible in modern art then nothing really is up to the discussion. When I was a student I put a lot of emphasis on the process of time. I planned with accuracy to the second. Thanks to exercises like that, one can later perfectly feel the timing. In my productions, I never cross the magical barrier of 40-45 minutes, because after this time the listener loses focus, gets tired. Only a few managed to break this barrier, Brian Eno or Coltrane among others, but there are not many cases of successful productions like that.
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?
Sound is extremely important, especially in electronic music. Without the search for tone, space and production methods this genre would have stagnated since the seventies. The work on a new quality of sound is at least half my search. This is present in the process of working with the instrument but it also applies to working with instrumentalists.
I appreciate the method used by Luigi Nono, who considered his musicians as co-creators of his pieces. This also applies when I work with synthesizers or software instruments. Obviously, the general concept, the composition of time and tone is planned well in advance. This is important, because this limits the element of randomness. Improvisation or achieving spontaneous sounds is important because without that, music loses its soul, but the compositional plan gives me full control over this process. It is a bit like choosing a restaurant, you know that you want to eat Thai cuisine, you know what to expect, but when you get to the restaurant you can always order a new dish or combine it with something you've eaten before. It sometimes happens that an accidentally discovered sound inspires you so much that you abandon the whole concept and start working on something entirely new. You need to have an elastic mind.
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 symbiosis of image and sound is inseparable. This is why visualizations, especially in electronic music, are an inseparable part of every concert. I'm not an enthusiast of experimenting with the sense of smell or touch. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not a fierce opponent of doing that, but I don't use this in my performances. Sometimes all you need to do is turn off the lights and let out some smoke and the music will speak for itself.
The question about the outermost borders of sound is very interesting. When I was working on a theatrical play, I spent a lot of time exploring the boundaries of low registers. I started using barely audible bass tones which influenced the movement of chosen objects or material structures. It was extremely fascinating work. I sometimes wonder whether to use this while working on an album, but in the era of compressing everything to mp3 format it seems unrealistic.
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 don't see myself as an artist, but as a music producer. I try to approach my work on music and teaching in an honest manner. I don't believe that art can change reality, influence politics or the way people perceive the world. But it can influence our time, our individual lives. I can tell you in great detail about many concerts I have had the opportunity to be at, and which I remember much more vividly than some months of my life. And this kind of influence is present in my life. When it comes to political creations by sound, a very interesting concept of control through “noise” was presented by Jackques Attali in his text Noise and Politics, where he shows how a particular image and sound medium had a concrete application in totalitarian systems. It is a very interesting observation, although quite frightening.
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?
The music as well as the image composed by man is with us from the beginning of our species. There is a mysterious need for creation within most of us. I don't think it will change any time soon. Of course, if the experiments on the human mind keep developing at such a rate than maybe in a hundred years' time when, for example, we will have microprocessors implanted in our brain, then new possibilities for creation and symbiosis of different senses will begin to change. There is also the aspect of AI, which will become an important problem in the next century... unless we destroy the whole planet and cease to exist as a species.