Name: Steve Jolliffe
Occupation: Flutist, Improviser, Composer, Producer
Current Release: Ra is out now and available via Steve Jolliffe's personal website. A new solo album is also in the making.
Recommendations: ‘Broken Wings’ Kahlil Gibran. / Kandinsky ‘Composition V11’ / ‘The Art of Fugue’ by JS Bach.
If you enjoyed this interview with Steve Jolliffe and want to find out more about his work, his website and facebook account offer plenty of information and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was fascinated with music from the age of three or four. It always seemed like some sort of magic that I was determined to be a part of. The idea of composition probably started from about 8 or 9 when I became entranced by the sound tracks of the cinema classics.
It was at art school that I began teaching myself the piano by improvising for hours in the school hall. I had already started playing the saxophone and then took up the flute so I could practice without annoying others. At the end of the art course I decided to join a band perceiving that I could play in the evenings and paint in the day.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I never wanted to emulate others. My soul aim was to express my own feelings, which explains my fascination with improvisation. That way I could get as close as possible to the source.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Obviously I needed to develop technique, so a lot of practice was needed, encouraged by massive discipline. I also needed to find other musicians for there was no other way to hear the development of my thoughts. Being self taught I couldn’t write it down and there was as yet no other way of double tracking my ideas. The emergence of the tape-recorder was my first hope and I quickly begged borrowed and steeled in that direction.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your setup evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
It started with a tape recorder. Then two tape-recorders, bouncing from one to the other. Then amazingly a recorder with separate channels. Then the development of the synthesiser. Firstly mono and then multitimbral. It was all very exciting each development opening new possibilities. The first workstations were my idea of heaven, everything in one box, the sound, the recorder, and the mastering all within a keyboard and a pair of headphones. That was my studio and my entrance to another world.
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?
These machines gave me a freedom to express my thoughts, without the restrictions of other musicians or expensive environments. They gave me the freedom of control.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
The synthesiser is a voice for my thoughts, a controller for my expression. How the sound manifests itself is irrelevant.
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?
Collaborating is pointless for me. I am composing to express my ideas, I play the machines with those thoughts, only I can do that. I have huge respect for other musicians and composers and I love to see and hear the unique individual in their work.
I am completely fascinated by JS Bach and spend many hours playing his work on my piano. But it his work, not mine and playing it lets me get closer to him and his individual expression.
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?
I live alone, deep in the woods. My whole life revolves around music. I am very isolated both in location and communication. I often don’t see anybody for months at a time and apart from an occasional telephone call to my brother, most of my life is spent alone. I am always in the process of a new work and I chop away at it most days. I have a beautiful Grand Piano for playing Bach.
I am developing my sight reading and have a pile of music I wade through from top to bottom, Mostly Bach Fugues. ‘The Art of Fugue’ being one of my favourites. This was the last collection he wrote before he died.
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 do not preconceive my ideas only perhaps some technical issues I would like to explore. The work develops from the sound that is present. I keep the channel of thought as open and uninfluenced as possible. I have no idea where those thoughts emerge from, some call it the soul, the intangible or the brains meandering, like a dream. My task is not to question. Just to obey.
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?
A close friend of mine once said to me: Some of the best things have been created staring at a brick wall. He is right. It's not where you are or even who you are with. It is commitment and dedication.
The less your surroundings effect you the closer you will find the truth.
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?
Playing my work live has always been a problem. I cannot repeat what I write. The only procedure I can find is to improvise over a backing track. Which I am very uncomfortable with. For me once a composition is complete that's the end of it. Playing live should be unique and a one off.
I have one more live performance in march 2020 using the backing track method and I will do my best to make it work. After that any live performance will be completely, just that. Live. I have recently purchased two new keyboards with that in mind. They are currently stored in the cupboard ready for work after the completion of the new album and the march concert. Those two keyboards will then become my next project. Playing to backing tracks will be over.
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?
I have alway perceived sound as music. I can hear orchestrations among the noise of an aeroplane. I am equally fascinated by bare abstract noise as I am with melody or harmony or the lack of it. Schoenberg decided 8 tones were to restrictive. Stockhausen among others experimented with pure sound … I try to allow sound to play the same importance as harmony or melody.
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 obvious for me are colour and sound and I have tried to combine the two with my video experiments. I feel this will take on new meaning with the advent of virtual reality. From there we have the ability to involve smell and touch and then perhaps direct connection with the brain and creating with pure thought.
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 have no interest in politics. Art for me is purely a way of expressing my thoughts and feelings. To be in touch with truth and to create new environments.
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?
A vision of truth.