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 have a family so I wake up early in the morning. Alicja is 10 now and goes to school, so we start every day with a morning routine with her and my wife Sara. A lot of coffee is involved …There is obviously always a lot to do at home and Alicja goes to ballet school after her regular classes, so there is a lot of logistics we have to think of. But still I am trying to be at the studio for a couple of hours every day. Sometimes it is just for one hour, but it makes sense to me nonetheless. Then I am concentrating on small things - mostly when I have such limited time I play clarinet and trying to switch off thinking.
When I have deadlines I spend much more time at the studio, but trying not to overstep the line as I have a tendency to be obsessed about projects which I am working on. Very often I bring home projects which I am working on in the studio and listen to them again to see how they work in different circumstances. Sara is also musician, so I always ask her for feedback. It is always super important to me.
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?
Working on my recent solo album “Massive Oscillations” was a really interesting process to me. I was recording it at Willem Twee Studios in Den Bosch, Netherlands - an amazing space with tons of vintage electronic instruments from the 50’, 60’, and 70’. I came there with quite a clear idea of what I wanted to do. But when I heard the possibilities of the studio I abandoned all that and relied on the machines. I felt I could learn a lot from them. I was using the craziest stuff like oscillators from the 50’s which look like parts from a submarine, legendary Arp 2500, tape recorders, amazing old filters, and sequencers.
I was building sets of tools to be able to improvise on them. I wanted this music to be very organic with a strong improvised feel, so all parts were recorded more or less in one take. When I felt I had the basis of a tune I was adding the next layers, but each of the layers was played in real time. I was doing very few edits.
The whole album is in a lower tuning by accident. I tuned the oscillators by ear and realised the next day that I recorded it lower than 440Hz. I figured out later on that subconsciously I tuned them to the bells of St. John’s Cathedral which were very audible in the studio. I thought it was funny and decided to keep whole album in this tuning.
So the ideas for all the pieces came through working with gear which I didn’t know before. Later on, I added clarinets and a few other parts. When I was done with the production I sent everything to James Holden for mixing. This process was also very inspiring.
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?
To me the most important thing in the creative process is to turn off the analytical mind. I want to have an empty head before I start working on something. When my mind is full of different thoughts or if I am judging myself constantly I can not deliver anything interesting. As I said before I think that the most magical and important part of creating something is to be able to capture an idea which comes to us from somewhere. It is impossible to do it when mind is not still.
I very often start my studio time by looking at one point on the wall for some time. It makes me calm down. Also playing long tones on the clarinet and listening to overtones does a similar thing to me. To me the biggest distraction is office work. It is not always possible, but when it is, I turn off my phone and the Internet. You can not be in the process and check emails or Facebook at the same time.
Also I am trying to separate composing/production from mixing. I feel that if I do everything at once I end up with nothing at the end of the day.
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?
The difference is in perception of time. On stage everything happens in the very moment. In the studio you have the feeling that you have an infinite amount of time to come up with something. Concert situation and improvising music on stage is something I used to do for many years and I got used to it. It think it is the most natural way of making music to me.
But at some point I wanted to have more control on sound and forms, which brought me to studio experiments. In the beginning it was very hard for me to work like this as my relation with time was different. Suddenly I could listen back to what I did as often as I wanted and I started to be extremely judgemental to myself. I spent so many days at the studio dumping all the ideas into the bin … I relaxed more in the studio realm when I understood that I still have to be an improviser while being a producer.
So what I do now, I am connecting sets of machines, which I can use for improvisation. So the core of my compositions is improvised. It can be controlled and designed, but is has to be played in real time. Then I can shape it in the DAW, but I am not able to compose using a mouse on a screen.
So this is how it works for me right now. But it might be of course completely different for other musicians. However for many composers improvisation will often start the composing process. I like to be somewhere in between. I like spontaneous musical ideas, but I also like to design the direction where an improvisation will go. I understand production as a recording of this process and shaping it later on. It is also a form of composition, but you don’t use music paper to deliver it. To me using a DAW is a bit like using pianolas by composers from the late XIX and early XX century.
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 a wave. A wave has certain amplitude which is a rhythm. Other way around, when you take a rhythm played on a drum for example and you speed it up by a decent amount, you will get a constant tone with a certain pitch. Putting sound in frames of time is composition.
My main source of sound is the clarinet. Of lately, I work a lot with processing this sound, searching for new ways of expression, but still with the clarinet. I choose sounds very intuitively. I use the ones I like. Trying to fill the spectrum of frequencies in a proper way, so all of them will be audible and not clash with each other. But I don’t have a formula. I go with the flow. And some sounds are unique and it is enough just to play them and listen. A wind harp for example, or a Tanpura.
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?
Sometimes when I see an image I can sort of hear the music which would work with this … But I am not sure if it has to do with my senses or if it is just cultural thing. Probably dance is a good example of a vehicle connecting all senses in the process.
But I think that our sense of hearing is very special itself. It is possible to go very deep inside yourself by listening. And it might be a mystical experience. I have never met Pauline Oliveros, but I am following principles of her deep listening method. While playing, I am concentrating as much as possible on the sources of a sound. When I am following different sources of sound in parallel, I have a feeling like I was disappearing and whatever I play is beyond decision. It is just happening. Probably that's why I use improvisation as my main tool in composing/producing. I like music which just happens and which is not invented.
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?
To me it is very simple. I want to make music which will make me and people happy.
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?
Anything which is a sound wave in time can be called the music I think. So as musicians we are working with the physics of sound waves. There is quite a lot of room for innovation.
However to me it is not so interesting to predict the future of music. It is much more important to be alert for ideas which come to me right now and work on them. New forms may be a consequence. But it doesn’t have to happen.