Name: Kim Cascone aka Heavenly Music Corporation
Occupation: Producer, composer, sound artist
Current release: Kim Cascone has rebooted his legendary Silent Records imprint for re-releases and new material.
If you enjoyed this interview with Kim Cascone aka Heavenly Music Corporation and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit Silent Records on twitter.
This interview was conducted in 2014 and originally published on tokafi, the website where the 15 Questions interview series originated.
Over the course of his career, Kim Cascone has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Richard Chartier, Taylor Deupree, Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner, and Dmytro Fedorenko aka Kotra.
[Read our Richard Chartier interview]
[Read our Richard Chartier aka pinkcourtesyphone interview about Sound]
[Read our Taylor Deupree interview]
[Read our Taylor Deupree interview about Collaboration]
[Read our Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner interview]
[Read our Dmytro Fedorenko interview]
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?
I remember when I was thirteen, I was waiting for a guitar lesson and some older kids were playing a cover of a popular rock song in a practice room down the hall. They sounded just like the band that performed it. I turned to my father and told him how I wanted to sound as good as the lead guitar player. He said (paraphrase), “you will sound like you, those guys will probably always sound like somebody else.” I never forgot this.
The most important task for any artist is to learn how to nourish their own imagination and not to imitate others. This is all too often overlooked in music schools – teachers assume the student will eventually figure this out or develop it on their own at some point. Without being taught how to do this there is little hope for being more than a technician at a creative craft.
When, would you say, did you start to appreciate originality as an important quality in music? What were some of the first artists that stood out in terms of their originality to you and what was it about the originality in their work that attracted you to it?
I'm drawn to certain art or music not because of originality but because there's something embedded in the work that transmits on an ephemeral frequency – a higher level of thinking or a spark of imagination that transcends the material craft of the work.
I suppose you could call this quality “originality” but I've never thought of it that way.
What's your own definition of originality?
One might define originality as the “ability of an artist to create work that doesn't fit into a known genre or style.”
I find the more an artist concerns herself with being “original” the more likely she is to sound like someone else.
Originality is one, but certainly not the only aspect of quality in music. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?
I think “originality” might be an emergent quality of both the artist and her art more than a quality intended by the artist.
I've found that an artist who appears to be “original” is usually the least conscious of it and often finds this claim about them to be puzzling.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
We now live in an attention-based economy – I call it the “click-bait economy.” Those who can effectively direct public attention via clicks are the ones making money in this new economy. The problem is that so many people are creating amateur work in their leisure time that it becomes difficult to direct someone's attention to a specific signal in the deafening noise of the market.
As more people contribute to this economy the result is that it has become more difficult for artists to have their work appreciated. No artist, that I know of, has been able to successfully cut through the noise – without a lot of money – and everyone seems affected by it.
What are areas of your writing process at the moment that are particularly challenging to you and how does the notion of originality come into play here? What have been some of the more rewarding strategies for attaining originality for you?
I see my work as arriving through divination rather than intention.
Sometimes an article I've read, the acoustics of a train station or a random statement overheard in a cafe will suddenly unleash a torrent of ideas that push me into an entirely new area.
My process is to try to remain open to the world, nourish my imagination through reading and writing and let the process direct itself.
The idea of originality is closely related to one's understanding of the creative process. How would you describe this process for yourself - where do ideas come from, how are they transformed in your mind and how do experiences and observations turn into a work of art?
Goethe wrote: “The human being knows himself only insofar as he knows the world; he perceives the world only in himself, and himself only in the world. Every new object, clearly seen, opens up a new organ of perception in us.”
This quote describes best how I experience my creative process.
The aspect of originality has often been closely linked to copyright questions. Is there, perhaps, a better model for recognising originality than the one currently in place?
As we head further down the path of materialism there is less value placed on imagination and more on producing a marketable commodity that contains a veneer of novelty that's mistaken for imagination. Hence, often times one piece sounds / looks like another because it borrows elements from a popular stylistic trend.
Artists who are afraid to take risks and do something “original” wind up conforming to the market because the financial risk is too great otherwise. So most ideas today fit into prefabricated molds made by whoever is able to direct public attention, i.e., cookie-cutter content.
How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
Many of the tools used to create music have become the message rather than being a conduit through which the art manifests. The tool is a virus of branding that is embedded into the content created with it that endlessly replicates itself via the end user.
It's a contagion that has infected every aspect of our culture and why most everything today sounds like everything else.
In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
I like to work in a software environment where I can build my tools for exploring a particular project.
I mainly work in Pure Data (a multimedia dataflow programming language) which is as close to an alchemical laboratory as I can get in the digital domain. I also use prefabricated software such as Ardour or Audacity when I am editing or mixing something – other than that I build what I need.
I let my intuition drive my tool development which in turn drives the artwork which drives my intuition etc. ad infinitum.
The importance and perspective on originality has greatly varied over the course of musical history. From your point of view, what are some of the factors in the cultural landscape that are conducive to originality and what are some of those that constitute obstacles?
The current obstacles to imagination are materialism and capitalism which has birthed a technology-obsessed culture industry that persists in off-loading the work of imagination onto the software.
Things that are conducive to nourishing originality are meditation and learning how to develop new organs of perception.
Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons?
The subject of funding in the culture industry could fill an entire interview on its own but when everyone expects culture for free it's the artist who ends up paying for it – or there are corporate sponsors who cloak cultural content in the guise of advertising.
We are at the peak of a bubble in the culture industry that is going to burst. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.