Name: Allen Ravenstine
Occupation: Composer, synthesizer player
Current release: Allen Ravenstine's Electron Music/Shore Leave and Nautilus/Rue Du Poisson Noir are available via Riparian.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I don’t sit down with a plan. I make a sound and that sound suggests another and so on until there is a composition. I listen again and again. Often I hear things that aren’t there but, should be there and so I try to add them. As I continue to listen I begin to hear the piece and then I begin to take out everything that isn’t necessary to the piece I hear.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I don’t need concrete ideas to make a start.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Just make a start, take one step and then take another. Maybe it will be terrible, so what?
As Hemingway said, Write one simple declarative sentence, and then write another.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I do not keep strict control over the process. I listen to the work again and again and I hear things that need to be added. Sometimes those things are just sounds from within and other times they are sounds that drift in from the street.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I hope that the project will develop a life of its own and reveal itself to me. This is often in the editing process. Sometimes I will put down numerous tracks and use only a few of them, sometimes I will throw it all out save for one track.
The great advantage to recording digitally is that multiple versions can be saved. Many paths can be followed. I have often made radical changes to a piece and saved many versions. So far anyway, I have never gone back to an original version of a track. Each time I followed an alternate path, it proved to be an improvement.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I hope so. Working is a form of meditation and I hope that by shutting out the nattering of troubles, turning down the volume on the distractions, that I open myself up to something grander.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I just know when it’s done. It feels finished.
It’s also true that I have gone back to older pieces and discovered a new way of looking at them. But, there comes a moment when you just pat them on the head and send them off. I don’t want to spend time revisiting the past.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
It is best to let the thing lie for a while. A while is relative of course and I have no set period. I do work on other things and then revisit but, probably within weeks, not months.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
The mixes are very important to me. I work with a producer and I leave the mastering to him. He does sometimes come up with alternate mixes and sometimes he hears another instrument to be added.
I am open to his ideas and sometimes think that his mix is better but, sometimes not. We have had arguments about pieces. That’s probably the closest I come to collaboration.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Nowadays the release process is so slow that by the time the work is being made public I am well past it and as in the most recent case, thought it had already happened. By the time something is in the can, I’m already working on the next piece.
I do sometimes finish a piece and worry that I won’t be able to do it again. But I know that it will come around again, and so far anyway it always has. I guess you could say I have faith.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Along with making music, I also do some writing and I love to cook. When they are going well, they all share the same trait; freedom from the bondage of self.