Name: Charlie Kirchen
Occupation: Composer, improviser, bassist, theorist.
Current Release: Charlie Kirchen teams up with Paul Giallorenzo, Ryan Packard and Ben LaMar Gay for the debut LP The End and the Beginning of their quartet RedGreenBlue. It is out now via Astral Spirits.
[Read our Paul Giallorenzo interview]
[Read our Ryan Packard interview]
[Read our Ben LaMar Gay interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Charlie Kirchen and would like to keep up to date with his work, visit him on Instagram for updates and information.
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?
Creating music is something that provides me with satisfaction and makes sense for me to do within the broader context of my life, so I do it. When I make music, I am drawing (both consciously and unconsciously) on other musics, works of art, networks of ideas, etc.
The easiest way for me to explain my impulse behind RedGreenBlue: it’s about getting into a certain mood, putting on a certain persona, working within a set of aesthetic and conceptual parameters, with certain people.
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 have a pretty clear idea of what I’m trying to do whenever I make music, although this “clear idea” doesn’t have anything to do with specific musical content. I typically have at least a mood I’m trying to strike or a technical idea I want to execute.
In the context of RedGreenBlue I know I am going in with a certain mentality and I know that I can’t allow anything to can shake me from this mentality. And I think this goes for the whole band: there is a strong inter-band understanding of what the parameters we are working within are and this has been in place since the band’s formation.
This is not to say that the particular sounds that emerge in the course of us working with these parameters don’t surprise us. That surprise is basically the whole point in my opinion.
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'?
Definitely, although this looks different for different projects.
RedGreenBlue is playing a show in June; I am getting into the RedGreenBlue frame of mind by spending time everyday playing along with Dub Reggae records and doing this exercise where I come up with a simple idea, gesture, bass line, etc., set a timer for 20 minutes, and see what happens if I just repeat this idea for this duration.
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?
Nothing in particular. Mainly I just prefer to have gotten a good night of sleep the night before.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Starting is not difficult; there are ideas everywhere. The challenge for me is in developing and sustaining.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
With RedGreenBlue, I just try to stay focused, listen, let the music come to me, and not judge anything as it happens. When this band is at its best, we have the discipline to stay out of the way, not react too quickly, and let things develop slowly.
Occasionally I will remind myself mid-performance to stay focused and remain within the parameters of the group’s aesthetic … but these periodic reminders / moments of strategic self-awareness seem to happen at a degree of remove from the specific sonic content I contribute to a given performance.
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?
This is a complicated question. Really, for me discipline is paramount.
The moment a given RedGreenBlue performance starts (or any improvised performance for that matter), there are an infinite number of directions that things could theoretically go in. But for this band to make the music we want it to make, I have to be careful with where I let myself go, resist certain temptations, limit my vocabulary. But at the same time, I need to allow the music to find its own way and be sensitive to the information the others are throwing out there.
So I suppose it’s a balance of these things. In general, I find that the more disciplined I am in my music making, the more beautiful and potent the inevitable moments of arbitrariness, slippage, etc. become. And I think the value of art really is found in these moments.
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?
For sure, to my way of thinking, form is something that emerges out of material through action (which may be constrained in certain ways or not) as opposed to something imposed on to material from the outside. So, you need to keep a loose grip to allow form to emerge.
But again, this invites a paradox similar to the one in the previous question: RedGreenBlue is trying to express something specific, every road that opens is not conducive to this expression, so we need to keep the music on the right roads. Yet at the same time we need to let the music become itself, do its thing, surprise us, etc.
A big part of the challenge with this group is having the patience and good judgement to choose the correct roads.
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?
Discipline … which I suppose is closely related to spirituality.
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 find it is clear when something is finished: everything clicks into place and there is nothing about the resultant object that annoys me. I do all I can to resist the urge to tinker.
I think if you feel a nagging need to tinker with something it’s probably because the thing itself just isn’t that good and your time is better spent working on something new.
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?
I certainly hear my work differently as time passes and it is hard to evaluate something from an objective perspective when it is fresh, but this fact doesn’t play a role in the process of making a particular piece.
Again, for me when a piece (whether it be an improvised performance, notated composition, a mix/master of recording) is done, it’s done. It is important to move on once this point is reached. If I hear it later and think it sounds bad: oh well, that’s how it goes. I learn from it and move forward.
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?
This is obviously a huge component of how music comes off and is very important to me.
My involvement with the mix and master of this particular record was minimal, but I will say there is nobody who knows me musically better than Dan Pierson (who mixed this record and is also a great piano player) and I have a ton of trust in his ears and taste.
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?
For sure. But as I’ve matured, I’ve learned to recognize that as the feeling of satisfaction.
I have a lot of work left to do and time is fleeting, so I just keep doing it.
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?
On one level, for sure. Craft is craft. Sensory pleasure is sensory pleasure. That being said, in my heart I sense master musicians are doing something unique to music-making when they make music.
As far as what I am able to express with music that I can’t with other tasks … it lets me put on various personas, it lets me interact with other people, it lets me interact with other musics and ideas, and it is fun.