Name: Damian Dalla Torre
Occupation: Multi-instrumentalists, composer, improviser
Current release: Damian Dalla Torre's debut album Happy Floating is out via Fazer. On it., Damian joins forces with a string of like-minded spirits from the German and UK jazz scene, including Ruth Goller, Alex Binder, Heidi Bayer, Theresia Philipp, Antonia Hausmann, Jan Roth, Bertram Burkert, and Markus Rom.
[Read our Ruth Goller / Vula Viel interview]
[Read our Theresia Philipp interview]
[Read our Markus Rom interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Damian Dalla Torre and would like to find out more, visit his official homepage.
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 started the composition and production process of my album Happy Floating in spring 2020. What was happening globally at the time caused a break in me, and I started to question my musical identity as well as my existence as an artist itself. Consequently I began to think about what was really important to me in music and dedicated myself completely to my own creative thoughts and ideas. I had to confront myself, my relationships, art, politics etc.
On the other hand, it also opened new doors to ask questions and reflect upon my desires and wishes.
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 always try to capture an emotion and develop it into a musical idea. From there, I try to be as open as possible and let my emotions guide me through this development. For me, the unplanned is usually the most desirable aspect of music and this is what I am looking for and trying to capture.
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'?
It just takes a lot of time and patience for me to get into creative flow and to really find the right state of mind to create. The more I dive into this creative state, the easier I find it to turn my feelings into music and to trust my own ideas.
I also like to have a certain consistency while creating. Having a familiar surrounding or having my tools and instruments ready to go helps with that, so I’m ready to capture any ideas which might pop up in my mind.
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?
During the pandemic I had this routine of getting up early, drinking coffee, doing yoga or going jogging, and then spending the whole day focused on working on my music which I continued for several months.
Looking back at this, it felt like a mantra. I loved the consistency of staying focused on music. The right working environment with a nice bright room where I feel comfortable and safe helps me a lot. I also like to get used to a place and embrace a certain routine around working.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
As I am a relatively emotional person, I find it pretty easy to grab something from my mind and shape it into a musical idea. I have a variety of instruments in my studio, and I like to sit down and pick an instrument that I feel like playing. Sometimes it's the guitar for a few weeks, sometimes I try all the instruments until I find the one that best conveys the emotion I want to capture. From there it's usually a loop or a basic structure that I build on. If I find it difficult to come up with something, I have numerous sketches on my computer - a kind of archive of ideas from the last 10 years - that I can fall back on at any time.
I also get inspired by everyday sounds that surround me, and I have a huge amount of voice-memos with field recordings on my phone, which I sometimes use as a base for songs.
I.e. the song "7:23", I was at my mothers house located in a small village in the Italian alps. She lit up some wood in her stove, and as I heard the fire-crackling I immediately felt calm and relaxed as well as melancholic. I recorded the sound on my phone and used it as a base for the song to incorporate the vibe and ambience that I experienced in that particular moment.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Starting from a loop or a sound, I gradually try to find suitable elements that support each other and it’s important for me to treat all tracks equally and allow space to all elements. Then I try to add structure so that it is coherent for me.
After spending enough time on the track on my own, I then invite other musicians to play or to improvise on the piece. I then listen to the recordings carefully and often intuitively certain passages pop up that I then try to weave in and process. I like to spend hours exaggerating in sending the signals trough effect chains like delays, spring reverbs, phasers, granulators and alternate the original sound. This process goes back and fourth and the track develops through exchange with other musicians until I get the feeling that it’s complete.
On the track ‘Alles Neu’ for example, I started with a bass riff on a bass-guitar I had just bought and added a simple melody on a Casio keyboard.
After adding some organ-chords, I sent it to Antonia Hausmann, an amazing trombonist who then developed the melody and came up with a second voice. After that I met up with Volker Heuken who plays marimba and vibraphone on the record, and he came up with a rhythmical pattern that I embedded in the song. Markus Rom added another guitar pattern and in the end I asked Alex Binder to replace the bass and Jan Roth to play drums on it.
I chose the musicians very carefully and with their sound on their instruments in mind tried to achieve the result and the colours I imagined.
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?
With Happy Floating I tried to involve as many of my favourite musicians as possible. Often I had recordings/contributions from them which gave me ideas and led me to go in a completely new direction, which I followed if it felt right.
I try to trust my instincts when taking these decisions and it’s very exciting to see how other musicians interpret and develop my original ideas and to collectively form a piece of music in this way.
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?
For me, the creative state involves a lot aspects of meditation and therapy, and represents a self-examination in relation to the bigger picture.
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?
As a perfectionist, I could keep on working on things forever.
Most of the time I feel the music coming to an end when I start to overload or certain nuances are lost by adding too many elements. I then often cut things out and reduce it right back down until the basic elements come to the forefront again.
Sometimes I also need a good friend to tell me when to stop.
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 like to focus on one composition, but also like to work on different pieces at the same time over a longer period of time.
For me, there is a very fine line between working too much and intensively on one piece, and leaving it too long. I can start feeling bored or even lose the emotional connection to the piece.
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?
For me, mixing and the aesthetic aspect of music play an almost equal role to composition or production. I compose and produce with a certain sound in mind and always try to keep this present throughout the process.
With Happy Floating, I was collaborating with a great sound engineer called Andre Karius, and we spent many hours in the studio working right sound. He knows how to take my ideas and intentions to another level and how to make them sound as good as possible.
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?
Releasing something is a good way of freeing myself up for something new. I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas and also try to have enough time to be creative in every moment. I’m always researching new technology, new art-forms and new ways of alternating the sound of instruments which majorly inspires my creative process.
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?
Since I surround myself with music all the time, either by listening, playing or writing, it definitely feels natural to me to use music as a platform to express my thoughts and feelings.
Regardless of this though, I think music is a special art-form which has the ability to touch people in a very different way and communicate with them on different levels of conciseness. You can communicate emotions via music and retain a certain mystery within that, almost like giving an audience a tool with how to channel their feelings and how to get in touch with their inner selves.