Name: Dustin O'Halloran
Occupation: Composer, pianist
Current release: Dustin O’Halloran's new album Silfur is out now on Deutsche Grammophon.
If you enjoyed these insights by Dustin O'Halloran, visit his website for media, more information and links to all his social media outlets.
You can also read our in-depth Dustin O'Halloran interview as part of the 15 Questions series for his thoughts on a variety of music related topics.
Over the course of his career, Dustin has worked with a wide range of artists, including Hauschka, Adam Wiltzie in A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Bryan Senti.
[Read our Bryan Senti interview]
[Read our Hauschka interview]
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 think everything is always inspiring me in some ways – art, books, dreams and the subconscious. I think if you have a drive to create something, you will always find inspiration.
The moment after waking I think is a special time to create as there is something still present in your subconscious from sleep.
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’ve always been a very intuitive writer and a lot of times it depends on what is around me at the time, musicians whom I can collaborate with, instruments I have, etc. Most things come out of improvisation and experimentation but in the end I like to create something that is composed and has a finite image.
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'?
Some things come quickly, but other times it can take some time researching a sound or a technique. I think it’s always best when I have time to experiment in the studio and time to listen and distil it to what it needs to be.
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?
Coffee is always a part of my process, and I probably drink too much! But also good lighting is really important to me, I think it can create a feeling of being relaxed and comfortable to create.
Scents have also become a part of my ritual as well. I have some great friends in Iceland who have a shop called FISCHER, they create some incredible scents and I didn't realize how much they can affect your mood until I started using them. It's such a powerful part of our senses.
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 always try to let each piece of music lead me where it wants. Sometimes it’s a dead end, sometimes it’s a success. But I think it’s about trying to get to a place where you lose yourself.
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 think lots of things can happen in the process and sometimes a small idea happening in a piece can sprout another idea. I might try to save it and develop it later.
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 best state is when I feel I'm lost and there is no ego. It can feel spiritual in a way, feeling connected - as if you are tuning into something.
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 think time is an important factor in creating, but you don’t always get the time you need.
When I’m working on my own music I don’t like to rush it, and I like being able to refine things slowly and let time and space be a part of it. I think it helps me understand if it has lasting value. I think in this modern world we tend to rush through things, creating, listening to music, experiencing art, and I wonder what will last from our current period. Perhaps older generations had more time and less distractions and this is why their art is able to live on longer?
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?
Recording has always been a big part of what I do and how I approach music. In some ways the studio is an instrument in itself and the way something is recorded is just as important as the piece itself.
I started getting into the recording process early on when I had my band ‘Devics’ and have continued in my solo work, collecting vintage microphones, pre amps, etc. I really love being able to create sounds and get into the way an instrument is captured.
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?
The best moments for me are during the creative process. After it’s been released it becomes something else and something for others. I’m usually already on to the next thing by the time it comes out, so I don’t experience an emptiness, as I think it’s best to stay in a creative space.
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?
This is an interesting question ... I think you can choose to live your life with curiosity and that can be applied to everything. I love cooking and I find a lot of parallels with making music, for example. I think music at its core is a way to communicate without words, but there are other ways as well. It just feels natural for me to use music.