Name: Felix Taylor
Occupation: Sound artist
Recent release: Felix Taylor's the ghost is alive, so to speak is out now.
Recommendations on the topic of sound: The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan is great.
Then How Music Works by David Byrne really inspired me when it came out.
A couple of filmmakers and artists who really inspired me in how to work with sound are Joseph Kahlil and Arthur Jafa.
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Felix Taylor and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?
I’m always interested in reappropriating or redressing stuff. I often use field recordings or randomly generated stuff alongside notatable harmony and rhythm and try to find where they fit together.
I think that all comes from sampling and hip hop which is what I was mainly listening to when I was younger.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusual or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?
I always think about Madlib’s medicine shows when I think about stuff that led me here.
That was this collection of 13 albums that he put out in just over a year in 2010/2011. All of them are these super dense, sample heavy albums or mixes in different genres or styles. They’re all batshit crazy but it made me think differently about how sound works in composition.
It’s almost like the intention and origin of the sound is as important as what it sounds like, proper sonic archeology. Everything works together in those records because of context and history.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surroundings have influenced your sonic preferences?
I grew up in London so I think that noise at its loudest and most incomprehensible was a big draw to me for a while.
But with this new record the ghost is alive, so to speak I’ve definitely looked for the opposite of that, trying to find these quiet moments to record.
At the same time, the whole idea behind the record came from this idea about the physical absences in our lives having presence in other ways and that came from my own family history. Being of a kind of dual heritage where half of my history is obscured influences this piece a lot.
Working predominantly with field recordings and sound can be an incisive step / transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
Yeh I think it's about the challenge of using materials that are harder to compose with. Like non-notable rhythms, melodies and textures in field recordings.
The music is a mixture of both but those elements add an unpredictability and randomness that I don’t think I could create otherwise. There's an element of leaving things to chance that I really like.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards music which places the focus foremost on sound, both from your perspective as a listener and a creator?
I think it invites me as the composer and any listener to consider sound and music a bit differently. I think there's something revealing about it, like it can make you hear stuff in everyday life differently.
That's what I like about composing like this, it opens me up a bit and develops a different view of the world.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
Hmm, I don't really know … I think there's this thing of looking at sound as this kind of universal language, like something able to say more than words a lot of the time.
I think also, this idea around sonic archeologies, so seeing that potential in sound that I don't create and already exists in the world, recorded or not. This record explores that, through the field recordings but also the music is almost meant to already be there if that makes sense? It’s meant to exist in the field recordings as if that was just what the recorder picked up … I don’t know what tradition that puts me in!
What are the sounds that you find yourself most drawn to? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
So for this piece it was all about building these self portraits.
Before, I would reject a lot of sound that indicated I was there. For the ghost is alive… I’m present in all of the recordings either really obviously where I’m reading stuff or writing and then sometimes just in the environment, like there'll be a little rustle of my clothes or a breath. Those were all the sounds I was looking for this time around.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you personally starting from your first studio/first instruments and equipment? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started off playing electric guitar and was never very technically good, so I got really into all the pedals and a more production focused way of playing. I had a Digitech whammy that I was playing Rage Against the Machine on and stuff like that.
Then I got a free Ableton lite download from something and I started to circle back around to Hip Hop using that to sample and manipulate stuff. Then more recently I’ve got into synthesis so I’ve got an Arturia Microfreak that I use a lot nowadays for composing, alongside my Tascam and phone that I use for field recordings.
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?
My computer is a mess! I usually record sounds for each project separately and then they’re hidden in folders inside folders, inside hard drives that I’ll never find again. But that encourages me to record new things for each project I guess.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds? Can you take me through your process on the basis of a project or album that's particularly dear to you?
For the the ghost is alive… I began with those field recordings that I mentioned and began to imagine them as self portraits, little pictures of my life.
Over this year I’d been thinking about the idea of ghosts, hauntings and absences. So I started to imagine what wasn’t there in my self portraits, all the things I’ve lost that follow me around and I started to compose music around the field recs.
To me, this whole idea brings up a lot of resonances with sound - another invisible presence, so I was just composing with that in mind. I was using further samples of the field recordings, radio snippets and my own voice as textural stuff and then writing parts on keys or guitar and building them up.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
That's a great question! Lately, I’ve been obsessed with sounds that get right in your head, I’m still struggling to get the thing I’m looking for. But it’s like ASMR times a billion in my head. Scratchy and really textural and super close.
I dunno, sounds weird when I try to put it in words …
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
I always try to see sound for all its physical properties. It functions by affecting air and space and changes in regards to its environment and the amount of objects and bodies it shares that air and space with.
To me, that makes it a sculptural medium, especially when listened to collectively. Like I said, it's an invisible presence, it has the ability to completely occupy and fill a space it's in.
With this record I was trying to place these often electronic sounds back into the environments in the field recordings as if they’re all recorded there and then.
The idea of acoustic ecology has drawn a lot of attention to the question of how much we are affected by the sound surrounding us. What's your take on this and on acoustic ecology as a movement in general?
I think that's fascinating. Obviously, what I do has drawn my attention to the general environmental sound around me, but to study it on a more scientific level is amazing.
I guess there's a fear that studying sounds like that might take away from the more spiritual / mystical aspects of things like deep listening and how we experience sound in general.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
I mean, music wins in that scenario right?
I think rhythm, harmony and beauty can all be found in nature or a cityscape or wherever. But when it's intentional and composed, that's when sound can really be affecting. I think that's the difference: intention.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
I’ve got this book, The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan which I used to read a lot when I was younger. He connects up a lot of thoughts on mathematics, harmony, rhythm and sound in that way and it’s definitely stuck with me.
I'm not religious but there's something super interesting about how these patterns and ratios all occur naturally. Even electronic music is all natural phenomena ... maybe not if it’s purely digital.