Part 1

Name: Qasim Naqvi
Nationality: USA
Occupation: Musician
Current Release: Teenages
Recommendation: Hilma af Klint, The Dove, No. 2, Group IX/UW, The SUW/UW Series, 1915 / Tōru Takemitsu: Garden Rain

Website/Contact: Visit the Dawn of Midi website at www.qasim-naqvi.com

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started getting into music in earnest at age 12, when I discovered the drums. At that age, it was hard to feel inspired by anything, so when I felt that connection with the drums, it was kind of a magical moment and I became obsessed. My older brothers got me interested in jazz. They’re both musicians, not professional, but music is a big part of their lives and they steered me in this path of improvised music and I was on a steady diet of it; Monk, Miles Davis, Andrew Hill, Keith Jarrett, the AACM and all sorts of creative experimental music that was being made in the 60’s by African American artists.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

It’s funny, especially in jazz education, there’s always been this emphasis on emulation; to sound like the masters. That’s what they wanted from me in music school and I did exactly that for a while. I would obsess over people like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Jack Dejohnette and try to sound like them and transcribe songs and solos. However, that all changed when I met Reggie Workman. He played bass in John Coltrane’s Quartet and with Art Blakey and many other important musicians who were part of the tradition. As steeped as he was in this tradition, he was also about breaking free from it and developing your own sound. He really blew my mind open. I find it important to amass as much knowledge as one can through study and emulation. But ultimately your gut instincts and imagination make up most of the equation. Study and emulation get you to a place where you’re comfortable enough to be yourself.

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

When I graduated college in 1999, I was actually getting more involved in film scoring and was getting asked more and more to write for small orchestra type settings. I had never written for that type of instrumentation before, so I had to figure that shit out. I ended up spending a lot of time at libraries, studying scores and looking at books on orchestration. At the time I didn’t really have access to a lot of technology for producing parts, so I ended up writing everything out by hand and learning how to revise things quickly. It was an intense but ultimately rewarding educational experience. Eventually I decided to go back to school and get more thorough compositional training.

What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

Haha, my first studio was my drum set in the corner of my bedroom. I’ve actually only recently, like maybe in the past 6 years or so, amassed enough equipment to qualify as a studio. I didn’t own a laptop until I was about 22 and all of this technology that’s so powerful and ubiquitous today wasn’t around; fast processors, advanced software synths, sample libraries and notation software. It was all very expensive and beyond reach. So I had a pretty slim setup for a while because I was broke. But over time I’ve built a small studio with proper monitors and an ever-growing collection of analog and modular synthesizers. For producing music, my studio monitors, my laptop, and my synths are definitely the most important components. I also own a few drum sets and weird cymbals that I’ve collected over the years.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

When I work in film, I have to rely on technology quite heavily because of budgets and the workflow. I would say that I’ve tried to figure out approaches with technology, where I can play into it and it interprets what I’m saying and gives me a slightly different response. It’s not an A.I. thing, but more like investing in technologies that are playful in some ways and reactive to you. 

Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

When I compose music for ensembles it’s somewhat straightforward. I usually start with a pencil and paper and ultimately I move stuff into the computer to isolate and trap ideas, in Logic. I mainly work with a piano sound. Ultimately I move everything to notation software to finalize. One thing that’s definitely less conventional is the modular synthesizer. It has an instability to it that makes it feel human. You can feed ideas into it and it will spit back something totally different and twisted and often I’m surprised with what it comes back with. There’s definitely some co-authorship as far as the modular is concerned.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?

I’ve collaborated quite a bit. In many ways it’s an essential component of my creative output. Early on in my career though, I really had to fight for my ideas to be realized in collaborative environments. Especially when asked to write music for film or for dance. As a musician, it’s often very easy to ultimately be treated like a subordinate when you enter into a collaborative situation.

But over the years, I’ve made long lasting relationships with artists who let me run with their ideas, versus me having to adhere to their specific vision of the music. That shit is the worst and I’ve learned to avoid working with people like that. It’s all about people who inherently trust in what you bring to the table and letting you run with it.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

When I’m on deadline for a writing project, I usually wake up kind of early, make coffee and deal with emails, usually have breakfast and go for a walk for an hour and then I sit down and start work by 11AM. I work for about 6-7 hours with a lunch break in between. In the past I would work crazy hours but I’m married now and I’ve had to teach myself to work on a schedule and leave the work at the office so to speak. It’s actually helped my process quite a bit.

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