Name: Anthony Pateras
Occupation: Composer, musician, producer
Current Release: tētēma's Necroscape on Ipecac Recordings
Recommendation: Sue Harding's Dot Matrix
Website/Contact: Anthony Pateras has a website where you can read about his music and see some live material at www.anthonypateras.com
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started writing songs when I was teenager, mostly very confused kind of jazz metal hybrids when I didn't really know enough about either. I felt a natural affinity with the piano from the outset and pursued playing repertoire very seriously until I was about 18. Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Beethoven and Bach mainly, none of which I can play now.
Otherwise I was basically into what most teenagers were at the time; music from Seattle was huge in Melbourne and I went to the Big Day Out like everyone else, so I guess those more rock-orientated things fused with my love of classical music. My band at the time, unfortunately titled Elemenopede, played a lot of shows in Melbourne when the ultimate badge of honour was to headline The Punter's Club on a Saturday. This period taught me a lot about booking gigs and stage sound.
Things really changed when a friend of my sister's gave me a cassette of something called the Tzadik Radio Hour, which was a DJ set John Zorn had done to promote his label when it first started. To a kid from the Australian suburbs, it sounded like it was from another planet, and it made sense to me. That was side A, and Side B was Plastic People of The Universe. I guess that blew things wide open.
When I left high school I went to the experimental music course at LaTrobe University and studied 20th century repertoire, improvisation, African music, choral arrangement, electronic music and recording. I stopped playing repertoire and began composition seriously, working with twelve tone rows, serialism and primitive electro-acoustic hybrids using toys, prepared piano and percussion. I formed and wrote for a trio with violin, tabla and piano, sang things like Poulenc and Milhaud in the Astra choir and also met Robin Fox, who was working on archiving all LaTrobe recordings before the department was closed.
Robin played me all of this basically unknown Australian experimental music from people like Keith Humble, Graeme Leak and Warren Burt, as well as more obscure things from Ron Nagorka and some of the stuff that Philip Brophy and David Chesworth were involved in. What was important about that was it made me realise that this music didn't have to happen elsewhere. Robin and I went on to play together for 10 years and eventually released 3 records, one of them being the first one on Editions Mego, Flux Compendium. Through that period, I learnt a lot about performing electro-acoustic music live.
Around the same time, I was going out a lot in Melbourne and religiously saw gigs from High Pass Filter, Bucketrider, Lazy and the Snuff Puppets in pubs. Also the What Is Music? Festival was happening and that blew things open even further, seeing things like Massonah, Rizili, Voice Crack, Otomo Yoshihide and Machine For Making Sense, who I still think are one of the most important things to happen in music at the turn of the century. Will Guthrie had also started the Make It Up Club and I was there most weeks.
Sean and Dave from Bucketrider invited me to form a trio which became Pateras/Baxter/Brown. It was just of those instances where it clicked from the first note of the first rehearsal. We played A LOT of shows in Melbourne and in Europe throughout the 00s, including some really important collaborative residencies at The Empress. This group taught me how to synthesize compositional structure and improvisational instinct in a radical timbral context, something which I've pursued to the present day in most of my work.
Concurrently I formed my own 'classical' ensemble called Twitch, and also briefly had an avant-hip-hop quartet called Beta Erko, which featured an MC called Borce Markovski up front. I still maintain that our I'm OK You're OK is one of the weirdest records ever made in Australia. Also, I used to run a concert series called Articulating Space which mutated into a festival called the Melbourne International Biennale of Exploratory Music. When that all stopped I used to help mix the Stutter shows at Horse Bazaar, curated by Annalee Koernig, who incidentally was the reason PIVIXKI happened.
I guess what I'm getting at is, that I've always learnt by doing, a lot. Making all the time, listening all the time, playing all the time, organising all the time. Letting it all intersect and manifest in sound practice. All through that early period I was writing 'contemporary classical' music, and all of those different experiences in other disciplines bled into that. It's kind of obvious to say, but experience is my influence.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? 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 takes forever to find your own voice, I'm not sure I've got there yet. I listen to stuff of mine and the influences and appropriation are so obvious, but I have no idea how it translates. I went deep into Feldman and Xenakis and not sure I've shaken that. I've listened to a lot of Cecil Taylor and Chris Abrahams and not sure I've shaken that. Parmegiani and Lucier too. I mean, we're all always, what's the buzz word at the moment... becoming? My practise is so messy in that I always have about 4-5 bands going at once, and sometimes that's very confusing and I can't lock it down; my own voice that is.
I certainly believe that there is no one way, but what's important is not to get stuck in this thing of making music that's trying to sell something. The best music always exists on its own terms, and then if people like it, good for you. The saddest most pointless music is always the stuff which reaches out to the world principally to make a buck and fails. You know, this endless waterfall of product which is almost, these days, instantly forgotten. I strongly believe that the best music will always have a life beyond the marketplace.
In terms of copying, above all I am always careful to try and understand things technically, not just to mindlessly appropriate the style of this or that. That's the thing which takes time, maybe your whole life. It's what older, 20th century composers used to refer to as the difference between borrowing and stealing. If you're just doing a “….ish” version of something, it's borrowing. If you can understand the inner architecture of something and re-purpose it for your own work under stealth, you're in business my friend.
What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer and how have they changed over time?
Just believing that I could do it! I mean, that's the thing, to figure out if you have the resilience and fortitude to just keep going. To have the ideas, to remain open, to not let whatever some asshole says to you about your music ruin your day or life. To be yourself and be strong enough to do that when everyone else is doing something else. These kinds of challenges don't change. Most importantly, I find you just have to keep searching. Find new music, books, visual art, films, meet new people, don't stop going to concerts, stay engaged. A lot of artists stagnate because they don't do that.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I live in the country now, sharing a studio with my wife, who's also a composer. We also have a small house, not much bigger than the places we lived in Europe when we lived there. Basically, we have a schedule where someone stays at home and the other one goes to the studio. Fortunately, we have enough speakers to facilitate that arrangement. The environment here, 2 hours north of Melbourne in the bush, is basically one of solitude. We have music and books, some art, and are surrounded by kangaroos, birds and native wildlife. It could be worse. I've already written a lot of music here, and as result of living here it's changing a lot, though it's difficult to articulate how.
All of things you mention are important. I know I sound like an asshole here but the most important thing every day is to remember to leave the desk and do some exercise. The amount of times I've been stuck on something, then go for a run or walk and come back with a solution, is pretty high I think. Sitting there chaining coffee and cigarettes also works.
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?
Schedules don't work for me. Sometimes I feel like I do nothing for ages, then suddenly they'll be this obsessive few weeks where it all comes out like molten lava, and then it's done. Conversely, doing Necroscape, I had to learn to be very flexible and patient as it was an inter-continental process over many years. Lately, I work on something a bit, then leave it for a few weeks, come back to it, and add something it needs, like a soup. As a result, I've generally found putting temporal restrictions on things is bad for art. Read Duchamp on it. He didn't actually make that much, and look at how far and wide his influence ended up being. Varèse too. Time restrictions compromise us all to make things specifically for the marketplace instead of just treating it as a great, productive way to be in the world.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The ideal state of mind means not having the Internet on. There, I said it. I mean, think about it, all of the stuff that most people these days end up stylistically imitating was not made in the state of constant distraction that we all live in now. The people who are disciplined enough now to go into the studio, leave their wifi off and their phone on sleep, and just sit with their work for the amount of time it takes to go deep, are the ones whose work is going to last. I really don't see any benefit to this constant sharing and airing of one's emotions and thoughts anyway, not to mention the insane amounts of consumerism as a side-effect. It just creates problems and takes you out of the presence and discipline you need to get somewhere. Never let the tools become the master.
Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
Ok how about this, I wrote one of my best pieces in Microsoft Excel 98. Beauty Will Be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be At All is an hour long percussion sextet, using the instrumentation from Xenakis' Pleiades and extending it out further, also including 6 channel electronics. It took more or less two years of solid work.
It started by carting a box of groceries through the French countryside to a residency I was going to with the aim of writing the first tētēma album. Unlike most places in Europe, there was quite a lively evening chorus, and some of it was motivic, looping. I put the box down and notated the rhythm I was hearing from the insects as close I could. That rhythmic kernel became the basis of the entire piece, mostly the 2nd movement.
The piece ballooned out from there, but in regards to using Excel instead of standard notation (which it was translated into later), I found in this piece that sometimes notation or recording are not the best ways to capture ideas that unfold in the compositional landscape of one's mind. Sometimes you have to break out of time or acoustical reality, especially in relation to timbral distribution. In using maths and the grid layout of software most people use for accounting, I was able to work with music in other terms – raw data.
Once I had the basic structure of the piece, I went to my friend Jérôme Noetinger's house and recorded for 3 days to start the tape part. This was a very loose process of just throwing stuff around this basement, creating tape loops with piano frames, random tools and mallets, plus my modular synth setup. I left with a full hard drive, then edited these recordings over the formal skeleton of the piece I had determined in Excel. I can't remember exactly how it all ended manifesting into what it did. There are always twists and turns in the final stages that have a huge impact in how the work turns out, questions which are only solved at the very end that change everything.
The interesting thing to me about Beauty is that somewhere during the third movement it became apparent to me that I couldn't make music like this anymore. That is to say, in the separatist sense of composer and performer, realising a fixed sonic structure together through a process of presenting an interpreter with a score. As a result, my strategies after this piece changed a lot, most specifically with the solo I wrote for soprano Jessica Aszodi, Prayer For Nil, and the solo for Erkki Veltheim, “Rules Of Extraction”.
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?
I tend to use analogue technologies until the final stage of digital mixing. I make all of my electronics with tape machines and synthesizers. I unfortunately do not have the patience to learn software like SuperCollider. I don't think I have the brain for it because I think, given my long history as a pianist, I'm a very tactile, hands-on musician.
I still use pen and paper a lot, even for sketching electro-acoustic ideas. Machines for me are just a means to an end. I don't share the reverence for gear that a lot of musicians have, although obviously I have a tendency to use things made last century because they connect with my compositional outlook much more. I'm really yet to hear much music made with Abelton, for example, that lasts more than a few plays. These things are just industry manufactured utopias for musicians by very non-musical people. I love sonic idiosyncrasy, I love uniqueness. I feel even the best hip-hop is built with a weird constellation of seemingly incongruous elements. Whatever sequencing they're using is the end point, not the beginning.