Name: Colin Roy Gillespie
Occupation: Musician /composer
Current Release: Concentration Patterns on Hidden Harmony Recordings
Recommendations: Swim Through The Darkness: The Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali by Mike Stax / Steve Roach's Quiet Music Vol.1-3, recently reissued from Toronto's own Telephone Explosion label. Just the type of ambient music I meant when referring to something you can fall into for long periods of time.
Website/Contact: Find C. R. Gillespie online at www.c-r-gillespie.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?
Growing up on Vancouver Island, I started playing in bands with my friends from about the age of 15. I was also somewhat reluctantly involved with my high school's jazz band program at the same time, but despite my teenage misgivings about jazz, it really filled in a lot of holes in terms of musical theory. Searching for and collecting obscure CD’s from my local used-record store was my real passion, and it became an obsession that continues today, as my vinyl-addiction engulfs the remaining space in my small Toronto apartment. I think the moment where producing my own music became an outlet was when I discovered the freeware recording program Audacity, downloading it on my parents' computer and making sound-collages using an old headset microphone, an acoustic guitar, and liberal use of the "white-noise" tool. My early interest in drawing had kind of lapsed at that point, and this seemed like a way to utilize the same creative instincts.
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?
My earliest recordings were definitely trying to evoke what I was listening to at the time: Deerhunter, the Microphones' home-studio-as-instrument approach, ambient music like Stars of the Lid, but much clumsier. My development kind of went hand in hand with my skills as a producer, and at a certain point I decided to drop lyrics and singing as an expression of what I was trying to accomplish as an artist. I wasn't really that good at either of them. I still find my work evocative of what I'm listening to at the moment, sometimes even retroactively; it wasn't until after I'd released Séance Works that I realized it sounded a lot like a J.D. Emmanuel album.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think my main challenge stems from the fact that I'm not even a competent pianist, yet I've chosen keyboard-based synthesizers as my main form of musical expression. That, and I'm constantly struggling with the endless drop-menus in Logic, which I switched to using about 5 or 6 years ago, and still haven't taken the time to learn properly. So perhaps laziness is my biggest challenge? I've accepted this with the caveat that unfamiliarity spawns creativity, and that maybe the twisted little ways that I've managed to circumvent these problems has actually been what makes the results unique.
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?
The first iteration of my current studio (of the last 7 years) consisted of a Tascam Audio Box, an MS-20mini and two Rokit 5 speakers stacked a foot off the ground on a plywood board supported by cinder blocks. Once I stopped the touring lifestyle with my old band, I was slowly able to afford more gear, building the rough assembly of loose pieces into an actual studio, completed by an irregularly-shaped custom desk built by my father-in-law (Thanks Herman). Being able to sit upright while I work might have been the best addition from the purview of my aching back, but the piece of gear that has brought the most change to my workflow has probably been my Mackie Onyx 1220 Firewire Mixer, which allows me to record my improvisations with proper isolation for post-mixing.
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?
Up to this point, I've made it a rule that the C.R. Gillespie output must all be performed on outboard gear. I've used virtual instruments for other projects, and especially for any commercial composing I do, as it's a lot easier to tailor things to picture when you aren't limited by your performance ability or locked into a certain tempo once you begin. However, I find that depending upon your agility with a trackpad while using VST's, it really lacks the tactile and organic element of physically turning a knob to produce phrasing on a synthesizer. Once I started to build my collection of instruments (mostly affordable, plastic-shelled, previously used), I decided that the C.R. Gillespie material would be confined to what sounds I could generate from the tools directly in front of me.
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?
I think at a certain point I embraced the home-spun quality of what I was able to produce purely on my own. I'm aware that I'm probably doing a lot of things wrong, with the wrong tool, at the wrong settings. But again, this is, to me, is what makes it my own. I've worked in proper studios, listened to exhaustive testimonies of certain microphones and compressors, and seen what kind of homogenous results come from always using the "best tool". I own two cheap microphones. There are mistakes I hear in my recordings that I will take to my grave. At the end of the day, it has become part of my approach. I don't think Swell Maps would have sounded better had they recorded A Trip To Marineville at Abbey Road.
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?
The most active form of collaboration I regularly take part in is with my visual partner, Rachelle Alana Walker, who performs with me at almost every one of my shows. We’ve developed an improvisational approach between the two of us, playing off each other’s performance both reactively and technologically, with the output of my mixer feeding filter-triggers in her projection setup. Her juxtaposition of imagery, drawn from public domain broadcasts ranging from insect life to surgery tutorials, gives the audience a visual preoccupation that not only takes the focus off of my movements, but provides an unreal context for the sound outside of the regular bar or venue setting. I’m usually unaware of the narrative she’s prepared for the performance until we get up onstage, but I find it endlessly fascinating the way the human brain associates dissimilar information to end up with a legible whole.