Name: D & the Compass
Current release: To A Cat by D & the Compass is out now on mü-nest.
Recommendations: Cao Xueqin ‘s ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ and all short stories by Jorge Luis Borges.
If you enjoyed this interview with D & the Compass and would like to know more about him, visit his official facebook page for current updates and information.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started making music when I was in my teens. I’m not sure if that counts as music?
I would use an electric guitar, placing various objects like a screwdriver and a scissor on or between the guitar’s string, and then play it. Of course, that was influenced by the musician I liked at the time, likes Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, Boredoms, John Cage and Captain Beefheart. Those noises in other people’s ears are actually a beautiful sound to me.
For most artists, originality is 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?
I don't really believe in originality. If you listen to more music, it will unknowingly affect one's own work. I don't mind people saying that my work resembles someone else's. As long as I’m not copying or mimicking it deliberately, I think it is a kind of expressiveness.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I often make music with different identities, and I like the concept of having various fictitious identities. It is like an actor, playing different roles in each set of different movies.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the past, I liked to compose music without any rules, excluding old parameters like rhythm, harmony and melody. But recently I want to use my work to communicate with others, not just with myself. So now I have different approach to making music, and I want to create in a language that everyone understands.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first recording device was a household dual cassette desk. It had a microphone input but I used it to connect to an electric guitar. I overdubbed the guitar tracks to create some lo-fi but very mesmerizing sound.
After that, I bought a cheap computer. The convenience of computer recording inspired me to start making electronic music. Until then, I found a vintage synthesizer from the 70s and it sound so musical. So, I began to collect old gear and have used it to make music ever since.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I don't pay much attention to technology now. I just focus to the sound of the instrument in my hand.
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 usually make music alone. For some works, I put a lot of effort into some very subtle parts that others don't pay attention to. And I generally can't cooperate with others in these works.
Of course, I also have a band, and we often free jam when we want to create a song. But sometimes I will do a piece of music, and then let the other person put his thoughts into it, just like playing a crossword puzzle.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
I can't make music every day. I'm also not the kind of person who can't live without music. Sometimes I will deliberately avoid music, which keeps me fresh. Yes, I have a fixed schedule and sometimes i will also deliberately arrange a limited time to complete my work like completing a song within one hour. I always believe that you can only create good works in a difficult situation.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Before the pandemic, I often went to a rooftop called MouTou to perform. That was a very special place. There is no elevator in the building, only a narrow staircase leading to the upper terrace. Every time we performed, we had to move the equipment upstairs one by one and that’s very tiring. Only those who love music will do this.
I remember that there was a gig called Night Tape curated by a great label called mü-nest. After we finished the performance that night, everyone including the audience continued to free jam together until late at night. That was a magical musical moment.
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?
I usually compose music in the middle of the night. I’m more focused at night, and I get far more done at night than at any other time of my day.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
When I am making music, it is a healing process. But when I listen to my work after a long period of time, I always feels kind of sadness. I think this is the essence of music - music is sentimental in the end.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
One of my habits is to see the world through the ears. I like to put on headphones, walk around, and then take a closer look at the surrounding. I find that whenever the music is different, the feeling I look around is completely different. The power of music always amazes me.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I have always avoided thinking that I am doing art. A person will be unable to create good works If he is too self-conscious. The works I like are all done without knowing it.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think of what Nietzsche said: ‘without music, life would be a mistake’. This may be an overestimation of music, but to me, Nietzsche was right.