Part 1

Name: Dan Samsa
Nationality: British
Recent release: Dan Samsa's Contours is out via Apollo.
Recommendations: Film - Men, directed by Alex Garland; Book - A Hunger Artist, written by Franz Kafka

If you enjoyed this interview with Dan Samsa and would like to find out more about him and his music, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

When did you start writing/producing/playing 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 don’t think I can directly answer this question, as I feel like music has always been part of who I am.

My mother sang to me beautifully when I was a child, which instilled within me a deep appreciation for music and the direct intimacy of live performance. Captivated by the beauty, diversity and myriad of purposes imprinted upon me at this young age, I can remember messing around on the piano, engrossed in inventing music of my own.

Growing up and living in Lewisham - SE London, I’ve immersed myself in a multitude of scenes, genres and study; from the initial physical interactions with the tape deck, turntable or CD player. My first encounter as a child with the rumble and spatial onslaught of the cathedral organ at Southwark Cathedral where I was a chorister led on to my obsession with a well-tuned club sound system in my teens and beyond.

I find myself constantly intrigued by the inner workings and abstract nature of music. The more I experience it, the more bewildered and obsessed I become.

Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?

When I listen to music, I usually experience a combination of abstract textures and shapes, although this will include colours, I’d say the colours are secondary to the shapes and textures.

Many pieces of music impact me emotionally, I can’t unlink the emotions or concepts that are embedded into the material I create from the abstract imagery that it is born of. This can also happen when I listen to someone else's music. It is this mysterious nature of how music affects us that keeps me captivated by it and I find myself constantly reinventing my relationship with it.

When I begin working on a piece of music I generally like to generate patterns and structures using data I collate from sources that are directly linked to the concepts I’d like to embed within the music itself. When I have these structures set, I like to play around over the top of them and let my ear lead me. In my head I’ll hear and visualize a combination of harmonies/melodies and vague abstract textures and shapes.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

For the last 15 years I’ve managed to pay the bills by teaching kids piano and lacked the confidence and know how to go for it and create a career as a musical artist. When a tragedy in my life occurred, I realized making and performing music is all I really want to do. I’ve always set my sights on creating music that is unique and my life so far has been a lengthy apprenticeship period, immersing myself within many musical styles, projects, collaborations, teaching and promoting events. It’s been an exciting journey of musical discovery.

It’s a competitive industry and there isn’t much money out there for emerging experimental artists, especially if you don’t fit into one of the more obvious boxes. Opportunities that at first seem exciting and career changing can turn out to be anticlimactic and at times exploitative. It can feel like a losing battle especially when you have to be self-disciplined and motivated.

I quite often question the impact my music can really make in this world, I then sit back and realize how much I love music, what a joy and privilege it is to be making and playing it every day. I do it because I want to fill my life with beauty in the hope that I can help make the lives of others more beautiful too.

Signing a three-album record deal for the first time in my life has been a significant breakthrough, to be given the support and resources to make whatever music you want is a huge boost, it feels great that my work is being valued.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

I generally try to approach everything I experience with an open mind. Of course, I have opinions, but if I’m not necessarily into something at first, I’d at least attempt to find the value that others place in it. There are many pieces of music I absolutely love that I didn’t think that much of when I first experienced them.

London (but especially Southeast London), where I have grown up and live now, oozes music – Classical, Indie, Punk, Dub, Electronic, Jungle, Hip Hop, Jazz, Afrobeat and much more – in all sorts of places. Being around so many different types of music throughout my life has only reinforced how much I love music’s stylistic, cultural and socially diverse nature. I know it sounds cliché, but I really don’t listen to music for its style or genre. The very fact that we have so many types of music in so many different settings shows how universally sacred music is to people.

I try to always listen with open ears; right now, the old-new, acoustic-electronic, practiced-produced axes have drawn closer together and in my own music this has served to blur the lines and constantly question what music is meant to be.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

I of course love music that is crafted to suit a particular scene, but I am particularly drawn to art / music that has a multifaceted depth, that delivers a unique and personal experience.

When it comes to my own album work, I feel like I am beginning to hone my own unique approach and I think this comes across when someone hears it. As well as creating my own 360° sound experiments as sonic backdrops to the instrumental material, I also use the process of creating an album to learn more about reality. I’ll spend time researching a specific topic from a scientific, religious, political and anthropological viewpoint and infuse the creative processes and musical material with data, concepts and ideas that I gather.

Ultimately, I aim for music that has a simple elegance and beauty to it but layered with depth and concepts that will hopefully entice the listener back to discover something new and thought provoking each time they listen to it.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I’m not sure how easy it is to create music of the future without a respect and knowledge of tradition.

Knowledge of the history of music informs us of the trajectory we are on and listeners and creators. I’m not sure I’ll ever truly reach it but I’m aiming to create music that hits a sweet spot of originality / innovation and perfection / timelessness is of course the goal.

I’ll be spending my whole life creating music so why not try?

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

My ears and voice. Although I don’t sing my own music, being able to sing is important to accurately communicate what’s happening in my head.

My new Bechstein piano is a dream to me, and I play it for hours everyday. My 360° microphone provides me with an exciting, new technological innovation to experiment with, it’s the ideal way to manipulate time and space to create intriguing and immersive 3D sonic textures. 

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