Name: Daniel Thorne
Occupation: Composer, saxophonist
Current Release: Lines Of Sight on Erased Tapes
Recommendations: John Luther Adams - In The White Silence. Lygia Pape - Tecelares
If you enjoyed this interview with Daniel Thorne, visit his website for more information and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first attempts at writing were when I was in my teens, doing what seems to have been the obligatory thing in the early 2000s of playing in punk/emo bands with friends, although I was more interested in writing lyrics than music at that time. It was when I got to university (as a jazz major) that I became interested in instrumental music - I was fortunate enough to find myself in a number of ensembles that focused on new music by students and recent graduates, and I was in awe of all the sounds, textures and energies that they could create. Being able to experience that music from inside of those ensembles gave me the chance to properly immerse myself in it, and from then on I was hooked.
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 the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
My first serious experiments with composition coincided with the experiences I described above, so inevitably I would take things that I’d heard or seen on other scores, try to work out what was going on with them, and more often than not, use them in something of my own. Initially this was a lot of large ensemble jazz music, but then later 20th century classical stuff and after that pretty much anything - indie rock, electronica, noise, sound art, and so on. One of the mantras that was drilled into us as students was was “imitate, assimilate, innovate” - first you learn by copying the masters, then their language becomes embedded, then you make it your own. This is still what I do; if I hear something interesting I have to take it apart and see how it works. I remember talking to quite an established composer about this and the way he put it was that, after a lot of searching, he felt he finally had a pretty good idea of how to find the kinds of sounds that he liked - that was his take on ‘finding your voice’, and it sounds about right to me.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Everything always seems to come back to a lack of knowledge. Initially my biggest hurdle was that I wasn’t good at reading music and had a very limited understanding of music theory and orchestration. I’m definitely not suggesting that you need to know those things to make music, but for me at that time, in the context of studying at a conservatoire, it was essential to being able to understand where the sounds I wanted lived, and how to communicate my ideas to other musicians. These days it’s a lack of knowledge of a different kind, but more rooted in the production side of things, particularly mixing - there’s just so much to learn!
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?
My studio is pretty basic really, as working this way is still fairly new territory for me. To make Lines of Sight I used a laptop running Logic, my saxophones, a Bass Station II, and borrowed a couple of mics as well as a bashed up old WEM Copicat tape delay. The Copicat was probably my favourite thing to use, even though it’s had a rough life it’s character is one in a million - if you had it serviced it’d ruin it for sure.
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?
This is going to be difficult to answer succinctly ... It’s something I think about a lot, as I now find my work split 50-50 between composing music with live performers in mind, and doing things in the studio without any regard for performability. At the risk of stating the obvious, I think that humans excel at being human - unique, unpredictable, fallible, etc. - while machines can augment or transcend humanity’s limitations with a level of perfection that can be anywhere from clinical to downright alien. For me, I find I’m constantly asking whether the point of something I’ve written is for it to evoke something human, or if I’m reaching for something beyond that, and from there I try to work out what the best means of achieving that is.
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?
The saxophone is a single-line instrument, and I’m not a very good pianist, so being able to use a DAW or notation software to hear a full representation of my musical ideas from the perspective of a listener is a huge benefit to my compositional process. It allows me to sit back and zoom in and out and look at a piece on a variety of different time scales, which helps me so much with the overall form and shape of my music. I also make a lot of use of process-based compositional techniques, so being able to quickly mock them up, hear the results, and then make any number of tweaks to the ‘formula’ until I’m satisfied is incredibly helpful.
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 been really fortunate in that an ensemble that I’m involved in, Immix, focuses on collaboration-based commissions. The artists who I’ve worked with on these projects, whether as a co-composer or an arranger/orchestrator, have taught me so much. Getting an insight into other people’s creative processes and priorities always makes me reevaluate my own. I also think that sharing your ideas with other people forces you to really think about them in order to distill them into something clear and concise. Apart from specifically co-writing with other people, with my acoustic works I find workshopping with instrumentalists incredibly useful, as I’m never going to know as much about what’s possible with a violin, for example, as someone who has been playing it for 25+ years. These kinds of things frequently open up new possibilities and inspire new directions. In general though, I just love talking about music with people, swapping listening lists, that kind of thing.