Name: David Castellani
Occupation: Producer, live performer
Current release: David Castellani's Electrochemical EP, featuring a remix by Matrixxman, is out via David's very own Noetic imprint.
Book: How Music Works by David Byrne
A wonderful narrative about music and its form that has been written by the wonderful Talking Heads mastermind, David Byrne.
Painting: Listening to Schumann by Fernand Edmond Jean Marie Khnopff.
A famous depiction of a woman listening to a person playing the piano. The way the woman is sitting, covering her face, speaks volumes to me about emotional musical experiences.
If you enjoyed this interview with David Castellani and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
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?
My early influences came from my parents which both had great passion and taste in music. They raised me listening to lots of Rock’n’Roll and Soul from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s & ‘80s. My childhood was accompanied by sounds the likes of Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley. This is all music that I still enjoy regularly.
My music making journey began at the age of 16. It was sparked by going to a concert with some close friends and being graciously compelled into exploring psychedelics. This turned out to be an immensely liberating and personally evolutionary experience for me. The band we went to see had a blazing Afro-Cuban percussionist who played a 30 minute drum solo in the middle of their set. His performance was so overwhelmingly transcendent that it inspired me to purchase my first drum the very next day. I can vividly remember crying at the end of the concert.
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 think that people generally follow a natural flow when making art. They may have an initial idea which then they follow, opening a pathway down the creative process. And as we learn and grow, our inspirations and technical awareness grow along with us, becoming part of our voice, and consequently our creative output. This was very much me in the initial stages of my process.
After about 15 years of making music, and investing lots of time in my technical growth, is when I started focusing less on “how” to do things but instead on “what” to do with the skills that I had cultivated. That’s when I had the realization that instead of coming up with an idea to follow - if I remove the barriers of a predisposed path, I could use exploration for ideas. In that moment my palette instantly expanded to what feels like an endless sea of creative opportunity. Now, I turn all the gear on, start random sequences, bang on instruments, and let the room show me what it has to offer that day. And as the vibe comes to life, I start shaping and molding it to my liking, cherry-picking what I vibe with most.
This shift completely changed my approach to making music. I now harness the chaotic and random process of generating ideas while applying the knowledge I’ve gained from the past to find my creative path.
It works really well for me and makes being creative a lot more fun.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I’m not so sure I have an identity outside of music - it is all I think about every day and night. I'm so enveloped in it that I’ve even had to enforce a strict rule that, once I get into bed at night, I am no longer allowed to think about anything music-related. Otherwise my mind spirals down bottomless rabbit holes, never winds down, and I won't fall asleep for hours.
I would say that my creativity (mainly music) manifests my identity more than the other way around.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think like many artists do, I can sometimes find myself questioning the quality of my final product.
I believe that we value ourselves, our creative worth, and art in general, in very different ways. Some people strictly follow their heart when making creative choices and can consistently be confident in what they create.
For me, it’s very much a more cerebral and intellectual introspective process. And so, I analyze everything, all the time. This can lead to uncertainty and questioning if I’ve been able to reach the quality that I believe needs to be there on any given song. This also has been a driving factor in my will to learn and get better.
I can gladly say that, over the years, as my skills have progressed and I’ve gotten more confident in my choices, I’ve found a more constant path to rewording results that have less room for my own second-guessing.
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?
This question really hits home for me. Sometimes I wonder if I am more into the music I am creating or instead the tools that I reach for when making it. I have a deep love for all software and hardware and technology that is music related.
One of my favorite parts of my process is learning about a new piece of gear and then taking the time to understand its intimacies. I’ve found that every instrument has a sweet spot where it really comes to life. I try to find what that is, and then revel in the joy in being able to include it into my process. And even before I started making electronic music, I was already deep into acoustic instruments, enjoying every new drum or percussion instrument I picked up.
Through the years I’ve enjoyed extensively using Fruity Loops, Acid, Reason, ProTools and Ableton, along with most of the major plugins on the market. While on the hardware side - the Elektron Keys was my first analog synth and it blew open a new chapter in my life. That synth single handedly sparked a life enveloped by synths and musical hardware.
Now my studio is a playground filled with software, hardware, digital, analog, old, and new. If there is a tool that I think could be valuable and fun to use, I find a way to include it in my process.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
There are definitely a few that come to mind, but the most profound of them all must be my transition into modular synths. Playing and performing with eurorack is unlike using traditional synths in many ways. The initial intellectual challenge of learning how they work, creative ways that they can play together, and the flexibility that is at your fingertips when creating is all very sexy to me. The quality of the instruments is generally very high and in turn you quickly get some fantastic results.
Another very valuable thing for me is how when performing I feel like it's not just me playing an instrument, but rather a collaboration between me and the soul of the gear itself. On one hand I am in control, actively pushing the sounds into a specific direction, while on the other hand, the depth and quality of the modules are always rewarding me with new and increasingly creative paths that I never expected.
I am continually finding myself getting to experience new and amazing sonic landscapes that I didn’t know were waiting for me around the corner. I love this about modular synths and being able to explore eurorack.
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?
Conversing about music with friends or even strangers is a very rewarding pastime for me. I love thinking and talking about the musical things that are always bouncing around in my brain. I’m usually already talking to myself about this stuff anyways, so when there is another person around that may care about these topics, I’m like a moth to a flame.
But when it comes to actually collaborating on music, it is a bit of a different story. Of course during a light-hearted “let's just have fun” type of session, it’s great. But when I need to finish a piece which aims to be part of my catalog, I find it rather difficult collaborating with most people. If they don't share my musical taste or are very close to it, it becomes a struggle for me to sacrifice what I personally believe is important in the music. When this happens, I quickly lose motivation.