Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?
One of the things I love about my life is that it is different everyday. I could be working in my studio or in a theatre working on a play, or working on new ideas or exploring sound in some kind of way. If I'm at home, I usually start the day in my studio after dropping off my child at school. Admin starts the day, unless I'm in crunch mode, and then I spend the next 5-6 hours in production/exploration, taking a few breaks here and there of course. If I'm in the theatre, it's pretty full on – I'm programming or mixing the show file, perhaps making music as the company rehearses. These are usually long days, and days wherein those conversations I spoke of take place.
I make sure that I keep myself open to and seek out ideas whenever I can – I see it as part of my job as a musician/composer/sound maker. It may mean going to a particular art show or researching what others are doing, reading books and the like. I often let my life and my work co-exist. My child is old enough so that she knows when I need to work on something or have an idea, and I often involve her as well sometimes for feedback (she's had a lot of good notes, considering she's 10). Dinner time is family time (if I'm at home) but the creative process is always bubbling.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I think describing the process for the new album, The White Dog (Establishment), is probably a good illustration of the process of making a record. I collect and keep unused works on my hard drive, many results of experiments in sound and compositions I started to try out an idea. Somewhere comes a thought that it might be possible to organize them as a project (in this case an album), or perhaps there is a growing need to make something, and this is where it starts to take shape. Of course for a play the music is crafted for that particular play, but my own pieces are often seeded by these homeless ideas. I start to gather them and see what story is being told, to see if there is enough of one to warrant a new project/album. Usually I then take these seeds and start to develop them through a rather frantic/chaotic process of experimentation. This could mean playing percussion or prepared instruments, working with sample or programming or whatnot. As I continue with these experiments, a kind of painting emerges in my mind, a sound painting that (hopefully) holds together. I've often followed this path and it doesn't always result in a complete suite of pieces – I have many half finished records - but in general this seems to be the way I pursue a new project.
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?
Often, the intent to create is enough to focus me – I have enough tricks and strategies to facilitate the actual making of sound that if I have the intent I have at least somewhere to start. Having time alone is imperative – it's very hard for me to work with people in my space – but I'm lucky enough to have my own space to work in. Routine helps too – structuring my day (when I have a studio work day) in the way I outlined above is very useful. But without intent, without a goal in mind (however prosaic) it is difficult for me to gather the focus that is required to accomplish anything.
That being said, aimless doodling is also useful.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Because I don't have any formal musical training, I can only make music through making it, if you see what I mean. I have no tools to save an idea for later, except in my head. I can only realize it through action. In that regard, playing live and writing music are absolutely interconnected. Playing live – again, because of a dearth of theory – is based on improvisation as well. The electricity of a live situation is welcome and necessary, and I always leave plenty of room for improvisation when in concert. Things happen on stage that wouldn't happen in the studio, and I always hope I can carry them back, but that doesn't always happen. I don't mind though – if something happens I can't replicate I always know that it lives in my bones somehow, and can come to life in some other way.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
This is a great question. I don't distinguish between “sound” and “music” when working with sound material. Of course this is different based on what I'm trying to achieve but in general that's how I make decisions. I'm not shy about using field recordings or sound effects in various ways – there is a certain beauty that a piece takes on when placed in an orchard, to use a simple example. For me the question is always what story am I telling? How does this or that decision help tell that story?
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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I think at these “outermost borders” we are most in tune with what sound can do to us, how it acts on our bodies. We can really feel our cells battered by a subwoofer, and feel the skin crawl with a certain frequency of sine wave. It's clear to me that sound does act on our bodies, but it also of course acts on our emotions – I see this most in my work in theatre. The excitement of revealing the sound world of a play is palpable, and the ease in which you can get in the way of the story as a composer is very clear – and to be avoided at all costs. There is no question that sound acts on us in ways outside our ears – frankly I count on it, and try and work with it as much as I can.
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 feel very fortunate to be making art. It to me is a beautiful way to spend time on the earth . To make art well, one has to be vulnerable, open, curious, unattached – these are all qualities in very, very short supply these days. I feel very thankful to be able to add to the stock of those attributes in the universe. We have an imperative to contribute to making change in the world, and this takes many forms, all of which are needed. I feel very blessed that I can contribute in this way.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
This is very true – it is remarkable. I haven't thought of it in that way. I think that might speak to its necessity, that music in the form that we think about it is somehow connected to the human condition. I personally don't have a vision of where music might go but I'm curious. There are plenty of people who are working on this and I'd like to see where they might take us. Essentially, though, music unmediated by technology will always have a place. As long as we gather together we will have music in this way.