Name: Gabriel Reyes-Whittaker
Nationality: American / Puerto-Rican
Current Release: The new Frankie Reyes' LP Originalitos is out now on Stones Throw
Recommendations: Two pieces of music to check as you get more into Frankie Reyes … Wim Statius Muller: Antillean Dances; anything by Sylvia Rexach
If you enjoyed this interview with Frankie Reyes, check out his page on the website of the Stones' Throw label.
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?
I started taking piano lessons at around age 10, which lasted for only 6 months or so. I wish I hadn’t stopped!
But then maybe four years or so later I started to get into making beats on computer software. An older friend taught me the basics of how to use Cool Edit Pro and Acid Pro. I started to build beats out of samples I pulled from my music collection (tapes, CDs, records). I pulled inspiration from nearly all genres of music, everything I heard then had potential to have something good in it. It’s still that way for me now!
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 learning was not based around emulating others. Again, as someone who pulled inspiration from almost all genres of music I heard (and still do), I just developed by experimenting with things that sounded good to me and learned to lean towards that the more I discovered what that was.
Sometimes inspiration comes from sampling the lovely sounds that others discover, or perhaps it’s demonstrated when I cover a piece in my own style (as in Boleros, Valses y Mas), and sometimes through reimagining out of context what could’ve been done had I been around during other time period even. But really my goal is to do so through my own unique voice, my own expression. And I acknowledge that’s just my own particular approach and might not be the same for others. Copying can often be more directly helpful for learning for others.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenges centered around just learning how to use the tools I had access to for making music. Another main challenge is that because my musical training is so minimal, my process is that much more tricky because I’m doing what I do by ear. I think if I actually knew how to play, rather than just sequence notes, I'd do it much differently.
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 first setup was very minimal, just a computer and an old Crumar synthesizer. Now my setup consists of a lot more synths, drum machines, sequencers and effects units, which of course allow me to approach my music in many more different ways now.
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?
I use technology to sequence and sample the sounds around me, to sequence those sounds into patterns, to program and emulate instrument sounds, to translate audio sources into MIDI information to replay it on different electronic instruments and so much more.
In terms of machines and humans, well machines appear to give humans access to a far wider and previously unimaginable domain of creation, and the creations are to be most functional for and appreciated by humans as far as I can tell. I’m sure the conversation can be taken much further, but I probably haven’t chewed on that for long enough.
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?
This isn’t the case for me.
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 love to stay open when it comes to collaborations … sometimes it looks like sharing audio or MIDI files, or sometimes it looks like jamming, or sometimes it looks like building on conversations, etc … no rules!
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?
No fixed schedule, every day looks a little different, and that applies to my music, too … it varies … sometimes when I’m in a certain zone with a particular music project, my schedule might change to revolve around that in a unique way … or sometimes my schedule is such that I’m not making music at all because I spent so much time on music in recent times that I take time away... again, it all differs! I like to keep it fluid that way.
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?
Well talking particularly about how I did these most recent Frankie Reyes compositions, this project was interesting for me because a lot of it was based on kind of a new way of thinking for me.
Throughout parts of this record, I used bits of audio information chopped as one would chop beats, but then reversed/inverted and translated them into MIDI information and edited and arranged to make it sound like someone playing. It wasn’t the only approach I took here but it showed up throughout and really gave it the feel I was hoping for, as if from another time period, like the previous album.
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 think the ideal state of mind for being creative is a willingness to be honest about one’s feelings at any moment. Those feelings might not be good ones, and the creative result might not be “pretty” but its realness might make it just as powerful as anything made during a happy or good creative time. I just lean towards honesty most of all.
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?
I am not really a live musician. When I “play” live, generally speaking I’m used to either DJing or triggering my electronic instruments through my MIDI sequencer-based setup. But what I draw from sharing my music in a live setting is the connection I get to build with my audience.
What I get from my studio experience is that I get to take whatever time I need to create and adjust what I’m doing, and you, the audience, get to pass on the boring elements of that process.
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?
Not my main area of understanding when it comes to music, but always open to learning. All I really do when it comes to working with sound and timbre is stay open to what sounds good, period.
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?
Well I love to listen to and create music that evokes colorful feelings within me, but I probably can’t answer this as well you can. Your posing of the question does make me wonder about it, though! :)
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?
As you said, art can be a purpose in its own right, as is this case in mine! It’s just what I do. :)
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?
I do not! I think anything is possible! And I find myself constantly surprised by the way it always changes.