Name: Graham Dowdall
Bands/Projects: Gagarin / Pere Ubu
Labels: Geo Records
Musical Recommendations: Roshi feat Pars Radio. Roshi has a sublime and rare voice and an ear informed by everything from Iranian folk to Soundart and Electropop / Stick in the Wheel – an amazing urban contemporary folk band – somewhere between the Third Ear Band and the Streets.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I guess I started writing music at about age of four – usually from the inside of a piano we had at home. Producing started twenty odd years later with an early porta-studio.
Early passions would be the Kinks then early Soft Machine (a huge influence), Hawkwind, Kraftwerk and dub reggae.
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?
I’m a self-taught musician. I’ve had two rather unsuccessful drum lessons. I got a drum and made a band at age 15, which started with a couple of covers. I didn’t enjoy that much, so then I just improvised. The great thing about having no conventional technique is that it’s very hard to sound like other people. I drum like no one else and hopefully produce that way too.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Challenges were technical really. Technology was primitive and finding ways to make it fluid and spontaneous took a long time and a lot of technological developments. That all got much easier but the challenge became and remains that there are too many choices available so I try to limit my palette to certain sorts of old-fashioned synths and using old-school technology.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
Vibe is most important. I have a window onto a beautiful garden and the mainline into Victoria station. The room has a dead acoustic, the walls are covered in carpet tiles and foam. I have very good monitors that sound great quiet or loud (Genelec). Lots of good sound-making stuff close to hand – samplers, drums, vintage synths, effects. It is an untidy mess – but that’s how I work and can find things. And a model Dalek.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
Nord drum, Roland Juno 106, MPC1000, ipad and several great apps, Roland drum pads, all the Korg analogue toys, Cubase, Logic, Reason.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
I avoid using soft or hardware that leads the compositional direction like Ableton. I don’t use 8 bar loops but work in a more traditional linear way. Applying Cageian ideas of randomness, accident and discomfort work for me.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
Going back a couple of albums to a track called ‘Golden Cap’ just because it has a clear vision. I wanted to explore contrasting noise and melody, so it started with a few very harsh white noises that I then wanted the opposite of. So I found a soft melodic synth patch which I noodled around with and played from my trusty drum pads. Once I’d got a couple of melodies and developments, I improvised a beat and then started to sketch out a structure. That’s a pretty typical methodology; start with a simple sound idea then jam around it to create a simple structure quite quickly, then agonise for hundreds of hours over the minutiae of sculpting it into a piece. It feels very much like having a block of stone and chipping away till I’m relatively satisfied.