Part 1

Name: Tariq Ravelomanana (AKA Infinity Knives)
Nationality: Tanzanian
Occupation: Musican/Producer
Current Release: Dear, Sudan out now on Phantom Limb
Recommendations: I always recommend Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. Great fucking read. Such a fun and unique book and easy to read / Kings of the Wild by Nicholas Eames takes high fantasy and turns it into a feel-good rock and roll documentary.

Visit the Infinity Knives Bandcamp page for more music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I would get so bored during the school day and skip class to use our under-utilized piano rooms. I taught myself some chords and basic melodies. Pencil drums on my desk was pretty essential to my sense of rhythm as well. I don’t think I took it seriously until I was 21. I downloaded MixCraft on my aunt’s work laptop and it kind of built up from there. I listened to so much music during my childhood/adolescence that I don’t think I could really sum it up very well, but The Germs, Pixies and 2Pac were pretty central to my musical catalogue.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

If I remember correctly, I don’t think I really tried to emulate anyone specifically, but I did try to write in ways that were familiar to me. Closest artist I can think of is Sparklehorse — I like how simple, yet powerful his music is. I try to slap in some SH references in all my records big time. I love Mark Linkous!

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

Same as it is today, being broke. Little to no resources, so everything has to be DIY. I very much wish I had rich liberal parents to fund my crazy experiments. The best I can do is get a dead-end retail job to sustain myself long enough to finish a project. Maybe the Illuminati will finally heed my plea after this interview!

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?

Maybe my Texas Instrument tape recorder and a little acoustic guitar? So long ago. One of the reasons I got into computer music was because I had no other outlets at the time. I don’t think I have any important pieces of gear — I love them all. So long as I have some way to capture my little noises here and there, I’ll be fine. I do really enjoy the Moog Grandma I just bought myself though, my first hardware synth ever.

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?

Always thought of myself as a bit of a dullard when it comes to these questions, not sure, I’m not very good at computers as a whole. I know they can do some impressive stuff, but beyond my DAWs and things of that nature, I have a hard time understanding what I’m looking at. I will be slowly assimilated into the bosom of my robotic overlords one day.

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?

It’s ever evolving! So long as I can sort of transcribe what I’m thinking, I honestly don’t care. Sometimes I have a fancy compressor that I borrowed, sometimes my levels are all over the place. I don’t put much value in different technologies or maybe I don’t think about it as being that fundamental to my sounds — it most likely is, but I honestly don’t know. I’m just happy to be expressing myself on whatever medium I’m given.

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’m always about collaboration. I still haven’t got it down to a science, because everyone works so differently. I’ve managed to gather a small, but ever-growing team of creatives that I trade freely with, plus I love introducing people to each other to see what they create.

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?

I shift around often, so it depends on where I am. Typically I wake up, smoke a cigarette and if I’m feeling brave, I’ll drink a cup of coffee or espresso. I have ideas swim throughout the day and if they stick around long enough, I try to execute them ASAP. I try not to force anything to life anymore, unless it’s for a client and they want something outside the realms of experimentation. In all honestly, I procrastinate to an almost unhealthy degree.

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 like playing/recording what I think sounds good. If an idea tugs at me long enough I try to execute it the best I can — but often times, I find it more interesting to see where my fingers take me. For example: I’d go in with the intent of drawing a dog and end up with a picture of a funky house.

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?

No strategies, no. I kind of just play what I like to hear, if that makes sense. I let my mind wander into a song. Haha I don’t know.

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?

It honestly depends what I’m playing live. I don’t like to make things complicated for myself on stage, so I carry only what’s needed. I almost always improvise on stage, I’m not a very structured person.  

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?

I don’t think about it much. Too many “pretty” sounds make for a saccharine and uninteresting sound and too many atonal notes just become unlistenable — but it’s subjective. Striking a balance between tension and release is what I usually strive for as a composer.

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?

When that 808 sub kicks in and it cracks your face. I like that.

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 lazy as it seems, it’s purely intuition for me. I’ve made a lot of political music, but if a person chooses to disregard my message and make a meaning for themselves then there’s not much I can do about it — in fact I prefer it that way. It’s their memories, they can create it as they wish.

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?

Can’t think of anything that wouldn’t seem as a novelty, but I’m excited to experience it!