Name: Jeremy Young
Occupation: Sound artist, improviser, composer
Current Release: Jeremy Young's Amaro is out now on Thirsty Leaves Music (Europe, ROW) & (North America).
Recommendations: "The Orenda" by Joseph Boyden (novel); "Gunda" by Victor Kossakowsky (film)
If you enjoyed this interview with Jeremy Young, visit his website at Cargocollective for an in-depth biography and further information. More music can be found on his bandcamp site. Jeremy also runs a fascinating tape loop project at Chants Beneath The Furnace Brook and is a member of sontag shogun.
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?
I’ve always been interested in music and have played it and listened to it all my life. I talk extensively about this below but throughout my life I’ve been involved with all kinds of musical projects, from high school orchestra and marching band music, to religious music, to forming a rock band, playing more improvised, jazzy and jam-band style music, and to working in sound art, scores and commissions, and installations. Along the way I’ve always tried to keep my listening preferences eclectic, for the sake of not getting pinned down too hard into one means of expression.
I think I’ve always been drawn to the work of artists who—rather than being virtuosic or spellbinding in their skyhigh abilities—have found ways to make up for their imperfections or shortcomings with boldness, new and fresh ideas, and who explore messiness. I would say that no matter the style or genre, my favorite artists incorporate a punk ethos. So one of the reasons I have always felt drawn to music has to do with the notion that it’s a platform which incorporates intellectual ideas and messaging, entertaining action, and playful provocation, all at once, in a way that feels safe and yet explosive and dangerous.
Sound can be both so innate and natural, and personal when a piece truly speaks to us, yet also distant and ephemeral. Sound is invisible, we fill in 50% of the coding ourselves when we hear sound, in order to imagine and vivify our relation to a work; it’s literally an imagined landscape.
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?
There is a long and complicated answer to this question that neither of us have time for. But I will say that I truly believe all artists are on a lifelong quest to find their voice, whether we believe we have found our identity or not at some point.
I love that I’ve found a place of comfort when it comes to my music, I feel such a sense of relief to be able to pinpoint nearly exactly what I love about making music and how I engage with the various processes to bring it to life. That said, I know I’m at a certain point in my journey and that whatever definition I think I’ve come to about my development or identity, will dissipate and turn into something else. (Hopefully soon!)
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Identity has very little bearing on one’s creative instincts to me. I believe everyone has creativity inside of them, and it’s more a matter of cultivating a conducive lifestyle or supportive community to be able to act on and engage with those creative dreams, than it is based on one’s self-defined qualities.
My friend Dax (Dasilva) has a saying he mostly lives by, which goes: “Every daily act can be an act of elevation.” In the context of environmentalism and sustainability, this mantra can help one feel like each tiny choice we make with the Earth in mind can help bring about a critical mass of sustainable consciousness and action; but I also think it applies to creativity in that anything we do, with intention and purpose, can be a message we broadcast. And that makes our act a creative act, of which every single person is capable.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Applicable here, in the context of my newest release, Amaro, is my very real and longstanding struggle to define my work as a solo artist in a way that connects how I perform, how I compose, and how I record. This has been a massive challenge for me, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come to solve this with the work on Amaro.
I’m a very collaborative and band-minded musician, firstly, but even deeper than that, my solo discography and oeuvre up til now has been primarily project-focused. Over time, I had developed a pretty keen performative identity, but looking back, almost none of my solo releases sound anything like what I do when I perform. This is what happens with residencies, documented installations, conceptual works, experimental or highly improvised works—the recordings reflect a set of circumstances and/or limitations, but there often isn’t a continuous thread that connects these works over time.
I challenged myself with Amaro to really create something that could reflect my performance ethos, my compositional mindset right now, and my creative process as a composer, and to package that in a record that works as a record (and not just a document of research and exploration). I think it was a solid success!
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The Uher Report reel-to-reel machines have changed my life. These machines are kind of incredible because they’re meant to break and be repaired, and thus meant to last forever, so they’re cheap, portable, durable, easy to repair on the go (something I’ve done on pretty much every tour I’ve ever been on), and because Uher made so fucking many of them over the years, they’re easy to pick up in multiples. Here’s how these Uhers changed my life twice:
First, when I was playing in a rock/classical band in my 20s, and started experimenting with radios and tape collage. It became an addiction and a rabbit hole leading me down the paths of Luc Ferrari, Éliane Radigue, Else Marie Pade, as well as Valerio Tricoli, Marcus Fischer, Wouter Van Veldhoven, etc. The machine was cheap and broke often, before I knew how to repair it, so I bought a few to take with me on tour. The fact that I now owned multiple meant that I could do live collaging, concentric loop experiments, stereo tape delays with each machine going through its own amp, etc.
Then secondly, in a deeper phase of my exploration into oscillator and tape music, and sonic art and innovation in general, I started really utilizing the machine in a variety of ways, and realized that unlike American or Japanese machines (many of which are designed for significantly higher fidelity and consistency, and to be used in studios), the Uhers are designed to be used on-the-go, by reporters. So, different manipulations of the machine led me to different compositional, improvisational, and production-driven techniques and applications. For example, the fact that I could remove the cover meant I could make long tape loops that spool out in any direction, I could have a loop from one machine be played on two or three machines in a triangle. The fact that you could swap a battery pack for a wall outlet cord meant I could instal the machines in fixed places for long periods of time or take them on field recording trips and perform wherever. And the always-crappy speaker meant I could have a line going out from the machine to record while simultaneously capturing the broken, crackly speaker signal with a mic, and combining these sounds in a recording.
In this longer change phrase, I really dove into creative techniques and motivations driven by the parameters of the machine itself, and I’ve been doing so now with my wall of oscillators and multi-function generators .
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?
Referencing the above piece of gear, the old Uher Report portable reel-to-reel tape machine, this was a pivotal moment for me in terms of rethinking how I engage with recorded material, and the performative capabilities inherent to “production.”
Because I started as an instrumentalist, playing guitar, and so originally the tape machine was another instrument to play live on stage. But eventually, making use of its inherent properties as a vessel for recording, editing, splicing, etc. caught up with my interest in working with tape. So I learned more about the history of musique concrète, tape collage, tape manipulation in the studio, and experimental techniques for using chance and aleatoricism in the process of not only producing, but composing. Using loop-based tactics and strategies, imagining limitations as opportunities, arranging for live instruments and pre-recorded tape, the list of thought streams goes on.
At some point, what started as a side tool, to explore other sonics and avenues for soundscapes, has now turned into a foundational source of inspiration and core framework for how I envision music-making at large, including performing. Full circle.
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 am admittedly a serial collaborator, so having just released a “solo” record that incorporates 8 collaborative tracks is pretty much a joke in and of itself about how deeply ingrained this way of working is to my process. Suffice to say, I collaborate in many ways and I love exploring other artists’ perspectives and techniques both up close and personal and from afar through remote collaboration. On Amaro though, technically, I had all kinds of experiences working with the other artists; from recording them in my studio to sending files back and forth over email, and everything in between.
But one thing I think is important in collaboration is a defined sense of roles. If artists are just jamming in a room, with no proposed resulting work or performance in mind to prepare for, things can be open-ended and role-free. But any time there’s a project you’re working towards, I think it’s important that roles are defined and acknowledged ahead of time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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’m one of the founding members of an online music learning platform called Soundfly. So my daily activities revolve around the functioning and growth of this business mostly, but luckily for me I spend 8-10 hours a day thinking about music and helping people learn and improve music, and I work with a team comprised almost entirely of other musicians, including my bandmate in Sontag Shogun, Ian Temple, who’s the founder and CEO.
Making time to create music on my own is not difficult, but requires that I shut off my “work brain” and really clear my schedule, and transition into a more creative and exploratory mindset. But since I have a pretty wonderful, isolated home studio, I can usually just go in there and start messing around with ideas. Unless I’m working on a dedicated project, I spend most of my time in the studio literally just messing around, making sounds, improvising and occasionally hitting record; which I can do any day of any week. When I have some kind of project driver (an album, collaboration, commission), I have to take full days, usually several, and dedicate them to the work.