Name: JG Thirlwell
Current Release: Oscillospira on Ipecac Recordings
Recommendations: I consume music and art like a whale devours plankton. Then it is sweated out of my DNA. Recently I discovered a great CD by Robert Normandeau entitled Figures (Empreintes Digitales) / Ben Vida’s Reducing The Tempo To Zero. I publish a monthly playlist on Tumblr https://jgthirlwell.tumblr.com/ which is my gateway to what I’ve been listening to.
Website/Contact: To keep up with news and releases by JG Thirlwell, visit his website www.foetus.org/content
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 started writing/producing music in my late teens in London, and my first forays into professional recording studios were around then. I always loved and was obsessed by music for as long as I can remember. When punk exploded in 1976/1977 it democratized the process of music-making and took it from the hands of virtuosos. It was then that I bought a bass guitar and taught myself to play, soon followed by synthesizers. The big bang of punk rock led to a lot of people exploring form and ways of playing their instrument. I quickly lost interest in the “form” of punk rock, but for me ideas have always been the most important.
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?
There were influences in my early work from really disparate sources and they all co-existed at once - noise, funk, no wave and 20th century classical music. Early on, I began using the recording studio as a compositional tool, as I was playing all the instruments on the Foetus recordings myself. I used varispeed, tape editing, tape loops, vocal layering and various other tricks along the way. Steve Stapleton’s (Nurse With Wound) liberation from musical instruments and deep passion and knowledge of the avant garde was also liberating and we worked on a bunch of recordings together, pre-Foetus.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I was working with limited technology and, as a studio artist, technology has always been at the core of what I do. I began working in eight track studios and would quickly run out of tracks. Also, I was experimenting and learning as I went along. A lot of work came out of not being able to realise what I had in my head, but following the path somewhere else. When I jumped up to 24 track studios and a bigger budget in 1983 it was a huge liberation and I began to be able to better realise what my goals sonically.
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?
I was itinerant for the first few years of my recording career so didn’t have a studio set up. I was working in recording studios and had a few pieces of equipment. Around 86 or 87 I had a solid place to set up a studio. I had an Atari 1040 running Creator software, an Akai S900, a keyboard and an eight-channel mixing desk. Next, I added an Akai 12 track with and Akai S1000, and some other bits and pieces to synch. Creator morphed into Logic and I migrated to that platform. Then I went through a phase of 32 tracks of ADATs with a digital automated mixer. Eventually I ended up in the hard disc recording environment I have now. I’m not nostalgic for analog. I still love my Akai S5000 hardware samplers.
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 machines to try to emulate human performance a lot of the time. Humans are better than that, but machines don’t eat, need wages and usually don’t smell funny. I began using technology because my Foetus project was always a one-man-band, and recording technology facilitated that, through multi track recording and later midi and hard disk recording. The technology I used has always informed my process.
Another technology I have utilised much more in the last twenty years is the time-honoured tradition of musical notation.
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?
Creation is a direct reflection of the weapons at hand.
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 have had a myriad of types of collaboration throughout my career. Sometimes I create a track and bring someone else to sing. Sometimes I will create a backing track and have someone play a theme I have written and then improvise on it and cut up their performance. I have had some collaborative projects (JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland, Wiseblood, Baby Zizanie, Hydroze Plus), and the balance has gone back and forth depending on the intention of the project. Primarily I am a solo artist though.