How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
On my solo records a piece usually starts off as an improvisation, where there might be one simple idea which is explored over a long period; sometimes additional events happen or are layered around this one simple starting point. I never really know (especially in a live context) exactly where a piece is heading although I'll always have some sort of starting point and from then on I try and work intuitively. One night it might be calm and meditative throughout and on other nights it might become quite noisy and chaotic. A great deal of my work starts off with improvisation and it is then shaped into a composition in the studio.
When I'm in the studio I'll improvise a simple idea and, via overdubs I'll create stuff around it and shape the piece as a response to this one initial improvised idea. As mentioned, I usually end up losing the first idea and only leaving some of the reactionary tracks (overdubs). Exploring one idea with all its detail and possibilities really appeals to me. I
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
How sound responds in different spaces is something that really fascinates me. For example, on Quixotism I had sounds that were recorded in a huge concert hall in Iceland juxtaposed with sounds that were played directly into a desk at a studio in Seattle and sounds that were recorded in a small room in Melbourne. I believe all of this gives the work some sort of sonic depth of field and an unusual atmosphere.
What's your perspective on the relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema, for example – and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
I try and soak up as much art and film as possible. It's all incredibly important to me and informs what I do. I'm really obsessed with film and was teaching a film class at a university in Melbourne for years. All of this is absolutely connected. That said, when I play a show I'm not interested in having images/film tacked on to the music. I find that it's a distraction and I want the listener to actually listen, actively, without all the bells and whistles.
What's your view on the role and function of music as well as the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today - and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I try and make work that feels right to me, there are no hidden agendas pushing what I do other than trying to be true to myself, challenge myself and ultimately make work that I would want to hear/experience. It’s a strange existence doing this stuff - it can be difficult travelling all the time, constantly taking flights, being in a place for only a day or two at the most with little or no sleep, and then playing a solo show where all the responsibility for the performance going well is on you. At times you can feel very vulnerable and lonely in this situation, questioning everything.
I go through a serious existential crisis when I make a solo record too, it can be a real struggle. But on the other hand when everything goes well it’s so satisfying. I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I do, I try not to take any of this for granted. How many people truly get to do what they want to do in this day and age?
I find it hard to sit still, if I do I start to feel depressed so I need to find things to do all the time to keep me stimulated, which is probably why I make so many records when I’m home in Melbourne. Sometimes I think my addiction to listening to music and creating is because it's the ultimate escape from what's going on around me in the boring mundane day-to-day reality. I feel like I'm constantly trying to chase some sort of ecstasy or beauty. It's almost like we don't have that much control of the all the bullshit in the world so doing this stuff is somehow life-affirming and therapeutic.
Listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
As we are making music one would hope that we somehow find listeners that actively listen and engage with the work you make. It's definitely a commitment on their part as many of my works are of a long duration and really take their time to unfold. I feel incredibly fortunate when someone is willing to spend time and commit to engaging with a work.
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What's your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?
The way I look at PR (in its purest form) is that people are simply informed about artists/releases that are out there and that might interest them. Unfortunately the nature of this stuff means that artists who are on bigger labels have that financial support/PR support behind them, and other obscure/non-commercial artists do not, therefore they remain obscure. As an example, there are so many incredible artists that I know of here in Australia that are completely unknown as they don't have any support behind them - a frustrating situation. These days it's easy to promote yourself on Facebook etc if you're inclined. I feel very lucky that I have labels that are willing to release my music and that there's some interested listeners out there.
Do you have a musical vision that you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons – or an idea of what music itself could be beyond its current form?
Sometimes I wish I had a better set-up at home where I had a basic, functional studio where I could work anytime without distractions. There are always financial constraints when I work in a professional studio, it's very expensive so I'm lucky to have more than a few days for tracking.
A week or two in a great studio would be a total luxury.
Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
My partner crys cole and my good friend James Rushford have just released an LP under the name Ora Clementi titled "Cover you will softer me". I'm a little biased but I really think it's a remarkable release, very very special. Check.
I also urge people to check out Jim O'Rourke's Bandcamp page. Jim is simply an incredible artist who works his ass off and surely needs no introduction. He has been quietly chipping away, developing these beautifully rich works over a long period of time. There are so many incredible pieces available there that really deserve your attention and support - you won't be disappointed.
Read more about Oren Ambarchi on his personal website.