Name: Otm Shank aka Rik Dobson
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Nationality: British   
Current Release: Otm Shank's Maharaja is out via Pinkturban.
Recommendations: I'd like to recommend Talvin Singh's remix of my track 'Maharaja.' Talvin is a legendary music producer and tabla player. In his remix, he really captured the vision for the label's sound that even I couldn't have anticipated. He created an immersive and spatial experience.
Another piece of art I recommend is 'The Music Lesson by Victor L. Wooten.' When I first came to LA, I started taking piano lessons in Silverlake. My music teacher gave me the book and told me to read it and then give it to somebody else and tell them to give it to someone else. This book was an incredible spiritual journey; it's a cross between a novel and music theory. I'm not sure how real and true it is, but even the author says it's up to us to decide, which is much like life, really!

If you enjoyed this interview with Otm Shank and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit his official homepage for updates and more information. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.

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 started producing music when I was 16, using FastTracker 2 with my friend Rich 3. Before that, I would use Cool Edit Pro to make mashups and remixes for my DJ sets.

My early passions and influences were visual art, and I loved impressionist painters like Monet. When I was four years old, my dad bought me a Commodore 64, and I went to his science lab and saw Apple Macs and the Internet for the first time and fell in love with technology.

Later on, I was inspired by playing computer games such as King's Quest, Quest for Glory, and Prince of Persia. These games transported me to faraway lands full of magic and wonder. Most of all, the music grabbed me. Eastern electronic 8-bit music was unlike anything I had ever heard before.

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?

I spent years searching through scenes and genres, but I never quite felt that I fit in. Often, I would be into a trend, like trance or drum n' bass, but then the scene would change, and I would lose interest.

When I came to Los Angeles, after a series of mystic events involving Buddhist chanting and an experience in the Mojave desert where I "met" my alter ego Otm Shank, I discovered Indian music. I had an awakening to fuse Indian music with house music.

I started mixing these two sounds because I felt house music was a bare template that artistically I could put my expression on, and suddenly for the first time, I felt like I had my sound.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

This is a difficult question for me. I created an alter ego and character Otm Shank around my music. He was a mysterious, strong, confident figure living out my dreams, who could have whatever he wanted, and nothing held him back.

However, as time goes on, I realize that Otm Shank is who I've always wanted to be, that I am Otm Shank. So in many ways, there's no separation between creativity and identity in my music.

That said, as I travel along this journey, I'm trying more and more to let go of identity and let the music flow through me, unclouded by my egoistical assumptions.

What were your main creative challenges in the beginning, and how have they changed over time?

In the beginning, I severely struggled to finish music. It would take me a year to complete a single track, and I always felt I was in an uphill battle with arrangement. My music coach Mike Monday helped me break through this with his Automatic Music Machine system.

My main creative challenge revolves around doubt, obsession, and perfectionism, especially mixing quality and sound quality. Over time though, I've come to realize we master something by doing it repeatedly, so I've implemented daily practices. I've also become less focused on 'getting things perfect.'

I have the great fortune to work with mixing legend Adam Moseley (The Cure, U2, John Cale, Roxette), who mentors me through the mixing process and helps me get my mixes to where I want them to be.

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?

I've always been into hardware synthesizers. The first hardware synth I had was a Novation SuperNova, and I then replaced it with the Access Virus TI.

I sincerely enjoy samples and sampling real instruments. I love them as a foundation to layer hardware synths on top of. I sample a lot of Indian instruments, like tabla and sitar. I've been studying tabla for the past six years with my tabla guru Debasish Chaudhuri.

I prefer using samples over recording myself since there is so much magic locked into them. It's a whole world inside each one. Sometimes they're recorded in the Middle East or India, and so much is captured inside these recordings. You get to hear what the person doing the recording was like; you wonder where they got the mic from, where they travelled from to get there, who they met on the way, how they were feeling that morning, etc.

I recently returned to a simple setup using mainly sampling and my Access Virus, a Moog Voyager, and a Korg keyboard that specializes in Middle Eastern and Indian sounds. I produce and mix using Ableton.

Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

For me, it's all about making sure the technology doesn't get in the way of the creative process. I make sure my studio is a seamless experience. I want my studio to be a space I can let go in and allow technology to be an extension of my movements and creativity.

If I have to spend any time breaking my flow to search around for a cable and plug things in, then I've lost it. Everything about how I've set up my studio and sample library has been with the mantra that it's got to be seamless and free.

Various sequencers help me a lot in my process. Maschine has been fantastic for drums as I can easily create beats with it. I often use a Linnstrument, which has a built-in sequencer, to program sequences in different Indian ragas.

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?

For me, remixes are an amazing way to collaborate because you create something, and then you ask someone else to do their take on it.

In the end, you'll have a track in your style and the remixer's style. When someone remixes your track, it will be a complete re-imagination of the work, and I think that's a fascinating way to collaborate.

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?

During the week, I have a fixed but flexible schedule. I do this because then I don't have to think about what I need to do each day because I've pre-planned it. Pre-planning frees me up to use that energy to do the things I want to do.

With that said, I'm still flexible with myself. If I want to start at a particular time and I don't for some reason, it doesn't throw me or my whole day off because I'm flexible with the times I start and how long I do each task.

For my routine, a typical day looks like meditating for ten minutes, making a tea, Buddhist chanting for an hour, having breakfast, reading ten pages of a self-improvement book, practicing tabla for an hour, making music 3-4 hours, having lunch, working on my label / business / DJ sets, going to the gym, having dinner and then having some time for socializing and unwinding.

I believe it's important to do your passion first thing each day. Whatever is most important to you, make sure to do that first each day.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event, or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why, and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

My first release 'Ravish' was a breakthrough for me. It was my first release under the Otm Shank alias and the first release on my record label Pinkturban.

'Ravish' premiered on BBC Radio 6 Music and was played by DJs all around the world. It was a dream come true and an incredible way to launch my career. It was my first time fusing Indian and eastern sounds with tech-house in a genre I called 'Indian-Techno-Funk.'

'Ravish' was inspired by everything in my life, by those early computer games, eastern sounds with tech-house (which I had just gotten into), and Claude VonStroke and his label Dirtybird.

[Read our Claude VonStroke interview]

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?

I once did this thought exercise that my music coach Mike Monday taught me: the perfect average day. In this exercise, you describe in utmost detail an average day in your perfect life.

After awaking in my palace in India, I described going to the studio where my mind is completely clear of all thought. The music is just flowing through me. My hands are moving at the speed of light, picking up and playing Indian instruments, making beats, and the music is pouring out of me freely and without judgement.

That image is where I strive to be during my creative process. I also still use other tools Mike Monday has taught me. His Automatic Music Machine method allows me to practice non-judgment during the creative process to separate the creator from the editor.

Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?

Music can give me more joy than anything in this world, but it can also give me more pain. The creative process makes you look deep within yourself. Because of that, making music can be very painful, but it also can be the most healing.

For many years I thought I had to transform my life to make music. Now I've come to realize that making music is transforming my life. I believe artists have a great mission on this earth. The artist's job is to transcend the challenges and struggles of daily life and use our lives to inspire others.

There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols, and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?

For many years, I felt lost with Western music; something didn't connect for me. When I discovered Indian music, I knew I had spent my whole life searching for it. When I first started to mix Indian music with house music, I considered this at great length. I wanted to come from an authentic place from everything I did. I gave it a lot of thought because we're using a religious symbol for the label. I have great respect for the cultures we're sharing with the world.

At Pinkturban, we use the phrase "cultural appreciation." We believe it's the heart that's important. A Buddhist monk Nichiren says, "It's the heart that's important in whatever we do.” We believe that it's not just our actions but the intention behind them and what's underneath them. As long as our intentions and our hearts are in the right place, we feel people would connect to it, and they are!

People from the cultures we're blending and uniting together have greeted me in what I'm doing, with the label's name and the music, with great honor and respect. It truly moves me. At Pinkturban, we want to provide a gateway towards other cultures to other music. People who hear our dance music might not usually cross paths with Indian Classical instruments. But in our music, they'll hear tabla and sitar and be encouraged to discover this music for themselves.

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?

I'm a very visual person, so music is very visual to me. I realized a while ago that everything we let our senses experience goes into us and becomes our reality. I frequently look at Arabic art, and I designed my apartment with an Indian Palace theme. Visual art is a great inspiration.

I learned the power of smell when I was studying for exams at school. I had a strawberry-smelling pen, and I realized if I used the same pen for the exam that I used when studying, I would remember what I was learning.

Nowadays, our vision behind Pinkturban events is a truly immersive sensual experience. You're hearing the sounds of the beats, smelling the burning of the incense, seeing the pink and the neon lights, and tasting the delicious food. Pinkturban is a stimulation of all senses.

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?

I think I've covered that a little bit previously, but for me, my role as a human being is to win in my life and as an artist so as to inspire, spread peace and happiness to others, and change the lives of those I interact with.

My mission is to show people that we really can live the life that is truly in our hearts. This encourages me every day to not settle and not give in to my weaknesses but to courageously live freely. If I'm not doing that, then how can I inspire anyone else to follow their heart and pursue their dreams?

I believe striving towards social, political, and economic change is very important. However, ultimately all of those conditions are a reflection of people's hearts and so changing our hearts is most important, and this ripples into every aspect of our world.

What can music express about life and death, which words alone may not?

As human beings, we have absolutely no idea where we came from, why we're here or what reality is, or what the universe is. Imagine if you were doing a science experiment. You always start with what you know, and then everything you discover after that gets built on that foundation.

But everything we know is built on a foundation of complete and utter mystery. I believe as artists, we're trying to express what can't be expressed.

Nichiren Daishonin, a Buddhist Monk, talks about life and the universe:

"It is simply the mysterious nature of our life from moment to moment, which the words cannot express, and the mind cannot comprehend."