Name: Evan Shornstein
Current Release: Waking Hours on Mexican Summer
Recommendations: At Peace by Ballaké Sissoko / The Overstory by Richard Powers
Website/Contact: You can find Photay online at Bandcamp and Facebook.
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 was very sensitive to sound as a child. A sound would haunt me for weeks on end, fuelling my imagination and scaring me in the night. Around 6 years old, a windstorm created a strange high pitch resonance through a friend’s window. The sound crystallized in my memory, shaking me up for weeks on end. Nowadays, I am drawn to the same esoteric and mysterious sound but with open arms. I like pairing the esoteric with familiar sound and songwriting.
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?
A certain level of naivety is important. Too many rules, too much knowledge is often stifling. I have had many instances where I learn the “correct” method after many years of doing it “wrong”. I think there is a great balance to be achieved. Embracing knowledge and history while developing your own technique (in and outside of music). In my opinion, the best results are often born out of an attempt to recreate known sound and instead “failing” or diverting. I have no interest in a perfect musical replication. We all recycle, we all reference, we all sample but each one of us has something unique to offer and it’s a crime to repress it in an attempt to mimic or achieve someone else’s success.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, patience. Now, overthinking, and self-judgement.
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?
First studio had 2 turntables, mixer, midi keyboard, drum set and small cheap JBL speakers. This has evolved to include an Apollo twin, UAD mic pres, effectron, Knas moisturizer and other outboard FXs and synths of all shapes. The Korg minilogue, Prophet 6 and Electro-harmonix Cathedral Reverb have been my go-to the past few years. The Buchla Music Easel played a big role in my newest record Waking Hours. I have also begun breaking the ice and recording in proper studios outside of my home. At this point, I really value a balance of home and studio recording. However, If I had to pick, I would always choose the home studio.
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?
To create the impossible. To create limitation and exceed limitation. Machines excel in consistency and technicality. Humans excel in imagination and inconsistency (beautiful inconsistency).
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?
I strive to let the machines speak as well as my humanness. The goal is to obscure the line between machine and string. To expose mechanical sound in nature and organic sound within circuits. I enjoy learning about these tools and demonstrating a knowledge in sound but the music itself is top priority. The inspiration is top priority. Going inward to learn the origin of that inspiration is top priority.
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 prefer in-person collaboration. The face time is important to me amongst the solitary solo writing. My friend Sam and I have a project called Ensemble Entnedu where we strike a really natural balance between jamming and producing. However, each collaboration is different, and I’ve come to learn that some work best in person and others remote. With the Photay project, I often find myself collaborating at the 70 - 80% mark. Going forward, I hope to write an album that is instead built on collaboration.