Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
For a number of reasons, not least Brexit, I recently decided to leave the UK and become a resident of Spain. So, I now live and work in a cabin next to the sea in Mallorca. My days differ quite a lot, depending on whether I’m focussed on the mixing and mastering work I do for others, or on my own creative projects. A general picture for this time of year would be something like… wake up around 7am, sit outside for half an hour watching my many non-human neighbours go about their business, then a morning session in the studio. Around midday it’s time for the daily swim, after which I do whatever I feel like for a while––most often reading, after making a fire if the temperature is low, perhaps some research, walking, playing drums or negotiating Spanish bureaucracy in small doses. Then, it’s usually back into the studio for an evening or night session. I find doing two shorter sessions with a long space between them to be the best way to make the most of my capacity for concentration in the morning, and for more free-flowing creative thinking in the night time. The light can be quite short-lived where I am in the winter––so using the afternoon to get outside feels necessary.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I think a piece called ‘In Shadowlands of Like and Likeness’ somehow seems to encapsulate the mode of creativity I’d arrived at while completing the very long and dispersed process of making ‘After Masterpieces’. The production includes live drumming, poetry recital, fragments of discarded recordings from previous projects, real-time electronic processing, the creation of sample instruments from edited phrases of existing music which is relevant to the recited text… a number of processes that ended up defining that collection. As always, it came together quite instinctively, but this piece particularly just seemed to come to life in the same way as my imagination suggested it would. Part of what interests me about the setting of poetry to music is that the space in between the lines of text is so much more defined than a simple line-break on the printed page. In this case a fairly short poem is given 17 minutes to stretch out the rhythmic interplay of the words themselves, and the spaces between them.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
As mentioned above, collaboration is a very important part of my work. Living and working where I do, and given the kinds of things I like doing, it’s easy for me to slip into spending long periods of time alone. Sometimes I have to remind myself to snap out of it! For me, the contrast between that solitude and more communal activities generates a kind of pendulum swing that always throws up new ideas and the motivation to embark on new projects. If I were pushed to define more clearly what my preferences are––I would say that the amount of solitude I need is a simple necessity, not just for creativity but to function more generally… as long as I’m getting enough alone time I’ll always be open, prepared and grateful for the time I spend in the company, collaborative or social, of others.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
How much time do I have?! I certainly don’t think music has any prescribed or pre-determined role in society. And if it assumes or achieves one it’s entirely dependent on its specific content and the context in which it is received. Soledad Bravo’s revolutionary songs would be a perfect, self-defining case in point… focussed in a time and place, but powerful enough to echo across decades nevertheless. It’s perhaps an amusing paradox that a lot of the most popular music now is that which would seek simply to entertain (which is of course still a ‘role’ by definition), while that with much less exposure might tend towards an engagement with wider and more diverse critiques and assertions relating to the society it inherently emerges from… but that says a great deal more about free-market consumerism than it does about music as a form of expression! Susan Sontag contested that, despite the appetite that people may have for light entertainment at any given time, it will be the writers, poets and more challenging artists of all kinds, some entirely unsung during their own lives, who will be remembered by generations to come. Music, in some ways, is the artform least easily locked into capitalist reproductive frameworks––existing as it does in the air, with temporality in its DNA––and it was an intriguing time when digital technology first helped it wriggle free from its commodified casings (surely not an intended outcome for the major financial beneficiaries at the time!) Of course, the streaming service ecosystem has now applied new rules to the processes of releasing and listening music… but that’s for another rambling micro-essay…!
From my own perspective, I would like my work to relate to the world simply by being an expressive reflection of the interest I have in knowing as much as I can about how it came to be, how it is now and how it could come to be in the future. But I’ll let others decide to what extent I’ve been successful.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I think music, and hearing as a sense, has a unique capacity to hold and sustain an emotional response. Unlike smell, for example, which can have a sudden and powerful evocative effect, but seems to recede equally suddenly… so I often use music to sustain certain feelings that it inspires, and that can be a way of holding a memory in place to consider it more deeply before it slips away, or of processing a loss of some kind. As a listener, this can be extremely therapeutic. And as a creator it offers the opportunity to refer back to feelings that otherwise might have lost some of their potency––by referring back to the piece of music that you’ve attached it to… from my own creative perspective, this allows me to meditate on feelings I have in such a way that I can attempt to express them more generally and impressionistically, rather than as a specific ‘self’-expression. I’m quite a private person, so maybe you can see that I’ve dodged a certain aspect of the question here!
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I can’t say that I share that interest much. In terms of music production and methodology it’s almost the antithesis of the way I work. I can completely understand the appeal of ‘process’ music and algorhythmic production, for example …but I find myself uninspired by it. It’s not something that draws me in as a listener, or motivates me to think or create music. In my texts, I frequently talk about science, most often from a standpoint that critiques a hyper-rationalistic approach to life’s problems and questions. If anything, I would like my work to be (humbly!) suggestive of the pre-Socratic union of disciplines––when there was no distinction between science, poetry, philosophy, and music even. They were all fused together into an impressionistic mass, questioning and questing to understand life’s natural and social phenomena from a number of angles. So, I think one of the many ways that these two fields reveal things about each other, and one that interests me specifically, is music’s (and poetry’s, and philosophy’s) capacity to suggest the limits of scientific discourse .
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I don’t think that making a great cup of coffee has much in common with making a piece of music, writing a poem or some other kind of artistic expression. This is by no means a value judgement on either process… more of a material observation. These days people seem to stretch the meaning of the word ‘creative’ almost to breaking point. Everything and everyone has to be in some way creative. Beyond the gaping sematic trap that awaits us here, I believe there is a palpable and inherent difference between, for instance, the work of an advertising ‘creative’ who comes up with an inventive way to sell a product according to a commercial prerogative, and the expressive work of an artist (or artists) which spans the entire process from conception to completion. The latter can still be a terrible failure of course––but its success or failure is, to me, clearly assessed on a very different basis to the advert, or a well made drink. To clumsily paraphrase the words of a well-known but very problematic German philosopher, art transforms the materials the artist uses into something radically beyond their material presence, allowing us to see past them into another world of possibility, whereas the craftwork excels in the accomplished presentation of the material as itself. So, unexpected and magical things can emerge from combinations of pigments, textures of stone, words not intended to be in certain grammatical relationships. Music is almost hard-wired to do this, given its inherent abstractness and mysteriousness… I don’t think either the company providing the budget for an advert, or the person ordering a hotly-tipped cup of coffee would find the potential for such unexpected outcomes appealing!
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I don’t. And, quite simply, I think that mystery is a large part of its enduring appeal.