Name: Sebastian Reynolds
Current Release: The Universe Remembers EP on Faith & Industry Records
Recommendations: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, which is a masterpiece of early 20th Century epic poetry and well worth experiencing / Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung.
Website/Contact: Keep up with Sebastian’s work and shows at www.sebastianreynolds.co.uk
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 interested in music from a very young age, I loved film soundtracks such as The Pink Panther and The Snowman. At 4 years old, thanks to the Pink Panther theme, I decided that I wanted to play the saxophone. Unfortunately, it’s not physically possible for one so young to play such an instrument. However, the fingering for the sax is the same as the recorder, so I played recorder all through primary school, and was rewarded for years of diligence with a saxophone for my 11th birthday. My musical interests develop from there. I also have vivid memories of my grandfather playing Opera and classical music, particularly Carmen by Bizet and Four Seasons by Vivaldi.
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?
As I mentioned above my formative musical experiences were that of devoted learning, mastering the recorder, with the promise of better things. Once I had a saxophone I dutifully went to lessons every week, and played in the school orchestra and wind band. Around this time, I started to become interested in the popular music of the time, which was the mid/late 90s explosion in indie music such as Oasis, Pulp and Blur, as well as a return to fashion of classic 60s bands such as The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. I started to muck about in the school practise rooms with friends trying our hands at covering bands of the day, or even trying to write our own songs. One friend in particular and I started working on ideas, and from this grew my first band, heavily influenced by various indie bands of the day. I think Radiohead were really instrumental in opening me up to the worlds of music beyond indie guitar. When they brought out Kid A in 2000 it blew my mind, I’d already been listening to trip-hop du jour such as Massive Attack, Unkle and Portishead, and taking an interest in techno and hip-hop, but Kid A really underlined the point of the power of eclecticism. I went on to get into Warp records electronic artists such as Autechre and Aphex Twin, and also went on a journey of discovery with 20th Century classical musical. The work of the London Sinfonietta and their ground-breaking concerts of works by Luigi Nono, Stockhausen, Messiaen etc really made a big impression. Over the years I’ve played in numerous different bands with different influences, and all the while I’ve been hatching ideas and experimenting with sounds and the launching of my career as a solo artist embodies influences from this rich palette of musical styles and experiences. I think the mixture of playing in lots of different bands and with lots of different musicians, and then having time to work solo also has shaped my way of composing, producing and performing.
What were your main compositional and production challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In some sense the main challenges were related to the fact of always working with other musicians in band contexts, and not having autonomy to fully explore musical ideas on my own terms, always having to compromise to the collective will. Not having my own set up to record and produce, and not being confident enough of my musical ideas to try starting to perform as a solo artist until relatively recently. However, despite all the set-backs and difficulties of collaboration, it has meant I’ve had the benefit of learning a great deal from some super talented people, both in terms of production and composition. Also, some of the material that I’m releasing under my solo project came out of collaborations with others, and I still like to work with other musicians to this day, it’s just now I get to call the shots! I’m also not the most technically minded person, I can use the music software package Ableton pretty well, but I tend to work with my engineer Mike Bannard to refine my final mixes and prepare them for mastering.
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?
For years I’ve just played around at home with my old Yamaha DX21 synth and a variety of beaten up old guitar pedals. Sometimes recording with an old tape recorder of some sort, or working with various friends on their home computer recording set ups. I have a Micro Korg that I’m very attached to, and I love the Kaoss Pad still. There are some synth apps that I have on my iPhone that are very interesting. Since finally having my own computer music making set up a few years ago for me the factor that’s always changing relates to the audio sound sources that I’m using for a project, or the project specific brief. So, for the Thai dance and music show that I scored, Mahajanaka Dance Drama, I was working in the studio with the dancers and the live Thai musicians, and much of my electronically rendered score was shaped from either samples of the Thai instruments in the studio, or samples from old records that I have of traditional Thai music.
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?
The divide between humans and our technological innovations has become more and more blurred since our pre Homo Sapien ancestors were first using tools for hunting, making fire etc. The way that computers and portable tech like phones are becoming more and more like extensions of our bodies and brains is self-evident, as is a musician’s relationship to his tools, whether it’s a piano or Ableton Live. It’s a bit naff to talk about Oneness, but I feel like I’ve been working with Ableton for so long now it’s as much an extension of my body and mind as the piano or keyboard.
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?
For recording and producing, the vast majority of time has been spent using Ableton Live, I love the way that it is so intuitive for warping and shaping sound, and the session function with a Push controller is very enjoyable to use. For certain tracks, I get a bunch of sounds and loops set up in the live triggering format, then record an improvisation of me triggering the sounds, and I find I often make better, more interesting arrangements this way, rather than just dragging sound files around on the arrangement view, which can be a bit like playing Tetris.
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’m highly sociable and a very natural collaborator, having played in a whole range of bands and musical projects with a wide variety of power structures, as well as having worked on commissions for soundtracks with Neon Dance, and now starting to work on film commissions, I’m adapted to all ways. From jamming out ideas for hours in sweaty rehearsal rooms, to doing directed improvisations with dancers and creating ideas in response to a script or a dramatic concept or a visual motif; I’m happy. I also love remixing, taking sounds and reshaping and warping to suit my own vision, and I often work from sound samples and rhythm loops that my drummer Greig Stewart sends me. A big part of my practise over the last few years since I’ve started working as a solo artist has been revisiting audio material and ideas that I’ve made going all the way back to my very first demo tapes and early gigs recorded when I was a teenager, and then taking these old nuggets and refining and shaping them into material that feels current. "Everest", from my new EP is a good example of something made over a long period of time, that has been refined recently. It also features Greig Stewart as well as Andrew Warne and James Maund.