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, writers and possibly even the artists you're interviewing or working with for a piece?
A recent approach I used was creating experimental interviews, tracks/mixes - I did this together with Gqom artists in Durban, with musicians Daniel Jakob (dejot) and Marcel Gschwend (Bit-Tuner), and currently with artists from London. In the past, I also used a lot of dialogic editing, where artists could comment directly on the text - I did this for my book about music in Beirut - and these comments would become part of the book.
Can you take me through your process on the basis of a piece that's particularly dear to you? How did you decide what to write about, what did you start with, what sources did you draw from for research purposes and how did the piece gradually take shape?
To be honest, I enjoy these questions, they are important. And yet, I find it strange to sit here at my desk, alone, and answering them- – one could write a book about it.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?
My days look very different from one another. If I work on a reportage, or on a documentary as for the film “Contradict”, I’m constantly on the road meeting, calling and writing people, attending concerts, and traveling to places. If I write, produce podcasts or mixes, I can spend days alone in front of my computer, working for several hours on a small section. Music, writing and my life are closely interlinked with each other.
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?
For me, what works best is to go out for walks, to concerts, dance performances, read a book - and then creative moments come. I cannot predict when they come, but I know that they come because at the end of the day being creative is like playing. I love it, I’m full of ideas, and I just need to create the space for these ideas to come up. Then, when I work on a piece I need time - I shut down emails, social media, and work. Often, it’s during the creative process that I start to understand what I want to say.
How is listening to the actual music and writing or reading about it connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
They are two different experiences. In music writing you feel less the emotional power music can have, but you can understand the importance music can have. I love both: music, and great reflections about music. If I would have to choose what to bring on a lonely island, I would definitely take with me music, and not a written piece about music.
There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies. What's your perspective on the promo system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists and topics, in how far is it useful for pre-selection, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining journalistic freedom?
I never cared about promotion agencies. I always wrote about what I wanted to write about. So, in a way, I cannot really say too much about it. It's important for artists to have agencies to promote their work – because the artist should find time to produce music. For the journalist however, it is important to create his or her informed opinion about things.
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?
Without art, life on this planet would be a dark place. And yet, this is a reality for many people in many countries. I write to you here from a privileged perspective: white male, born in Switzerland, one of the richest places on earth. I had better opportunities than many people around the world to go on my own path, decide what to write about and what not to, and make a small income living from it. On the other hand, there are many people who would have similar opportunities but would not risk to go on a personal journey. From how I live I feel much connected to artists- I live from my ideas, creativity, and hard work. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, and yet I trust to a great extent that I will somehow always fall on my feet.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music journalism still intact. Do you have a vision of journalism, an idea of what it could be beyond its current form?
I know that most journalists work with a lot of passion and little budget. In a way, through this interview, I can promote myself, my work with Norient, my film Contradict, and thus I put in the time to answer. I feel a tendency that even niche labels and agencies do not trust music journalists anymore and that they prefer to promote themselves (and possibly answer written interviews so that they can control the message) to having articles out there, that are superficial or poorly informed. What is my vision for music journalism? First and foremost I hope that it survives – and I think it will. We need great music journalists out there, that put in the time and show that music journalism can still be strong and relevant. And yes, we need to experiment with all the possibilities the digital age offers, but also, we should not forget to listen to the music, meeting the artists and the people part of a scene. At the end of the day, I feel that the actual meeting remains crucial and important.