Name: Werner Durand
Occupation: Composer, Improviser, Instrumentalist, Sound Artist
Current Release: I'd Rather Be Lucky Than Good with Sam Ashley on Unseen Worlds
If you enjoyed this interview with Werner Durand, we highly recommend his excellent website, which offers further information and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started in 1973- age 19- being inspired by jazz for a bout 5 years by then and wanting to play saxophone. At the time I finally decided to start, Anthony Braxton was my hero. But at the same time I discovered Terry Riley and the other so-called minimalists and from the very beginning I went in this direction instead of jazz. I was never interested in classical music and had left pop and rock music behind me around 1969.
I also started right away to use tape recorders to do little experiments, and got into tape delays after finding the Odyssey LP with Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich and Richard Maxfield, which funny enough was produced by David Behrman. He became a very important inspiration and also collaborator in the 80s and again in the last 2 years.
For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Of course, originality is not something one decides to have, and it is very subjective. I was always curious about other artists, my motivation came through their inspiration. I can not claim to be original, this is for others to decide. But I think I found my „own voice“, not least by creating my own instruments, but also by the way I use them as well as the sax. When I studied Indian music, copying, or imitating your teacher is elemental. It is like learning to speak as a child - oral tradition. Some are happy to do a perfect realisation of what they learned. I was never interested in that but only in doing my own music or playing with artists I could relate to.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning the main issue I was dealing with was to find ways to have a multiple saxophone sound and finding the technology to do that - like a tape delay. The usual echo boxes on the market at the time were only giving very short delays, not useful to build up structures. In the 80s, the first longer digital delays came out - like 4 sec, but they were not easy to use for rhythmical purposes. My favourite became the JAM Man from Lexicon, I sometimes used 4 of them. Now I use a max patch designed by Stefan Tiedje.
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?
I never was a studio guy, only owned what was essential to record my music, like tape recorders or a computer. The only hardware I use is an EchoPro made by Line 6, mainly to use it as phase shifter for my sine wave drones.
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?
I use technology very intuitively, don´t like to read manuals. First I have to feel the necessity for a certain tool because I have an idea, then the process might lead to the point that the tool inspires new ideas, this can go on forever. What I don´t want is to accumulate technology and then trying to do something with it.
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?
As I wrote above, the technology might stimulate new ideas, but I would never let the technology be the co-creator. I can set something in motion and also decide all the parameters and still have an open outcome to a certain extent.
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 have been engaged in many different forms of collaborations - from creating a common group sound (the 13th Tribe, Armchair Traveller, Tonaliens),
collaborating with another artist on equal level, mainly with Amelia Cuni, to playing in an ensemble realising somebody else´s compositions (Urban Sax, Arnold Dreyblatt, Logothetis Ensemble) to working with a composer writing a piece for me (David Behrman, Henning Christiansen) plus numerous free improvisations. Each of them have their value and I wouldn´t want to miss any of them. But none is really fitting your question, I´m afraid.
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?
Since I´m dealing with a partner who is seriously ill since 5 years and needs a lot of attention, my creative work time has been squeezed to some hours in the afternoon or late evening. Depending if I´m preparing a performance- alone or with others, or just working on ideas, or practising a instrument, or mixing a track, the intensity varies. Luckily I can work at home, also with others, so I can integrate it easily. But I try to separate my musical activity as much as possible from everyday life - I like John cage´s phrase: "Music is Music and everything else is everything else."
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
The album I would like to talk about is ASHTAYAMA - Song of Hours, created over 3 years in the late 1990s. The basic idea was to make a piece of contemporary Indian music, only using the voice of Amelia Cuni, a Dhrupad singer. At first she was reluctant, but i convinced her to record some basic phrases of various ragas. At the time, I did not have a computer to use for music, even though I had been mixing a piece on proTools with a friend. It was the newest thing around and I was not ready for it.
Instead I bought a Tascam 8 track. I created loops and drones from the recorded voice (on DAT tape), using 4 digital delays (Lexicon jamMan), which had up to 32 sec. delay time. After playing to her my first attempts, Amelia got really excited and proposed to do a complete cycle of 8 ragas, representing the time division of the day represented by different ragas. Once we had finished all the drones, accompanying voices and rhythm tracks, we had to arrange them on the 8 track.The final mixing for the CD release was done on ProTools in a studio in Berlin. The next step became the live performance of these pieces, having all elements independent in order to mix them freely live along with Amelia´s live singing and dancing. The performance also included visuals and lights and toured worldwide for 15 years.
At first I used 4 CD players with all the tracks lined up in a specific order to mix them, from around 2007 I got a max patch so I could do it from the laptop.
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?
Creative ideas can both come up in a musical or non-musical situation. But in a musical situation, the realisation and reflection on it is already happening at once, later changes notwithstanding. Ideas appearing in a non-musical situation are more general in my case, more abstract. I get more out of playing for a long time and letting things come up after a couple of hours.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Depends on the individual project - if it is solo or with an ensemble improvised or fixed. In fact most of my activities are a mix of fixed and open elements or structures. Since my solo Pan-Ney pieces, I have very fixed rhythmical patterns, but improvise with repetitions, lengths and paces of these patterns against very long delay times with a fixed beat, either in uneven or offbeat settings. In others I might play against some live mixed backing tracks with my own instruments or sax, some might use Just Intonation intervals, so tuning has to be extremely precise, while the general musical flow can be rather loose. Same can be applied to group situations more or less.
I tend to play certain pieces for many years, and see them evolve and change, like getting to know a person and seeing her or him getting older.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Since I usually develop my music out of my instrumental playing, the compositional side very much depends on the sounds themselves, for better or worse. I experiment a lot with materials, usually pipes of various lengths, diameters, shapes, materials and embouchures. Sometimes they are very limited in scope but very effective in a certain context. And I might use them in a completely different one as well and be surprised how they can change their personality.
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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I tend to prefer those where there is such a strong connection between the audible and visual that I don´t perceive them as separated. Otherwise I prefer to only have sound, so it´s is not subservient to a visual element. 2 Examples: The bed scene in Einstein on the beach, early works by Jon Gibson, especially the Great Outdoors.
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?
Intentionally I am only concerned with the music itself. Whatever happens with, by or through it I would leave to the perceiver rather than giving them hints, directions or non-musical messages.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
There are times when I wish I could just stay inside the music, not because I reject so-called reality, but because I experience it as a kind of ideal one. Setting up situations where this can happen for both performers and audiences should be a goal. The Dream House concept by LaMonte Young is a very good example. Just let the dream come true.