Part 1

Name: Dustin O'Halloran
Nationality: American

Occupation: Musician/ composer

Current Release: AWVFTS The Undivided Five on Ninja tune
Recommendations: Murikami’s IQ84 / the art of Hilma Af Kint / the music of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou

Website/Contact: Dustin and Adam work as A Winged Victory for Sullen, here is their website

You can also read our conversation with Dustin about his creative process here.

Over the course of his career, Dustin has worked with a wide range of artists, including Hauschka, Adam Wiltzie in A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Bryan Senti.

[Read our Bryan Senti interview]
[Read our Hauschka interview]

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 started writing my first expressions of music very young on the piano- at age 7 my teacher let me perform one of my own pieces—that still today somehow has my musical DNA. Later when I started my band Dēvics with singer Sara Lov—this was a time of a lot of sound exploration and writing for different instruments, learning to compose and arrange. At that time, I was listening to a lot of 4AD stuff and music coming out of the UK as well as classical music. I was really fascinated with making instruments sound like something else… like the way Cocteau Twins made guitars sound. So, I think I was drawn early on to the use of effects and how they deliver another emotional level. This has always followed me I think, especially in how I approach recording and how this has such a strong effect on how music is perceived.

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?

I think learning other music and trying to capture sounds you hear is a great way to learn. I still find so much incredible musical information in just a few bars of Bach. Music is always a long chain reaction and it’s not about copying ideas but the transfer of ideas and how you can combine things and bring them into your own creativity. 

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

We are always searching for the right sounds, and those change with time. But in the early years, it was just trying to get the right guitar or piano sounds, a lot of trial and error and experiments. Sometimes the best sounds were accidents and I learned a lot about trusting your ears as well. Composing is a never-ending journey. It shifts in mood and time and with your life… it feels out of your grasp sometimes, and I don’t think I can fully appreciate if I’ve done a good composition until some years have passed and I can listen back on it and still enjoy it.

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?

My first set up was a 4 track TASCAM and some Shure 58 mics. Obviously in the beginning it’s always about how to get the most for the money you have. I still love those early tape recordings though. I have always tried to keep my set-up manageable and not turn into a full blown recording studio. That being said, my set-up now runs around a lot of vintage mic pres - Neve 1073 - Seimens V72 - and Studer Mic pres - with  a lot vintage mics as well. I’m using a lot of tape processing as well - tape delays and a TELEFUNKEN ¼ inch tape machine all which add a lot of character to the sound. Currently, my two favorite things in my studio are my 1962 Steinway B and my ATC monitors.

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’m always somewhere between analogue and digital technology. I love a well-recorded instrument or orchestra, and I also love taking it and reshaping with digital tools and letting it become something else completely. I’m not precious either way. Finding the most interesting sounds is the goal, so I try to use the technology that helps me, but I’m not dogmatic about using it. In their respective worlds, nothing can replace human touch nor can some of the digital soundscapes be created without technology. Ultimately, I’m interested in the intersection of both.

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’ve always been a person who uses whatever tools I have around me at the time to make music. So, a lot of times it depends on this. But as I’m working more with traditional instruments, strings, piano etc. it can be also about working to written music. I don’t have one way of starting or finishing… I just follow the muse.

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 love working alone, yet collaborations have always been an import part of my process, I’ve always gained so much working with others. It’s a sounding board that you can never really have on your own. AWVFTS would never be the same without Adam, my partner, and it’s truly the process of us both being in a room together that create this sound. Sometimes it’s just about talking and sharing a meal and having some existential conversation that brings the music to life.

An idea can be formed in a lot of ways. Sometimes it’s a chord progression… or sometimes it’s as simple as a single sound shape. I’m always looking for something that gives me inspiration and an emotional connection.

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?

In my early days, I didn’t have much of a schedule, and mostly worked at night. But now, working on so much film music and also having a child, I find that I work best early in the morning. It always starts with lots of coffee, and I try to stay away from emails and communication and do creative writing in the first part of the morning because I find the best ideas are there. It’s impossible to separate your life as an artist as it’s a way of life; somehow, you’re always thinking about it. But I do try to end my day and focus on taking time off.
Taking some time and getting into nature really helps the creative process. Sometimes staying in the studio too long can become a feedback loop. Ultimately music is about living and if you’re only living in the studio there won’t be much to write about after a while.

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