Name: Paul Schütze On Creative Process
Current Release: The Second Law on Phantom Limb
If you enjoyed this interview with Paul Schütze you can learn more about his music and art on his website www.paulschutze.com
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I think for me, the creative urge is triggered by yearning for things I can’t find. Wanting to experience something different or unfamiliar drives me firstly to search for it and then, if I can’t find it, to make it myself. In the case of music, I make works I need to hear. The same impulse drives all my work whether olfactory, sonic or visual. The works answer cravings.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
There is always a really clear sense of the feelings I need the work to produce. Feelings that are often a complex cascade of sensation/emotion are the specific end point. How this is achieved is less important.
Sometimes there is a kind of cypher in my head that represents the end point but usually it’s just a very strong “premonition” of the feeling I wish to achieve when the work is complete. An example of this was the genesis of a print work I made in 2004 called Walled City. It was the complete text of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel Topology of a Phantom City reproduced as a grid of silver letters covering an entire gallery wall. Reading his work had inspired several sound pieces including the Site series (Second Site, Third Site) in which meticulous descriptions of cryptic architectural spaces are read over music in a manner owing a great debt to the operas of Robert Ashely, a hero of mine. The edifice of the Robbe-Grillet text produced this wonderful sense of mass and complexity that I wanted to feel immersed in. The wall piece gave me that feeling perfectly.
As to chance, I have no particular working method and no musical training. I also feel strongly that any method is doomed to seed its own redundancy so I’m careful to develop completely new systems of working for every project. These invariably involve a significant element of chance. So much so, that I’d be very hard pressed to reproduce anything I’d ever done as, even at a remove of a few days, I doubt I’d remember how things came together as they did.
A really good example of this is the piece Green Evil I made for Bill Laswel‘s Divination Distill compilation. It’s possibly my favourite piece of work yet I have no idea how I made it. I seem to recall looping part of Deus Ex Machina and then treating it elaborately, but I’m dammed if I can tell how, listening to it now. Knowing I could never reproduce it makes it somehow more precious.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
As these things are all about craving, appetite and satiety, a great preparation is to drown yourself in the polar opposite of what you are trying to achieve. When I was preparing to make Without Thought, I listened to the most punishing math-metal I could find for weeks before I sat down to make it. I knew this would sharpen my appetite for and sensitivity to the formlessness, and absence I wanted to evoke with that work. It’s like you have no choice but to make what you make.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I need to start with something that is utterly seductive in its own right. In fact, finding that thing can trigger the whole process whether I’m ready or not. That special element then tells me where to go next, how to further burnish or ennoble its characteristics. From then I just follow where the materials lead. Listening to materials is the best lesson I ever learned. No matter what the medium, never fight the materials. You will always loose.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Usually quickly. Again, not fighting your medium allows for swift evolution. In the past, using analogue systems for sound, I was rarely afforded the luxury of being able to tinker endlessly with a piece. Often, I had to complete it before the end of a session, or it would all be lost when the power was switched off. I have noticed with digital systems I can sometimes return to works and tweek them for a few days but, unless I’m waiting for parts to be delivered by collaborators, I tend complete works very fast.
When I’m working with olfactory materials, I have a slightly different approach. The raw materials can be very expensive so I will spend a good deal of time thinking about the work before I start just to avoid costly mistakes.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I’m always led by the emerging work.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
The work knows better than you were it needs to go. Often what emerges is an echo of earlier (or future) works the links to which form the evolving grammar of your creative language. Even if it’s not apparent at the time, the things that emerge are part of a whole that won’t read properly if you suppress it.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Creativity takes place through and beyond the body. Rather than the notion of some inner fire or convolution of thought and emotion, I think it comes when you cast the sensorium out into the world, triangulated by materials and objects. When the world becomes a prosthesis for your sensorium: when you distribute your sensory intelligence across the material environment and the temporal environment, Creativity is not an intellectual process it is bodily. Objects and materials (sound is a material) make the artist, not the other way around.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
You just know.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
With sound particularly I used to master to stereo and then erase the midifiles before the end of the session so I couldn’t go back. Now, with digital recording and backup, I do sit with a piece for a week or so. Sometimes I make tiny tweaks. But I try not to.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I mix as I write. Any sound introduced is mixed and positioned before I play the part. Processing, panning, EQ are fundamental aspects of how that sound will behave. They help define the part played. I can’t work any other way.
Mastering is a very particular skill that takes decades to hone. I really value that set of ears and the knowledge of different playback scenarios. I would never presume to master my recordings. That said, the new world of digital labels seems to have abandoned the whole idea of mastering or deferred to an app claiming to do it for you. This is regrettable and as a result mastering is a dying skill.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
This is certainly true. Something I used to feel very keenly at the end of a project. But working now in several mediums there never seems time for this anymore.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing 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 actually. Any activity no matter now prosaic can become a profoundly creative act. We have woven a kind of privilege into the idea of art making that is nonsense. It serves the commerce of art and music well, but it also diminishes the activities and potential of those who sit outside those systems of privilege in a way that does the idea of art a disservice.
We need to be grateful that we live lives that afford us the luxury of making music or paintings while remembering that someone somewhere is possibly making greater (less commodifiable) work by walking across a plane, mending a truck, or noticing the moon.