A friend in the Relaxed Machinery community, for his English class paper on “Underground Musicians”, drew up a set of questions and invited answers. They are excellent questions, cutting to some fundamental issues, so it was a pleasure to participate. My friend earned an “A” for his paper, and I wound up with an artistic manifesto.
1. Why do you create music/art?
I don’t have much choice. I have a creative urge and I’m more crazy about music than any other art form, so most of that energy just goes there.
2. What moods, perspectives, and/or messages are you usually trying to convey when you create music/art?
There’s never a message. There’s always a feeling that I’m trying to capture. A piece can be inspired by a life event, or an idea, or some natural phenomenon, or another artist. It can start as simply a musical or technical idea, but it needs to tap into a feeling or idea that I’m interested in. I might be aware of that feeling or idea before I start, or it might emerge during (or after) the creative process.
Three very different examples: First Day Apart came from a feeling of being separated from my daughter when she left home for a year to visit friends half a world away. The title – like the awareness of the feeling – came only after the piece was finished. Knife of Karma started with the title, nothing but this cool-sounding phrase – and grew into a meditation on the march of time, the seduction of material nature and the iron law of karma (action and reaction). Rebuild From Memory started as an exercise in loops and editing, then revealed its structure as a rumination on how our imperfect memory tends to rewrite and re-interpret the past.
3. How do you see your music in comparison to the mainstream genre?
My music is completely outside the mainstream. The mainstream is about sex, money and fame. It’s not about music; it’s not about art. It’s about the business, and the results, of selling products.
There’s no interest in authentic self-expression or any forms outside of the well-worn commercially acceptable ones. Mainstream musicians are slaves to the market. It’s all about externals. The audience are just as enslaved. They’re spoon-fed, passively receiving what the machine dishes out. Their role is to obey and buy the product. It’s a puppet show. There’s no question of active engagement at a deep level with the art. It’s all on the surface.
My music – like any authentic artistic expression – is about an internal, deep, personal connection: both within myself when creating, and within the heart of the listener. Sincerity, respect and good faith are key for both creator and listener. You won’t find those in the mainstream.
4. What is more important to you when you create? a) Getting your own point across or b) Leaving room for interpretation?
I don’t really have a “point”. I start with an idea for a feeling that I’m trying to find in the sound, and I’m satisfied when (1) I think I’ve captured that, and (2) the music sounds complete in itself. That’s my experience of the process. But every listener’s experience will be uniquely their own; I don’t have any expectation for how they “should” hear the music. It’s their experience, not mine.
That’s a major difference in approach from the mainstream, which is all about triggering specific hormonal responses in order to sell product. That music is entirely in the mode of passion; it’s basically about appealing to people’s lust. Get dancing. Get partying. Get drinking. Get laid. Buy this product. It’s not about music, it’s about business. For the sincere artist with something personal to communicate, that world is hell.
5. Who/what moves or inspires you?
Great art in many forms: music, literature, theater, photography, film, architecture and more. Forms of beauty in nature – both material and spiritual (but the latter is more important). Personal relationships.
6. Would you consider your work to be sincere? If so, why?
Definitely. Nothing that I record leaves the studio unless it’s fully sincere and as musically complete and good-sounding as I can make it. Why? I despise insincerity.
7. What defines as being “good music/art” to you?
Sincerity, depth, focus, competence, imagination, respect for the audience.
Both. You have to practice developing and using your gifts with some dedication, or nothing will happen. Everyone’s different. If I have any musical gift at all, it’s as a drummer. Everything else, I’ve had to work hard at. It comes more easily to some people. For example, Steve Roach has enormous natural gifts, but has also worked long hours with deep focus and total commitment for many years. Both elements need to be there, and it’s a different combination for each person.
9. What do you hope to achieve from what you create?
The satisfaction of creating something that pleases myself, and hopefully connects with other people as much as possible. That’s a way of finding kindred spirits, which is always nice.
10. What effects have you seen your work have on others?
The coolest, and most unexpected, was one friend telling me that she uses a couple of my pieces for meditation.
11. Where do you think you would be in life if music/art was non-existent? Why?
How could anyone live? I think that the phenomenon, and purpose, of art (and especially music), is so fundamental that there could be no life without it.
When I wanted to be a writer, one of my ideas for a novel was to write a character who didn’t like music at all. A Life Without Music. I never pursued it, but it would be a nightmarish life, if such a thing was possible.
12. It has been said many times that musicians are the most creative when they are drug addicts, or as the old saying goes, “No junk, no soul.”. In your opinion, do you think that certain drugs aid in the creative process? If so, why?
I’ve never believed it, but even if it was true, I wouldn’t care. It’s not worth it. Addiction is hell. Any non-destructive way to access other states of consciousness is far better. Meditation does it for me.
13. It used to be every band’s dream to get signed onto a record label & now it seems as though bands prefer the freedom of working independently. Why do you think that is?
I think the pimp-prostitute nature of the record label-artist relationship has finally become obvious enough to enough people. Also, the internet has broken the record companies’ stranglehold on music publishing media, which has made it possible for artists to publish their work much more easily.
14. What impact has the record industry had on music throughout the years?
It has basically shaped the entire popular music industry into forms and styles which it considers the most commercially viable at the time, excluding all others. Again, its whole approach is not about the process of creating music; it’s about the end result – the product. It’s backwards: instead of an artist honestly pursuing a creative, personal process to its end and discovering something new in the result, the performer and the process are subverted to the end of generating a saleable product. There’s no personal connection.
15. Would you consider it to be a fair statement that mainstream music is made more for the sake of acquiring money than for the genuine desire to create, and that underground musicians are the opposite?
16. The internet has, without question, changed how we look at music. It makes it much easier for underground musicians to spread the word about their work. On the other hand, it also makes it possible to download music for free from torrent websites. Overall, do you think that the internet has, and will, hinder or aid underground musicians?
It will certainly help them to find their audience more easily. But if they want to get paid for their work – as I do – it’s also a major problem. The internet has enabled thieves no less than creators. The largest part of the problem is the sense of entitlement that so many consumers have. They’re completely self-centered and don’t give any thought to the artist’s situation. An artist needs to make a living too. If enough people steal his work, he’ll have to get a job, which steals his creative time. Just because you can steal something without compensating its creator, doesn’t mean you should. If you think my music is worth listening to, pay me for it so I can make more. Friends don’t steal.
17. Where do you see the music industry going from here?
The mainstream is becoming more and more degraded every year. It’s basically performing animals now. The underground will continue to grow, and the evolution of gear and software (along with the internet) means that more people can publish their own music, so there will be much more of both great music and garbage. The illegal downloading is only going to increase, so musicians can pretty much forget about album sales, unless an unbreakable encryption solution can be found. We’ll have to find other ways to earn our living.