Gates of perception
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2015 Anil Prasad. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives license.
With each passing day, composer, touch guitarist and producer Markus Reuter’s career continues to evolve. Since the mid-‘90s, the German musician has pursued an uncompromising, intriguing and occasionally incendiary path, writing and releasing a prolific amount of music for an ever-expanding audience. And by and large, it’s an audience as diverse and discriminating as his output, which crisscrosses the worlds of avant-rock, contemporary classical, ambient, expansive pop, and experimental.
One way Reuter builds his following is through a social media presence that showcases an honest voice and transparency. In fact, a Facebook post led to one of Reuter’s biggest artistic opportunities. Colorado-based conductor and composer Thomas A. Blomster saw Reuter’s update about searching for someone to orchestrate his ambitious Todmorden 513 composition. The two connected and went on to record and release an orchestral version with the Colorado Chamber Orchestra. The project transformed the complex piece into a large ensemble work. It also transformed Reuter’s perspectives on what was possible for his music going forward.
Reuter is involved in several bands and partnerships of note, including Stick Men with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto; The Crimson ProjeKCt, a group featuring King Crimson members and associates that reimagines that band’s repertoire; Centrozoon, an electronic improvisational trio with Bernhard Wöstheinrich and Tobias Reber; and Tuner, an eclectic rock-based unit with Mastelotto. In addition, he has collaborated with a wide variety of other artists in recording or production capacities, including Chrysta Bell, Ian Boddy, Tim Bowness, Lee Fletcher, Tim Motzer, Robert Rich, Sha, Sonar, and Toyah Willcox.
Reuter is also committed to propelling a sustainable ecosystem for artists dealing with the unpredictability of the conventional music industry. In collaboration with Fabio Trentini, Lee Fletcher, Benjamin Schäfer, and Adrian Benavides, he co-runs Unsung Records and Unsung Productions, as well as Iapetus Media, a multimedia company. The three organizations are collectively responsible for producing, releasing and promoting myriad albums and artists. Their goal is to showcase musical diversity and ensure what might have been previously unheard gets a chance to reach an audience.
You recently said one of your goals is to experience music as a performer and audience member with an open heart. Tell me what that means for you.
It means I should allow myself to be touched emotionally by music. When I hear people talk about “guilty pleasures,” I think that concept is ridiculous. The peer group you belong to is usually why people think of certain music as guilty pleasures. Perhaps you belong to a group of people who like the goth scene, which means you can’t enjoy Eurodance. It’s largely to do with belonging to groups. Why should you feel guilty about enjoying something? I say come into the music with an open heart and indulge in the emotional experience. Don’t let the style of music, the sound or the scene influence what you feel when you listen to music.
As a musician, it means I allow myself to draw from anything and access the whole of human experience, music history, and our collective consciousness when I create or perform. It’s very important to me. The most obvious example is answering the question “Do I have to be able to play fast?” Can I say the same thing with one note better than I can say it with 100 notes? I don’t necessarily think quantities really matter. It doesn’t matter if you play 100 notes or one note. I don’t care as long as the quality and intention is there. This definitely ties into coming into music with an open heart.
Describe Todmorden 513 as a concept and construct.
It’s something that works as a piece of art in a universal way. The concept is that it invokes a technique designed to hypnotize you. It makes your mind switch and oscillate between conscious and subconscious states. It does that by using a permutational principle. I believe human beings are pattern recognition machines. Our subconscious is capable of recognizing patterns right away and patterns of much greater complexity than our conscious mind allows.
I created a structure that on one hand surprises the listener on the conscious level, but on the subconscious level offers a progression that can be recognized and even predicted. This leads to the mind being in twin states of surprise and familiarity. It’s the state of having these states present simultaneously that opens the gates of perception. It also opens the gate through which you can experience art with an open heart.
Todmorden 513 is truly based on my life experience, which is 42-years long. It’s something I feel very strongly about. I believe the box of psychological tools humans have available is really amazing, but somehow seems to not be as important anymore because we have technologies which have eclipsed it. However, as we deal with technology, which has become so important, we are also arriving at a time in which we really have to be completely human again. We’re not just wheels in the clockwork of technology. We have to remember what we’re good at, and that is pattern recognition and communication.
I really believe humanity is on the cusp of a big evolutionary step right now. We don’t really see it. It’s not something we can experience ourselves. It’s almost like waking up after a night’s sleep and suddenly you have three eyes, rather than two, but you don’t remember that you had two when you fell asleep. It’s that kind of evolution. I also think it’s about change that doesn’t happen gradually, It’s something that happens in an instant. I do believe it will happen at some point in the not too distant future.
Detail Todmorden 513’s evolution across its multiple incarnations.
It started out as an idea for an ambient drone piece. Typically, ambient drone pieces are just one drone that continues for an extended period of time. I had a different idea which was to create a piece of music in which the harmonic content and the actual drone—the lowest note—changes every seven seconds, but still feels like a drone composition. I completely got off that track during the process of composing the piece, but that was the original idea. What I ended up doing was creating a chord sequence and as I composed, I started arranging it for synthesizers and touch guitar. This led to the first recorded version of the piece, which I later called the small ensemble version. It’s a recorder player, string quartet, some electronics by Tobias Reber, and the rest is me. Somehow, the piece turned into my most successful project because people started buying it directly from me. I sold many copies in just the first three weeks. I could tell there was something special about the piece that people were responding to. That was gratifying because it was also the first time I didn’t compromise in a composition.
Originally, I had the idea of having an orchestra play the piece, but when I recorded the first version, I didn’t see that as a possibility. Later, as it became clear that people liked the piece, I decided I needed to look at having an orchestra perform it. I was so lucky to be on the road with the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Stick Men as part of the Two of a Perfect Trio tour in 2011. We played in Boulder, Colorado and I learned that a gentleman named Thomas A. Blomster, a conductor and composer, was in the audience. He enjoyed what he called my Zen-like approach to playing and friended me on Facebook. A couple of months later, I asked on Facebook if there was anyone who could help me orchestrate Todmorden 513, and he said yes and wanted to premiere it with The Colorado Chamber Orchestra. It was just amazing to find someone who wanted to do that. There were rehearsals and then the premiere was April 2013. We also held recording sessions. So, there are three recorded versions of Todmorden 513: the original, the live premiere, and the recording session. There’s also a 5.1 surround mix of the recording session version.
Tell me about the process of working with the musicians during the orchestral performance and recording.
I was very lucky to have Tobias Reber as part of the process, including during the composition of the piece. He was very helpful and instrumental in getting parts of the piece transcribed that weren’t written down. It was 80-percent written as MIDI information, but other elements such as the electronics weren’t notated. We had to go back through the multitracks and transcribe quite a few parts, including a highly-complex large group part in which nothing was repetitive. Next, Thomas started experimenting with how we could turn Todmorden 513 into arrangements. My first idea for the original version was it would have 72 independent voices. Thomas initially tried to arrange it for sections of instruments, rather than individual parts and soloists. He tried a few arrangements and then decided he had to do it the way I intended, which I was really happy about. I don’t think the other ways would have worked. So, he had to orchestrate it and he made a couple of changes to the arrangements. Then we got together and had a reading rehearsal, which meant we had part of the orchestra there to play through the piece.
Next, we made more changes and it was a tedious process, but not as long as you might have imagined. It was two weeks of work. After that, I couldn’t really do much more, because I realized what a wonderful professional Thomas is. I’m used to playing in a band with a few other people, but as a musical director, Thomas works with huge orchestras of 50-70 people. He has to coordinate and motivate all of them. It was amazing to see how he did that. I don’t want to sound esoteric, but it really was a spiritual thing to experience how he embraced the musicians in a literal way to deliver. The piece is very hard to play. Every single note has to be intonated completely out of nowhere. There is no external reference for each individual note because there are no melodic lines. So, as a player you cannot predict which note you will play next. It’s hard to go to the next note, which made it quite a strenuous exercise for the musicians. Thomas did a great job at making it all work within only three rehearsals.
At first, it wasn’t easy for me to let go, but after realizing how great Thomas was, I could sit down, listen and enjoy the process. The last part of it involved a recording session after the performance. We began initial rehearsals on a Monday, so just six days later, we were recording. At that point, I had enough distance and was sitting there smiling. It almost felt like a practical joke in that there were people sweating as they performed my piece. [laughs] It really felt like the birth of the piece and I was able to laugh about it. I was able to let go of responsibility. It was like letting your child into the world after you’ve raised him or her.
Talk about about the work's importance to you and how it reflects your evolution as a composer.
It’s really the first time I managed to get my musical vision out into the world without anything distracting me. Usually, I love to collaborate and I do believe in collaboration. I think it makes pieces of art bigger if they come from different perspectives. But for Todmorden 513, I managed to not get distracted by wanting to collaborate. I did collaborate with Thomas, but at that point, it didn’t change the actual composition or choices I would have made.
In terms of evolution, it brings a huge part of my life to a close, because one of the first ideas I had in composing music was to create something that is generative in nature. I remember as a teenager, I was reading Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter in which he talks about how you can code information and transfer it from one medium to another. One of the first computer programs I wrote was a program that turned text into MIDI notes on an Atari ST computer. I was really excited about this idea of taking a sentence from a Lewis Carroll poem and turning it into music, but it sounded like shit. I was so disappointed. I was young and it motivated me to keep experimenting to find out what kind of generative approach actually works for me. It took me a long time. I discovered my process in 2005, which wasn’t long ago. I was already 33 years-old. So, Tordmorden really is the most important thing I’ve done as a composer. I created something independent of me as a player and performer. It’s both the end and beginning of something.
What appealed to you about being a member of The Crimson ProjeKCt?
I really love the music. I discovered it when I was 18 years old. When I heard the first few bars of King Crimson’s “Elephant Talk,” I felt right at home and felt that this was my musical family. It was the music I was hoping would exist and I found it within that song and the Discipline album. So, that’s what made it appealing to me. The group came out of Adrian Belew’s original idea in 2011 for King Crimson to go on tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of Discipline. Robert Fripp wasn’t interested in it. It has been great to play this material. It may be hard for some to understand, but when we played the material it didn’t feel like covers to us. That’s what made it a worthwhile thing to do for me.
Joining Stick Men is what made the whole idea of The Crimson ProjeKCt feasible. I was available as a person who knew how to play Robert Fripp’s parts. King Crimson’s music is very much about how you play it. Even a mediocre player can play some of the parts if they learn them, but your success relies on your interpretation. I was lucky. I was in love with the material and knew it well enough so that it was a real experience.
Your role in the group went beyond being a musician. Describe some of the other elements you brought to it.
I produced the band’s Live in Tokyo album, as well as put together the CD booklets. I also designed the band’s logo. But I like to talk more about the my musical role, because it changed over time. Initially, Adrian didn’t know me at all before we played together during the Two of a Perfect Trio tour. He considered me someone who could play Robert’s parts and make them sound good. Then he learned I was also a composer and did soundscapes. During the last few European tours, I opened every show with a soundscape. I created an instant composition and it resulted in three albums. I think we all learned a lot about each other during the tours and people were supportive of what each person could bring to the group.
What were the challenges of replicating Fripp’s sound while also putting your own stamp on the material?
It wasn’t that challenging to play the parts, because they felt natural for me. The challenging part was more about being the guy who played those parts onstage. It’s more about the representation of those parts. I started working with the soundscaping approach using two digital delays just like Robert was doing back in 1993. I started doing it around the same time he did. Obviously, Robert was the main inspiration for why I did it, because I saw him do it and I was his student. I was soaking up everything he was doing back then. I was part of what was then called Guitar Craft and Robert showed the students rhythmic exercises and how to play the guitar. He taught me “Thrak” in 1991, before King Crimson recorded it in 1993.
Guitar Craft is a big part of my DNA, but there’s other stuff, including my love of Mike Oldfield’s music. Yes, I can perhaps sound like Robert, but Oldfield’s guitar sound is even more influential on me than Robert’s. How I practice my instrument and even how I run my business is largely based on what I learned from Guitar Craft, but it’s my version reflecting what I came up with based on those exercises and ideas.
Soundscaping was initially, and often still is, a means of practicing. It’s an ear-training exercise. It’s also an exercise for my emotions. One thing Robert discussed was “division of attention.” For instance, I may use two delay loops. They are two different delays, but you can learn to hear them at the same time, separately from each other, even as they become part of a larger whole. My soundscapes are basically a byproduct of doing those exercises. I’m not trying to copy Robert. In a way, it’s like attending yoga classes. Your teacher does yoga and then you start doing it. You start doing the same poses and maybe what you do looks like your teacher, but it’s you doing it and you evolve.
Another thing I should mention is that on another level, with The Crimson ProjeKCt, it was important to me that I did things that sounded wrong. The best example was the solo in “Dinosaur” in which Robert always played in key over the changes. There are set scales he’s been using for those solos. What I did from the beginning was play wrong notes during that solo, which was hard for some of the guys in the group to hear. It was the one spot from the start in which I took the liberty to do something only I would be capable of doing. I was prepared that people would tell me it sounded bad, but I kept going down that route and fought my way through it. Listening back to the recordings of the shows, that was the highlight of the show for me. Now, it sounds absolutely correct to do that way. So, that’s the challenge in playing Robert’s parts—to meet the expectations of the listeners on one hand, and on the other, to offer something they have a problem with.
Your soundscape work with The Crimson ProjeKCt yielded three solo releases: Sultry Kissing Lounge, Sultry Kiss Down Under and Quit Being So Gray. Describe the process of transforming your introductory improvisations into standalone albums.
It was a challenge when I made the commitment to put them out. I thought it might change the way I play the pieces because I made the decision to release them while on tour. In a way, it made me focus even more on creating instant compositions that made statements that are valid and are more than just about setting a mood. Each of the pieces were miniature compositions. They were created in the heat of the moment with people watching me as I made them. There wasn’t enough mental capacity in the moment to grasp the whole composition as I was playing each live. But listening back to them, there was some interesting stuff happening in which I could hear melodic lines in the soundscape’s backing track. I would then solo on top. I was hearing myself responding to melodies in the backing track that I really didn’t consciously remember doing. If I’m thinking of myself as a pattern recognition machine, I’m also a pattern creation machine. Rather than the piece setting the mood, it was my mood setting the piece. It’s amazing how different all the soundscapes are on the albums. They’re using the same sound palette, but emotionally and compositionally, they’re very unique. How you hear them depends on if you zoom in or zoom out. If you zoom out, maybe they sound similar, but if you zoom in, you’ll hear a lot of personal development as a composer.
When I put the albums together, one thing that had to be addressed was the fact that Pat Mastelotto and Tobias Ralph joined me on stage towards the end to start playing their version of “B’Boom” on top of what I was doing. So, in order to make a wide selection of soundscapes available on the albums, I had to make a decision on where to edit and stop the composition. I recorded only what I was playing. I didn’t record the drums on my computer. So, when I listened back to the pieces, I had to remember for each of them at which point the drums entered. Interestingly, it worked out well because there were cues and changes I made to the sound when I could tell they were on stage. What this means is that some of the pieces that were perhaps 11 minutes long during the concert are four minutes on the albums. The challenge was how to end the pieces. The pieces have very different characters and I was getting to know them as I compiled them. I wrote down some criteria to create a framework for organizing them. I organized them according to the key, and whether or not there was a solo on top of the soundscape. Sequencing was also a challenge. I tried to base it on the variety of tonal material used, as well as the root note.
What does the future hold for The Crimson ProjeKCt now that King Crimson is active again?
It all depends on the future of King Crimson. If King Crimson continues to tour and record, The Crimson ProjeKCt will be on hold. You could even say it's over for now and the situation will need to get reevaluated later.
The existence of The Crimson ProjeKCt was a very unique situation. It's a wonderful development to see that this music is starting to exist as a separate entity from the people who were originally involved in it. I think that is a good sign, because that's how music used to always work. It¹s why someone can play a Bach piece. Bach himself doesn't have to play it for it to be great. I still believe the players are important, but I think there is a future for this material that is independent of the original people involved.
Talk about your role in Stick Men and how you see the group moving forward.
When I joined, I had never played in a major band like that. I didn’t know what I was capable of providing, but I wanted everyone to be as good as they really are within it. I wanted to be a pillar they could rely on and provide the energy they needed to shine as the musicians they are. As for contributing to compositions, the best example is the track “Crack in the Sky.” Tony Levin had a set of chord changes and put down the bass line. I put some soundscapes on top and then improvised the melody and it became a fan favorite. It’s a favorite of mine as well. It’s driven by intuition. Todmorden 513 was an intellectual exercise, but when I play with Stick Men, I try to pick up my instrument, play a melody and develop it from that initial physical expression.
Tony and Pat are always on tour when they’re not working with Stick Men. So, early on, I realized that if Stick Men are going to get somewhere, I have to provide a little more than just being available to play gigs. I started to help with producing the albums and writing initial material we can share together. I’m happy to do that and it’s an investment that’s paying off for me.
Musically, there is potential for evolution in the band. It has a certain repertoire and proficiency with a specific vocabulary and we could just rely on that. But we can make it more complex and more interesting as we evolve. I’ve talked to Tony about moving into more song-like compositions, but pieces that still sound interesting and are driven by an entirely intuitive writing process.
Reflect on the making of Deep, Stick Men’s biggest statement to date.
It’s an album that takes part of the King Crimson vocabulary and increases the complexity and challenges involved because we’re only three players. So, how do we write a piece that sounds like 2003 King Crimson with three, instead of four musicians? That’s really what that album was about. We were finding a unique voice for a band that comes from the King Crimson sound and then takes it to another level. Normally, in King Crimson, you might have a polyrhythm that was 5 against 4 or 7 against 4. On a piece like “Hide the Trees,” I tried to go with 7 against 3, so we changed the pulse. It’s those little changes to approaches that we’ve used on compositions to widen the vocabulary, but stay within that sound world. The album was also produced and mixed by Machine, the same guy that worked on King Crimson’s Power to Believe, so there’s some continuity there, but I don’t consider it to be a King Crimson album. It’s not a continuation of King Crimson. I’m referring to the inspiration behind the processes involved.
Something else I’m known for that I’ve done on albums like Tuner’s Pole is that there are thematic elements across several pieces that are related. I tried to do that on Deep as well. You’ll hear a couple of special chords that appear in a few pieces. There are rhythmic motifs that work as compositional modules. If you listen to the album closely, you’ll find little links between the pieces.
You continue to release collaborative albums under the title “Markus Reuter Featuring,” including people like Sha, Tim Motzer and Sonar. Describe the philosophy informing these recordings.
They’re about trying to remove myself from the performance aspect a little bit. It might sound strange, but I believe if you collaborate in improvised music or in something that’s being performed for the first time, what happens is that the more people you play with, the less influence you have as a performer. I mean this in a good way. You spread the responsibility amongst the other people involved. It’s what happens within an orchestra in which it’s not just the conductor or director responsible for the music, but every individual. That’s the idea behind these recordings. For instance, the project with Sha was the very first one. The idea was “Okay, I’m not even going to play. I’m going to let Sha play and just give him a microphone.” I plugged it into my laptop and started processing what he was doing, rather than being a first-level composer. I put myself into the position of being a second-level composer or performer. I was more behind the scenes than totally in front. The opposite concept has also evolved, since there has been a recording session with Angelica Sanchez and Tony Geballe that will be released in the “Featuring” series. On this one, I’m playing guitar as well, but I still largely process the other musicians. The concept is to build even more bridges between people, styles and what sounds right and wrong. It’s related to my usual quest for the unheard sound.
Provide some insight into the making of the forthcoming Markus Reuter Featuring Sonar album Falling For Ascension.
When I’m producing music, I want the performers to do what they do best, but I also want them to be challenged by something within the setting of what I’m offering. There should always be something I’m asking of them that’s unfamiliar to them. The Sonar session went very well and they responded really well to the input I had. With this piece, “Falling for Ascension,” I provided the idea of having modules and simple rhythmic structures and combining them with a 12-tone row. The results were just amazing. It was a case of combining a rhythm and a tone row in any way they wanted. As players, they would decide when to move to the next note. There was no rule for when they had to, but when they moved to the next note, it had to be the next note in the tone row. So, it gave them a certain freedom in terms of when, but the actual progression was predetermined. This provided some fascinating results, because there is something really alien about that approach to music. It was right in between composition and improvisation. It was the meeting of those worlds. That’s where the magic lies.
The motifs used on the Sonar project, including the 12-tone row, rhythms and bass lines were written when I was 16. They were not written on a musical instrument, but with a mouse on an Atari ST. They were actual written notes and consciously put down as these parts. I noticed as soon as the Sonar guys played these parts that they were putting their own stamp on it right away, because they’re such great players. We recorded around 40 takes of different combinations of the motifs. We have about three-and-a-half hours of music. I’m editing down the piece, but there will still be a huge element of improvisation within it.
You have a deep interest in the Swiss minimalist jazz and rock scene. What makes it so special to you?
Discovering the music of Nik Bärtsch and Don Li was a really singular moment for me. I always knew someone must be doing music like this, but I didn’t know who was doing it. Nik is so amazingly particular about the thing he does and it’s just so wonderful. I try to support him as much as I can. I knew Nik’s music was going to change the musical world and it did and still does. I’m curious about where he’s going next. It may sound strange, but the Swiss scene is really Swiss. It’s got something uniquely Swiss about it and it’s so unique, intriguing and pure. For instance, when the Swiss guys try to be funky, it’s never like conventional funk. They take that inspiration and then filter it through their own perspectives.
Centrozoon is another major project that has continued since 1999. Tell me about the duo’s mission.
The work I’ve been doing with Centrozoon is very important to me, but it’s also the work that’s the least accessible. It has always been about the meeting between Bernhard Wöstheinrich and myself. Bernhard is a self-taught genius. He doesn’t work with musical theory. I come from the opposite end of the spectrum in which as soon as he plays something, I can tell you what he’s playing. It really has been a great thing to improvise together and find a real middle ground between conflicting approaches. That’s what the music has been about all the time.
The rule we’ve set for ourselves for quite some time is that if we like what we hear, we’re not going to put it out. If what we play sounds wrong or something is missing, we release it as is. It’s the extreme challenge of accepting our expression as correct and right. The album The Cult of: Bibbiboo is an album that opened a whole world up for us, because it was a recording in which all the pieces sounded wrong to us. At that point, we decided we were going to treat these recordings as if they were the greatest things we’ve ever done and that they are totally valid musical statements, even though we didn’t experience them as valid ourselves. Tobias Reber joined in 2007 for the Lovefield album. He's totally on the same wavelength with us, following the original conceptual vision.
You mentioned that Mike Oldfield is one of your key influences. Elaborate on his importance to you.
Mike is a modern day renaissance man. He’s a guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, composer and businessman. He’s the way artists used to be in that he isn’t specialized in just one thing. He’s trying to explore the whole world of the art he loves. He’s the role model for my work as a composer and producer.
I remember my mother and uncle taking me to my first Oldfield concert when I was 10 years old in 1982 during the Five Miles Out tour in Essen, Germany. They were both fans of his. I played mandolin as a child and I remember having a ridiculous daydream that he would ask me to come on stage and play “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” with him. I had an idea that something might happen at the show. Obviously, I didn’t go on stage with him, but what the music did was wake me up to become a musician. That happened that night.
You’re working on a major transcription project involving a large portion of your back catalog. Describe the significance of this endeavor.
I’m moving towards not thinking just in terms of albums and recordings, but written scores as well. I’ve found some people to help me transcribe my compositions. The next step is to have them orchestrated. So, they’ll be available in the future. There will be a dozen new compositions available for orchestras or ensembles to play as well. Once they’re in a valid form, they will have to be performed before I commit them to book form. It’s a long-term project.
From an artistic perspective, my view on things is that I can always improve and refine something I did even 20 years ago. It’s a discovery I’m making now. I’m such a process guy that I hardly ever consider something to be finished. In this case, a score is a living organism. It’s a revolutionary idea for me to work on the past than always looking forward.
You’ve said the act of creativity is far more important than worrying about whether or not a recording finds an audience. Tell me more about that philosophy.
I just don’t really believe in the idea that quantity is necessary in any part of life. Why was I in the position of playing with Tony Levin, Adrian Belew and Pat Mastelotto in The Crimson ProjeKCt? It’s not because I sold 50,000 copies of something. It’s because Pat liked one track on Pure, an album I did with Ian Boddy. It’s more about one person or one event, not quantity. What I think is important is that I put a lot of care into what I’m doing, so if something was to be consumed by millions of people, it is already in a form that would work. But I don’t need millions of people to listen. I’m investing as much energy and love into everything I do so it’s complete. That’s what matters to me.
What's your perspective on the challenge of selling music in 2015?
It’s still in such a state of flux. When I consider the “Featuring” series, I don’t think I can release it as individual discs. So, far the music is available digitally. Interestingly, I think putting them out as a 10-disc box set is more realistic, because I would only have to have 100 people buy it to make it viable. So, going back to what we were just discussing, I don’t have to think in terms of selling thousands. It might just be 100 copies and it would work in a self-financed model. Sultry Kissing Lounge sold 100 numbered discs in 24 hours, which was a huge, rapid success for me and creates options for me in the future. So, again, I’m thinking in terms of quality not quantity.
What I might do is pursue a subscription model in which a handful of people who really support what I’m doing get access to everything I want to make available. One of the problems in today’s world when we’re talking about quantity is that if I put out too much stuff, people can get confused and it becomes harder to communicate. So, what I’m thinking is that a subscription or club model will be for the people who are close enough to me that they understand I work 24 hours a day on making music and are interested in my work at that level. I’ll make fewer releases available to the general public and put them out in a regular fashion on places like iTunes and Bandcamp.
You described music as a spiritual experience earlier. How does spirituality inform your work?
I really believe the one thing that makes us human is that we believe in magic and that there’s something out there that’s greater than us. Ideas like divine intervention and the creative impulse are fundamental. Some artists feel that if you were only to practice musical content that you’d become a great creator of musical content. However, if that’s all you did, you wouldn’t believe in magic anymore. You wouldn’t have the belief that there’s anything beyond the mere musical building blocks we have to work with. We all know that art and being a human being are not about having a plan that will unfold 100 percent as you imagine it. Both are about mistakes and your blind spots. It’s about the interactions you have with others. It’s about communication and interaction—that’s what I call magic. You can practice with a metronome and it provides a milestone you can reference like “Now, I can play at 90 BPM or 120 BPM” but it doesn’t tell you anything other than that. Being focused on content without magic is not human. So, that’s how I think of music and spirituality. I don’t believe in levitating yogis. I believe in everyday magic, institutions and people that you fall in love with and the hazards that involves. So, my music is very spiritual in that way.