A Necessary Evil

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Published at September 27, 2010

Zero Music Magazine (Sweden). Journalist: Hans-Olof Svensson on the subject of Sleepwalkers:

Sleepwalkers – Selecting Tracks

How did you decide which tracks should go on the album? What were  the selection criteria? What tracks were considered for inclusion but  then left off, and why? Linoleum, for instance, is a personal  favourite of mine.

The process of selection comes down to personal preference and  availability of the material. For example, Id have liked to have  reworked the theme for the manga series Monster entitled For the love of life and Blonde Redheads The messenger but for various reasons this wasnt possible.

What kind of dynamic were you trying to create in assembling these particular tracks in this particular order? Can a piece of music in  some way be altered simply by taking it out of one context and placing  it in another context and another dynamic, and if so, can you give specific examples of this?

Firstly theres the issue of continuity. When compositions come together that werent intended to be heard in the same context you might find some interesting contrasts and a certain amount of friction. Of course, listening to a particular piece in a fresh context can change our response to, or perspective on it. Take a piece such as Transit which, when heard in the context of Christians original Venice cd has a sonic continuity with the pieces which surround it but in the context of Sleepwalkers the introduction to Christians sonic palette can be  quite startling which, to my mind, is a desirable result. I enjoy  hearing dramatic contrasts in a body of work as much as I enjoy something that was designed with a more conceptual uniformity.

Sleepwalkers – Specific Tracks

Are you the kind of artist who feels comfortable explaining what
individual tracks are about, or do you feel that an explanation from
the artist somehow diminishes the music and/or lyrics by limiting the
interpretations open to the listener? Personally, for instance, Im
curious as to who the fucking sleepwalkers of the title track might
be.

 

I feel no need to pin down the meaning behind the lyrics of a particular song.

 

Were all blind-eyed, dull-witted sleepwalkers for the most part. It
takes an enormous effort of will to change this involving a recognition
of the condition and the prescribed antidote to be administered. You can
take a simple test as outlined by Ouspenksy, illuminated by Gurdjieff,
but what is after all a basic component of Buddhist practice. Sit and
practice conscious awareness. I am here, now. I am awake in this moment
now, awake to the stimuli around me, not lost in thought, reflection,
projections into the future, waking dream states etc. Once youve awoken
to this awareness, recognised not just the sense of clarity but that
its an altogether different state of mind than one predominantly finds
oneself, see how long it is before you once again come back to that
state and acknowledge it as in I am here now. For some its a matter
of seconds perhaps depending on the distractions around you at that
moment in time. For others minutes, hours, even months might pass before
we wake to the present moment again. Whatever the distance travelled
that is how long you were asleep and so on throughout your lifetime.

 

Thats one possible interpretation of the line youre curious about.
There are others that are equally valid related to cultural consumerism
and our addiction to the things that keep us asleep as opposed to
challenging us to wake up in the 21st century. Culture as comfort food.

 

This interview is aimed at Swedish and Scandinavian readers, who
might be particularly interested in your collaboration with Stina
Nordenstam on Wonderful World. What can you tell us about that
collaboration: how it came about, the creative process, personal
chemistry between the individuals involved, anecdotes from the recording
session? Basically whatever occurs to you in summing the collaboration
up.

 

While writing the lyric to Wonderful World it occurred to me that
the chorus should be sung by a female voice. I knew Stinas work well
and felt, rightly or wrongly, that I could hear overt references to my
work in her own. Regardless, I felt she was the right person for this
particular track so we made contact and eventually flew over to
Stockholm to work with her. One of the first things she told me as she
sat in the hotel lobby with a beat up guitar missing about three
strings, was that my music had been an influence of some kind in her
life, Ive no idea to what degree, and so I immediately felt we were
intuitively on common ground. Steve, Stina and myself spent a wonderful
evening together walking Stockholm, talking about everything under the
sun. The next day we recorded and rapidly covered all the ground
necessary. Stina had, overnight, composed a couple of verses for another
piece we were working on and we had time to lay that track down also.
She knows her instrument exceptionally well, how to get the most out of
that beautiful, seemingly fragile, voice. It might sound odd to say it
but the experience of meeting and working with Stina was something akin
to reconnecting with a long absented but loved sibling.

 

By the way, obviously Ballad of a Deadman is very firmly planted
in a certain musical tradition, but more specifically it reminds me of
Work Song by Oscar Brown Jr and Nat Adderley. Can you hear that
similarity too, and if so, was it intentional?

 

I didnt compose the music for Deadman, my brother did. Youd have
to ask him about specific musical references although Id imagine the
impetus was simultaneously something more contemporary and more rootsy
than either of the gentlemen mentioned above. From my standpoint, I
simply responded to what I heard. The lyric is very loosely based on
Joan Didions book on the settling of California, where Im from. Id
lived there for a number of years and knew the landscape of which she
wrote. Love Didion, love California, this was a tribute to both.

 

Musical Development

 

This record charts the last decade. What have been the most
creatively rewarding moments during this period for you? Can you name
times and places (and people) where something clicked and things fell
into place?

 

Outside of the material on this album I was primarily focused on
recording my solo work. I reached a turning point working on both the
title track for Blemish and The only daughter. I worked on these
pieces alone but both tracks really opened things up for me regarding
the process in which they were made and the depth of the emotions
experienced/expressed. On a later occasion I remember everything coming
into focus at a session in Vienna with Keith Rowe, Michael Moser and
Werner Dafeldecker, that justified a particular approach I had chosen to
take and which confirmed the direction of my work for the next few
years. There were many moments on the Nine Horses project where things
really came together beautifully, notably writing the tracks Wonderful
world and Atom and Cell with my brother. At the end of the Blemish
tour in 04, I wrote the lyric for A history of holes in a hotel in
Kln prior to a meeting with Burnt Friedman which marked the beginning
of our creative involvement together. Later that evening I attended the
Erstwhile festival where I would meet many of my future collaborators
(Otomo, Nakamura, Sachiko, Rowe, Mller ) for the first time. Thinking
specifically of material related to this album, Ryuchi asked me to
contribute to a commission hed received but had yet to find a direction
for. He sent me some musical references and occasional sketches but
nothing clicked with me until I heard the piano loop for what was to
become world citizen. I played the loop on a four hour drive to NY. By
the time I arrived everything was in place. Im still quite fond of
that lyric. Whilst Steve was working on Slope Id been assigned to find
suitable vocalists for each track hed send my way. Late one evening,
after a days work on Manafon, I found an audio file waiting for me from
Steve. As I played the file back I found I had a melody for the piece
and quickly scribbled down some lyrics, recorded the results into a
portable digital recorder and mailed the results back to him with notes
as to who should sing it before sinking deeply into sleep. That piece
had a very simple sense of rightness about it. Steve eventually asked me
to record a version of my own which is how two versions of Playground
Martyrs ended up on his album.

 

The majority of the tracks on Sleepwalkers were written in
isolation. The only exception is Wonderful world where Steve and I
were working in the same location.

 

For a long period you appeared to be moving away from song-based
pop structures to a looser form of experimentation, but you have also
said that recently you have been returning to songs. Where along that
line are you right now?

 

I suspect Ill always be moving back and forth between the two, occasionally occupying space in the middle ground.

 

Surface / depth is a dichotomy that springs to mind here. Are
song-based structures somehow by their very nature more superficial, or
can the restrictions of working within a defined frame or format produce
depth in other ways? Is this a balance you try to address at all as you
work, or do you simply let the chips fall where they may?

 

I believe depth and superficiality are not determined or defined by
form but rather by intention. Working within a given form or limiting
oneself by other means often produces the more interesting results. Even
the material I was working with on Manafon presented me with a serious
set of limitations. Id also given myself certain rules to adhere to
such as not to edit the recordings themselves, as in cutting into the
body of an improvisation, which meant there were plenty of creative
obstacles to be overcome.

 

The seemingly simplest of pop/folk/rock songs can hit a common chord
in the hearts of many, can run as deep as other form of music. One
thinks of Nick Drake, Dylan, Lennon, Caetano Veloso, John Martyn, Bob
Marley, Marvin Gaye, Jeff Buckely, Lou Reed + VU, Joni Mitchell, to name
but a few.

 

Thoughts on the Interview Process

 

How do you feel about the interview process? Can it produce worthwhile results, is it a necessary evil or just a chore?

 

Depending on frame of mind, all of the above. On the completion of
new work it can be instructive to be in the position of trying to
explain ones reasoning as clear logic rarely comes into the creative
process as such. Its like being present at the scene of a fire, a baby
thrown from the third floor window of a blazing building which, without
knowing quite how or why, you mange to catch. The reporter asks, so
what were you thinking when you saw the baby falling… Theres no
satisfying answer to that question, just an ineloquent recounting of
fact. You cant speak of impulse and intuition, you tend to talk around
it with metaphors, analogies. You intuit something of which the mind has
only the slightest inkling.

 

Your personality seems to be somewhat introverted or
introspective. (I feel uncomfortable making this kind of assumption or
statement about someone I have never talked to, and whom I am only
writing to now, but I suppose its a necessary concession to the
limitations of the interview process.) Would you agree that this trait
makes for better personal insight, but a reluctance to actually share
it, i.e. youve got something to say but dont really feel like saying
it, whereas many musicians and celebrities are the opposite? (I do
realise that Im making the classic error of asking a yes/no question
here)

 

Well, Id agree that introspection leads to a greater clarity of
insight which is something were all the better for. To be somewhat
introspective does tend to make one wish for a more or less private
existence but, as a writer, simultaneous with that desire, is another
that intends to share work which one feels might be of interest or
beneficial in some capacity or another. I suppose that comes down to a
simple inclination to be of service, to live a life in which one gives
back. In other words ones own personal needs dont take precedence, or
at least a compromise has to be reached in life and not elsewhere. For
the writing to have any kind of value, certainly in my case, entails a
good deal of self-revelation in that I dont stand in its way but follow
where it leads. The confessional isnt where the intrinsic value
lies, as in it isnt merely confessional for the voyeuristically
inclined but the work has to be rooted in some kind of exposure of an
aspect of the human condition. The best material has something of a
specific or personal nature that can be applied generally. Without the
general application the material is virtually worthless.

 

Youve said you never look back. Can you shut retrospection off at
will, or does the fact of compiling a record like this, and then being
interviewed about it, force you to look back anyway? If so, can it be
useful or is it merely mental debris that you need to detox yourself
of afterwards?

 

I dont have any personal desire or need to look back. I carry within
me what I need to move forward. .. I never reread what Ive written.
Im far too afraid to feel ashamed of what Ive done. Jorge Luis Borges

 

We inevitably fall short of our self-made goals and so, as Beckett might say, we go on.

 

Do you sometimes find yourself being amused by pretentious
journalists tying themselves in knots to interpret your music and
sometimes trying too hard? Have there been any interpretations that you
recall as being particularly wide of the mark? (Without naming and
shaming anyone, of course.)

 

Ive heard one or two things thats surprised me over the years, not
from journalists but from listeners who were projecting their own
neuroses onto me or the material but it doesnt really matter unless the
projection is seen as justifying something of a harmful nature, self or
otherwise. Im happy that listeners find themselves reflected in the
compositions, thats as it should be. Reviews are something other.
Whether positive or negative theyre nearly always off the mark
regarding where the value or the faults of the material lie.

 

Literature and Current Influences

 

As I write this I hear on the radio that the Swedish Academy has
announced this years winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mario
Vargas Llosa. How do you feel about their decision?

 

Ambivalent.

 

What books are you currently reading, and what are you getting
from them? Assuming one can make sense of a learning process while its
still going on. Perhaps I should rephrase that question and ask about
books from your recent past. Which works of art, cinema or music have
you been influenced (for want of a better word) by recently? (I do know
that this is one of the most trite and unoriginal questions one can ask,
but there is always the hope that the response will be interesting
nonetheless.)

 

To answer the above; I dont believe inspiration comes from books,
films and the like. I tend to feel that one knows when something needs
to be addressed internally, intuitively, but one doesnt always know
what that might be or how to approach it, but by a timely crossing of
paths with a particular book or film or whatever, the vessel filled to
brimming is uncorked and the work begins to flow.

 

Present and Future

 

Assuming this record is a way of putting your recent work behind
you, in what direction(s) will you be moving in the near future?

 

I wouldnt classify this project as a kind of fork in the road. Its
simply material that Ive produced outside of the solo albums that I
wanted to gather up and put under one roof for easy access. Its been on
the cards for sometime. Im still putting together an alternate take on
Manafon which incorporates new compositions as well as new orchestral
arrangements of some of the pieces from that project. That should be
wrapped up by the end of the month after which Ill have a number of
alternate projects on the table from which to choose. Im not entirely
certain at this juncture which will claim my attention first. I do tend
to enjoy working on multiple projects simultaneously so thatll likely
be the approach Ill take. In terms of direction, the projects all
potentially point in differing directions from the electronic to the
orchestral to more traditional forms of song writing. A couple of the
projects demand long-term commitment regarding the amount of work and
time involved but I dont feel Im in any kind of rush, its more an
issue of wanting to be certain Im not covering ground that Ive been
over once before.

 

 

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