En=Trance, No. 5/6 * 95
by Gerald Paetsch and Thomas Brassel
Steve, in my opinion, your music has a very intuitive character. How do you work? Do you have an actual idea, or is it more a spontaneous thing?
You are right on with your opinion. The foundation of my approach to composing and creating sounds has always developed from the direct, hands-on, intutive way of "carving out" the pieces. In this way, I feel more of a relationship to the idea of a sculpter or painter than a musician. There is no one way of working, but it seems that quite often the brewing of an idea in my mind over time will result in a spontaneous reaction in the studio.
An important part of your music is this typical "Roach sound", that contributes a lot to the fascination of your music, with its mystical and extended structures. Does the creation of sounds play an important role for you?
I think the first answer relates to my "sound" you speak of. The creation of sounds is absolutely at the center of my music, and this is what really keeps me fascinated and restless to create. For me, the sounds we speak of the ones found in my music and the ones I have yet to find hold so much in terms of memories beyond description. For me sounds unlock memories; quite often I feel the memories are not quite formed, right on the edge of the unconcious. This is where I love to draw from creatively.
Your albums evolved from the first more 70's German electronic influenced ones to works with more mystic and ethno influences. Which role plays the acquaintance with such musicians like Jorge Reyes or Suso Saiz for that development?
The collaborations are about a mutual exchange of ideas, triggering each other to go into places you might not find on your own, bringing out the best out in each other. This is the aim. Before any of this can happen, there is a foundation of kindred spirits meeting as friends. With Jorge and Suso, there were many common influnences and interests between us. When I would visit Suso in Madrid or Jorge in Mexico City, it was interesting to see our CD collectons and how alike they were. Also the cultural differences add a nice twist to things. This is where the exchange goes beyond music but contributes to it in the long run. So to sum it up, I feel collaborations are vital to the growth in my work. It's also rare to find friends to meet at this level I speak of, so I can say I feel fortunate to have met up with these "soundbrothers." My ongoing pursuit of a "soul music" led to the intregation instruments outside the purly electronic realm. At this point, I see synths, didgeridoos, samplers, log drums and digital reverbs as tools of equal value and importance. This is important to the development of my music as well as the collaborations.
Tell us a bit about "Suspended Memories". How did it start? Was it just a short project or can we expect more of it in the future?
The full story of our meeting is on the notes of Forgotten Gods. In short, we were performing a festival on the island of Lanzarote. We were asked to perform together at the last minute when another musician had to cancel his concert, so that's where it started. We met that afternoon and later that evening we were performing. I knew Jorge's music but not Suso's so it was a fine surprise, the meeting through the music. From that point we stayed in touch and continued to get together for more festivals and friendship. Before we knew it we were all at my studio in Tucson recording Forgotten Gods. It was nearly a year later when we got back together for a tour of Spain and the Klangart festival in Osnabruk. It was at this time we recorded our second one, Earth Island. Our time together is in always highly concentrated and undeniably intense in every way. It's what takes us to the edge creatively. I really enjoy stepping out of all sense of time and the real world when we do these projects. It's kind of like going on the space shuttle and orbiting the earth for a few weeks. Then at some point, you're back at home listening to where you went with astonishment.
As far as us working again, I feel it will continue when the time is right, the bridging of three continents makes it a bit difficult.
I'm not in touch with Kevin so much since we have gone in different directons musically. As for Robert Rich, we are good friends and stay in touch via the phone. We are hoping to collaborate again as well. After Soma and Strata I think we needed time to explore on our own, so when we get back together it will be in an entirely new place. Michael Stearns and I, along with Ron Sunsinger, just released an album called Kiva on Fathom Records. This was our first collaboration since Desert Solitaire and since we both moved from Los Angeles 5 years ago. We share a lot of history together having gone through the L. A. adventure for over a dozen years. Again these are relationships that exist in their own time, and it seems odd when we're back in the studio and the feeling picks up where we left off a few years back.
How do these cooperations work? In what way does the individual contribute to the whole piece of music?
The process starts with leaving your ego at the door. The music is the most important member of the group. It's almost like starting and tending a fire. Perhaps someone will introduce a compelling rhythm that will triger some sounds that will trigger somthing else and before long the heat is starting to build. When we are in the thick of it, the presence and feedback of your fellow collaborators are important at every stage. If someone is working up a sound or whatever, all ears are listening and feeling and shaping it into reality. It has a lot to do with just sharing the same space, breathing the same air, tuning in to each other's sensibilities through the music while you're working. Sometimes the non-verbal communication is startling when you start to say the same thing at as he, at the same time about a change in the music or an idea for a part and so on. This as often the case with Vidna.
Your latest CD "Well of Souls" is a also a cooperation, this time with Vidna Obmana. Please tell us a bit more about that. How did you get in contact with him?
I met Vidna Obmana during my first tour in Germany during 1991. Another strange coincidence was that he unknowingly called a few weeks before I was to leave for Europe, and a few weeks later we were meeting face to face discussing music and so on. We stayed in touch and met up for more inspired talks during more concert tours the following two years. From the beginning, his sincerity and focus towards his music was something I respected. The idea of creating together came about over time in a natural sort of way. Our first opportunity to work together was for me to produce the Spiritual Bonding on Extreme. Vidna and his wife came to Tucson to put this together. It was at this time that we recorded the title track for Well of Souls. One year later to the day (February 1995) he flew back to Tucson where we completed the Well of Souls. We did some work via mail, sending tapes and ideas back and forth, but most all of the important decisions were made in the Timeroom over two weeks divided by the year. It's certainly a different approach from Suspended Memories, and it's this difference that keeps it all interesting. We are planning a new collaboration for next year.
Your music often is about the desert. On the other hand, there are relations to the Australian mythology, Indian ideology and the Peyote cult through titles like "Dreamtime Return" and "Origins". What is your personal connection to these subjects?
The desert has always been a theme in my life since my first memories and earliest dreams. It's my spiritual home. I feel nourshied here in ways that I can only try to say through the music. I thrive on the expansive landscape, the feeling in the air, the light shifting throughout the day. In the beginning, my interest in desert cultures was something that I grew up with, living in the southwest and having the influence all around. Over time I was finding myself drawn to the Australian continent, intrigued with this distant desert culture and their music. I made my first visit to the Australian outback in 1987. This opened the door wider for me in ways I am still discovering. I'm often asked why I've drawn so much inspiration from indigenous cultures, and I have to say its really an offshoot of my long standing connection to nature as the supreme source of inspiration of my music. Throughout my musical adventures, I have aimed to capture the timeless movements of the natural world and its effect on me through sound. This has also developed an interest in how other human beings throughout the world and across time have expressed this. I feel a part of this tradition in many ways. Also the role of the shaman has held much importance and inspiration for me since my discovery of this individual over 20 years ago. I feel the process of creating my music has brought me to an understanding at a level of the collective unconscious, tapping into influences and memories beyond my culture and time. Dreamtime Return was an important time of feeling all of this comeing into focus. Origins and Artifacts are the full realization of this time-traveling sense I feel so deeply.
The perception of time is also an ongoing obsession. Looking into other cultures is one way to effectively learn about your own relationship to time and ways to alter one's awareness.
On the last two albums, you were always pictured with a didgeridoo. Does that have a special meaning?
The inspirations for Origins and then Artifacts evolved around some powerful breakthroughs in my didgeridoo playing. Even though the music is not dominated by the didg, the creative openings were often arrived at by long sessions of playing the didg before starting to work with all the technology and other acoustic instruments. I really see the didgeridoo as a bridge between the ancient and modern worlds.
In the media, your music is often described as electronic music or "Berlin school", you have a good reputation in the fusion and world music scene, just as in the esoteric or meditation-oriented scene. How would you describe your music?
I think those terms were accurate for my early work, but since Dreamtime Return my sound has continued to include more acoustic elements with the infuences disscused above. At this point I feel putting a label on music is fast becoming a tremendous waste of time. You're either moved by it not. If the music is classified only by the instruments used then I think the essence is missed from the spirit of the composer. This music I create along with my colleagues is difficult to pigeon-hole since it's always in flux, sometimes more acoustic; then perhaps the expression calls for worlds of sound only available through synthesizers, and then a mix of it all. It's music at its most basic level; the terms are for the press, record companies and so on and in that world. I see that there is no way around it, but for me personally from day one I have only been interested in creating honest music from deep inside myself. If it finds open ears in any "scene," then I'm thankful for that. I guess my description is music between classifications.
How did it all start? Please tell us how you came to music, and wether there are artists and music styles that inspired respectively inspire you.
I first started to explore sound and music in the mid-70s. I was in my late teens by that time. I grew up in San Diego, California. Most of the memories from my youth are ones of spending large amounts of time in the desert, mountains and ocean/beach areas there. I would start with the sunrise in the desert, drive through the mountains, and later watch the sun set into the Pacific ocean. This was a kind of ritual I would perform often. Since I have no brothers or sisters, I was comfortable doing many things alone. Music was always my best friend at these times. It was quite often the soundtrack to these journeys. And it still is.
I was never interested in making music for conventional reasons. In thinking back, my need to create music emerged at a point when I was overcome with undefinable and quite uncontrollable urges to "sculpt" sound as a way to express and exist in a kind of rarefied zone that was quite different from the "real world." In other words, the ideas of slowing and altering time, bringing into focus an awareness of my inner life, and expressing some kind of an ancient memory could all merge and emerge together in the sounds I was able to bring through. If I had been born at any other time, this might have been impossible for me to express musically the strange sounds available to me through synthesizers and other sound-altering electronic devices allowed me to sculpt sonic worlds and feelings that could take me outside the realm of everyday human experience. As far as influences, the artists and styles are pretty wide. It's clear from the early work that the European-Berlin sound had a big impact; Timewind still gets under my skin. Also some jazz and of course recorded music of other cultures. I have always listened to a lot of releases on ECM and the atmosphere that label somehow captures on any given artist's release is something special. Some of my strongest infulences that helped to shape my approach are non-musical. This seems to be the case more now than ever, although I always have an ear open for something to blow me away.
You are relatively well-known in Germany. You did some concerts over here, and your CDs are sold well. Is it a good place for you? I mean regarding the fans and the resonance to your music?
The German audience seems quite receptive to my work, especially as it moved more into the ethno tribial desert expressions. The concerts performed along with Elmar Schulte of Solitaire helped to stir things up as well. Since the main company of my solo work is Kuckuck, the distribution is pretty good in Germany or so I am told. I remember meeting some fine people during my concert tours and hope to return someday, although doing the concert thing is pretty stressful since I am my own roadie. Flying over with 10 road cases is a lot to keep track of, although it keeps me in good shape physically speaking. I am currently working on a smaller system for touring. I would be happy to play in small venues without the pressure of filling a larger hall. I also think the music is more effective in a more initimate setting. 50 to 200 people would be fine by me. The nuance seems to get lost in larger spaces and the music has to change in order to fill the hall. I feel Suspended Memories works well in the larger halls.(got a little off track from your question here...)
Is there a difference between countries where your CDs are sold, regarding the general resonance?
It certainly seems so, judging from mail I receive and feedback from record companies. Germany is up high on the list, Holland very strong, Italy - Great, in general I recieve postive feedback from throughout Europe. The UK is not too responsive. The Pacific Rim countries are growing more interested. As far as here in the states, I think it's like anywhere else where you have an enthusiatic audience spread out over a wide area. The awareness is growing but my music is still viewed as on the outside as far as the popular press and music world goes. This is no surprise since I don't subsribe to the sensibilities of "that" world. It seems word of mouth (and now the ulitimate Word of internet), magazines like En=trance, have always been the most direct way of sharing the music.
What can we expect from you in the future? Are there any actual plans?
"The Magnificent Void," my first solo recording on Fathom (Hearts of Space), will be out in February. In December I will be teaming up with multi-instrumentalist Kenneth Newby and didgeridoo player Stephen Kent for two weeks at my studio to see what happens. This will come out on Fathom in 96. Vidna Obmana and I are planning our next one, but this is still a year away. I'm also planning some small-scale concerts in the U.S. and above all keeping my ear to ground to see what's next...
Steve, we'd like to thank you for this really interesting interview, and wish you all the best for you and your music!