Manifold 6, Fall 1995
OK, here it is, the obligatory opening question. How did you first become interested in creating music?
It actually came a bit later in my life than I guess some people might think, in terms of the volume of material that I have recorded and all that. I basically started creating music and felt compelled to make music when I was around twenty years old. At that time I discovered the synthesizer as an instrument to create these sounds that I was hearing in my imagination...a lot of these feelings that I associate with these types of expanded, stretched sounds that you can create with synthesizers.
Around what year was this?
That would be in the mid-seventies. Listening to a lot of the music at that time, a lot of the progressive music of the seventies, I started discovering the German and European electronic music...Can was a really favorite group at that time, the early Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Amon Duul, early Kraftwerk, all hose groups were found in my record collection. I listened to all that stuff pretty seriously. I was working in an import record store at the time, in La Mesa California, which is outside of San Diego, so it was an exciting time because I was starting to hear this music and I felt so compelled to make music. For he longest time, I heard music and really didn't feel that it was something that I could do or wanted to do. And then, as chance would have it, I heard a few recordings coming out of Europe around the time that I was doing the right combination of psychedelics and all that good stuff and everything just kind of came into focus and I felt like I was already making this music once I had discovered the path to making it with these new instruments at the time, when synthesizers were first made portable and affordable.
So the synthesizer was basically the first instrument you grabbed?
Right. In that way I was born into technology as an artist, as a musician and as a creator with sound. I've never really felt of myself as much a "musician," that's a term that people use generically all the time. I've always felt myself as much more of a visual artist, or a sculptor or someone who works with shapes and space, a dimensional space. The sound is something that I really have this felling about that's very strong whenever I'm in he studio, that I'm actually carving away at different types of materials. here's always a fell, like a tactile feel to sound and there's a certain quality of grain to it, and texure and shade and color and all these things. I'm constantly thinking of it at that level and working with it at that level, and the emotional relationship that all those things have to me as an artist.
What were some of the first creations you ever put together? That maybe got released or even just jammed away in a drawer somewhere?
I never really looked at myself as making demos, everything was recorded live to a cassette. It wasn't something that was to demonstrate anything. It was capturing a moment that was leading to the next moment. So in that respect, I still have several boxes hidden away around here something that have these early pieces. For some strange reason sometimes, I'll go in looking for a tape and pull out some and put them on. It's a pretty strange experience!
What goes across your mind when you hear these, are you self-conscious about them, or is there anything you are particularly proud of?
No, I have no problem in terms of grimacing or any of that, I feel like, if anything it's a totally different person now. It's like looking at a baby picture of yourself. You look at yourself and it's like; how strange, but that's me and I accept that, and now I'm something completely different from all of these experiences. So, it's something that I've included in the big picture of how I got to this point. All of that music was absolutely important to get to this place and a lot of the experiences that I could never play for anybody are still absolutely important to bore through the bedrock, to get to that next core of real powerful sound.
You can see an obvious progression even in your records, not necessarily getting "better," but moving through different phases of sound and method and all that.
Hopefully, for me, it's also perceived as getting more in touch with the aim of the music which is ultimately to create an altered sense of space and time. That's a large theme throughout all of the work.
A lot of your work is called "primitive" or "tribal" when some sort of label is required, why is your music like that, where does that sort of bent in your music come from?
A good question. I think a lot of folks wonder what's the interest in indigenous music and indigenous culture, is there some kind of romantic longing for times of asimpler, or a more direct experience. In some ways, the direct experience thing is what I'm wanting to tape into through the inspiration that I find in indigenous music. Sitll, I can find, especially in some of the early field recordings from Australia and other areas of the world, like Indonesian music...to some degree, you could still find this absolutely pure quality in the music that hasn't really been affeced by he approaching shadow of the western world...which I'm not so convinced is the answer.
Yeah, because so much of what drives thte volution of technology is greed and money. Again, the study of these cultures and their music for me is where I really look for inspiration in terms of a more direct connection to the impulses to create music.
You actually stayed with some Aboriginals in Australia, correct?
Yes, I travelled in Australia two times, both times for quite an extensive stay. The first time I was doing the music for a documentary on Aobriginal rock art in Northern Australia, that's when I met David Hudson, the didg player that I learned my didgeridoo-playing technique from, and I also produced his two albums. The first was the first didgeridoo album on CD. So it was really rewarding to bring him over to the western world and expose him in a pure way. As far as the indigenous interest, there is this quality that's really important... that people, well, I don't like to use the term people in a broad sense, but like right now, the native american thing, the dark side is being presented a lot more, in documentaries. So that's good because I think we're coming into terms with part of the problem with this culture at this time, through a lot of the denial that occurred. But in the meantime, those influences, I think, shaped and affected every thing in our lives over the last few hundred years. There's a documentary that just aired on PBS called The Way West and actually I did a good part of the music for it. It was excellent, really powerful. But I'm not longing for the times when you think that the answers were all there and that I want those times back or I want to be back in that time. It's not about that kind of interest. But I feel that the music and the need to create and to renew through music daily, the aspects of what went on within the tribe and what went on within life, these are the things that I feel so close to in my own life. The things that led me to making music were not from any other reason but that it was so powerful, this need to make music without any concern of what was the outcome. I just had to start creating and expressing certain feelings that I couldn't find any other way to express, except through sound. So then I started looking into the eyes of other cultures and into the things that move these people and find myself much more at home in that world.
Do you think previous cultures maybe had more ways to express themsevles than we do now?
I think they had more time to explore different aspects of their life and what that means. We can only speculate what happens when you have a lot more time to do things. they didn't have this: "how many deadlines and committments do I have o finish today?" Essentially there was the foundation of life which is eating, shelter, worship, renewal of these things that give them another day of happiness and life and death and all that. There was just such a direct quality in their life.
A lot of your pieces have a very trancy, ritualistic feel to them, do you think that even we "civilized" humans still have this physiological need to "strip naked and dance around the fire", so to speak?
Yeah, I think tto not do that over a period of years makes it seem really awkward and strange when you do it now. That's where the use of drugs and the use of trance and the use of all sorts of things to break down the barriers and the inhibitions and the walls of convention... I mean, that's something that I've always felt was really important to do for myself first, because of the kind of middle-class life that I was brought up in. I just really felt like I'd landed in this thing somehow. When I woke up, when I really woke up consciously and saw where I was at, hat there was this whole other inner life that was developing and the things started to occur, related to a lot of the things we were talking about, relating to natural responses and drawing inspiration from the indigenous cultures. But as far as this primordial memory that we possibly contain, I feel absolutely conneced to those things. Through the years now, after having spent the last twenty basically dedicating myself to exploring the inner world with sound, the places I've been able to go and penetrate with the music, to put it into some kind of interview and some kind of display of words really starts to cheapen it and sound like... almost like science fiction or just some kind of strange stuff, you know? But essentially, the subtle changes that occur within your consciousness over a period of time, through the use of this type of music and a combination of other things, that's really what keeps the fire burning, I'm really sure of that. And it's an ancient fire, it's not one that's only so many years old, according to how old you are. It's definiely the gene pool, you can jump in and dive really deep into it.
Don't you think it's ironic how you make his extremely ancient sounding music with some of the most advanced technology on the planet?
Yeah, in that sense, it's advanced, but it's a technology of our time, and the didgeridoo was the technology of that time, that was the "advanced technology." At that point in time, they needed to create some kind of sound that supported this kind of experience that we're talking about, so they found it, and I would say that was "hi-tech" thirty-thousand years ago.
So would you say that our midi sequencers and digital technologies and synthesizers are our sort of "didgeridoos" ?
Absolutely, that's why the sounds are now being embraced, woven into the fabric of the new tribal music. One of the first sounds you come to as a neophyte on the synthesizer is the filter sweep on a drone, which is really the same sound that gets your endorphins going when you play the didg and you vibrate your lips and move your tongue back and forth inside your mouth to create that same, exact sound. The two are a harmonic sound, it's just two different technologies.
Do you think, or do you hope, that your work maybe serves to reintroduce some people to the natural world?
I would hope so. And I'm finding, in a lot of the response from people who are hearing the combination of sounds that it's really hitting the switch. All I can judge at first is my own place that I'm wanting to go into and create the soundtrack for, that's always been the goal. The audience response is there, so it's encouraging to know that it's working.
I know you live way out somewhere in the Sonora desert, do you feel a particular connection to the desert there? is it vital to your work?
It's absolutely vital. A large part of my growing up and the influences that shaped me were based upon first memories of the desert and the sounds that I would hear and the feelings that I would find myself within. It just seemed that through my whole life that the whole theme as it was becoming more focused was this music-sculpture-art thing, drawing from this massive canvas of the desert. Then the Australian thing really came through and then the two trips to Australia, which is the desert beyond deserts. I travelled the whole continent by bus. The desert there was very similar to the feeling here in Arizona. On my second trip, to record Australia: Sound of the Earth, I had already been making plans for my great escape from Los Angeles, but I got off the plane and just got on another plan and came out into the desert and basically left it all behind in Los Angeles. It just couldn't work there anymore for me, hat kind of urban pressure cooker. The places that I was going internally, I was rying as hard as I could to stay connected to that sound while I was living in the city, but it just became so strong to be out in it all the time, to be able to look out and see for seventy or eighty miles. To have sixty miles outside the window of the studio, that kind of thing. I really really focused and worked incredibly hard to get to a situation where I could create my workspace in that kind of place, because of knowing that tha's what really feeds my soul, more than the intensity of being in Manhattan, or the incredible buzz that you can get from Los Angeles, the creative energy that's there. Which was great, I learned an incredible amount of information there, collaborated and worked with a lot of great people, but it served its time, you know? And I served my time there, twelve years.
I understand that you also frequently play host to other arists and friends who feel compelled to come to the desert where you live....
Yeah, that's been really special to be doing concerts around the world and meeting folks and having a sort of a meeting of kindred spirits in sponaneous ways, and finding out tha a lot of these folks are also quite fascinated with the southwest and the desert, besides our connecion through the music. So one thing leads to another and I've produced some and collaborated with some really interesting, talented and special musicians. I feel really lucky to have met up with a lot of these folks.
Suspended Memories is a project which involves you, Suso Saiz and Jorge Reyes, you guys have had two albums out, are there any plans for a third?
Only talk. Talk of getting together, it's only because we live on separate continents so it's not that easy for us to come together. Every time hat we've recorded or performed together, it's been under concert tours that were formed from festivals flying us over, oher people's money putting it together. That's the only way it can really happen because none of us can really afford to put it together on our own, in a practical sense. At this point, after two albums with Fathom records, there's a real good chance that we can actually get together here at the Time Room. The first studio which we recorded Forgotten Gods in was a bedroom essentially, converted into a studio. Since that time, I've built a separate bedroom off the house, a small room but larger than the bedroom.
This place, the "Timeroom" shows up on a lot of records. Would you explain what that is?
The Timeroom is my studio. The Timeroom has changed locations over the the years but essentially, the room is the same in spirit. The feeling is that the kind of space I'd really like to create within the room, beyond the equipment, in terms of the way I treat the walls, and the shape of the room and all that, I'm interested in dissolving your sense of time and a sense of being in a room, or in a normal room, lets say. But the fact that you can enter into this room and time has this sense of stopping or changing and then hat's where the real creativity is drawn from. So the Time Room is essentially like the creative temple for all this stuff to happen in. The location changes, but the spirit mainains. But at this point, all these recordings we were talking about, Earth Island, Vidna Obmana, Artifacts, Origins, Well of Souls all this material was done in the new building that really is the combination of all the different studios that I've wired and scraped together over the years so it's got a real feeling to it. It's really pretty straightforward in there, it's not a real "bang you over the head with all the latest, greatest stuff. That's not real important I have my tools in there that I've been collecting over the years and I keep it at that.
Your album Artifacts recenly won a NAIRD award acually in the category of "New Age." I know you're probably grateful for the accolades, but like we've talked about before, I know you are somewhat irked about being labeled or categorized strictly as a New Age artist.
Actually Earth Island won, but Artifacts was nominated as well. Really, what that means is that people within the industry that distributes and gets the music out there acknowledged Earth Island as well as Artifacts on I guess many different levels or reasons, which I hope "artistically" comes in there somewhere. I'm not going away, and they know that! I've been doing it a long time, and I think they know that and I think those sorts of things come into play, as well as the music. But I think it's encouraging, regardless of the category, that fairly dark, threatening trance-oriented music that's coming from a place that's sincere, not really holding any kind of melody at all, could be nominated and actually win something nationally within such a conventional form....
Whatever they want to call it....
Yeah, that's right. The "ambient" thing is a couple of years later, the "new age" thing is a couple years before, electronic music was a couple years before that. It's all marketing at that level and so in that respect, to me, it's all out there in the world somewhere, and it's not in my world. It's never been in my world. I've never felt any obligation to any "genre," any philosophy around a genre. I have my way that I live my life and that's my personal way of getting through every day somehow.
I ask because I look back over your albums, and it doesn't seem like a lot of your work has been "new age," at least not as I know New Age music... sort of perky, nonsensical....
I think none of it has been that. Absolutely none of it. I mean, none of the distributors would distribute it until...well, I had the two albums that were more European influenced, which was Now/Traveller and Empetus, driving, trance type, sequencer stuff, but then came Sructures From Silence.... I was playing it for a friend and he said, wow, this is great, it's another side to what you do, this should be out as well. So, I said, I guess you're right, and I putt it out as a cassette myself at first. Stephen Hill then called me, all excited about it, acually before he had the record label, and put me in touch with Ethan Edgecombe at Fortuna Records, and that was he beginning of that whole relationship. Ethan put out Structures, and re-released Empetus and Now/Traveller and because he was more established as a "new age" label at the time, that kind of got lumped into the whole serving. Really for me, it wasn't like a big decision to be made, in terms of wow, this is a new age label and I don't feel good about this. At that time, because there were so few labels, and to find somebody that wanted to get behind your work and help get it out, I've always thought that the music speaks for itself and that if listeners can meet the music on a neutral ground, which might be a lot to ask for sometimes, but just hear the things, so many people, I think have already heard my music before they've even heard it, just because they think it's of this genre or that. But if they were to be somewhere, in the right setting, put on an album, whether it's Artifacts or Structures or whattever, I think that it's going to break through, or maybe not. It's so subjective and that's the beautiful thing about music. A great thing about it actually.
That's a good point, because if someone were to be in a chill room at a rave somewhere and your stuff were played, I'm sure it would really freak some people out in the best way, maybe people who hadn't heard it before or had misconceptions....
Well, that's what they're doing with it in San Francisco, a lot of the DJ's who were spinning my material, they actually had Empetus on a Top Five list, album to trip to, so it's one of the top five albums to drop acid to or something. That makes me feel good! I feel like I'm doing it right, because forme the music has to have a shelf life that's longer than six months. Many of my albums, I'll work on for a year or longer. If the pieces don't hold up over that time, for me, then I'll erase the tape or just throw it out, or just throw it into a box or whatever. I just hear a lot of music, to me that has a very short shelf life, in terms of what kind of potency it will have in six months, you know? A lot of it weakens pretty quick.
That's the thing about a lot of the techno-ambient, for me. I like to call it disposable sound, because it just doesn't ask to be heard more than once or twice....
Right. I just read a Brian Eno interview in Wired where he said most people listen to most any recording they have 2 and a half times, which was an interesting thought. I know I have some CD's I listen to two or three times a day. If I'm in a listening mood, I just can't get enough of it. But I guess I'm not anybody to judge on a USA today colorbar graph evaluation from! But the techno and all that music, I was in these clubs in Barcelona, throughout Spain, when we were touring with Suspended Memories, we'd go out after a concert and this stuff was absolutely so loud that it sounded like your stomach was going to blow open. In that setting, it was so incredible, it was absolutely catthartic, you couldn't hear anying else but hat music in that place. It was great, I loved it. But to hear that music anywhere else, in my car or at home or something, I'd take it off!
Are there any newer artists that you heard that you've been impressed with?
You know, just listening to this rash of samplers I get in the mail a lot, there are tracks that poke out here and there that are absolutely great. But they're from some names that I can't remember and I've never seen any albums by. I've listened to Future Sound of London... there's not too much that sticks to my memory. I really can't say any particular name of any artist at this time. I'm feeling like it's all going somewhere but it hasn't quite gotten there yet. The albums that I've currently listening to, in my CD changer, are O Yuki Conjugate's "Equator," the new David Darling disc. Actually, I finally got a copy of the album I produced for Jorge Reyes two years ago, so I'm listening to that. I've been listening to Paul Schuetze's music, his new material. But I go in and out of listening to a lot of material and then being completely conmsumed in my own world of sound.
Many times, I have been listening to your's or another artist's work, sort of in that half-noticed state, where it's just on the periphery of my awareness, and I've had that weird feeling, where my mood and consciousness were being altered and the music just sounded like this weird, old thing that sort of filled up the room....
It's alive at that point. And after the music stops, I feel that sort of lingering quality in the room. I create that music to create that sort of quality in my home, and that kind of zone to live in. That sense of time that's all time at once.
It's almost like a sorcerous occupation, this music-making....
I feel more in touch with the shamanic tradition than probably anything. In indigenous cultures, again, the shaman is essentially the magician, the medicine man who usually lives outside of the tribe, so he lives out of the city. They're not in it, they are very aware of it, but their interests are more about going deep into the unconscious and pulling out things that a lot of folks don't have time to deal with. There it is again, they don't have time, because their lives are structured. Especially in our western world, this nine to five thing, five days a week, two days off, five days a week, two days off, eight hours a day, you go to sleep, you get up at six, two days off, five days a week, your whole fucking life. And then you retire and then you die. I looked down the barrel of that gun when I was eighteen years old and knew hat wasn't what my path was. But again, the things I've always pursued in my life have a lot to do with creating altered states of my own consciousness, through music, through drugs, through pushing myself physically through exercise, motorcycles, bicycles, whatever it is to get the endorphins, the adrenalin going. The music for me is the most reliable way out of all of that stuff, to stay connected to that timeframe, that timestream that's always there, always accessible, always really, really rich and very full of life.
Do you think it's possible for someone to live in the city, work that five days on and two days off can still stay grounded and connected to the natural world, or the unseen world?
Oh absolutely, I think it is. For me, not being a religous person and feeling contempt for traditional forms of religion, traditional religion becomes a placebo for the real thing. The desire and the need is there, I think it's just finding it in your own way, what works for you, what works for each individual to be connected because we all need a certain order in our life. I think that there needs to be some kind of structure whether it's created by someone else or created by yourself. I need that. I have a whole set of rituals I perform every day to get through the day, that I use to, again, mark out my time, through the day, through the week. And then sometimes I fall into my own patterns of bondage to time. Certain habits and patterns you find the reptilian brain just sorting of snapping into, and it's interesting to try to keep yourself awake through it. There are keys to doors that over the years, the more you keep using that key, the more keep filing out a new one and trying it in the door, the more you feel a certain confidence in yourself with going into those places. And it's not a matter of whether you are making the key or listening to it, I think as deeply as you put yourself into the soundcurrent and music, whatever it is, that it absolutely takes you places.