INTERVIEW: AUTISTICI: TOKAFI
15 QUESTIONS TO AUTISTICI
The release of "Volume Objects" on 12K set the record straight on two things: That Autistici was a netlabel artist, strictly focussed on offering his music for free and tightly glued to the aesthetics of Creative Commons Licences. And, secondly, that it was essentially a project expressing itself in short formats, in tracks, EPs and on a plethora of compilations generously doled out over a slew of digital record companies. Instead, "Volume Objects" was a staggeringly associative, stylistically diverse full-length effort by a composer capable of expressing him with a rich palette of sounds and with arrangements revealing a mind which worked decidedly different from that of his colleagues. In combination with the included booklet of photography inspired by the music (courtesy of 12k boss Taylor Deupree), it even turned into the very antithesis of a netlabel release: A multimedia work of sensual haptics, which you needed to touch and feel to fully comprehend. Hiding behind the Autistici banner is David Newman, an artist for whom pure sound is the soundtrack to his life, transforming the noises and sonic emmissions around him into into subtle short stories in his oeuvre ("Composition is the ordering of sound into a meaningful narrative", as he puts it himself). Building his pieces along the lines of an idea and always keeping a gentle control on their growth awards his music an urgency often lacking in electronic experimentation - as well as adding a feeling of great musicality. Even though this turns him into a source of creativity sui generi rather than into a member of a clear-cut genre, his work as head of the Audiobulb label unites similarly minded forces under a highly appealing roof. It is another thing he has set the record straight on: Just because something doesn't have a name doesn't mean it is without meaning.
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi. I’m well. I am in my studio on the computer. There is the sound of water running through a metal container being played in a piece of audio I’m listening to.
What’s on your schedule right now?
No schedule. Just sleep, eat, work, create, listen, stop & sleep. I’m always working on something. I’m thinking about future live gigs and planning how sounds will work in the environments I’m playing in. I’m collecting sounds for projects I’m working on.
What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
From my perspective there is no crisis. However, I do not view myself as part of a wider scene. I have connections, people I know who make music and play live. We’re all happy as far as I know. We’re feeling strong and creative. There may be a crisis from some people’s perspective. I know the market is changing and this creates a space for uncertainty, maybe a space for negative equity for those who have invested in the wrong business models and cannot adapt quickly enough.
Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
No, not beyond the generalities of working with sound, ambience, space, concrete noises and abstract noises. I see myself in the moment, concerned with my work, my immersion in the sound. That is the only way to give the material the attention it requires to do it justice – to explore what I can bring. I acknowledge that my work is inspired and influenced by everything I have ever heard. I bring what I bring and some of that will be unique.
What, would you say are the factors of your creativity? What “inspires” you?
I’m inspired by sound and what it communicates. I am fascinated by the fact that the same sound can bring confusion to one person and clarity to another. I’m interested in not just what sound is but what sound does. For me sound has the power to provoke strong internal states such as wonderment, anxiety, joy or peacefulness.
How would you describe your method of composing?
When musicians play music, they play with sound. Play is the key activity. Like a child with paint or clay – you start with nothing and you become focussed on a colour, a form and tool of sculpture. It starts with a sound, its form and function laid bare. I let it play repeatedly and respond to the emotions it conjures within me. You wonder what it can do, where it can be taken. I do not write with a preconceived idea of an end point. I become immersed in the sound and the process I have undertaken so many times takes over. My interest in the material stimulates my ‘critical ear’ to inform, shape and supervise the audio output. There is a stream of consciousness; there is a sense of dissociation from the outside world, a complete immersion in the sound. I find the process both exhilarating and cathartic. There is a sense that something is being resolved within me as I manipulate the sounds to form a cohesive narrative.
How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
Composition is the ordering of sound into a meaningful narrative. The narrative can work at many different levels – temporal, structural and aesthetic elements all combine to provoke the listener’s response.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
I don’t. Improvising is composing in the here and now. A live improvisation does not allow for the audio output to be undone. A studio composition allows the artist to stop at any point and analyse the output, evaluate and make changes if necessary. The main melody from my tracks Attaching Softness From A Shell comes from a 30 minutes improvisation. This was then imported back into a new audio track and further worked upon to produce variations in the composition. However, it was the being in the moment, the first improvisation that yielded the tune and the main sonic variations that can be heard.
What does the term “new” mean to you in connection with music?
If you take “new” as being that which has not been heard before you will soon be challenged to find anything new in music. I am less concerned with new sounds or genres than new perceptions. The newness that concerns me is the perception and reaction of listeners as they encounter a track that connects with them in a novel way. It is a deeply subjective experience with opportunities for personal development.
Do you personally enjoy multimedia as enrichment or do you feel that it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?
It depends on how the multimedia functions. I really enjoy non-linear interactive multimedia, whether that be a flash, java or proce55ing applet or an art installation in physical space. I am a big fan of Golan Levin’s work http://www.flong.com/projects/gpp/
. Sometimes multimedia can create an overload on the senses. I am not a fan of being bombarded to the point where I lose the opportunity to be able to reflect on the impact of the media on me. I believe it is very important that art exhibitions that employ multimedia pay attention to leakage (of sound, sight or smell) across exhibitions.
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
I perform with a laptop manipulating tracks of audio live within the live context, bringing in and out audio content using amplification, stereo field adjustments, EQ adjustments and FX. My own live performances are an opportunity to communicate my work in a specific context, to try and connect with the audience and to adjust the output in a manner that gives the audience an experience. I try to blur the line between audience and performer. Sometimes I record the audience prior to the performance and playback their sound. I usually play some live objects such as my Steim cracklebox, a wind-up musical toy or a typewriter. This allows me to bring in elements from outside of the computer. I usually have a VJ projection with the aim of complementing or juxtaposing the audio with some visuals so the audience are not having to visually focus just on me. I like to incorporate images of insects, flickering light bulbs, mechanical objects and nature. When the audio and the visual complement each other and the audience connects with the performance then you have a good live show. I remember seeing Björk perform at the Reading Festival one year. She started her set with an acoustic rendition of “Violently Happy”. It was just her singing alone and vulnerable with the backing of one accordion player. At the exact moment of the chorus a huge firework display ignited in the sky in time with the track switching to a full dance mix. The affect was astounding.
Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
I think “duty” is too strong a word. I guess everybody approaches their art from their own unique perspective and it serves a function for them. I think as human beings we cannot totally divorce ourselves from the social and political systems we inhabit. Personally I do not write with any explicit social or political agenda. However, some of my work will contain audio that could evoke political/social narratives from the listener’s perspective. A remix of Disastrato’s “Curet Must Be Protected” was submitted for inclusion in the SONOSCOP “sound works against war” http://www.sonoscop.net/zeppelin2004/prog/participan.html
. These works used sound to highlight the devastation of war.
How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?
I would need clarity about what a sacrifice of soul entails. I hear some great music behind mainstream adverts – really well designed pieces of ambient and microsound. They function to support the product rather than being the product. Much has been written about access to different forms of media and how content is regulated and controlled in order to prime and then feed the mass market what “it thinks” it wants. At the same time there are always openings and quality creations will always cross over. The audience is intelligent and the challenge is to create openings where it can be exposed to new work. Ultimately, all popular genres from classical, jazz, rock and roll or synthesizer music – were once considered non-mainstream.
You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I would be interested in inviting people to build objects that create sound and place them across a natural context. For example, the festival would incorporate a stream with trickling stone filled basins, chimes, bells, a bee hive, a bird’s nest, mechanical objects that tick, chime, switch on and off, the use of wind to create tones. Harp and guitar strings would be plucked in a random order. Machines creating steam and in turn electricity would power flickering lights – each placed in their own separate area without leakage. There would be microphones everywhere capturing the talking, the moving and the ambience. People would be invited to place contact microphones on their bodies within privately designated rooms. The audience would be invited to visit the areas, and to visit different listening rooms. The listening rooms would contain mixing equipment enabling participants to adjust the ambience, to focus on one element or another, to achieve a constant live mix of the elements. The festival would promote the opportunity to play and create. The opportunity would be given for the lines between audience and performance to be blurred.
Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
A detailed multi-element participatory feedback loop. I think I have just described it.