INTERVIEW: TAYLOR DEUPREE: TONSCHRIFT (2009)
Interview with Taylor Deupree
Interview: Vlad Kudryavtsev, May 2009
Tell us about your early musical memories.
I remember being very interested in music from an early age; my earliest memories being from around 9 years old. At one point not long after that I became very intersted in The Beatles and then at one point my parents came home from a trip to Europe and had brought me Kraftwerk's "Autobahn". I didn't like it too much at the time, but I think it prepped me for then getting heavily into the New Wave scene in the early 80's which pushed me over the edge into electronic music.
Did you get any formal musical training?
At a very early age, before I was a teenager, I was a drummer and when I was around 15 I took a couple of years of piano, but I soon realized that formal training wasn't for me.
Who influenced you musically and esthetically?
There are far too many influences to list. Early musical influences were bands like New Order as well as regarding the setup of 12k labels like Factory Records. Brian Eno's "Thursday Afternoon" was introduced to me in 1986 and became a massive influence, even to this day.
What is your perception of the idea of organic music?
To me organic music is a way of creating music that embraces randomness and accidents. I draw a direct correlation between how nature sits and how music should be made. Nature is, on one hand, very static, still and slow, yet it's always changing, sometimes drastically but often so subtlely. I like to create music that acts the same way that can change gently and embrace random artifacts of sound.
It seems to me that the term "organic music" is redundant. Research of the meaning makes one think it’s a modern blend of electroacoustic music. Maybe "organic music" means a slightly different approach in processing of sounds.
There is a difference, I think, between "organic" and "acoustic." To me, "organic" implies a compositional technique, and "acoustic" implies a sound source.
What was your first musical instrument?
My very first was the recorder. That was when I was 7... Then the drums, then in 1985 my first synthesizer, a Juno-106.
How and why did you become interested in electronic music? Any specific triggers?
Early New Wave music really inspired me to sell my drum kit. I wanted to be a "one man band" like Howard Jones. Listening to this music made me realize the enormous potential of sound design and having so many options all by one's self.
Now you veer away from being pinned down as electronic musician. You seem to start integrating as many elements and sound sources which were earlier unimaginable in your music. What is the reason that made you stop keeping in one direction and abound many others?
I think it has been quite a natural progression and just a desire to constantly find new sources of sonic inspiration. I think my album "Occur" was important in that it was a very, very organic record, very random and fleeting... Yet at the same time embraced a highly electronic and digital sound. I think that album got me thinking more in terms of organic composition and shortly after when I acquired a Kyma system (sound design hardware and software), that really excelled in the processing of live instrumentation, did i start playing with live input and voice. In the last few years since I have moved out of the city I find myself very much embracing nature and acoustic sound. I really like the imperfection of acoustics and natural sound.
Tell us the story of 12k label.
The label came about from simply being frustrated at the American label scene and wanting to create a small, artist-run label that places esthetics above dollars. I had been involved for a few years with Instinct Records and while many of those times were excellent they also taught me how not to run a label. I wanted to keep 12k small, always small. So 12k basically filled a much needed gap in this sort of labels. Now every musician seems to have their own label, back then it wasn't like this at all. The name came from searching for a very simple and memorable name. Something that looked nice on paper as well as sounded nice to say. I wanted it to be abstract and have little meaning, and be timeless. When my friend Savvas Ysatis and I did a CD for KK Records under the band name Arc, we called it "12k", it's based on the minimum file size of my computer hard drive at the time. This name realy resonated with me and Savvas let me use it for the label name.
What are your specific plans regarding term. and Happy?
When I started term, it was in response to the beginning of freely distributed online music, before the "net labels" were born. These days term. is still active, but not doing much because I have a bit of a negative outlook of online and free music. Free these days often means stolen or pirated and it's really hurting labels like 12k. Giving away music has made me feel a bit guilty for the artists who work so hard to create it, so I may adopt some sort of donation system where listeners can donate money to the artists if they like what they are downloading. Happy is, yes, unofficially, over... But more accurately has been folded into 12k. The original idea for Happy was to release music that was more acoustic and indie rock based, but it did not turn out that way... And I didn't feel like I needed to run a 3rd electronic label. So with the release of Moskitoo's "Drape" I debated whether or not to put it on Happy or just do it on 12k. I decided that releasing it on 12k would be a nice change for the label and allow me to broaden 12k's spectrum of sound a bit. Now we are seeing releases by bands like Amplifier Machine or Pillowdiver which a few years ago would be unheard of on 12k. This autumn I am releasing a CD by a Japanese duo called Small Color which fits the Happy bill perfectly. In fact it is very much non-electronic and has vocals and song structure. It's an exciting release for 12k which is still considered an "electronic" label somewhat.
How did your leaving in countryside influence you?
When I lived in Brooklyn, I found myself making very minimalist music to combat the hectic life of the city. I wondered then if I moved to the country would I start making loud music to combat quiet life in the forest? But, just the opposite is true... My music has become more delicate and more organic and more acoustic since the move.
You once said that you mostly work with ideas of stillness and timelessness. I noticed that you also like the words "hazy", "haziness". Could you expand on it?
I like to create music that just floats on various surfaces. For example, melody... I like melody, but I like to have melody that is sometimes only suggested or melody that is so delicate that it just skims across a surface, barely touching down. This can be accomplished by light, quiet sounds, or, as I term, hazy, swirling sounds that sort of wander and fill in gaps of silence. Like I mentioned before I like to create music that is always changing and moving, but very quietly and sometimes imperceptibly. Music that is hard to define in terms of a rhythm or time signature. Thus the concept of "haze".
What is your conceptual ground you grow your music on?
I think all of the above defines a lot of what my music is about. Creating stillness and new ways to experience time and place through delicate and careful use of sound. "For me it's not important to sound "new" or to try to do something that hasn't been done before. I’d rather make music that comes out of me naturally and honestly." I think this quotation shows a tremendous shift in your approach in music making, after all these style making and naming having to do with marketing, you are moving towards simple and effective forms. I find it hard to believe that there is anything "new" anymore. Everything is just a hybrid of something else, and influenced by something else. The world is far too connected to have "new" anymore. Perhaps there are tribes of people in the middle of nowhere with no contact to other civilizations or modern technology.... These are the only people I would think could create something new, but they would still be rooted in tradition. I have given up trying to categorize my music and these days I hesitate to call my music "electronic" anymore. It is difficult when trying to explain to someone who you just met what I do!
I perceive your route to your present musical state as a full circle but it’s not just round but spiral: techno - ambient - microscopic - organic - music(?). Some of them denote methods of sound design (like microscopic), the whole compositional full circle approach (techno, ambient), but I find that through your music comes a red line of minimalism, that is a compositional method. You also said that you don’t want to do the same things over and over again, can we expect any new non-minimalist, almost symphonic arrangements from you?
"Minimalism" is a hard word for me to use sometimes because I see it from a lot of different angles. Some people define "minimalist" as having lot of space, a lot of silence. Some people define minimalism as a lack of decoration or clutter (which is what my own personal preference of definition is). Sometimes minimalism is in sound, sometimes minimalism is in composition, sometimes both. Because I am always shifting my interests slightly, there is no telling what sort of music I'll be creating 10 years from now, nor do I even have any desire to guess. However I can say that I don't feel like I have explored all of the avenues of "minimalism" that I feel need exploring yet.... So for the meantime, on some level, I think minimalism will play an important role in my music. I loved techno, so I wrote techno; I liked ambient music so I wrote ambient music. But I always felt that I was just following in the footsteps of Jeff Mills, or any of those big techno guys. At the same time I was getting disinterested with the whole techno and rave scene: the kids got younger, the drugs got harder, and I felt like "why the hell am I playing my music for these kids who probably don't really care about the music?" I really came to a point where I didn't know what I should be doing musically, so I closed myself off and started really what felt natural to me. And then I discovered quite by accident a Rastermusik CD in a record bin that I bought just because of the cover. It was a CD by Frank Bretschneider [aka Komet]. I listened to it and it sounded exactly what I was doing. I emailed him to tell him this, that I didn't know there were necessarily other people doing this sort of thing. I don't charge my music with messages, though; it's really just a sound appreciation sort of thing. Sound can open up the imagination to a lot of things.
Let’s get back to history. Your first CD and vinyl releases date back to 1993. What's your story of the 90’s?
Tthat's a big story to tell in one paragraph. Those first releases came out right after college, after I spent my college years doing almost nothing but making music. I can barely remember my classwork, except for the photography that I was majoring in. I met the owner of Instinct Records in a record store and somehow struck up a conversation and ended up submitting a demo tape for the first "Chill Out" compilation. They accepted my track and that was the beginning. I was hired shortly after as the art director and Instinct became my life for a good solid 4 years. I had multiple contracts with them for music and did all of their design work. I met a lot of great artists, collaborated and toured, there were a lot of great times.
You are credited as graphic designer on some Instinct and Caipirinha CDs. You worked as graphic designer on these labels, did you do any other kind of work there?
I was the in-house art director for Instinct and eventually moved to a full-time freelance from home position when my music making got too busy. It is this time I also started working for Caipirinha and basically became the full-time designer for them as well, but still on a freelance basis. So I got an enormous amount of experience from the design world that way as well as behind-the-scenes looks at labels, which all really helped me form 12k.
What equipment and software do you use for making sounds and recording?
The equipment changes a lot... But I have also found myself not liking software instruments too much, at least plug-in synthesizers. While I have a lot of great ones, like MX-4 or Cube, or Absynth, or whatever, I find that I don't use them much. The only software instrument I've bought in a while is a synth called Alchemy which is quite different than anything else I use. Often software will sound great but will inspire me to buy the hardware. For example, I used quite a bit the software version of the Hartmann Neuron synth. I loved it, but it was hard to use and I could imagine that the hardware was so much nicer... So I finally found an affordable hardware keyboard and sold the software. The same goes with some of my mastering gear like using the Waves API plugins and liking them enough to not upgrade from the demo and instead buy the hardware. My main composing software is Digital Performer. I've been using that program since before digital audio was common since version 1.42 back in 1990. I know the program so well. I'm also a big fan of the Nord Modular series, which is a great hybrid of hardware and software. I currently have a G2 keyboard which gets used a lot. a lot of my sounds, I'd say 75% come from hardware synths like the Jupiter-8 or Oberheim Xpander and recently the Neuron and a Virus TI. I just like hardware and tend to use it more, find it more inspirational and quicker. I also try to select hardware synthesizers that are all quite different from each other, that fill different roles. Even hardware effects... I use plugins from a company called Sound Toys. I use these plugins on nearly every song I make. Some of them are modelled after ideas from the old Eventide effects boxes and I became so enamored with the plugins that I went out and picked up an Eventide H3000 which is beautiful and warm and more unpredictable than the plugins.
What equipment and software do you use for mastering?
My mastering has become about 85% hardware based now, which is great. i love at the end of a long mastering session when the knobs on the gear are warm and you can really feel what you are doing. I still use digital tools for corrective and surgical EQ as well for M/S processing, but for hardware I use a couple of compressors, a Manley Vari-Mu and API2500, 3 different EQs: an API5500, A-Designs Hammer and a custom EQ made for me from 1960s consoles which sounds just amazing. Of course, all of this nice analog stuff has to go through good DA and AD conversion, so i use a Crane Song HEDD for that.
What other instruments do you use for making music? What is the one you like most to use?
Although I can't play it very well, I use the acoustic guitar a lot. I have a nice Martin acoustic with a pickup in it. I'm teaching myself to play better, but I primarily use it as a tone generator. I have a couple of other guitars as well as a box of small instruments: percussion, recorders, xylophones, etc. One of my favorite instrument sounds is the pedal steel guitar, but I don't think I'll ever be able to play that.
Can you tell about your particularly beloved method of sound design and processing?
I have no one method but if I'm not using an acoustic sound source my sound design almost always is based on sine waves... Not because they are cold but because they are pure and allow themselves to be combined with other sounds in amazing ways. Most of my programming with the Virus or Neuron always starts with sine waves. Many of my sounds can be quite simple, it's the way they are combined which provides richness. I'd say synthesizers like the Neuron or the Nord G2 are really capable of highly complex and moving sounds (the Virus, too) which I do use to my advantage. Also the Kyma sound design system appears on almost everything I do. I can do things on that that I can't do with other instruments and approach and think of sound in entirely new ways.
How did you get hooked up with Richard Chartier? Did you work already together before founding LINE?
Richard got in touch with me, I think, through our friend Nosei Sakata. Richard and I hit it off quite well artistically and immediately decided to work together. He had created work (his CD "Series") that he wanted to release on 12k. But at the time I didn't think it was right for 12k so we started a new label to focus on those types of compositions and it became LINE which of course is still active today. We started LINE pretty quickly after meeting, but I think our "Spec." CD came out before LINE was started.
What are the current projects you are working on and what will come in relatively distant future?
Soon will be out my collaboration with Stephan Mathieu on Spekk called "Transcriptions" based on processed recordings of old 78 records. As well I'm working on a remix for the band Isan and have a couple of other collborations planned. Later this year I will start work on my new solo release, the follow-up to "Northern" that I will release on 12k early next year. It will be a really important release for me.
What will come out on 12k? In what direction will you move with the label?
This year we'll see releases from Tomasz Bednarczyk from Poland, Solo Andata from Australia, Small Color from Japan, a new CD by Minamo from Japan and that is probably it on the 12k label. It's a lot more to do and I am already into booking 2010. I have no plans on where or when I move directions with the label. It just happens organically.