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15 Questions to Loren Dent

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Doing fine, thanks. I’m in the Jackson, Mississippi airport waiting to hop on a flight back home to Austin.


What’s on your schedule right now?
If you mean for the day, then I’m going to get home, then go out and see friends. Whenever I return home from out-of-town trips I’m a social butterfly for a few days. If by schedule you mean upcoming performances, then I have a few. I’m opening for this Boston band Caspian here in Austin and then the following night in Houston in May. I’m also working on putting together a show with Brian McBride from Stars of the Lid. That will be here in Austin sometime this summer assuming everything goes as planned. In the mean time I’m wrapping up a collaborative album with my friend Jacob Green. I’m super-excited about how it turned out and am eager to share it.


What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
That’s a tough one. I’ve always felt a tension between two traditions, one being what you could call “new composition” (Eno, Budd, Johannsen, Basinski, Part, etc) and “new music” (Cage, Niblock, Ehlers, Rehberg, Ambarchi, Fennesz, etc). The separations don’t always work nor should they, but I think one can point to different histories and styles.

My tastes as a music consumer are pretty broad, and I think even my guilty pleasures seep their way into the music I create in some ways I’m unaware of. I began toying with using a computer and electronics to process guitar and other instruments about five or six years ago, and around that time I first heard “Music for Airports” and was an active listener of Stars of the Lid.

Later I would go through the usual catalog of artists such as Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Basinski, Stephan Mathieu, etc. But one event that inspired me in a completely unexpected way was seeing Phill Niblock perform live in Austin. It wasn’t really a performance so much as an event. I was really moved by it.


What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

If there’s a crisis, it’s more to do with the economics of music. The industry is more democratic in that independent labels can actually get recognized and smaller artists have a better chance of showcasing their work. The old model of getting discovered is long gone. I also think the listening audience is diversifying a bit. High school kids are listening to things besides alternative radio rock and that’s a great thing. I think there’s a greater appreciation for „instrumental“ music and more challenging genres. There are also big questions about marketing music, the ethics of downloading songs, etc. It’s all very exciting and I’m interested in where it will be in another five years even.


What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
As with most descriptors for music, the term is at once useful and meaningless. When I think of “new music” I think of artists that have explored the canon and reached its limits. New music composers are usually classically trained and at some point choose to depart in some way from European classical music, although not completely throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Cage, of course, comes to mind. He was someone that knew the classical tradition inside and out and eventually chose to go someplace else.


How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
One thing that separates the “ballpark” of artists I’ve been mentioning is that sound takes an equal—if not greater—importance as the composition.

Life is full of sounds for a hearing person, and collecting them in a way that’s expressive is the role of sound art. Collecting them in a way that’s expressive and falls within certain rules is music. It’s like when you’re attracted to a person because of their voice. The way they say something—their tone and inflection—is just as important as their grammar or choice of words. Sound is primary and organization is secondary.


How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
There’s always a degree of improvisation, even if you sit down to compose something in a traditional sense. I rarely have a complete picture of what I’m working on before I sit down. That’s not to say its totally in the moment. Sometimes I’ll have a small part for guitar and will track it, then mess around with making it sound different, or trying it with a different instrument or a sample. Jacob Green and I did four sessions of improvised material which will become an upcoming album, and it turned out great. Improvisation produces some great happy accidents. But I’m also not in that school of thought that thinks improvised material is somehow more authentic or inherently more interesting than pre-meditated work. Improvised work can be a disaster as well.


What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

I think it is important to not just perform but be part of an event. I play different types of venues on different types of bills. Sometimes it will be a quiet show where the audience is seated in a theatre. Or it may be a rock club where you have 50 people standing there waiting to be entertained while tossing their beer bottles into the garbage. I don’t do anything that interesting in stage. No guitar tossing or hopping up and down, so its stripped of that “front man” model. I do show projections and try to fill the room with sounds. There are no beats, so I go into some performances with a big challenge to keep people interested and engaged. Its really terrifying in a way and I’m still working on getting it right.

As far as setup, I work with a guitar, a keyboard or two, and a laptop. Lots of live looping and stacking of sounds. Sometimes it kind of gets out of my control, which is a big challenge.


A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
Well, musicologists think that the earliest music was just an attempt to imitate natural sounds. Many musicians are now moving in the direction of “sound art” where environments are incorporated and arranged into composed pieces. Olivia Block is a great example of this. I suppose you could say this is the most original music there is, sort of a return to its natural state. Over time, certain rules have developed throughout the world that define music, but those rules are always changing and being challenged. So I’m not sure where the line is if there is one. The most interesting sound art or music makes that line irrelevant.


 Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
A lot of popular music is not serious and a lot of serious music is not popular. There’s not a natural link between the two for sure. Where the market will take music is sometimes completely random. However, I do believe in working hard to produce and market the music you make. It will usually pay off to some degree. I don’t expect any A&R guys to sign me to Capital Records anytime soon, so I have to work hard to do things differently. And I know a lot of people from Austin in rock bands that have worked extremely hard, through touring and performing, and practicing. It’s paid off for them.


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 deal with this question in my three-volume set “The Philosophy of Musical Aesthetics.” You can find it on Amazon.

In all seriousness, I think any form of art, even if it is political, is at first personal. If an artist feels compelled to make a claim about politics or social conditions, it is because they feel the urgency on a personal level. That having been said, I think “duty” is a poor reason to be involved in making art. If duty is driving you to create, then I think you need to do some serious self-evaluation.


True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
As false as it gets. Do you need to be a sexologist to have an orgasm? Experiencing music is primarily a physiological thing—it’s about how it affects the body. A good rhythm works because it affects with the nervous system. The same is true for harmony and melody. More challenging music may be uncomfortable or even painful. I’ve known people trained in music theory and don’t really appreciate music at all. I also have a good friend who is a great musician but feels trapped because he’s too educated in music.


Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
Well, it kind of is the current situation already. I’m a proponent of sampling and rely on it heavily. When I do it, though, I use the samples in a way that make them unrecognizable. I’ll pull string parts from pop songs if I need to, or trumpets from movie soundtracks. I think the whole downloading phenomenon is a little different. I recently found out that more people were queued up to download my record from Soulseek than the number who had actually bought it so far. That’s kind of my karmic payback I suppose. But I’m not in favor of suing teenagers for downloading music like those assholes in Metallica. I think musicians need to get creative and figure out new ways to market and sell their work. It’s a challenge that needs to be met creatively, not legally.


You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Well I could list 500 artists I would invite.  Right now I’m more interested in being offered to play a festival. If I’m ever the curator I’ll let you know.


Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I don’t think most artists know what is going to be their magnum opus. It’s one of those after-the-fact things based on how it affects people. I’m focused on improving what I do and working on new material. If a magnum opus comes out of then great.


Discgraphy:
Love Versus Dirt (2006) Contract Killers Records
Empires and Milk (2007) Contract Killers Records

Homepage:
Loren Dent
Loren Dent at MySpace


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