RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

15 Questions to Tomas Phillips

img  Tobias
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m well, thanks, gearing up for the holiday after having finished grading loads of essays. I currently live and teach in the States, in North Carolina.

What’s on your schedule right now?

I’ve got numerous music projects lined up, tentative CD releases, solo and in collaboration, upcoming shows that require preparations, etc.

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

I certainly don’t believe there’s a crisis in the scene given the wealth of music that’s coming out, much of which is wonderful, and the abundance of festivals around the globe. However, I do think that this notion of a scene requires some interrogation considering the degree to which it consists of a kind of nomadism on the part of its contributors. That a single artist can pack a laptop into a bag and transport this enormous capacity for sound so easily is a testament to – and an incentive for – such movement, decentralization.

Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
On one hand I identify with current experimental practices – microsound; lower-case music; EAI – that are clearly linked to earlier manifestations of experimentation, from John Cage and Morton Feldman to early efforts at techno. On the other hand, I initially came to playing music through hardcore punk in the early 1980’s; and whilst my sound palette, along with my general approach to life, has become relatively calm and refined with experience, I still feel a profound connection to that era, its energy, determination and subversiveness. I continue to make music that resonates with me. The fact that there is a community context in which this music may operate is delightful.  

What, would you say, are the factors of your creativity? What “inspires” you?
There are many levels of inspiration for me. The aforementioned community of artists and listeners is important in so far as we provide a supportive and critical audience for one another. Here I see a definite link to my earlier experience of punk that thrived on such mutual support. When I listen to someone else’s music, I always find something inspiring, even if it’s a sense of what not to do in my own work. Then there are other media, of course – film, literature, visual art – endless. Most importantly, however, is the practice of adhering to a particular mode of presence and attention, a daily practice that takes one beyond specific aesthetic work. Taking pleasure in the immediate moment. Awareness of oneself in the act of becoming whatever is called for in that moment. This clarity and openness is essential to my creativity in the various forms it takes.     

How would you describe your method of composing?
It’s simple, really. I create sound files with whatever tools seem most appropriate, usually an assortment of plug-ins, and eventually begin the process of orchestrating them in Protools (free). Perhaps at this point it becomes a bit more complicated… Even with a fair amount of time available for composing, it usually takes at least three or four months to complete a full-length piece. Intermission/Six Feuilles took six. This process is immensely important to me, distinguishing as it often does a mediocre effort from a one that’s more advanced and thoughtful.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

Well that’s certainly complicated. As I’ve said elsewhere, the Cagean idea that all sound operates as music is compelling but a little bloated these days. Music is all around us, yes, but I prefer the idea that listening is all around us, always awaiting our attention. When that listening becomes focused on a certain conglomeration of sounds, the experience can really resonate.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
To some extent it depends on the nature of the project. With Intermission/Six Feuilles, I attempted to bring both to the table by improvising alongside previously arranged files. And then, inevitably, I would return to the composer’s chair. I suppose the answer to your question is ultimately not very much. I’m aware of the various debates about the two apparent poles, though I’ve never found it very useful to engage in them beyond what is necessary for a given piece.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
I have such respect for those who have come before me, laid a foundation for what I do with music, though much of that respect is a tribute to their innovation. Innovation and, of course, thoughtfulness. When a composer allows for his or her work to develop out of an engaged process, a process that can sometimes be, as Feldman puts it, “dangerous,” the end result will generally have some quality of the “new” regardless of its style. This quality is essential to me.

Do you personally enjoy multimedia as an enrichment or do you feel that it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?
When I first began performing, I was quite intent on keeping the event as stripped down as possible. I felt that the optimal listening experience would be bereft of stimuli aside from the music. To some degree, I still believe this, though I’ve since had wonderful experiences playing along with visuals. Among these is a performance with Tobias c. van Veen, a VJ and two singers from the McGill University Opera Company in Montreal. Really fantastic, that night.

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

Whether I’m performing with visuals or not, alone or in collaboration, it always comes back to simply being present to the performative moment. In this respect, even a laptop performance involving the triggering of pre-arranged sound files can either succeed or fail depending upon whether or not I’m aware of (my relation to) the sound unfolding in a particular space, for a particular audience. A successful or “good” live performance, then, communicates this quality or the lack thereof, be it a microsound event or a more conventional ensemble. Examples of such performances in my own experience have ranged from Taylor Deupree to Black Flag… Brilliant.

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?
At this point in my life, I am for all intents and purposes apolitical in so far as I don’t watch television, read newspapers or political magazines, or get mixed up in discussions about this or that politician. These fixations all tend to feel very mechanical to me, an outgrowth of the more pervasive problem of sleepwalking through life. And yet, I must qualify this statement by suggesting that what I do with music is arguably political in that creating a space of focused listening, be it a performance venue or someone’s private living room, invites a particular subjectivity, one that is subversive to the degree that it provokes attention to relative silence, as opposed to the noise of our culture’s basest impulses. In other words, such music (again, when undertaken consciously and conscientiously) opens the possibility of what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as a “line of flight” beyond the boundaries of conventional, normative subjectivity. This is not to claim that music, mine or anyone else’s, can “save the world,” though every individual who seizes an opportunity to step outside the noise, even for a brief moment, has the capacity to contribute something productive to the larger social arena. Of course, as a literature professor, I’m in contact with people every day, engaging with ideas that are more or less disruptive of the status quo in all of its nefarious little manifestations.  

How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?
It seems to be happening this very moment, the result, to a large degree, of phenomena such as myspace and the internet in general. By its very nature, esoteric music tends to weed out listeners who won’t appreciate it, though I see a lot of movement between genres and their respective audiences these days. My recent record, for example, Drink_Deep, is a remix of sorts that uses sampled material from the 80’s Dischord band, Rites of Spring, a project that I intended as a provocation of such movement, as a link between otherwise disparate musics and communities.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Oh, as a good friend of mine once said, such a position comes with a free coronary…, so I tend to stay away from curatorial work. But it’s an interesting question to ponder. Not surprisingly, I like the idea of a festival dedicated to quiet music. Although having those moments of louder, perhaps dance-oriented music can be great fun. I’ve also enjoyed label showcases at certain festivals. I remember a Raster-Noton night at Mutek a few years ago during which Olaf Bender had the entire room moving. It was incredible, mesmerizing.     

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
Whilst I’m always attempting to push myself through the music, I really just take each project as it comes. If I can conclude a composition and say to myself that it is exactly what I wanted to accomplish (evolve though such expectations invariably do), then I’m happy and eventually start looking forward to whatever is next. Every piece is special to me and constitutes a larger process, that of being clear, decisive and present, through sound or otherwise.

On dit (Trente Oiseaux) 2003
If Not, Winter/ with Tobias c. van Veen (And/Oar) 2004
Anther/ with i8u (Petite Sono) 2005
Á Travers le Bord/ with.with Dean King (Non Visual Objects) 2006
Intermission | Six Feuilles (Line) 2006
Drink_Deep (Non Visual Objects) 2007

Tomas Phillips

Related articles

CD Feature/ Tomas Phillips: "Six Notes"
A strip of microthoughts: Phillips ...
15 Questions to Jodi Cave
When does a term like ...
15 Questions to Karin Schaupp
Some people have likened interpreting ...
15 Questions to Jerry Gerber
In its childhood days, most ...
15 Questions to Mick Harris/Scorn
It's never quiet for long ...
15 Questions to Alison Balsom
One of Alison Balsom's two ...
Interview with Asmus Tietchens
We usually provide a full ...
15 Questions to Dave Maric
Even though less and less ...
CD Feature/ Tomas Phillips: "Drink_Deep"
Harcore Punk and quiet minimalism: ...
Non Visual Objects: Surrealist Techniques (a.o. releases)
Vienna-based label Non Visual Objects ...

Partner sites