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15 Questions to Daniel Patrick Quinn

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m good. At home in East Lothian, drinking cheap wine and listening to “Spirit Of Eden” by Talk Talk.

What’s on your schedule right now?

Printing out some posters for a forthcoming gig. Attempting to assemble The Rough Ensemble. Trying to work out how to best attach an input socket onto my violin so I can play electric. Praying that I can quit the day job.

What does music mean to you?
When I get it right, it means the greatest sense of satisfaction. When I’m listening to music that I like, it temporarily means that all the garbage that we all have to put up with every single day of our lives can be overriden.

In which way, would you say, is your personality reflected in your music, what makes it different from that of other artists?
Most straightforwardly it’s reflected in the lyrics. My decisions about which phrases to use as indicators of what I value or despise, and which to disregard. The words are like signposts. Also, the actual spontaneous nature of recording a voice where people can often tell more about you by the sound of your voice and which words you place particular emphasis on than you can yourself. Musically, I suppose people can tell that I can’t play a violin very well, and that I’m often sombre and pensive, enjoy open spaces, and have little romance in my life.

A question closely related to the former: 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?

I don’t see myself as part of any movement. I’ve always been a loner, and suspicious of the pack and its diluted attributes, although I’d prefer it if it didn’t have to be that way. My musical tradition would have to be everything that I’ve ever heard combined with the thoughts on what I’ve heard. As for a biggest influence, it’s always the stuff you hear early on in life, so probably Mike Oldfield and ELO. Later on, hearing Suede’s “Stay Together” in 1994, and all their early B-sides, at the age of 13/14 had a huge impact on me. Working with Adam Jav Latham in The Pseudogods, when we were 16, was also of great value, attitude-wise. Especially since we didn’t really know what we were doing and were unable at that point to fit it in with any tradition.

How would you describe or characterise your composing process?
Fairly shambolic. There’s isn’t any one particular method that I use. I have to drink. That’s my drug of choice, much better than speed or coke or hash etc... I trust my judgement when I’m drunk far better than I do when I’m sober. Also, I tend to play worse but with more conviction. The first takes are almost always the best. I avoid proper studios at the moment, and this will be the case until I know that I’ll be respected to the point of the engineers actually doing what I want rather than getting embroiled in the usual trap of trying to get the bland standardised snare sounds etc.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

Totally interlinked and impossible to separate for anyone who has thought it through. That’s the biggest problem with musical scores. The scope for traditionally notating timbres and semi-semi-tones is so limited that it’s such a rudimentary code for the actual sound, just as words are a code for human-to-human communication when infact all the real meaning is in all the facial gestures and body language.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
Not using other mediums such as films, excessive lighting, fireworks etc. It should remain in its purest form in order that it can have the maximum impact. I don’t think there should be a conscious attempt to create a particular image, although possibly an anti-image is called for occasionally, for a bit of fun. But you’re selling yourself short if you don’t think that what you have in its purest, and unmade-up form isn’t enough. Like with women who wear too much make-up I suppose. My approach is to have a few beers and, to as far an extent as is possible, not to think about it too much.

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

Financially speaking, yes there is a crisis. A lot of the true pioneers are probably working in supermarkets for the best part of their lives. It takes far too long now for the good stuff to rise to the surface. There’s too much art being made anyway, and it means that a lot of the best stuff is obscured for years, decades, possibly centuries. Waiting to be uncovered by music archaeologists, and of course being of no benefit to the wellbeing of the creator. It would be helpful if at least there was a bit more money made available to musicians so that they could devote time to creating new music. Just to keep them from sweeping the supermaket floor 42 hours a week. It’s also a crisis for listeners. With so much stuff out there it can be overwhelming for people to actually seek out the interesting stuff which takes time and effort, but is obviously worth it. It’s far easier to go along with the mainstream, and the names that you see most often and leave Coldplay as your favourite, deepest musical experience.

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?
For the most part, no. I don’t trust the creative impulses of the vast majority of artists. I think too many crude samples would be used. It’s like the whole DJ culture: people getting paid to play other people’s work instead of doing any genuine work themselves. Using your musical influences in such a direct manner is no substitute for letting in infuse your mind for a while and then adding what you as an individual have to give to it, thereby creating rather than consuming. It’s a case of inputs and outputs. You are of little worth as a musician if you just peddle other people’s works.

Some feel there is no need to record albums any more, that there is no such thing as genuinely “new” music. What do you tell them? Is “new” an important aspect of what you want your pieces to be?
“New” is certainly an important aspect of what I try to do. But I think a lot of people make the mistake of looking solely at new technologies as a way to find this “newness”. I would say that it is difficult to create something now that doesn’t have any kind of resemblance to previous works, but, as I see it, it’s more about finding new configurations of practically infinite old components.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a poltical/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
I find it strange and rather alien when people feel that they can speak for a generation, or a nation or whatever. You can’t avoid having a least a small social aspect to your work, just as you can’t help but have at least a small social aspect to your personality and daily life. It may seem odd but I wouldn’t even like to comment on behalf of, or on, a close friend. Perhaps for fear of not doing them or their ideas justice. Perhaps that’ll change in time.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Music from: David Thomas and Two Pale Boys, Robert Wyatt, The Fall, Scott Walker, John Cale, DAC Crowell and Kurt Doles, ELO, Jon Hassell, The Tears, Luke Haines, Dirty Three, some kind of performance of Holst’s The Planets Suite.
Films: A Canterbury Tale, Ulysses, Gremlins.
Comedy from Danielle Ward, Russ Abbott and Bloc Party.
A tombola stall.

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?
Where the ends simply don’t justify the means. Experimentalism, or progression, is crucial, but not when the ideas behind it are more important than the aesthetic experience of actually listening to it. This is very much the case when it comes to a lot of modern art, for example.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
Not at all. It’s an endless journey. To actually write a “magnum opus” would almost be to draw your musical career to a close, since what would be the point of continuing if you were never able to reach past heights? In any case, if you plan things too carefully they can end up lacking in spontaneity, and a lot of the accidents that make music so exciting and human would be missing.

Ridin' The Stang (Suilven Recordings) 2005
SUILVEN007, with Beano Jameson (Suilven Recordings) 2004
Severed From The Land (Suilven Recordings) 2004
Jura (Suilven Recordings) 2003
The Winter Hills (Suilven Recordings) 2003

Daniel Patrick Quinn

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