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Interview with Dustin O'Halloran

img  Tobias Fischer

These days, originality appears to be the main gauge for artistic success: No insult could be worse than being made out a copycat or ripp-off, no praise higher than having one's work being commended as 'unique', 'personal' or 'inventive'. And yet, as much as it's in demand, originality is a highly problematic term. For one, entirely original music is an impossibility, since every composition already builds on what came before it in some form or the other. Also, originality as a main priority does not by default result in satisfying results. Even more critically, our notion of originality is questioned by the advances of the information age: The more people are making and releasing music, the smaller the potential for each of them to create something truly original, after all. What happens when everything has been done - every sound sculpted, every beat programmed, every chord played and every arrangement tried? We spoke to a wide selection of artists from all corners of the musical spectrum to find out more about their take on originality, how they see it changing and what it means in their work.

Dustin O'Halloran's best ideas emerge in a state of meditation, as he explains in this interview.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

There are always great works that have inspired me and continue to do so ... but experimenting is where you find your own voice. You need time and some isolation and maybe periods of not listening so much to others. When you stop thinking how others will perceive it ... then you're on to something.

When, would you say, did you start to appreciate originality as an important quality in music? What were some of the first artists that stood out in terms of their originality to you and what was it about the originality in their work that attracted you to it?
This is a hard question ... there have been so many ground breaking artists in every era ... and I listen to so much varied music. When I was a teenager I listened to lot of Bowie, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, Nick Cave ... the list goes on ... later, when I was older, Gavin Bryars, Shostakovich, Satie, Chopin, Bac h... all really special and made some impact on me.

What's your own definition of originality?
I have always felt that music is like a long trail of DNA that is passed on from generation to generation and that nothing is purely original but somehow everything is unique. You can always find parts of others in all artists, it's how we combine them with our own unique experiences that make them original. 

Originality is one, but certainly not the only aspect of quality in music. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?
For me, honesty is more important that originality. I want someone to feel it ... and not just trying to be clever for it's own sake.

With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
Technology always brings in new sounds and ways to make music that has never been heard before ... so I guess this helps originality? Recently, an artisan made Da Vinci’s design for a kind of piano-cello instrument where the strings are bowed ... it sounds insane and I would love to hear someone compose specifically for this crazy instrument.

What are areas of your writing process at the moment that are particularly challenging to you and how does the notion of originality come into play here? What have been some of the more rewarding strategies for attaining originality for you? Please feel free to expand on some of your recent projects and releases.
The most recent project that I worked on that was challenging in this way was for a dance piece for choreographer Wayne Mcgregor. I was working with my project A Winged Victory For The Sullen with Adam Wiltzie. And we were challenged to create a musical vision for Wayne’s ideas which all related to the formation of atoms and inner and outer space. It really helped us search in the music in a non tradional way ... he would give us inspiration like: “what if you went into a black hole and came out the other side ... what would that sound like?“. I found this incredibly inspiring and it really helped us stretch our sound.

The idea of originality is closely related to one's understanding of the creative process. How would you describe this process for yourself - where do ideas come from, how are they transformed in your mind and how do experiences and observations turn into a work of art?
I think I have always found the best ideas when I get to a state of almost meditation in the music. When I am thinking less about the SELF in music and really let my mind go ... it's when you get to the good stuff.

The aspect of originality has often been closely linked to copyright questions. I'm not so much interested in the legal and economic consequences, but your thoughts on how far an artist can claim an idea / composition as being their own – is there, perhaps, a better model for recognising originality than the one currently in place?
I’m not sure how to answer that ... but I'm sure the  lawyers will battle it out till the end.

How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
You can use any tools and find it.

In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
For my own work ... sound research ... recording experiments and re-amping have been the most interesting new ideas to explore.

Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons?
Not really as I am mostly led with what I have around me at the time ... whether it's a piano, a tape delay ... some old synths. I follow the sounds and let them lead me.

Dustin O'Halloran Interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Dustin O'Halloran