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Interview with Dustin Wong

img  Tobias Fischer

Did music, in a way, provide you with a safe haven during your childhood years?
I think that's an interesting observation and I thinks it's valid. I feel like compared to the moving, however, taking the train from elementary school to high school was even more influential. Seeing the landscape change horizontally versus a car that comes straight at you. My train ride to school was a 45 minute commute and there weren't that many commuters on so it, it was really relaxing and healing. I listened to my music and imagined things running along the train tracks.

What was the cultural transition you experienced when moving from Hawaii to Japan like?
Language was a huge part of that transition. I was in Hawaii till I was about two years old and I started to speak English. But when my parents moved to Japan, I forgot everything I'd learned and started speaking Japanese. I had a hard time communicating with my Dad because he was still learning Japanese at that point. Then I was sent to an English speaking Catholic school when I was seven and had to re-learn my English. In the beginning I would just yell out, "toilet!" when I had to pee. The forgetting and remembering may have something to do with my compositions. The sound accumulates, then it cuts to a new idea, and that change or shock is an important effect in my music.

Your biography refers to music as a tool for rebellion in your early youth.
I was attending a pretty conservative school through third grade to senior year in high school, where Christian missionaries from the States would have their kids attend. The school was called Christian Academy in Japan. I really appreciated being able to learn a lot about the Bible but the environment started to get oppressive. So music and art was a way for me to escape and counter it.

You've described music as an “inner space".
When working with a loop pedal, it is like examining yourself musically with a four way mirror. There is an installation by Yayoi Kusama called infinity mirror room. It consists of a room full of mirrors and as you stand, they're examining yourself and your surroundings, you start shifting deeper, you get smaller and the world around you gets bigger. It's very humbling. I'm trying to understand these different aspects of myself.

In which way does it show through in your music?
My music works vertically and there may be a simple pleasure in that, just like playing Jenga, Tetris, or Lego. I think it's about making something out of simple shapes and materials. Earlier in Portland, I saw a book on how to draw, like boats or buildings. The process might begin with a simple triangle, a half circle and a line that might go straight down it, and you have a sail boat.

Your using metaphors a lot in speaking about music. Is the message behind it hard to put into words?
You're right, it's hard to put it in to words, because it's a feeling. I don't want to put a stamp on an album like Infinite Love because I want the listener to have their own interpretation for the piece. We all come from different places and we all have different memories. So whatever image is recalled from the listener is totally valid. I also believe that the listener or the viewer could experience something deeper than what the artist intended.

Why, then, was the notion of creating a journey for the listener so particularly important to you on Infinite Love?
I studied film for a couple of years and the movies of Stan Brakhage, Bruce Connor and Kenneth Anger had a huge impact on me. I wanted to use that type of filmic structure, of cuts and transitions, with music. Eisenstein had an idea about conveying an idea or a concept merely through edited images. I'm doing it just for a feeling and impression.

The album certainly develops an incredible flow and sense of unity despite offering many different moods.
One idea would sometimes inform what would come next and some times a melodic motif may come back later in the piece that may trigger the joy of memory. This is something I really enjoyed when watching Bruce Connor's films. He may start with an image of an elephant running for a glimpse and many things may happen afterwards then ending with an elephant being hunted down. That association was powerful to me, the effect of memory.

How do you turn a memory or an idea into a piece of music?
It's organic, just like starting a painting or a drawing until the sounds forms its own crystal. I don't think about it too much when I'm actually writing music. I think the unintentional byproduct of music or art are as important as the intention. Maybe even more and it reveals something more real about yourself.
Practically speaking, for Infinite Love, I recorded everything live at home in Garage Band. Then I recorded each layer track by track. So on a way it is like taking a photograph and going over it with pencil. The stricture of the whole piece was already done since it was all written live, the question was how to document it.

It's interesting you should mention Jimx Hendrix as an influence.

To me, artists like Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson, John Fahey and Brian Eno represent independence or individuality. Whether that is an internal explosion or external. They're music is transcendental that is what attracted me to music. My favorite part about Jimi Hendrix is that he felt his music. He was immersed and it was explosive. Obviously his dexterity is a huge one too, it's totally effortless, he strives without trying too hard.

Infinite Love took roughly twelve months to finish, while Seasons took several years. Which, do you feel, will be more indicative of your future direction?
Seasons was all made internally through a computer, while Infinite Love was created through a series of tools and pedals, with everything being written  live. I think I feel a lot more comfortable being able to make something that is what it is - but who knows, I may change my mind.

By Tobias Fischer

Dustin Wong Discography:
Seasons (Wildfire Wildfire) 2009
Let it Go (Watercolor) 2010
Infinite Love (Thrill Jockey) 2010

Dustin Wong

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