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Interview with Kassel Jaeger

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.

In this interview, French sound artist Kassel Jaeger points to the peculiarities of electronic music with regards to originality - and stresses the ongoing potential of 'crossing lines' for keeping it alive in over-saturated times.

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?
A good thing with experimental music is that it’s often difficult to understand how it’s made. Therefore, it’s very difficult to mimic and try to reproduce it. I almost never tried to recreate a sound I loved in someone else’s music. When I did and succeeded I immediatly felt a disappointment. The mystery of the sound was gone and something in the music was taken away. So, my own voice has been more about finding my own process to create my own sounds.

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?
I don’t really know. It’s been slow and progressive. It’s been more like shifting slowly from the mainstream music I listened to as a teenager to a more and more different music.

What's your own definition of originality?
That would be this: being different.

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?
Doing something different, from the others, or from my own past works, is always the main engine that pushes my desire to compose music.

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?
To me, the greatest potential for originality is trying to stay away from the determinism of genre and style. Trying to find your own path without trying to belong to a style or a trend. If being out of a style is nowadays almost impossible, crossing the lines is always a good way to escape to its empire...

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.
My compositional process has always been meant to challenge my own listening. Exploring sounds, unearthing unheard worlds: that’s what I’m looking for. Originality is implicitly involved.

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?
Originality is definitely not linked to authorship. And copyright has never been made to save originality. But I’m not sure a new model is needed. I’m not sure how relevant it is to use originality as a value. To me, originality is a means, not an end.

How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
Standardization of the tools is a big issue. The tools you use imply directly your way of composing sounds. But most of the tools, especially the DAW’s, are designed for the music and cinema industry. Experimental composition has very litlle to do with that. That’s why a lot of people try to develop their own tools. But there is another danger and a new challenge: building new tools meant to be used by humans and musicans, and not by super users, machines and developers.

In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
Precisely developing my own tools, and paying attention of not being overwhelmed by the technical aspects. Basically, it’s trying to create tools that put the listening experience in the center of the compositional process instead of creating a matrix of variables and parameterst hat will command my compositonal strategy.

The importance and perspective on originality has greatly varied over the course of musical history. From your point of view, what are some of the factors in the cultural landscape that are conducive to originality and what are some of those that constitute obstacles?
Two aspects of the same prism linked to the rise of post-industrial societies:
- 1 Individualization implies a strong will of being unique and therefore different and original.
- 2 Standarization driven by an alienation allows the new paradox of originality in the era of the society of the spectacle: it’s always new, always different, but always the same. So you’re never lost and always captive.

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 the music itself. More the way to present it. Like massive sound installations in remote territories...

Kassel Jaeger Interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kassel Jaeger