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Interview with Marco Oppedisano-2

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 rip-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, guitarist, composer and sound artist Marco Oppedisano describes how originality can be seen as a factor transcending genres, styles and technique – which sometimes requires a certain temporal distance to be appreciated.

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?
I started off as a rock guitarist at the age of 12 and spent my teens learning lots of rock and metal.I’d also have periods where I would work on my own ideas. I became very interested in fingerstyle technique, so I studied classical guitar for 2 years as an undergraduate student.

I think my first major step was the transition from guitarist to serious composer in my early 20s. After quite a few years of composing and studying music seriously, I found a way I could best express myself creatively primarily through the electric guitar. Since 1999, I’ve been working with electric guitars in electroacoustic music and since 2007, have released 4 albums along with and collaborations and contributions to compilations.

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 think I listened for originality in my early years listening. I listened to what I liked. As I became more informed, I start to understand better what I thought was original. I’d say the first artist that struck me as a true original was Jimi Hendrix. He did so much in so little time. Take a track like, "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)" from Electric Ladyland. I’ve always seen that track as a showcase for everything that was so great about him. I listened to him all the time as a teenager and am still a huge fan to this day.

My musical tastes were always a little more out there than my peers. I was always searching for new things to listen to. When I was an undergraduate, I became exposed to a lot of music I normally would have never known. I remember hearing Ives’ music and not knowing what to make of it. I didn’t like it right away, but it interested me enough to want to keep listening.

What's your own definition of originality?
Being true to one’s self and not worrying too much about what others think. You can’t try to be original. You either are or you’re not. It’s having a distinct vision and being determined to realize it. Establishing confidence in one’s ability and not being afraid to take chances. Trusting your instincts. We are all original because each and every one of us different. One needs to embrace that uniqueness in order to be 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?
I think a genuine and honest approach speaks to me regardless of genre of music. I’d rather not hear artists who are trying to hard to be original or strange. I admire discipline. Whether you are playing in a garage band or are a serious composer, there needs to be discipline. It is harder for me to feel refreshed after years and years of being exposed to so much music.Now, I can appreciate any piece of music that is put together well. There are some moments when I am genuinely surprised. There are still artists that I love. I think it is easier to appreciate innovators of the past. Unfortunately, many times originality isn’t truly appreciated without the perspective of years having passed.

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?
The Internet allows for so much music to made easily available – much of it nothing special - so it is harder to stand out as an original artist these days. Every once in a while I will stumble upon something that is a little different, but I can’t say there is a particular community that I find inspiring. Times are different. I also listen to less music now. There is just so much out there and I don’t have the time I used to. All I can do is keep composing the music that I enjoy.

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.
I like to deliberately break habits within compositions – even if they are minor ones. It is important to keep things fresh and to go against what I would typically do in regard to my creative decisions. I have to keep this in mind because I can get obsessive and rigid when I am working on a piece. A good strategy is breaking routines. Maybe trying a new piece of equipment, device or instrument.When I started working with preparing guitars, that opened a whole new world for me. I’m interested in both conventional guitar sounds
and more experimental guitar sounds. This is central to what I do.

I like to keep a sketchbook handy for when an idea might arise. Different locations can bring about different ideas.

I found that when I finished my studies with a Masters Degree in Music Composition, I started to focus more on establishing my own voice. This certainly allowed for more original ideas because I was not under the direct influence of academia.

There are obviously similar things I do with every piece. It is not so much keeping within a style, but simply a question of taste. One of my works that comes to mind is a track called "Imaginary Portal" from my album The Ominous Corner (2008). It’s an ambitious piece that I feel differently about from time to time. It does all work to my ears – even with my perceived “weaknesses.“ I do admire the piece because I tried some different things – particularly the use of radio samples. It goes through quite a lot in a little over 10 minutes.

Another work is "Solitary Pathways" from Mechanical Uprising (2010). There are moments of serene beauty in contrast to frenetic, jarring moments some of which consist of dissonant guitar soloing and Nancarrow-esque player piano ideas.

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 most importantly I found a style of music that works best for me and it is very specific once I start working. As much of my work is based on imagination and intuition, there are practical decisions made, too. The most important thing about creating is to keep doing it. That is simply how ideas come to frution and how work gets done. You have to put yourself in that special place where you can be receptive to ideas.

It’s also important to remember that listeners are not hearing how you created the piece. Some may care and some may not about the process. They are left with their own conclusions. I do enjoy hearing what people hear in my music.

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 think once you entered the world of sampling from other recordings, than legal issues come into play. I don’t do this sort of sampling in my electroacoustic music, so it’s not really a concern for me.

Music is subjective and what might be original to one, might just sound weird to another. I don’t think there is really any model for recognizing originality. I guess the easy answer is if something with artistic integrity is different to what is presently common, accepted or popular, it is then original.

How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
I utilize a very specific process when composing that works best with my sensibilities. This took quite a few years to realize. I know that the tools used and my compositional process stimulate creativity.

In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
I know that without the use of a home studio I wouldn’t have been able to create the amount of music I have now. I never had to splice tape and I know some of my present compositions would have taken forever to compete this way ...

I used a computer music studio to create some of my early works, but having a home studio has made all the difference. The drawback to the popularity of the home studio, is it has also resulted in so many people releasing their own music.

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?
As I stated earlier, originality is not always totally appreciated in the present time. It’s harder now to stand out as opposed to many years ago. As long as there is a mainstream, there will always be artists who are off the beaten path. To be an artist is not always so financially rewarding.This is an obstacle that prevent artists from being themselves and following their heart. An artist constantly needs to grow in order to enrich their art.

Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons?
Yes, I have a vision for that type of piece and maybe I will be able to realize it one day – maybe not. My studio could use a major upgrade first ...

Marco Oppedisano Interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Marco Oppedisano