RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Interview with Ron Geesin

img  Tobias Fischer

You've described yourself as "a supporter of the individual expressionist".
If one is a creative person, one is realising life through one’s creations. One is also sending out signals to find out where one is in space and time. I feel that this process is best done by the individual. All too often, there is a cancelling out of individual energy in a modern group format, which might make for a more even and consumable product, but does not inspire one with great structure or passion.

And yet, the modern group format has proved to be astoundingly popular. Why do you think this is?

Were you ever tempted to become part of a group yourself?
Remember, I started out in a 5-piece band playing vintage jazz! The social interaction, school playground ploys and jealousies were quite enough for one lifetime, thankyou!

The input of others can take music into a direction one could never have envisioned and thereby make it more satisfying.
Yes, it’s more dangerous to be solo. Maybe different situations, solo or group, suit different people – but I frown on those who are in one situation and want to be in another! I believe I don’t have any strong influences – I found out many years ago that I could not copy anything; it always came out sounding like me. Of course I listen to many different things. I respond to structure in sound, to smaller modules of patterns and to passion; also to sources far removed from the human being: nature’s compositions from a trickling stream to the truly amazing sound of blackbird 'song'.

Do you allow for external input at all?

I don't think so, because this is a conscious action and I work often on a sub-conscious level – things may creep in, but I certainly have not allowed them!

Was part of what made Atom Heart Mother interesting at the time that it was actually a project which allowed you to invest a lot of your own personality into the music?
I have always described my part in that work as 'a good bit of crafting': the action of having to fit things into, or onto, an existing grid or structure. Yes, it is an age-old fact that the human process of living often leads the individual to unique solutions to problems. Some of my personality is in that work – it has to be since I composed the melodic lines – but I would not say 'a lot'.

You did say about the cello part on Atom Heart Mother that it's "all yours". Does this mean, then, that you don't believe in such a thing as collective creation?
Oh yes, I believe in collective creation. The statement "all yours" simply was provoked by my not being acknowledged by the Floyd on the sleeve or anywhere else for my considerable input. I have covered 'influence' above and recognise tradition, schools and lineage to be essential safe paths for some creators through the ages. Maybe some analysts will find all those aspects in my work later, but I have little interest in that kind of conscious action. I have enough difficulty remembering what to do next!

So do you, today, look back on Atom Heart Mother with satisfaction or a bit of disappointment after all?
As with my reaction to your tendency to want a yes/no type of answer, "Both!" There's the satisfaction of having been a major part in the structuring of a very commercially-successful work, and the disappointment of neither being properly credited by the Floyd machine for that work nor having had my own, and better, work recognised much at all in the world.

Could you elaborate a bit on the idea of „realising one's life through one's creation“?

I see the brain as a multi-level organism, operating on many levels and in many dimensions simultaneously: these 'levels' can be crudely grouped into conscious and subconscious. So, in the case of a creative action, whether it be a nurse caring for a patient, a friend advising on one's movement through a crisis, or an artist making a creative statement, some levels are drawing up energy from the subconscious well, while other levels are consciously analysing and assessing the quality and efficacy (power to produce effect) of that energy. This is probably a description of 'communication', both within oneself and between two or more other, or outer, selves.

Where, would you say, do your creative ideas come from?

From patterns in life, from birdflight to toilet tiling, from human movement to machinery's mincing, translated through the soft mirror of the mind.

You've mentioned creation as a means to understand one's place in space in time. What did RonCycle and Right through, with which you've drawn parallels to the former, tell you in this regard? In which way are they expressions of where you stand? In which way was the insight you gained worth the struggle?
They told me that it was worth the struggle to get to the end, and that there are not very many people out there yet who correspond to my particular electro-chemistry. There is also the message, "Enjoy the making!" The remainder of your 3-part question can be answered by the little story: there was a high wire specialist happily crossing a gorge, his pole and limbs in perfect harmony and balance – someone shouted from the ground, "Do you realise you're 200 meters above the ground?!" – the man fell off the wire. In other words: it is unwise to break into someone's subconscious flow with conscious actions, and; if I could tell you all about it, I wouldn't be doing it.

The joy of creation can lie both in itself or its outcome. So, with regards to your albums, was the pleasure more in writing them or in having written them?

Correction, the joy and the pain of creation! You are of course using the convenient term 'writing' to mean 'conceiving' – and I go further in that I physically build the final structure – this process is usually called 'realisation' (making real). The phrase I use to describe the process in your question is 'from conception to reception'. There are different joys and pains in the process of creativity. In the conception, there is sometimes the pain of the struggle to form just a few molecules/modules, and sometimes the joy of achievement in one's own terms – the personal 'tingle factor'. In 'reception' there can be the pain of reading a review where the reviewer's electro-chemistry is a mismatch to mine, and then the joy of finding another review that matches my electro-chemistry in some way. Also, there is some joy in seeing a work appreciated – and rewarded – in society and not appropriated for free in the ether (on the Net!).

In the 70s, you founded Headscope as your own record company at a time when that idea was far from being as widespread as today.
No, I founded 'Ron Geesin Records' in 1972 to issue 'As He Stands'. Actually, the idea was to have a 'no name' record company where the title of the work (+ my name) was everything: this was followed by 'Patruns' and 'Right Through'. My tiny nod in the direction of commercialism led me to create HEADSCOPE in 1991, but I now prefer to  allow a dedicated company to handle all that issuing business. I need more time and focus to wind my bucket down into and back up from the creative well.

Are label-matters and creative questions closely connected?

They can be either, depending on how the 'label' is related to the composition, and the composer to the label. The label could be part of the composition, or simply a convenient carrier of the idea. The composer may simply want the work out in the world, no matter what label, graphics or anything else.

As a self-releasing artist and label owner, you were faced with business realities. How do you see the arts in a free market place?
I see them rather like I have done them! I made money from film and TV work to help with issuing the dedicated solo work. Now I just want to make work, and to see it issued. I have always applied my art to the market place: I was never one for applying for grants (begging) and all that – actually, the times that I tried, I just got angry and failed!

What's the relationship between a paid commission and the quality of the music? Can something deeply gratifying result from it?
Some of this has been covered above. Paid commissions can be split into two basic types: with interference and; without interference. 'Interference' here could be anything from the Floyd's 'grid' to "we want it in three days' time" to "my wife doesn't like the banjo"; in other words, any kind of constraint from outside. As it happened, I found I could work in both fields: actually, if there are no outside constraints, the artist imposes them himself! So, deeply gratifying or deeply grating work can come out of either.

With its long creation cycle, your new album "RonCycle1" in a way represents the very epitome of artistic freedom. You also said it frightened you at times. In which way?

Thank you for recognising my display of freedom. Due to my choice of 'no label/pigeonhole', 'no time constraint', 'no other musicians/creators', I felt I was working in a vacuum, which leads to paranoic insecurity – all that good old stuff you read about in biographies: self-doubt and mental paralysis. How's that for a recipe for fright? You see, my introvert self hides away in the laboratory/studio and my extrovert self amuses audiences from the stage. I have always had this dichotomy – I think that everyone else has it too, but maybe not often so exaggerated. One of the goals in Taoism is "to achieve the height of total anonymity" and, although I am drawn to this and many other sayings, I think I have been finding out that 'total anonymity' is not entirely practical in this modern life. There's a Dutch saying "Own boss is own slave." Does this actually encapsulate the human dilemma? Another way of looking at this is that, to achieve personal insight, one has to struggle and, conversely, one struggles in order to enjoy the personal insight – and, one struggles in order to provoke the exploration of unknown regions towards the achievement of personal insight, an understanding of one's place in space and time. It may also be possible to achieve personal insight by doing absolutely nothing! Although, in 'doing absolutely nothing' in meditation, for instance, the brain's molecules are doing a lot.

There were certainly phases in the process of working on "RonCycle" where, strictly speaking, „absolutely nothing was happening“.
It was vital that I removed myself from it when it looked to me like it was never going to be finished, or when it looked like it was going to eat me. My over-reaction to the first might have been to destroy it and to the second to break down or die. Overcoming these 'demons' produces an energy and perception that might be influential in the work.

I thought it interesting that it was Poe who provided some interesting ideas for working on the music, since you're also a writer. So how do the two areas work together from your perspective?
I have written, "Making art, being creative, is a positive way of using our nerve-ends." So, if one can construct sound into amusing patterns AND do similar with words, and even build lots of sticks and twigs into a sculpture, one should do these things. Maybe one specialism will be seen by the individual or 'the public' as being more unique to, and/or expressive of, the individual, but the cross-pollination of the different kinds of patterns derived from these somewhat separated activities can benefit that individual artist. I see the process of making art to be one of the exorcism of nerve-ends.

You place great importance on your work not being labeled – a natural aspect of wanting to be appreciated in one's personal uniqueness. At the same time, it also seems a perfectly natural tendency to want to be part of „something“ - a community, family, scene or movement. Returning to you being "a supporter of the individual expressionist" – does this automatically mean this road is a lonely one?
Yes, there is an element of 'personal uniqueness' in label avoidance but, more importantly, it is a statement about consumers looking for a shortcut to understanding: "Oh, so that's what it is!" "No," I say, "That's just what it's called, and nothing more." If one wants to properly enjoy life, one has to immerse oneself in it, not just stand at the side and whimper: one has to probe and question, or maybe it's only those with overheated nerve-ends that have to do that. All artists are truly alone in their heads while their bodies and certain layers of their minds may belong to very happy families, and they may drink beer and laugh with local friends. The reconciliation is 'all in the mind'. What is interesting is to consider those many artists – Wagner is a good example – where the creative machinery of the mind invades the whole of it and creates huge upsets in relationships with individuals (including partners) and social systems.
Finally, remember that I am a great appreciator of absurdity and see the fun in the chase, the futility of endeavour and faces in the clouds.

By Tobias Fischer

Image by The Postrock.

Ron Geesin Discography:
A Raise Of Eyebrows (Transatlantic) 1967   
Music From The Body/ w. Roger Waters (Harvest) 1970   
Electrosound (KPM Music) 1972   
As He Stands (Ron Geesin Products) 1973   
Electrosound (KPM Music) 1975   
Patruns (Ron Geesin Products) 1975   
Right Through (Ron Geesin Products) 1977   
Atmospheres (KPM Music) 1977   
Headscope (Not On Label) 1978   
Magnificent Machines (Themes International Music) 1988   
Funny Frown (Headscope) 1991   
Bluefuse (Headscope) 1993   
RonCycle1 The Journey Of A Melody (Tonefloat) 2011

With Pink Floyd:
Atom Heart Mother (EMI) 1970


Ron Geesin

Related articles

Tupolev: Tower of Sparks
Embracing the impure: A maximum ...
Interview with Michael Begg
Celebrating a major public new ...
Interview with Kenneth Kirschner 2
One sometimes wonders how far ...
15 Questions to Sebastien Roux
After his "Paquet Surprise"-debut in ...
Interview with Robert Ashley
The offer to interview Robert ...

Partner sites