RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Interview with Taylor Deupree

img  Tobias Fischer

What was it that made the collection of Gamelan instruments so appealing to you?
The fact that I had never played any of them before. Knowing that I would not see a collection like that in too many places made it really easy to decide to work with them. I think because I was so unfamiliar with the instruments it allowed me to approach them in a very unbiased way. To treat them purely as sound objects without the weight of tradition or set of rules about how to play them. Probably much to the horror of Gamelan traditionalists out there …

How would you describe the sound of the instruments in their raw, pre-production state?
Gamelan instruments have a heaviness to them, at least in my opinion. Often made of brass and thick, rich woods. The bell tones tend to be very full and the gongs extremely deep. My favorite instrument ended up being the Celempung which is a large stringed instrument that sits on the floor. The particular specimen at the university had a few broken and very loose strings. Instead of tuning them back up I kept the strings loose and used that to my advantage, as well as utilizing the broken strings. Not a lot of the dry, natural sounds made it into my works. I don’t think people will hear “Shoals” and say “oh, that was made with Gamelan instruments”. I really used fractured sounds.

The „resources and staff“ of the University were at your disposal. In which way were they helpful to you during the different stages of the project?
Carrying heavy instruments around! (laughs) No, well, yeah ... They did help carry instruments ... But, I had a wonderful day of training from a woman at the university named Angie Atmadjaja who gave me a few short lessons on how to play some of these instruments in the "proper" way. As fun and enlightening as that was it made me realize that I wanted to keep my distance from the proper and traditional. Angie also made some recordings and I believe some of them appear on the album. It took a good solid day or two to get the whole studio wired the way I wanted it into my Kyma system and loopers. We had to create a system that allowed me remote control of the control room while I was in the recording room as well as some tricky monitoring situations. The tech and studio staff at the Music Research Center took care of most of that and after ironing out some bugs I had an amazing space in which I could work alone late into the night and control everything as I walked around the room. We had some beautiful microphones and preamps and a beautiful collection of instruments, it was very inspiring. There were also some days where Mark (Fell) and Tony (Myatt, head of the MRC) would help out in the control room and make snarky comments about what I was doing… (laughs) We had a bit of fun as well. It should never be all serious work.

What was recording at the University of York Music Research Centre like?
After a day or so of getting the technical setup out of the way, the rest of the time was mostly smooth and really fun. I’d often spend the morning working, break for lunch with everyone, and then work until dinner, break for dinner, and then head back into the studio by myself after midnight and work for a couple more hours. Because I was concentrating on collecting source material for the album I didn’t feel an enormous pressure to get everything right. I recorded hours and hours of material but it didn’t matter if some of it wasn’t as good as others, as it was all material I could pick apart later. It didn’t have to be perfect which made the whole experience that much more relaxed and freed me up to try various things I wouldn’t have otherwise tried. Besides music, we took some time off to drive around the English countryside, ate a lot of amazing food and hit the pub every night, discovering a great German beer that no one else liked … except Theo!

So when recording these loops, you didn't have an exact idea of what exactly you want to do with them?

No … No idea whatsoever… The live aspect was just that - it was an improvisation with microphones running most of the time. I would move from instrument to instrument in the studio and play and record a layer of the loop. Once I got something that seemed “finished” to me I’d head into the control room. If I felt I could listen to this loop - usually about 12 seconds long or less - for 10, 15, 25 minutes and totally zone into it, then I knew it was a keeper, and I’d commit it to the hard drive and then erase and move onto another one. It’s a really subtle art of creating loops where nothing sticks out too much as to cause it to get obvious sounding, yet, at the same time the loops have to be repetitive and hypnotic.

You seem to place great importance on space as part of the recording ...

Because the microphones were running as I moved around the room recording, I ended up picking up a lot of room tone, feedback and incidental sounds. It wasn’t so much about the physical space and sound of the room but rather the fact that I was physical in and interacting in a space and those interactions and accidental bumps and knocks became part of the music.

To me, there is an incredible floating quality to these pieces and a distinct sense of breathing. Would you say your compositional approach is more one of taking things away than of adding them?

The first 30% of songwriting for me is additive. Layering up my sounds. It’s really the composition part, the recording part … The rest is all about editing parts out and approaching these denser layers from a subtractive point of view, either by actually removing bits of sound or perhaps drastic subtractive EQ or filtering. And then sometimes there’s the processing of filling in holes I’ve created with new recorded or accent sounds that guide the piece or mark specific moments.

Does the idea of subtracting and „scratching away surfaces“ relate both to your music as to the tools of producing it - by taking away computer interfaces and working with physical objects like Gamelan instruments?

Yes, both for sure. Right now I’m particularly interested in getting away from the computer as much as I can. When I started making electronic music it was before the days of digital audio and sampling was just becoming affordable, so it was a much more hands-on experience and I just find that a much more natural way of working, it’s more interesting to me. 
As for “Shoals”, I just became fascinated by the sounds of myself moving around the recording studio and those incidental noises really played well against the tonal parts of the loops I was creating. So, more and I more I began to explore the surfaces of the instruments as I went along. There’s just something about these small, physical fragments of sound, something very real and comforting.
There was one particular moment at the university I remember clearly when I was recording with Angie and a microphone brushed across either my or her pantleg and captured the noise right into the loop. I think she said “oops!” but I waited to hear how it played with the rest of the sounds and it ended up being a really great moment in the big picture of the sound.

Just as on Weather & Worn, there seems to be less and less emphasis on development and on „things happening“ and more on creating a space to explore for the listener ...

I really love listening to and creating music that “goes nowhere”… and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Artists like Microstoria or Vladislav Delay are great at doing that … Music that sort of plunks you down in the middle of this space,  swirls around for a long time and then leaves. It’s really the antithesis of a pop format, but I’m not consciously trying to achieve that or last out against structured music, I just find it really interesting and equally as valid. Once the foundations of the looping passages are set it becomes about carving away and reducing elements to introduce subtle changes, as well as bringing in other loops that are out of time or various other layers to, ultimately, create a piece that has a definite repetition to it but is also constantly changing.

The press release mentions you made use of the same „acoustic imperfections“ as on Weather & Worn. What exactly is that referring to?

“Weather & Worn” was pretty much the first music I did with no synthesizers and “Shoals” sort of picks up on that. As with much of my work lately it has been about exploring the cracks and surfaces of acoustic instruments, utilizing all parts of an instrument to make sounds – the strings, the body, plucking, hitting, scraping – and exploiting the mistakes and accidental sounds, using them to my advantage. It’s really the modern equivalent of “glitch” music, I guess, where we would exploit the mistakes of software. For me there is such a beauty in the nuances of acoustic instruments.

Compared to the precisely defined time span to record the material, did the freedom to then take as much time as you needed to finish the tracks in the studio rather make things easier or more difficult for you?

As soon as I knew I had enough material for an album and that this whole idea was successful and would lead somewhere I pretty much put a deadline on myself, via the 12k release schedule, to get it done. In a way, yes, I could take as much time as I needed. 12k is, after all, my label, and I can push releases around as I need to, but I didn’t, and I did my best to stick with the schedule and get the work done. But it was difficult work. So much material to go through and the disconnect of trying to recreate or re-live those creative and spontaneous moments at the university while I was stuck in my own studio obsessing over the details. THAT was the hardest part.

The compositional looping-process you described could potentially go on forever. How do you, as for example with „Shoals“, arrive at the point when you're ready to release something?
That is definitely one of the hardest points in creating an album. In fact, I can probably safely say it’s more difficult to know when to end an album than it is to start one. For me it ends up being weeks of constant tinkering with the mix. Removing tiny sounds, re-EQ’ing something, moving things around. In fact, with “Shoals” I was „done” with the album and then all of the sudden thought it would be better to remove 2 songs and extend 4 others … So at a point I thought I was finished, I decided to change it from a 6-medium-length-song album to a 4-long-song album. And even then, after I was “done” again I spontaneously wrote a new track that I really loved and ended up swapping in. So, it’s really a constant fight of when to stop obsessing over it. I don’t even consider any final version complete, or perfect, or anything - things just end because deadlines force you to end them. Look at “Northern”. I let myself re-approach that album 2 years after its release and released it again. I could probably do the same thing now and the album would be even more different.  It’s one of the both wonderful and frustrating things about creating music with so few rules and so many amazing instruments and technology at my disposal. Especially musical pieces that are so wandering and spacious and not tied into a intro/verse/chrous… finish.. type of format.

Do you feel as though, perhaps, the album format may be a hindrance compared to smaller, more spontaneous releases? 

Absolutely. With my EPs I feel like I can allow myself to sit down in one day and write something with much more freedom and relaxation. Get it done in a day, spend a couple days tinkering with the mix and then send it off to get manufactured. I don't place such a heavy weight on my shoulders when doing smaller releases. And I tend to give the smaller releases smaller, limited pressings and also give them less attention in the press. They're more secretive, more cozy and I feel like if I screw one up it won't be such a big deal. With my full-length albums I feel like everyone is watching and waiting and what I do will have a bigger impact on my career. That's really really difficult for me so I tend to obsess over the details far more than I should. For better or for worse, I don't know. There is something beautiful in the spontaneous and relaxed, something very free, despite potential flaws. There is also power in something that's worked on to great detail but the danger is over-working it. Ultimately, it’s been the longer-length works of mine, or artists in general, that define one’s career, so it’s really quite an important format. But, I’m far too self-critical … That being said, my personally favorite work of mine is probably “Sea Last” … the music and the concept, everything. It’s not often I can find myself listening to my own music, but “Sea Last” is different for some reason. Probably because it’s shorter and gives me less to worry about. I envy artists who can listen to their own music. When I listen, I just think of things I could have changed or worked more on, I don’t let myself ever feel like it’s totally complete. I’m very hard on myself in that way. In some ways it probably helps push me to do the best I can, but it would be nice at some point to be able to enjoy my own work.

By Tobias Fischer

Taylor Deupree Discography (extract):
Comma, (12k) 1998
Tower Of Winds (Caipirinha Productions) 1998
SPEC. (12k) 1999
.N (Ritornell) 2000
Active / Freeze (12k) 2000
Polr (Raster-Noton) 2000
Occur (12k) 2001
After (12k) 2002
Balance (Mille Plateaux) 2002
Stil. (12k) 2002
Invisible Architecture #8 (Audiosphere) 2003
Post_Piano/ w. Kenneth Kirschner (Sub Rosa) 2003
January (Spekk) 2004
Mujo (Plop) 2004
Every Still Day (Midi Creative / Noble) 2005
Live In Japan, 2004 (12k) 2005
Post_Piano 2/ w. Kenneth Kirschner (12k) 2005
Northern (12k) 2006
Specification.Fifteen (Line) 2006
Listening Garden (Line) 2007
The Sleeping Morning (12k) 2007
Live In Melbourne (12k) 2008
May (Room40) 2008
Sea Last (12k) 2008
Hourglass (12k) 2009
Transcriptions/ w. Stephan Mathieu (Spekk) 2009
Weather And Worn (12k) 2009
Shoals (12k) 2010

Taylor Deupree / 12k Records
Taylor Deupree

Related articles

Interview with Nicholas Szczepanik
"I'm sorry it disrupts your ...
Celer Special Part 3: Standing the Test of Time
Maintaining a fragile balance: Their ...
Celer Special Part 2: Discovering the Recipe
You are what you feel: ...
Celer Special Part 1: Stepping out of the Cocoon
Hidden Messages and Open Confessions: ...
15 Questions to Pillowdiver
"I guess the tracks that ...
Concert Review/ Christian Fennesz
Live at the V Sessions, ...

Partner sites