Interview: Margen 2001

MARGEN MAGAZINE INTERVIEW NOVEMBER 2001

The new album by Land is totally different to previous ones by this band. I hear a lot of jazzy and ambient touches… This is more groovy and organic and less “cosmic” than previous albums. The percussive aspect, for example, is more direct now. Are you OK with this opinion.

“Road Movies” is more rhythmically driven. The rhythm section (Bill Rieflin on drums and Fred Chalenor on bass) replaced the previous percussionists and lend, I think, a more focused quality to this aspect of the music. Also, the album is a bit more aggressive sounding in spots. Each of the three Land albums were recorded similarly, ie primarily live in the studio, so to me they’re all rather organic.

On the other hand, your collaboration with Anisa Romero, show us a great project in the ambient/heavenly voices vein with pop sensibilities references. You are a chamaleonic composer, aren’t you?

Land and Hana provide me the opportunity to branch out into areas that also interest me, beyond that which I’ve explored as a solo artist. My work with Anisa has me experimenting with more conventional song-oriented forms of music while maintaining my textural moody sound.

Tell us, please, something about your musical evolution from your first album Cities in Fog (or your first K7, Before the Storm) till now. In the last years as a solo composer, how have you changed as a composer? What elements have remained?

The changes have been very gradual. My work has become more refined yet also more broad, and somewhat more accessible. My earliest works were generally dark. My studio was very minimal and my techniques fairly crude. My approach was experimental and adventurous. Slowly I began to infuse my work with rhythms. In 1989 I spent six months travelling around Southeast Asia. Upon returning I found that my aural experiences there were informing my music. “Changing Skies” and “In Another Place” reflect that influence. Over time I developed my ability to create more complex and texturally interesting rhythms. I also began collaborating more with other musicians. I became intrigued by the possibilities presented through interacting with more adept players of instruments I wanted as part of my work. So I formed Land in 1993. When I met Anisa, I was able to explore my interest in composing a more conventional style of music that none-the-less was imbued with the kinds moods and textures that had been part of my music all along. At present both of my group projects have quieted down, so I am back focusing on my solo work, creating quieter compositions, similar in terms of mood and spaciousness as my earlier work, but pared down, simpler. I’m attempting to achieve some of the same qualities with less going on.

From my point of view some of your albums have become in classics of ambient electronic style. I think of Timbral Planes or Big Weather (my prefer one by you) for instance. What do you think about these albums today?

I don’t know. I’ll have to go back and give them a listen and let you know. Actually, I think they hold up rather well. There are some rough spots here and there, primarily due to the lack of control I had with the recording gear I was using. But some of that is cool. The trick for me now is in not losing touch with my more organic and intuitive approach, which really sustained me early on.

I’d say that you improved the “electronic ambient school” genre. You were a pioneer. You applied, for instance, a harmonic and textural richness to this style. What do you think?

Well, thank you. Before I began making music, I found I preferred music that rewarded me anew with each subsequent listen. I carried this concept into my music making. One way to achieve this effect is through careful layering and placement of sounds.

I’d say the American minimalism has been a strong influence in your music. Actually, I think you prefer the melody and rhythm instead of the texture and atmosphere. Do you think at this moment your composing of moods and textures is equally as important as coming up with rhythms and beats?

It depends on the music or project I’m working on. With Hana or Land, both aspects are very important to the music. Much of my solo work, however, has little or no rhythmic activity.

What are some of your approaches to writing/improvising?

Most often I approach each new work from a blank slate. I begin by searching for interesting sounds from which to create a foundation, whether it be a drone, or little melodic phrase, or a compelling rhythm. Each piece evolves over time through a meticulous process of layering, combining sounds vertically and placing them spacially into a three dimensional environment. Each layer stimulates new ideas from which to continue until I reach a point where no new elements are needed.

What is the key element in your music?

Key elements include mood, texture, space, motion, and a sense of place. No one element is primary.

How do you know when a piece is done? Do you have any regrets about your recordings?

It’s not something I can easily put into words. I just know when it feels complete. No, I have no regrets about anything I have released.

Do you feel you express yourself better on record than live, in front of an audience?

From an aural standpoint, probably better on record. However, I approach live performance in a very different manner from that of the studio. I’m very much concerned with the “live” aspect of the music. So I set up situations that require me to be fully involved with that process. I don’t use any pre-recorded tapes, CD’s, or pre-programmed sequencing. I am interested in performing music that is multilayered much like that of my studio work. So I tend to get a lot going on at once between my sampler, synth, other acoustic elements like trombone, voice , and small percussion, and several long delays. Things can get pretty precarious at times, and I like that. It keeps me active on stage – I’m dancing really- and there’s a tension for me which I hope translates to the audience. Furthermore, the audience can visually see me expressing myself. I think this is important. Also, there’s a greater amount of improvising going on, and when I’m on, in flow, that can be powerful for an audience. So in some ways, performing live has the potential to be more effective.

I’d like to reminiscence about some people from your past, do you still keep in touch with the great Ed Pias and Rob Angus, for instance?

I haven’t been in touch much with Ed. He moved away from Seattle several years ago. We’ve corresponded a bit by email. I see Rob now and then. He lives here still, but we haven’t made music together in several years.

If you had to choose one piece of your music to pass on the future generations, which one would it be?

Oh, I don’t know. It’s impossible to choose one piece. ‘Cities in Fog’ I think has a special strange quality to it. It’s evocative of a world that I enjoy visiting. Although some people consider this record gloomy and depressing, I don’t experience it that way. There’s a beauty in those dark places, and that’s what I was after.

Tell us about your label. . Why did you create? This is a type of cooperative label, isn’t it?

It is a collective of sorts consisting of Bill Rieflin, Lesli Dalaba, Trey Gunn, Greg Gilmore, and myself. We began discussing the idea of forming a label toward the end of 1998 when we realized we all had albums ready for release. We were looking for a way to get our music out without signing our rights away or losing control of our work. We also saw the potential of the web as becoming a more viable means by which to distribute our work. And working together as a group, sharing talents and responsibilities and creating something of a unified presence gave us the confidence to give it a go.

Projects?

I just finished a collaboration with the group Faith and Disease. We recorded 3 songs to be released as a limited edition on colored vinyl and as a mini CD called “Dream the Red Cloud.” Amplexus is putting it out in February. Otherwise, I’ve just completed a new collection of solo works. No title yet. The pieces are very slow moving and quiet and somewhat spare in comparison to my earlier solo works.

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