Where are you currently based?
I moved to Berlin about 5 years ago from Brooklyn. A friend and I were writing music and we wanted to get away and find inspiration. It was supposed to be 2 weeks that turned into 3 months and basically we never left. Honestly, we didn’t write much music but did find a lot of inspiration…
How did you first start playing music?
I started as a Classical guitarist. There happened to be a master Flamenco guitarist, named Juan Serrano, living in my hometown in California. Somehow my parents were friends with him and I had the great fortune to be accepted as his student.
What’s been happening recently?
Not much. Stuck at home in this self-isolation weirdness.
You have an upcoming LP release ‘Ambient Inventions’ coming out via Black Diamonds on May 29 2020, what influenced the sound and songwriting for this LP?
Ambient Inventions was kind of a culmination of several collaborations since I moved to Berlin. I had started developing a different way of playing guitar that allowed me to be more experimental with sound design during live performances. I started with the Brazilian artist, Claudia de Grandi, in a live painting project and then with several contemporary dancers. It got me thinking about how to go beyond what a guitar is supposed to sound like.
So, I took a new approach to playing the guitar that somewhat resembles modular synthesis. This allowed me a lot of flexibility in sound design and fx processing but not losing the expressive nature of the guitar.
At that time, the contemporary dancer Victoria McConnell approached me about collaborating on a new project. This project presented some interesting musical challenges since it required a lot of improvisation and dynamic communication between myself and the dancers. This was a great opportunity to test my new techniques and I dove in. All the music on the album came from the creative process that grew out of this collaboration.
Please tell us about your collaboration with the dancer and all about the guitar sounds:
For this piece, we wanted to push boundaries and do something more experimental and interactive. The piece was called “arising//passing” and was about the illusion of permanence. Very deep stuff…
Since the subject matter is so abstract, I didn’t want the music to sound like something immediately recognizable. I tried to remove myself and instrument from the process and deal directly in the realm of raw sound. The guitar is really a very expressive instrument so once I shifted perspective it became the perfect vehicle for this kind of abstract sound design.
How did you go about writing the music?
As we developed the piece, we would experiment with different tempos, different moods, starting and stopping in different ways. Each time we performed it was a completely new improvisation. We ended up finding intuitive ways of communicating through certain movements and musical phrases. This dialog between dancer and musician created some unusual, stretched out dynamics that I never would have thought of on my own.
How did you approach the recording and production of the album?
Well, at the time, I wasn’t really intending to make an album. My primary goal was to experiment with my new setup and techniques. But, as a music producer, I think one of the most important lessons is to record everything. So, as we rehearsed the project I just recorded everything we did. Pretty quickly, I realized there was something special happening but I didn’t yet know whether it would translate to an album.
Where and when did you record/produce/master and who with?
There was actually a large gap between the recording and mixing process. I ended up working on some other projects with the intention to come back some day and listen to all the material. When I finally took the plunge I was happily surprised how much good stuff there was and the album started to take shape.
The album was mastered by the great Rodney Hunter.
What programs/instruments did you use to record/produce?
To say the least, I had a somewhat complex setup… As I mentioned before, I took kind of a modular synthesis approach to the process. But playing guitar into a modular rig doesn’t work that well for a guitarist because you can’t really use your hands to turn knobs and plugin cables.
Of course, guitar pedals are also modular so I organized them in certain ways to produce the sounds I was looking for. I had the obligatory loopers, delays and reverbs but there were a few key bits of gear that made the unique sound possible.
Lehle also has a cool 1-to-3 switcher that I used to quickly switch between channels with different fx chains. This allowed me to have 3 separate fx chains to produce different types of sounds. The pedal allows having multiple channels active at once so I could process the same sound in different ways. This gave me some really fun possibilities like playing a melody and harmony at the same time.
The other really key element was the Vermona Filter Lancet. This is a multi-mode filter with an LFO and envelope generator that works great with a guitar signal. It is incredibly powerful and was an essential part of the sound.
This whole chain of fx went direct into my UAD Apollo interface which allowed me to approach performance and recording in the same way. I thought it important to have a stereo image so going direct made everything much easier. The guitar amp got ditched pretty early in the process.
What was the original idea/concept for the LP and did the concept change over time?
That’s a really good question. As I described earlier, the music itself was produced as a result of a series of intentional improvisations with Victoria and Alex. But there was a large gap between when the music was recorded and when I came back to mix the tracks. The content of the songs didn’t change – I only made small edits – but it was fascinating how the passage of time changed the context and meaning of the songs.
There is a certain organic and evolving quality to the tracks that I felt captured natural elements like how trees move in the wind, waves in the ocean, snow falling, clouds, etc. The seeming difference between stillness and movement. I started combining the tracks with some photos I took while hiking in Japan and the concept of the album took a new form.
What do you have planned for ‘Ambient Inventions’?
Along with the album, I will release some music videos. I traveled to the mountains of Bulgaria with the video artist Ashley DuPree and we shot some amazing videos. The last day we found ourselves on top of a mountain with a sea of clouds below. It was the most beautiful sunrise… Check the Black Diamonds Records YouTube channel for the videos.
Once it’s possible to do live shows again, I have plans to do a multimedia performance with video and dance. Just a dream at the moment. Hope we have a chance to do it soon.
What did you find most challenging and rewarding during the creation of this new LP?
Listening back through all that material was quite challenging. There was a lot… The rewarding part was the magic that came out of the collaboration. Doing something different and seeing such a beautiful creation evolve.
What do you like to do away from music?
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Arovane released a new album recently and it got me going through his music. He’s a genius at setting the mood with some really unique and creative sound design.
What’s planned for 2020?
Hopefully, will be able to do some shows at some point. Otherwise, working on new music.
Favourite food and place to hangout?
Well, during these quarantine times the only place to hang out is my apartment. I found myself watching a lot of cooking videos on YouTube to become a better cook. Currently, obsessed with Jacques Pepin and how to cook the perfect French omelette.