A few months after his latest “Where We Were“, that somehow departed his artistic profile from neoclassical experimentation, Greg Haines talks about his interest in classical and electronic music.
How did you come to classical and electronic music? Are you classically trained?
I didn’t have any kind of classical education – in fact I never had a piano lesson. Somehow my interest in classical music developed quite naturally when I was younger, using people like Arvo Päart and Steve Reich as an entry point. I had a really great music teacher when I was at school and he fed me a lot of great music that I still love. He would lend me an album without telling me anything about it, and then once I had listened to it we would discuss it and the way that it was made. One particular example that sticks with me was the classic piece “In C” – it really blew my mind that music could be composed in such a different way.
I don’t really know where my interest in electronic music came from. It seems electronic music is everywhere – you can’t escape it now. But I was always more interested in the older way of making things – using tapes and synths with character rather than creating everything with the laptop. I read an interview with Brian Eno recently where he was saying that what drew him to electronic instruments is that there was no “correct” way of playing them – the technology was so new that it hadn’t been established yet how they were really meant to be used and so a lot of individual, personal approaches developed. This is definitely at least part of what I love about analog instruments – even though they all work in basically the same way, everyone uses them differently.
Beside many traditional instruments, electronics play a role in your music: how much important is electronics in your composing?
I still try to do a lot of the composing on the piano, as I think its nice to get some kind of melodic idea before you start turning on machines and trying to find the right sound. However, sometimes I just turn a few different machines and begin to get inspired by a certain sound and then the track seems to begin to write itself. Every track I have written seems to start in a totally different way and how I get to the final product is always a different path, but thats what makes it so fun!
Which is your ideal condition for creating music? Where does your inspiration usually came from (both technically and emotionally)?
It depends. For instance, with my project The Alvaret Ensemble, I think we need to be in a large reverberant space to start to feel like creating and I don’t think we could ever record anything in a studio. But at the moment, for my own music, I love spending the day in my studio, surrounded by all my instruments and effects. I can really loose myself in there, especially in the winter when its so cold outside and I can happily wake up, turn everything on, and then work non-stop until I am so tired that I start to fall asleep in my chair. I really miss that when I am away on tour.
You started composing and playing music all on your own, then you worked with other artists and musicians; now in the latest “Where We Were” you got back working all alone on your music. What difference do you feel between the two ways of working?
In some ways its nicer to work with other people because you can bounce ideas off the other person and people, and it stops you going around in circles for so long, wondering what is working and what isn’t. But then working alone, you can really hone in on your own artistic path and there is no-one to divert you away from that, and if you can find the confidence to stay on that path, then I think thats where some really special music comes from. In a way, when working with other people, that gets diluted a bit, but then a lot of positive things come out of that too, so both definitely have their strengths and weaknesses.
Is there any artist you consider important in your musical formation or at least someone you feel close to your way of making music?
There are so many, its incredibly hard to know when to start. In the beginning, Arvo Pärt was (and still is) very dear to me, along with Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Talk Talk. I think the latest album took its inspiration from other sources that I have also loved for quite a while now but somehow had never arisen in my music before. Things with Rhythm and Sound/Basic Channel, Tony Allen, Lee Perry and a lot of 70’s German stuff with early Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultze, Popul Vuh and things like that. I am not sure that the outcome was that close to those kind of people, but I at least a lot of the equipment used was from the same era!
Most “experimental” artists have rich discographies and it’s not unusual they release many albums in few time. Do you share the same urgency to compose music?
Absolutely not. There is so much music out there, the world doesn’t really need more. So I wouldn’t want to release anything unless it is really important to me, and if it takes six months or six years to make, that is irrelevant.
How would you describe the meaning and the goal – both personal and artistic – of your music?
Wow, thats a big question. I think the goal shifts all the time, from year to year and sometimes even from day to day. I would like to try to keep creating music that means something to me, and that is made with love and attention, and to try to never work on any project that in some way could compromise artistic integrity. Everyone seems to be making music for advertising these days, for the simple reason that it is very, very well paid, but I would never ever do that as I feel that it is at odds with the reasons I started to create music in the first place. But I digress…the meaning is whatever you want it to be: what you think it means is just as important as what I do, if not more so.
Your music often sound much “cinematic”: is there any link between it and images, places, etc.?
A lot of people tell me they see a lot of images when they listen to my music, but I never see anything when listening to my music, or anyone elses. The sound is enough for me.
“Where We Were” sounds somehow like a departure from the ambient-classical stuff of most of your recent works. What can we expect from you in the future? And what would you expect for music?
I have a lot of different things coming up. Towards the end of the year, I will premiere a new work with the correographer David Dawson at the Royal Opera House in london. That is for a large orchestra and doesn’t contain any electronics. There will also be a new Alvaret Ensemble album soon, this time featuring four great icelandic musicians. I will also be working on some new studio recordings, which will probably be quite electronic-sounding and are most likely to appear on a series of twelve inches. There are lots of other small things going on, and lots of things that are still a bit uncertain, but for information on those, you will just have to wait!