November 26, 2012

Interview: Silent Land Time Machine

I met Jon (we are sworn to leave it at "Jon") while slinging demos in the Decoder back-end, an experience reinforced by the package of four gorgeous tapes that he sent (with Smokey Emery, Thousand Foot Whale Claw, Troller - I can't actually say the Troller tape was "gorgeous", now that I think about it - and Lumens). Together the group represented the first formal offering from Holodeck Records, a collaborative experimental and ambient label he's helped since taking up in Austin. We're a bit more into the swing of conversation and he shares with me his "harder" project, Indian Queen Records, where he pointedly houses his own solo project Silent Land Time Machine. A few questions into our interview with Jon and you may come under the impression that we were both excited the other one wanted to talk about Jung and so our discussion of him ended up framing our "interview" into the background of this particular project. He's actually just finished up with a tour under the name, so we've also got a retrospective tour mixtape to share, so feel free to stream while you read after the jump.

Stream: Silent Land Time Machine Fall Tour 2012 Mixtape

Interspersed through the interview are some more or less "atmospheric" images from Jon, mostly taken during Silent Land's recent tour.

When did you first encounter Jung?

I was first introduced to Jung, most likely, in high school or during my college Psychology courses. I don't remember anything especially jumping out at me - he is mentioned in every book that glosses over psychology, so, I was definitely exposed to his name and some of his ideas many years ago. However, the work only jumped out at me over the course of a road trip to the northwest during which my employer at the time kept making references to "shadow material" and how "no one can discard their shadow components", which piqued my interest (not something one hears every day!), so I started asking questions. She had a masters in interpersonal psychology, so she had an unusual depth of knowledge on the subject. So, it was actually only a year ago, September 2011 when I started looking into the material in earnest... a month after that I began having a series of pretty disturbing and effecting dreams - I recalled that Jung pioneered a lot of dream analysis, so, seeking some kind of explanation, I kind of assigned myself a course in his material to see what I could find.

Is Silent Land Time Machine trying to destroy something or have you rejoined humanity, to use Jungian generational vocabulary?

SLTM appears to be the result of both processes - in some ways, pursuing the project, and music in general, required that certain emotional dispositions, attachments, and attitudes, mostly unconscious attitudes toward myself, be examined, admitted, destroyed, re-built and re-assimilated, if I was ever going to make any progress with myself or the project. Allocating a significant amount of time to SLTM, and allowing it the "space for it to breathe", so to speak, put me into pretty intense and prolonged periods of isolation, in which, especially in retrospect, I observed other processes of my life, particularly my social life, atrophy to some degree... 

Musically, SLTM is a constant state of re-shaping - any track is usually made up of micro-movements of 10-50 multitracks all moving together and interacting aurally, most of which I have very little preconception of in advance, if any, and much of it ends up being composed in a very accidental fashion - so, it's always being torn apart sonically, and eventually, smelted into something "finer" than its base initial contents, which are typically pretty unremarkable by themselves. That all being said, I'm working on using my phone again and trying to "go do things" more often, but honestly, I think I'm still very much a hermit! For whatever reason, I've been compelled to break things down to what one may call an exponential level, both musically and psychologically in myself, to the point of becoming very detached and isolated from anything that is not immediately around me - however, I'm hoping to rejoin humanity soon, and feel like a better grasp on self knowledge will help me do so, or, at least provoke interesting conversations in the process...

Considering your status, how would you describe the project's musical influences?

Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for the Final Fantasy series, and Yasunori Mitsuda, the composer of Chrono Trigger, are the most notable influences of SLTM - their use of repeated minimalist phrases, as well as the ubiquity of "symphonic" presence in their compositions, has led me to a fondness for those sensibilities, which I think expressed itself when SLTM actually began "composing" work. Uematsu's and Mitsuda's work usually tie back to a general theme, and are replete with emotive resonance that served as an early example in my life of how expressive music can be - the compositions from those games are still some of the most ineffably beautiful music I have ever known (the Opera sequence in Final Fantasy VI most notably comes to mind) - "Robo's Theme" from Chrono Trigger triggered an unyielding happiness in me as a kid, I feel as if I never knew anything, before hearing that tune, that elicited such a edifying sense of joy. Funny, isn't it, that something so emotive would be a theme for a sentient robot?!

Later in my life, hearing Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and the fantastic canon of releases from Constellation Records around the turn of the millennium (Silver Mt. Zion, Do Make Say Think, Polmo Polpo) completely blew my musical schemas apart at a much later stage of life and insisted that I expand my horizons in all directions as to what was possible in music. There are other projects that have had major influence on me, like Paavoharju or Kemialliset Ystävät, but those things emanating out of Montréal coupled strongly with my latent penchant for orchestral movements and patient minimalism, but, they brought an aesthetic and an uncompromising realness that absolutely possessed me, and, probably still does. They also validated the use of long titles, which, always captured my imagination in a special way...

Long titles that serve a purpose always felt magical to me... that someone else thought being descriptive and specific was important!

Indeed, nearly heretical concepts! I agree, they have a tendency to captivate you (or, speaking for those sharing this particular disposition) - expansive titles literally extend past the typical phrasing of shorter, perhaps more "normal" length titles, and allow the space for what sometimes feels like poetry to emerge. Formatting a work so that it fits into the "album" column is quite the (in)visible constraint. It feels like longer titles are especially appropriate with lyric-less albums, as the title is sometimes the one chance for the work to "speak for itself", per se. I think disparate pieces of music can be, at points, unified in this way - not to say they didn't derive from a unified concept initially, they may have or not, but with more content the title has the opportunity to gather a greater meaning I think. Some concepts are quite difficult to convey, especially in language sometimes, so I think more complex titles provide a more comfortable format for complex conveyances to be poured into.

Would you say that your compositions do have strong individual messages to communicate?

To answer truthfully, I'm not quite sure, but I believe so. I don't feel like I ever know the "point" to SLTM recordings until long after they're finished, or, after a pretty large amount of material has amassed (even then, I feel the meaning remains somewhat ambiguous). As much as I can, I try to reserve my conscious evaluations during the process, and only reflect on possible messages or meanings long after the fact. I at least have extreme resistances to acting otherwise...both of the SLTM records ended up being titled after pondering on the general emotional coloration I possessed, or that possessed me, during the time-frame of the recording processes, respectively, which was in both cases over the course of several years. Many things can be felt and experienced during such long time frames, so, it only seems fitting that SLTM typically possesses both joyous and melancholic moments in single pieces of music (or, so I'm repeatedly told) as one would experience in their life. I've realized, after nearly a year of reading on the subject, that this process isn't so different from what an analyst attempts to evoke in a patient who is under-going art or music therapy - the expression of the individual's unconscious self. Perhaps this is the message that's being communicated - it may explain why I'm sometimes at such a loss to actually explain SLTM in a comprehensible way...

So this really is a voyage of discovery?

Very much so. Most of the time I "discover" the trajectory of the song as it's happening, seldom ever having a "this is what I want this to be like" or "this is how I want this piece to move". So, I think the results are just as much a discovery for me as (hopefully) for the listener. The same goes for the project over all. It's been a discovery of an internal landscape that I did not know I possessed or had access to.

Are you driving a Silent Land Time Machine?

Hard to say. It appears to be somewhere inside my brain, but I think it would be more accurate to say that, when "engaged", I am not the one doing the driving.

How do you engage with that identity? After a drive, that is.

I've only been able to successfully engage with that identity since I began seeing the illusions in my conscious identity, I guess you could say my persona, and began working through them and changing my behaviors, and subsequently, the trajectory of my life. By illusions I mean my own arbitrary attitudes and dispositions, mostly of which were unconscious, which always acted as road blocks for me in my conscious life - I never wanted these known complexes to pollute this new found drive, quite alien to me when I first started sitting down and trying to teach myself violin and viola, and subsequently trying a hand at composition (something I still know next to nothing about in any formal way) so it always felt natural to separate the two identities - at least, in my mind.

So, I guess in engaging with "it" (and not so much in that this "it" is an autonomous entity separate or outside myself, but rather like a fragmented part of my own psyche which was separate enough to be strange and unknown to me, very much feeling like an "other" and acting as if it were autonomous) it has always felt natural to make a discreet separation, and once made, I am able to engage with my drive to make things, free from the many constraints that I would consciously ensnare myself with. The track "Dealing With Doubt" comes to mind. Keeping my phone very far away and the internet off are essential, but a more thorough detachment from the outside world, a quieting of the ever present "noise" of our modern times, all make for the proper environment, a full image, for those very quiet and fragile ideas to take shape.

Without having had much formal training in composition, how would you characterize your creations? Is their architecture something unique to your experience?

They're quite naive. I have a nearly compulsive fixation with environmental sounds (I always attest that I have very poor selective hearing, saying "huh?? what????" during street side conversations because every single sound that I hear appears, in my mind at least, to be around the same volume level and has the same "priority" in the aural environment) I'm usually pretty distracted with bird calls, creaking doors, vocal timbers and inflection, accents, walking surfaces, mechanical whirring, aggregated human crowd noise, breathing, on-and-off syncopation of people's gate - essentially anything that's going on. They sound symphonic to me, kind of blending together in a natural and pleasing way. Often times those environmental sounds are the inspirations, or, base layers, for various tracks, so I guess you could say that the compositions directly hinge on personal experiences I've had, captured and communicated through sound. I guess it breaks down to simply being, or trying to be, hyper aware of things. There's a considerable amount of AM radio static from my car's shitty broken system that appears on SLTM recordings, which, for a long time was the only thing I listened to while in the car - luckily Coast to Coast and a perfectly distorted Tejano station were the only ones that came through clearly. I guess I'm making myself sound a little insane, ha!

Does your recent tour invalidate any of the preceding? How was it, either way?

The tour was an amazing, numinous experience. Sometimes the isolation that I feel creates a perception that I am in fact alone (the effective meaning of my new record’s title is, supposed, to serve as an affirmation against the persistence of this feeling); alone with my thoughts and value-intensities, and thus, with my music. But in a well designed tour you end up meeting so many like-minded, warm, and wholly compassionate individuals that are pursuing their own life goals, in their own unique ways, and in so many disparate places, that there is often an instantaneous connection. Then the feelings of isolation vanish, totally cleared away by night-after-night of listeners with open ears and musicians with dreams of creating genuinely honest music. 

It is hard to describe, but for someone that is so utterly self-critical and very shut off to the outside world most of the time, it means so immensely much, so much more than I can express, to find resonance with strangers and find that you share so much in common with so many people whom you've never met before. It’s a very human and humbling experience.

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