How did you come
to music in the first place?
Music has always been a big part of my life, ever since
I can remember as a child. I didn’t really start
making my own music until junior high, when I began
making primitive hip-hop tracks and writing rhymes with
my friends. In high school, I started dabbling around
with the guitar and some other instruments, alongside
my experiments with turntables, pedals, samplers and
You studied composition at university, and
you also have a degree in Jazz studies. What made you
choose these and how do they help you in your work?
For my undergraduate music degree at DePaul University
in Chicago, I began playing classical guitar and slowly
moved towards jazz guitar and composition. By the end
of my degree, I wasn’t playing too much and focused
more on composition. Jazz studies happened to be the
area that I spent the most time in, so I went for that
degree. But I almost failed my senior recital because
it wasn’t ‘jazz’ enough. So I was
always on the outside of things in music school. Doing
new things and experimenting and trying to erase genre
constraints and traditions. When I look back on it now,
I realize that these were my first steps towards an
all inclusive sound-based music / composition. Then
I went to the New England Conservatory in Boston and
received my master’s degree there in composition.
While I was there, I started getting deeper into electronic
and computer music, also free improvisation. And I was
composing lots of music for various size ensembles as
well. Again I was somewhat of an outsider, even though
my ideas were hardly new (on a similar axis to Cage
or Feldman), it seems that the academic music world
hasn’t moved past 1945 yet, in terms of acceptance
and inclusion of new musical ideas. Most of my fellow
peers and teachers were fairly ignorant about any trends
in new music outside of the academic world. This was
a bit frustrating, but I still managed to make the most
of my time and resources in music school to learn a
lot and make it worthwhile. I think that anything and
everything you can learn about music and sound will
help you out in some way or another. As long as you
keep things open and keep exploring then it is a good
Your music is often labelled as ‘folktronica’
or ‘laptop folk’, which hardly sums up your
work. How do you react with people putting tags on your
People always want music to fit into neat categories
so they can explain it easier to others. Personally,
I don’t like tags or genre definitions at all.
Genres don’t really exist in my world. It’s
definitely not something I consider at all when I make
my music. If people want to label my music a certain
genre, that’s fine, but I think most people would
see that, when they hear more of my music, I can’t
be placed in one category or another. And this is very
important to me. I’d hope that people would consider
a larger sound world and be comfortable with that. I’d
be happy if everyone just called music – sound
or universe music maybe. That’d make things a
lot easier and then we could get on to the important
act of just listening.
How did you get to work with Carpark Records?
I met Todd Hyman in New York at Brownies when Parallel,
my duo with Don Mennerich, played there. I was working
on finishing up my first solo album at the time, Arbor.
So when I was finished with it, I sent it to Todd. I
didn’t hear back from him for quite some time
and I was ready to release Arbor on my own.
But then Todd called up and said he liked the record
and wanted to release it. We’ve been working together
every since then.
On your second album, you covered a song by
the Beach Boys and another by The Incredible String
Bands. Did these bands particularly influence your approach
to music, and who else has influenced or influences
On Curling Pond Woods, I definitely was trying
to bring in more song structures and ideas into the
overall flow. I had recorded a cover of the Beach Boys’
At My Window for a Japanese compilation. It
was sort of an experiment and one of my first attempts
at recording my own singing. I liked the way that it
turned out so I decided early on that I would include
it on my second album. Then as I was working on Curling
Pond Woods, I decided that I wanted some other
tracks with vocals to balance out the Beach Boys song.
So I opened the album with an a cappella piece, and
closed it with the Incredible String Band song Air.
Both of these bands have been very inspirational to
me and covering their songs is my homage or thanks to
them. Because I like so many different kinds of music,
ranging all over the place. I tend not to let one band
or type of music influence my sound. It usually ends
up being a broad synthesis of inspirations and sounds.
This is my way of opening things up and getting at a
wider definition of sound and music. So everything I
listen to, from the leaves blowing across the sidewalk
to the Cosmic Jokers to Colin Blunstone to Scientist
to John Cage to Zen chants to Eliane Radigue to Human
League to Genesis to Robbie Basho to… is very
important and inspirational to me.
Somnia collected recordings made over
a long period of time if I am correct. Why did you wait
to put these tracks out?
The Somnia pieces were collected from approximately
1999-2004. These were instrument-based drone pieces
that I’d been working on alongside of my other
music. Eventually I had enough pieces to make an album,
so I compiled them all together and they all worked
together in vibe and concept. After I moved to Chicago,
I got to know Bruce and Joel at Kranky a bit better
and after I had compiled all of these tracks onto a
CD, I gave them a copy to check out. I wasn’t
really expecting much, but they really liked the pieces
and wanted to put it out. So it went from there. I’m
glad that Somnia came out when it did because
it was one of my first major releases to showcase a
different side of what I do musically. I’m currently
in the beginning stages of working on my next solo full-length
record for Kranky.
You seem to enjoy collaborating with a wide
range of artists. What is it about collaborations? Do
you approach these in similar way to your solo work?
I really like collaborating with others. This is something
I’ve been exploring a lot over the past couple
of years. With a collaboration, it’s a looser
space to work in. all of the pressure / responsibility
/ decisions aren’t on yourself so you can be freer
to try new things and trust the music and go with it
wherever it wants to go. Most of my collaborations are
improvised or spontaneous music which is quite different
from how I work as a solo musician at home in the recording
studio. My new CD with Sebastien Roux was approached
in more of a studio direction, so it’s closer
to my working methods as a solo artist. I think this
was my first successful collaboration working in this
way. We are both really happy with the results.
You regularly play with Keith Fullerton Whitman
and Carpak released Yearlong earlier this year, which
collects recordings of you two playing live in a variety
of places. How did you two meet and would you ever consider
working on an album with him?
We met in Boston shortly after I had moved there to
go to graduate school in 1999. We got along well because
of our backgrounds in music and our shared interest
in all types of music. I always enjoy working with Keith
and making music with him. I look forward to working
with him again. We have some trio material with Ben
Vida from our April tour last year that we will eventually
work into a sonic psychedelic love tapestry for release
at some point. And I do hope that Keith and I get the
opportunity to play as an improvising duo more because
I think we’ve really only scratched the surface
as far as what kind of music we can get into together.
I think there is a lot of potential there and we are
always exploring and moving into different places, which
would keep the duo rich and evolving.
Longbox recently released your collaboration
with drummer and percussionist Steven Hess, Decisions,
which collects a series of improvisations from him that
you consequently processed. How was it to work from
percussions, and are you planning any more work with
Decisions was all recorded in real-time with
Steve playing drums or percussion and myself processing
those sounds in real-time through my computer. It was
great to work from a relatively limited sound palette
and see how much variety of sounds and spaces and vibes
and textures I could get after processing the sound.
And the processed sounds would inspire and affect what
Steve was playing so it was a nice real-time communication
and feedback loop. We actually have a second album that
we recorded that is just sitting on the shelf. So if
the right label comes along, we might release that at
some point. But we don’t have any plans at the
moment to record any new material.
The press release for Paquet Surprise
mentioned that you and Sebastien Roux worked on the
album by exchanging music files over the Internet. Is
this a process that you often use?
This is the first time I've ever really worked this
way on a collaboration before, sending files back and
forth over the Internet. All of my previous collaborations
have been in real-time and in person.
How did each one of you actually work on the
We each composed bits and parts and sent them back and
forth. Then we would add parts on top of the other parts
or process them or edit them. We really treated all
of the parts and sounds as flexible material that could
be shaped into songs and pieces of music. The main idea
was to try to continually surprise each other with what
we were doing, to keep things fresh and evolving and
challenging and moving in new directions. This kept
the collaboration very exciting, I couldn’t wait
to hear what Sebastien would send me next so I could
try to add something to it and surprise him with the
new version. Sebastien has a real gift with sound processing
so his technique really shaped the record and gave it
a certain character, which I couldn’t have gotten
by myself. And I think that I brought a wide array of
sounds and instruments into the mix. So the two of us
complemented each other really well in that respect.
It allowed me to get away from the computer and processing
and focus more on sounds and arrangements and compositional
ideas instead which was very refreshing and satisfying
Do you have any more collaborative work to
be released, and is there anyone in particular you would
like to work with?
I have many collaborations in the works. Recently I
went on tour with David Daniell and Tomas Korber. We
hope to put something together from the live recordings
we made. There is the aforementioned live recording
collage of myself with Keith Whitman and Ben Vida. Ben
and I are working on a bunch of duo studio material
together. Jeph Jerman and I continue to record together
at least once a year. Jeph, Al Casais and myself are
finishing up some mail collaborations. And I’m
sure I’m forgetting some, but I’m definitely
continuing to collaborate with others and I’m
always open to it.
Beside your major releases, on Carpark, Kranky
and other labels, you also regularly release CD-Rs on
your own label, Autumn Records. Did you set up the label
as a mean to publish all your extra work?
I haven’t really released too much of my own music
on autumn records. There were a few early EPs and things
on CD-Rs, but that was long before my first record on
Carpark. There is one 7” which is a split between
Don Mennerich and myself. And then I have a few things
in the Leaves CD-Rs series as well. Most of
my ‘extra work’ ends up going out to various
labels and compilations and whatnot. I’d prefer
other folks to release my music. I don’t really
have the time or the resources to run a serious and
successful label. Autumn Records is just a fun little
hobby for me.
The Leaves series of CD-Rs released
on Autumn Records focuses on ‘pure field recording
and environmental improvisation’. How did the
idea come up?
Around 1999-2000, I started to become pretty serious
about field recording. Autumn Records was going through
a lull for some time where I didn’t release anything
on the label. But after I moved back to Chicago in 2002
I got the idea to start releasing CD-Rs again. I thought
it would be a good idea to focus on pure field recordings,
as there aren’t too many labels that really focus
on that area. And it was a natural extension of my interest
in field recording. Also, by that time I had met a lot
of other musicians and artists that we also interested
in field recordings. I’ve been very happy with
the series. It has done well and carved its own little
niche. And I’ve received a lot of great music
for the series. It’s nice to keep my label going
by moving back to CD-Rs. That way I can make handmade
CD-Rs and press them up as needed and make a lot of
releases. The Leaves series is on release #
19 and there are a few new ones in the works as well.
I intend to keep it going as long as I’m interested
in it and as long as there is interest from others.
You regularly play live. Is the way you approach
live performances very different from your studio work?
I approach my live shows in a very different way than
I work in the studio. This is for obvious reasons. In
the studio, I often take months of work just to get
a track right and spend a lot of time working on the
mix / arrangements / composition / processing / editing
/ etc… In a live situation you can’t recreate
these things. So I’ve always opted to use my live
shows as a way to explore real-time improvisations with
the computer (either with or without live instruments).
For some time, I was treating my studio material as
source material for my live sets. Kind of a springboard
to develop, explore and mutate the studio material and
craft that into a long flowing live piece of music.
More recently, I’ve been working a lot more with
live instruments and trying to rely a little less on
the computer. I’ve been trying to create entirely
unique live sets so that from night to night they are
completely different and non repeatable. Also something
that cannot be heard on any of my records. This is one
of the reasons why I started offering recordings of
my live sets for free on archive.org
because I consider my live sets to be just as an important
part of my discography as my studio albums are.
You released a CD-R on Room40 a while ago,
which was an edit of a solo harmonium and laptop set
in Brisbane with John Chantler. How did you meet, and
how did the Room40 release come up?
The Brisbane show happened when I was invited down to
Australia last year to play at the Sound Summit Festival.
I figured while I was down there that I should try to
play some other shows as well, so Lawrence English (owner
of Room40) set up a show in Brisbane for me. It turned
out that John was also back in Brisbane at the time
so he opened for me at that show. That was the first
time I met John and Lawrence. It was a great little
show in a nice space. I borrowed Lawrence’s cheap
harmonium for the show and I think I used John’s
guitar for the first half of my set too. It was a completely
improvised set. The recording turned out really nice
and Lawrence asked to put it out as a limited edition
3” CD-R on Room40. I will be returning to Australia
in August to spend some time with Lawrence and play
some shows again. I’m really looking forward to
Your first two albums combined folk guitars,
found sounds and electronics, but since, most of your
major releases have seen you explore a far wider musical
scope. What is your next record going to be like?
My next recordings will continue to encompass a wide
variety of sounds. I’m working on an all-acoustic
EP (no computers!) for the Norwegian Melektronikk label.
I’ve started working on my next Kranky album,
which will also be entirely acoustic. My collaborations
with Jeph Jerman are created entirely from natural materials.
And I have many many other projects in the works as
well. Recently, it seems that my music is moving away
from the computer a bit and focusing more on instruments
and arrangements and composition and spaces and vibe.
I never know where I’ll be at musically in the
future. It’s impossible for me to predict. I just
record every day and keep working on a wide variety
of projects all the time.
Are you planning to tour in Europe soon?
I’m hoping to tour Europe with Sebastien, perhaps
in the spring or early summer 2006.
What’s next in your diary?
Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order
out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation,
but simply to wake up to the very life we're living,
which is so excellent once one gets one's mind and one's
desire out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.
Love and peace,
December 4th 2005
Thank you to Greg Davis annd Todd Hyman