Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interview with Dave Keifer (aka Cagey House)

KS: Dave, you recently released your new album 1902 on the Bump Foot netlabel. What kind of position would have 1902 in your discography? By your opinion what is the main accent/line you tried to emphasize on the recent album?

DK: I started working on the 1902 tracks right after I finished The Cartoon Mouse Regards. On that one I had used really loose musical structures—almost no structures at all—and I wanted to continue exploring that angle. But I also wanted to start including vocal samples as well. So my main concern was finding a way to incorporate vocal parts (most of which were edited out of audio texts available at into the music without having the end result sound like an instrumental backing track with a random vocal part grafted onto it. Which was harder than I thought it would be. The track that worked out the best was Why the Long Map. The vocal parts for that were edited out of a children’s science lecture—and I was able to get the music to sort of comment on what the lecturer had just said. Ideally, in every track the music and vocals would interact in a unique way—it’s something I’m still working out.

KS: You have issued all your albums under alias Cagey House except The Cartoon Mouse Regards was released under your own name. Why did you make this kind of decision?

DK: That was really just a mix-up. When Tatsu over at Bump Foot accepted my demo, he told me that he had two designers, Jomino and XNoleet(check spellng) who could do the cover. I usually do the graphic stuff myself, but I thought it would be fun to get somebody else’s take on it, so I accepted. But I wasn't really specific about whether the album should have been credited to me or to Cagey House, and somehow it ended up being credited to my name. I could have asked Jomino and XNoleet to correct it, but the cover looked so cool I decide not to bother them. Besides it was my fault anyway for not being more specific. So it was really no reason other than my mistake that Cartoon Mouse wasn't officially a Cagey House release.

KS: Your last three albums have been based on original and sporadically very weird samples collected from here and there in many years. Your music before it was mainly programmed with the fruit loops program. What do you think are sample-based things because of their diversity harder to manage to be changed into musical composition? Are there any difference at all?

DK: This most interesting thing about gathering samples from all over the place is they’re going to be out of tune with each other. In fruityloops (or any other music program) all the on-board synthesizers are in tune with each other. You can key in a C on any one of them and it will be the same note as a C keyed in on any other.

But with outside samples—at least they way I gather them—they’re hardly ever in tune with each other. (And I should point out here that when I say samples, I’m almost always referring to a single note or chord or sound. I might use a two-note phrase, but never more than that, certainly not an entire bar.) I might have 15 or 20 instruments on a track and if I key in a C on all of them, I’ll get 15 or 20 different notes. Now if I was working with conventional song structures, and worrying about having every phrase resolve to a particular chord, that would be a big problem. Luckily, my stuff tends to be pretty free harmonically, and having all the instruments tuned differently is actually a help. It forces me to think creatively about almost every note I put in. There’s a part in Post Bugle Time Gents that sound like a guitar playing along with a flute. And it’s actually a sample of a kora voiced very far below its normal range, and a clarinet voiced very far above its normal range. It’s a neat bit, and I don’t think I would have come up with it if the two samples were in tune with each other. Another advantage to collecting a variety of samples is the diversity of sound quality. Some are recorded very well, others very poorly. Some might have lots of hiss or distortion. But if you put them together you can get all these cool and unusual sonic textures.

KS: You have said when you first started doing electronic music, you was writing fairly typical rock/pop instrumental things. Kind of like what the Ventures would have done if they'd played fruityloops instead of guitars. I have discerned the influences of the space age pop in your sonic textures as well. Which artists have been the main influences to you?

DK: It’s interesting how influences work. A lot of them, I think, are subconscious. The Space Age pop stuff from the early 60s—like the Swingle Singers, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Equivel, and Domenico Modungo, and all those guys—that’s music that I don’t really listen to all that much (except for Volare, which I’ve been listening to almost every day lately), but it’s made a huge impression on me. That distinctive early 60s sound is almost like a default setting for me. Maybe it’s because in that material the arrangement is what really stands out, and writing with a sequencer is esstially arranging. There are other influences on what I’m doing now that I’m very conscious of. When I was looking to break away from the rock/pop structures for instance, I listened to a whole bunch of music—mostly traditional stuff from Indonesia and Burma, and also avante garde symphonic music—looking for ideas. Eventually, I fixated on Gy├Ârgy Ligeti’s piece Melodien, and Karl Stockhausen’s Grupen, and under their influence found a way of getting my music to move forward without relying on riff or vamps or chord changes. So in that case, I was really seeking out influences. Lately, I’ve also been doing collage type things—where I’ll edit together bits of different tracks. Several Sad Songs from Lark was done that way. And that is very much influenced by the electric records that Miles Davis made with Teo Macero especially In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

KS: Undoubtedly you are one of the most profilic musicians in contemporary music. What will inspire and motivate you to create so much music?

DK: The worst thing about being an amateur musician is not having enough time to work on music. And it occurred to me a while ago, that if I did look at writing music as work, then I would never have enough time to do anything good. So I figured I would look at it more like play. Because, for instance, people who play games, always have time to play games. And that's how it worked out. If I have some free time--even if it's just a few minutes,and even if I'm tired, and especially if I'm not feeling particularly inspired--l'll write some music. Even if it's just a few bars, or just sketching out an idea. And so I end up writing a lot--which for me is necessary, since maybe one out of ten ideas that I get is any good. Also, I tend to write just for the sake of writing, without any end point or musical goal in mind. I might work a little on one track in the morning, sit down and work a little bit on another track after I get home from my job, and then work on the first track a little more before I go to bed. So a phrase that starts out one way, might end up somwhere else entirely, becuse by the time I got back to finishing it, I’ll have forgotten where it was going originally. And sometimes stray ideas make there way into songs—the riff from Iron Man (played on a mouth harp) is burried in Isn’t That Great News on 1902, for instance. So I've found that writing this way really fosters the kind of music that I like--music that's unpredictable, energetic, a little chaotic, and humorous.

KS: It is really hard even impossible to discover some traces about your gigs have ever been performed in the past. Why? Is it your conceptual decision to avoid the stages?

DK: I’ve never played electronic music live. I did play drums, a long time ago, in a rootsy punk band. And we played out a lot—we didn’t really record anything—but we played live many times. And that was a really good experience. You learn to take the quality of music really seriously when you’re playing it in front of other people. So that was a very good lesson to learn. But the music I’m playing now really only can exist as a recorded artifact. And I like that. I like that it exists almost entirely within software and circuits. I’ve always really admired Glenn Gould, so the whole idea of working in solitude seems natural.

KS: Recently I had a conversation with an Estonian underground electronic musician, he was quite distrait and so I suggested him to set his music under a Creative Commons license. He abstained from it saying “in that case people would not respect his music anymore”. What does mean respect to you got by your music activity?

DK: I suppose I can understand what your friend is saying. Releasing stuff for free through a Creative Commons license does suggest that you’re an amateur. (Although some professionals do release tracks as Creative Commons things.) And if you have the ambition to be a professional, I can see being reluctant to doing anything that would be considered amateurish. But for me, respect has nothing to do with being a professional or an amateur, or selling your music or giving it away. What counts is the quality. I can think of many amateur musicians who are doing things as exciting and creative as any professionals—people like Pipher, Molloy and His Bike, and the Cheap Poet. And I think a lot of people feel that way. Good music is good music, that’s all that really counts.

KS: If to look forward to the future what are the next plans of yours?

DK: I have an album called Bees with Monkey coming out this fall on the Dog Eared Records netlabel. The tracks are all collages, basically — the first five are very melody-oriented and the last three are very antic, almost like cartoon music. I also have a track called Several Dawns and a Dusk coming out on a Naked Noises netlabel compilation. And I’ve got other stuff in the works. One track is made up of different kinds of whistles — factory whistles, train whistle, samba whistles. Another has a Peter Gunn, secret agent-style guitar interacting with a vibraphone playing around with Scriabin’s mystic chord. Hopefully something fun will come out of those things.

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