Composer: I want to talk to you about creativity
and the differences between my musical work and yours.
Remixer: Sounds good.
But already I’m wondering why the differences are so crucial to you?
C: For one thing, it’s hard for me to consider what you do as music.
R: Ahh. Because I don’t play an “instrument”
or write down “notes” in one way or another?
C: Exactly that. But also it has to do with your sounds.
R: Well this is off to an awkward start.
Maybe I can convince you that what I do is music?
I guess I’m saying that I’ve always been clear about what I do:
I write melodies and chords at a keyboard,
I notate my parts,
and arrange them for various instruments.
I’m a builder who works with tangible sonic things.
R: I’m a builder too.
C: No, you’re a deconstructor.
R: Let me finish!
I build upon previously recorded music using my studio as a compositional tool.
C: But you don’t play an instrument, nor can you read music.
R: I play my laptop.
C: So does everyone else with GarageBand. And this means what exactly?
R: It means I do everything:
I can conjure a keyboard, a mixing desk, samplers, synthetic and acoustic sounds, effects—almost anything you can imagine or can’t yet imagine.
C: So you’re a master of none?
R: I never said I was a master of anything.
C: How do you stay focused?
Where are your constraints—
the way I’m constrained by the staves on my notation paper?
R: I can do anything. So no constraints.
C: But if you can do anything,
then why is so much of your work four-on-the-floor dance music?
You have to admit it’s kind of relentless, that music.
R: Because that’s where the money is
and remixing continues the tradition
of making music danceable.
Occasionally ambient, but usually danceable.
It’s a legacy from disco.
C: So you do have constraints after all—commercial ones.
R: I do, but so do you.
Your music needs a concert hall or a TV-film context
for people to listen to it,
let alone notice it.
C: True. But at least I write my own stuff.
You, on the other hand, take my music.
R: Your music is never finished.
C: No, I’m pretty sure it’s finished when I finish it.
R: But it can always become something else.
Music is mutable, protean, liquid and elastic.
C: But you’re playing with authorship here.
R: Well, aren’t you overvaluing authorship?
C: No, authorship is the only way we know who did what and when.
R: Why is that important?
C: So we get paid, and for the historical record.
R: Well, what if you were always paid?
C: I’d still feel ripped off by your work.
It takes me a long time to come up with my music, you know!
As I said, people should know who did what and when.
R: I guess I agree with that, though I don’t dwell on such questions.
C: But how are you agreeing when your work is derivative, parasitical even?
R: What do you expect me to do differently?
C: To start, do something original with your tools
and don’t depend on the work of others.
R: It seems that you’re hung up on defining.
Like what is original anyhow?
The wonderful thing about the technologies I use
is that they severely blur the lines between things—
between acoustic and virtual, between human and machine,
between original and copy.
My equipment encourages me to undefine.
C: Is that even a word?
R: It is.
C: Anyway, isn’t the goal of the composer to define
and not just accept musical things as they are?
As the critic John Berger once said, the given is a prison.
I don’t hear electronic musicians pushing boundaries.
I hear them hiding behind wild sounds.
R: Well, I never said that I’m composing. I’m assembling.
R: That too, fine, okay.
C: It’s just not clear to me what you stand for
besides being beholden the capabilities of your equipment
and being a digital dilettante.
R: It seems we have some philosophical differences when it comes to what we do.
C: I guess so. I have nothing against your work,
it’s just that I have yet to hear you do something interesting.
R: And what are the criteria that would make it so?
C: Something my body would recognize and understand as music.
R: Let’s continue this conversation again. I think there’s more to unpack.
C: We can agree on that!