15 Questions to Asher Thal-Nir
Interview by Tobias Fischer
2005 and 2006 have been extremely busy years for Asher, so it's no wonder he's a little tired at the beginning of our interview. On the other hand, all the hard work has paid off: In just these two years, he has gone from being a total nobody in the experimental music scene to everybody's darling, with touching extreme's massimo ricci "looking forward to this man getting famous" and William Basinski anxciously awaiting his live sets. The latter is certainly a special treat for Asher, who mentions that Basinski's ability to create so much from so little has been a source of inspiration to his own work. His first releases, either as freely downloadable mp3s or CD-Rs from some of the finest labels on the net, did not reveal this quite so clearly, however. Instead of exploring the hidden secrets of a single piano line, his compositions were filled with streams of tiny particles, flowing towards the listener from all directions and disappearing into a warm black hole. The remarkable thing about them was their equal degree of precision and humanity, without reverting to other genres such as Dub or Jazz. Asher's music can clearly placed inside the microtonal/clicks n cuts/glitch tradition, but it comfortably does without obvious references. And with his latest offering, "landscapes elsewhere" on con-v records, he has started working on pieces with a higher degree of "musicality", with harmony and melody. It is, of course, merely the beginning of a process which will surely lead to new horizons and more refined techniques of live presentation. Just wait for that coffee to kick in!
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
i'm ok, very tired though. i'm home in somerville enjoying my morning coffee.
What’s on your schedule right now?
work, with very little time for my own work. but in the bigger picture are a few projects, a collaboration with ubeboet (aka miguel a. tolosa) as well as one with jason kahn; also in the works are a new album for leerraum, and the first release on my own record label: sourdine.
What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
i don't know that i can choose one influence and say it was my biggest. perhaps just the realization that i can create original works with the tools i have: my ears, hands, eyes etc. i think that my approach to creating works in sound puts me in a certain tradition and movement, though i won't be the one to say what that is. i will say that the only movement i'm interested in being a part of is that of artists making work which is true to themselves, and simply motivated by the need to create.
What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
i'm not sure that i'm in a position to comment on the entire music scene, though i do have thoughts and opinions on the subject. i believe that before one can make great strides in their work they will go through a period of struggle, and this can become a crisis for that individual. some artists thrive in this environment, but i think in order to create something powerful you have to find a balance. i think this holds true for larger groups of artists struggling in a similar way to express their experience. so to try and answer your question, i do think that there is a constant flow between crisis and creativity. while some are struggling to find expression others are in a fertile creative period, and over time the balance shifts.
What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
i try not to concern myself with novelty, other than regarding things as new in the sense of their having just been made. i hope to create work which is approached for what it has to offer intrinsically, rather than how it relates to other work.
How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
the way that i work with sound is very direct, i take sounds and build my compositions from them. i treat all sounds that i'm interested equally, so that once i've started working with them they can influence the choices i make. i try not to have too much of an idea of what i want to hear in a piece before i start working on it; instead i try to think conceptually of a structure or a certain use of sound and see where that takes me. so specifically in my work i treat sounds as the building blocks of composition so long as i can find a way to work with them.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
i use improvisation as a compositional tool, sometimes to a greater degree than other times. but i think its all improvisation in the end, as you are working, ideas come to you and you use them. so even if you are piecing something together painstakingly there is an element of improvisation in there.
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
well, to be honest i don't think i've found an approach to achieving the type of live performance i would like to quite yet. i think performance is all about atmosphere; creating an experience in a space which is true to that moment in time. i have enjoyed performing, but i'm hoping to find a way to work more in real time in a live situation, rather than relying on prerecorded materials.
A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
i'm not interested in drawing borders, i think the problem lies in a person's expectations. relating to the earlier question of how sound influences composition, i think if you're willing to listen to all sound compositionally you will find that through out your daily life
the world makes beautiful music.
Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
i don't think they are empty words without meaning, but i don't really have any thoughts on this matter; to me they don't seem to be mutually exclusive terms.
Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
i really can't comment for anyone but myself, and i have no interest currently in representing political motives in my work except perhaps very obliquely, i.e. in the way it is licensed, distributed etc. but i do feel that there is a place for this type of work, and in fact i feel that political commentary in the arts is very important. i'm just not capable of taking on that responsibility myself.
True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
educated is perhaps too strong a word, people need to be open minded first of all. of course sometimes having more informed views can lead to deeper insights, but sometimes the opposite is true. music is so open ended and can be interpreted and appreciated in so many ways and on so many levels that i don't think there is a simple yes or no answer to this question.
Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
i think that would be fine, but even in the current circumstance i think we have the freedom to do whatever we want with musical material, its all a question of context. and ultimately it comes down to financial considerations, so long as you aren't making big statements most things probably end up flying under the radar.
Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
i'm not really thinking in those term yet, perhaps someday, though i'm not sure. right now i'm still figuring things out, experimenting, failing, and succeeding sometimes. i would be content if i could just have more time to work, once i do than i can start having big dreams.