SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Gard, Stephen

Stephen Gard
soundart from Australia

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 questions

    1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?

    I began composing at the age of sixteen: a couple of songs, setting some verses written by a friend who fancied himself a poet. I played and sang these songs with my garage-band, Syn. Not long afterwards, I joined a children’s theatre group, and was invited by them to write songs and incidental music for their 1970 production. This music was played from tape during the performance, and I recorded the tracks in my parent’s granny flat, which became my primitive recording studio. I had a Philips N 4500 sound-on-sound recorder, which I considered a magical machine; it allowed me to build up sound ‘pictures’ by overdubbing. I invited musicians from several garage band to play on these tracks. In 1972, I wrote my own children’s play, and recorded all the songs and incidental music I had composed, using this ‘multi-track’ method, playing (almost) all the instruments. For a couple of tracks, I ‘invented’ what I would now call musique concrète, though my editing and compositional skills were small, limited by my lack of musical education and knowledge.

    2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.

    I grew up in a household where there was little education or culture. My parents both left school at 14 years of age. We did not own a great many books, and we did not attend concerts of music or opera, or performances at the theatre, or ballet, or exhibitions in art galleries or museums. This was not from poverty, but simply because people of the lower social orders often have limited information about the world, and low expectations about taking part in what it offers. I had piano lessons from about the age of nine until I was eleven, but I became bored by sitting alone in the front room practising. I didn’t write any music then, or feel the need to. At the age of 13, I started playing guitar in pop groups. I enjoyed making collective music, but after a few years, pop became boring to me because it was so musically limited. I preferred to listen to jazz, though I didn’t have enough musical education to understand its rules of harmony nor its modes of improvisation. I began composing music for amateur theatre companies, and later I wrote scores for some short films. I had to teach myself notation, because the film music was recorded in a professional studio, played by trained musicians. During the late 1990s, I studied music formally, obtaining an undergraduate degree in composition at the age of 47. I did postgraduate work in 2003-4.

    3. Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?

    I now call myself a ‘professional’ musician, because I make (a little) money from it. I have a small studio in a converted garage, and create ‘demo’ recordings for singer-songwriters who are starting out in their careers. I compose electronic music, and sometimes enter it in competitions, or submit it to conferences. Since leaving university studies, I have lost contact with other music makers, and so have little chance of getting my music performed, since I don’t live in or near a city.

    4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?

    I build from a small beginning, an impulse; some phrase, or a noise; it is like throwing a little clay onto a potter’s wheel, and then more and more clay, as I see a shape emerging, and adding to it and reforming, redefining. I rarely have something ‘finished’ in my head, to write down later.

    5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?
    I play a little keyboard, but no other orchestral instrument. I sample with DAT tape, Neumann mikes, use an Akai S2000, Oberheim DPX-1, Pro Tools, Lexicon and Behringer effects boxes. I write scores with Overture notation software, which also plays MIDI through my Roland and Yamaha sound modules.

    6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?

    I do not know enough of ‘New Media’ to answer this question

    7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

    This might be an option if I knew other composers who wanted to join with me, but I am very isolated.. But I would be pleased to join with and help others if they were keen.

    8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative? If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

    I work by myself. I am not a’ team player’. I have never found a place where I ‘belong’, or anyone who joyfully welcomed me personally (not just ‘a new member’) and wanted me to be part of their endeavours. I like working in a group if I am a leader, but I so often offend people that I no longer offer to help. I wait until I am asked, but that doesn’t happen (much) any more.

    9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?

    Do you mean a ‘lasting influence’ on myself? I hear many sounds I enjoy, by people I admire, but none whom I wish to emulate. I long to discover myself and make music that has my own fingerprints on it, my own style. I require music to move me emotionally. So much electronic music is either cold or timid or noncommittal. If it shows any emotion at all, it is predictably the dreary angst of youth – whatever age the composer has attained.

    10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?

    At the moment, I have none, because my enthusiasm for making music is waning. I used to be excited by music, just the joy of creation, but now the effort makes me a little unhappy, because I seem to have failed at it. I stopped writing books for the same reason, because I got such a small amount of feedback (I do not mean ‘fame’, just no response), that I decided my work was no good – or worse than that, mediocre.

    I dream that, maybe by making music, I can revive my zest for life and creating, which I used to do all the time, without thinking about it. That part of me seems to have died, or perhaps it is just sleeping, Music contains every emotion, including hope. I long to find it, in music, and go there again, one day, to that magic place where music begins life, without thought or analysis, but as a pure tissue of feeling.

  • Can works of yours experienced online besides on SoundLAB? Where? List some links & resources