SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Higlett, Richard

Richard Higlett
UK artist



Interview: 10 questions

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

When you say ‘making music’ I don’t necessarily see what I doing in sound as music in the traditional sense. The pieces I am making now are part of my practice as a visual artist who is influenced in the main by conceptual artists from the late 1960’s. I began playing a violin when I was 6, although this was strummed during adolescence and I have played guitar ever since. So initially it was my parents looking to nurture any creativity while in the last 18 months my practise as an artist has move into sound an a variant of a strain of work looking at the idea of art as an act of folly. The sound works are approached from the point of being ideas that are best realised through the medium of sound. I’ve always been excited by sound and music, it has been a big part of my life from sing solos at school before my voice broke to singing and being passionately drunk at Karaoke. I get a buzz from performing in a social setting although less comfortable in a formal performance environment. The increasing use if sound in my work is also an extension of making short non-narrative films where the soundtrack and images exist inform each other and function as equals.

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

I live and work out of Cardiff, the capital city of Wales and part of the UK. A small, negotiable, city in a country gently looking for total independence from London. I’m from England but I am rarely reminded. An artist and curator my formal education is in the visual arts although I played violin conventionally and guitar since my teens. I have an art studio in the north of the city but make sound pieces from home. Sharing a house with a musician, instruments are always at hand. As a musical discipline I am currently breaking down film soundtracks and mimicking the feel of the core parts of the works, moving towards sound and music that is so generic that a general understanding of the visual are suggested although visual will never exist. Works submitted for sound presentations are usually, in my mind, perceived as collected sounds that present an idea. I have been writing instrument-based music in tandem with the sound pieces but I view them using different criteria.

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

Work using sound is becoming an increasing part of my work. Primarily I am a visual artist and curator. I’ve never stay within one medium and see ideas and concepts as open to be realised in any format. I suppose I’m contradicting myself by citing myself as a ‘visual’ artist as like everyone else I making things and it is semantics that force a title on what people create and shape the way it is defined a judged, within a context. I would like to scrub the line referring to being specifically visual, I make stuff and other people relate it to what else is around. I think it’s the same for everyone. It’s not special.

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

The works using sounds are no difference in my work than say animation or sculpture. They are simply what I feel is the most appropriate presentation of an idea. I also work on pieces that I see as music that may sound very similar but the starting point for these works is they are what I perceive music to be. That thing you think just before you sit down, whether consciously or not, the thought ‘today I going to play the part of being a musician’ its not something I see as fraudulent, but a way to prime the mind set and to set a criteria for how what will happen in the immediate future to develop.
For many years I made art at the expense of music and it maybe a conditioning in my education but they have never overlapped. While now they do, I still maintain a working façade they are separate as to date it has allowed me to work quite quickly.
I think John Cage was important as I fundamentally saw him as an artist and not a musician, a question of methodology.
In creating music pieces I view pitch shifting and reverb as instruments within themselves. A current working example ‘Music for the Forth Wall’ uses a classical guitar and piano to play all the parts but they have their pitches shifted to mimic other voices. For example layers of reverb and dropping the pitch on the guitar means I can mimic a cello section. I use reverb as a device for wearing down pieces until they appear as a memory of the original, recalling a sense of something past and lost in time. Reverb has become the short hand for nostalgia.

5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?

Technically I simply use Garageband not even the latest version and some Behringer microphones and mixer. I do get frustrated when the latest version of software comes out, usually at the moment you feel comfortable with the old one. You have to re-build the friendship. So generally think its fit for purpose until it cannot manage, which limitations on equipment retains creative problem solving. I have a number of tape players for recording while I am not interested in clarity and resolution. Primarily I use an acoustic guitar and my voice. I’ve recently brought podcasting software with a view to presenting works to subscribers, but otherwise I don’t have a stockade of retro kit.

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

New Media is one of those terms that mean different things to different people. One definition of an artist is someone who creates work using mediums that are contemporary relevant to the times they live in.
It is a change and a challenge akin to the development of photography and its impact on the value of painting. Directly and indirectly this led to abstraction and non-representational art. To a degree abstraction moved into music in the early 20th century. New Media currently sits precariously on top of the status quo but it will be absorbed as common practise. My concern is the impact of digital media on the human race. The compression of information in digital formats omits frequencies in the higher ranges and we are over time losing the ability to be receptive to sounds such as the song of birds. We need to exercise our ears often, whether in the woods, the dead of night or the song of the sea.
Paradoxically accessibility to works thorough on-line presentations is good currently, I think there are fear and concerns but like the impact of photograph in the late 19th century it actually led to new shifts and developments in creative practises.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

Making the sound pieces has been made possible by digital media. Visual Art wise big ideas, until funded by other parties, exist in the notebooks where as, like painting, the creation of the sound works is very much in house unless it is performed. Like some of the objects I’ve made, they are never shown other than on-line, many sound works can exist in a state of resolution or near-resolution without performance or third-party broadcast. Time being the more vital component in production than money.

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 do work collaboratively from time to time usually with a writer or actors for providing voices but generally I work in isolation with headphones being the boundary with the outside world. I have plans for performing some works as a group in 2009, the fear and discipline is too much of an attraction.

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

Musically Philip Glass with its absence of a melody has led me to look at plain songs and the works of Thomas Tallis. It is ways they present something that appears very structured but is incredibly fluid and open to the point where you cannot understand what you are listening too and you are taken elsewhere. I am interested in the potential for emotive expression from sound that is not initiated by conventional composition. That was a very serious answer! I am into Radiohead, late 60’s Glen Campbell, early 70’s rock, very early Queen, Vaughan Williams and P!nk currently.

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

In January 2009 I wrote down my plan for the year, this included start working on a 12-track album of short pieces and completing 15-minute piece. I am currently looking at forming a collective of 4 sound artists, working to the conventions of the quartet, with a view to performing sound art in music venues. Something I have been researching recently is using my car as a gallery with speakers on the roof. The Tannoy (working title) will present sound works to the masses!

Out of competition:
Can works of yours experienced online besides on SoundLAB?
Some examples