Words From the Waking State
... a conversation with the creator of Sleeping for Science
Daniel Coscino: I hate the whole idea of genres. That's why I think people like Bjork, Radiohead, or Elvis Costello really appeal to me; they apparently have no regard for genre either. Rock or electronic, classical, Indian, African, electric jazz, acoustic jazz, hot jazz, cool jazz ... you know what I mean? It's not to say that the labels are accurate or inaccurate, it's that they're walled off from one another.
There shouldn't be a wall between Stravinsky and Miles Davis, the Beach Boys and Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, or whatever. It's all music. It's striving to do different things at different times by very different people.
Q: Well, let's get into this a bit further. Your album, to my ears, is totally unique. The only description that bears any accuracy whatsoever is to put the composer's name next to it and say, "That's their work." Having said that, it might fall dangerously close to labeling or genre, if you will, but you've got the music of Brian Eno, which is not necessarily always labeled, but if you say, "Eno," you're going to hear a certain thing in your head.
The same goes for any composer, really. The only source where you can hear anything like what's on this album is from you. So, in essence, it is its own genre, regardless of what direction that takes. It's the source that makes it unique, more of a musical identity. I don't think that it's fair, accurate, or feasible to try to classify your music within any existing genre. I think it heralds the emergence of a very unique composer.
I've spoken about the album with various people who have not yet heard it, and I can only describe it in terms of my own reaction. It's something that people have to hear, have to experience for themselves.
DC: If you want to describe it in terms of genre, like I've said, it's everything I like about music: the harmonic possibility of modern composition, the energy of rock, the sonic possibility of electronic music, the freedom of form found in jazz, and the expanse of Indian music.
Q: One of the tracks suggested Brian Wilson's influence. But, as with anything that doesn't fall into an easily definable category, the path of least resistance would be to find the elements that you most readily identify with ... or readily identify, and try to make sense out of it. Do you think that, in all cases, regardless of the type of music, who your intended or actual audience is, that people are always going to need or want something to hold on to, as opposed to letting the music do whatever it's going to do?
DC: As far as expectation?
Q: Do people always have to have their hand held? Exactly.
DC: I know. It seems like everything is compartmentalized. I don't think there will be a band as all-encompassing as, say, the Beatles. I don't think there will be any music that will appeal that broadly anymore because what they did is broken up into a million different sub-genres. I'm not saying they invented them. Now, everything is an exaggeration of characteristics. Everything has to be on anabolic steroids in order to be what it is ... or the caricature of what it is.
Q: This is music that rewards a listener's immersion. Would you say that this is a reflection of the circumstances under which the music was written and recorded?
DC: Well, it depends on what you mean by immersion. Immersion with other people? Immersion with books?
Q: Immersion in terms of soaking up life. People are either coated in Teflon or armor these days, so sometimes life doesn't have a chance to soak in anymore. I can be off the mark here, but I think that because you're as receptive to experience, that the freedom of the self-imposed immersion, albeit in an isolated state, resulted in this.
DC: It all depends. In that sense, they're not really opposites. I'd say that at the time I was doing this, I was immersed in certain aspects of things; I was reading a lot of books, seeing a lot of films, listening to a lot of music, writing words, but I was also isolated. I was living in a small town and really didn't know too many people, and it wasn't exactly living on Positively Fourth Street or Tenth Avenue Freezeout or Sixth Avenue Heartache ... I wasn't living in midtown Manhattan.
Q: You weren't an exile on Main Street ... but you see what I'm getting at. So, do you think that the fact that the small-town environment was as much a part of the process as anything else?
DC: Yeah. Definitely.
Q: Has your own approach to the creative process undergone a gradual metamorphosis, or a night-to-day change, or are the roots still solid?
DC: I think it's a similar process of the occasional -- hopefully -- inspiration at times, and that's a common thread through everything I've done, to somewhat different ends than writing songs with words and choruses.
Q: What about the aspect of self-discovery through art? Art as a cathartic process to achieve inner peace, all that stuff ... specifically referring to your own, but including that of others.
DC: As far as things that fit together that I didn't realize quite what I was doing at the time, kind of semi-conscious? As far as self-discovery, I'm not sure ...
Q: We're not talking Oprah here: this is about the process of self-discovery through forming what, to these ears, is a living, breathing place, created through sound.
DC: I feel like I'm getting my point across, rather than being in a rock band or something like that. I didn't have that feeling when I was. I feel I was being misunderstood. I don't know if that means the same as self-discovery ... I'm not sure.
Q: Interesting statement. It's in keeping with everything else you've been talking about.
DC: If something in your mind is like, "Wow! Holy shit, I've never heard anything sound like it," and then someone else hears it and says, "Yeah, it sounds like Chuck Berry." It's like that type of thing.
Q: I defy anybody to listen to this and have Chuck Berry come to mind.
DC: No offense to Chuck Berry --
Q: Of course not.
DC: In the past, that had happened.
Q: Regarding the whole concept of sampling in the world of rap and hip-hop versus what Radiohead achieved, using the work of a Princeton University professor as a musical bed, not only in terms of technology but also in terms of ethics, as well as the end result from a creative perspective, what are your views on this?
DC: It depends on the context. I don't want to make this sound like a "hip-hop bad, rock good" type of argument, but if something is sampled primarily to cash in on the air of familiarity that that sample provides because people might have a semiconscious recognition of the song? Sort of like on Seinfeld, where Elaine falls in love with this guy; it eventually turns out that he was the Nobody Beats the Wiz pitchman ... that type of thing. It's like that song that samples "Jack and Diane" that's been on the radio, or like Coolio sampling Stevie Wonder for "Gangsta's Paradise," or Weird Al Yankovic sampling him for "Amish Paradise." If it's being sampled and used in a different context, or if experimental electronic music from the '70s is used in a rock song, or a three-note lick on an upright bass that's sampled from a '40s jazz record used as the basis of a dance track, I have no problem with that. The philosophy with that is: Where do you draw the line? "Why are you using these notes? You have no right to use these notes." If sampling should be verboten, then why should you be able to plug in? That's artificial; you're using electricity, so you can't use guitars. Then, why should you be able to play stringed instruments at all? You're not really supporting the sound. So then you're back to wind instruments. Your breathing is creating the sounds, but you're still using a metal or wooden medium to create the notes, so that's out. Then you're left to singing and banging on cans. Q: Where it started in the first place ...
DC: Yeah. So where do you draw the line? For me, it's insidious for a sample to be used in almost the exact same way it had been used in the first place, and it's cashing in on what had gone before to provide a semiconscious air of familiarity to some people, so some radio programmer will play the record that much more.
Q: How did the sequencing of the tracks evolve? Did it suggest itself?
DC: There was never any real doubt. Once I had more than two of the pieces recorded, the order pretty much was taking shape. If you have three pieces of music recorded and you record a fourth, you can say, "Well, that sounds good between the second and third," you know what I mean? It's not like I was deliberately setting out to record, saying, "Well, this sounds like the seventh track." There was a lot of clarity there; everything pretty much fell into place pretty neatly. "Ascendescendancy," "Old Haunts," and "Permanent Acceleration" were the first three things recorded. I knew that they were going to be in that order; not that I knew that the eleventh track was going to be the eleventh, but I knew that it was going to be after the first two.
I heard that Trent Reznor couldn't figure out how he wanted to sequence his last album, so he hired Bob Ezrin to sequence it for him. As far as I know, that was the extent of his work on the record.
Q: In addition to the actual composition and recording of these tracks, was the sonic landscape being painted in your head at the same time, or did it come into play at a later point?
DC: You mean as far as where to go with things?
Q: There's sonic imagery that hits me from every direction and from every depth. The question is: While you were writing these, how early did you hear the placement of everything, in terms of the 360 degree nature of the mix?
DC: It depends on which track you're referring to. Most of these were recorded pretty quickly, in spurts. Everything was done, or at least the shape was there, within a few days, sometimes in one day.
Q: Out of the fifteen tracks here, which was the quickest to record?
DC: To tell you the truth, I really don't remember. But they all came together relatively quickly.
Q: What are some of the formative elements that shaped where you are now? Having asked this, I'm keeping in mind that since I've known you, I've lost track of the times where you've said, "This is my favorite album in the world, this is my favorite band," and it never stays the same. I always ask myself, "What's he into this week? What's he into today?" Which brings us back to the theme of immersion: you totally dive into things, and they become a part of you ... in the isolation of the creative process that you undergo.
DC: To try to answer something like that, I don't really like to look back, as far as music, especially in things that I've done in the most distant past, but at the same time, I rarely sell back a CD unless I'm really hurting for cash. I've known people who sell back stuff that wasn't the Doodletown Pipers; it was something pretty decent.
Q: It's like when people hit a certain stage in their lives (and this is a major generalization), most people -- certainly by forty -- are very set in their ways. They're not open to new musical experiences; hence the oldies stations. I talk to people my age now that aren't interested, or they just don't know what's going on. They can't figure out why I get like this about certain music.
DC: Different people have different priorities. Time is at a premium. Time's a big issue with being aware of things, creating things.
Q: Music has become ubiquitous in our lives. Todd Rundgren told me years ago that it's not something people listen to anymore; you'll work out to it, do whatever to it --
DC: Wash dishes.
Q: So, in a way, it's more a part of our lives than it ever was, but how relevant is it to most people?
DC: There's musical accompaniment to just about everything.
Q: Dog food commercials and video games.
DC: I suppose one could get creative within the confines of a dog food commercial. Who knows? That's what Stockhausen has been getting into lately.
Q: I don't suppose there's a time where you can envision experimenting with that.
DC: Well ... you know, ideally, you'd like to make music exclusively on your own, and to be able to make a living doing that, but if you compare doing dog food commercials to that, the commercials would pale in comparison. But if you compare making music for dog food commercials to, say, editing the copy that goes on the side of the dog food package that tells you the contents, I think I'd rather do the music part.
Q: I think we may have gotten into the world of dog food a bit more than we wanted to ...
DC: Music is everywhere: sporting events, commercials. I mean, commercials are everywhere, and where there's commercials, there's usually music.
Q: In that same conversation with Rundgren, he hoped for and envisioned a time where not only would live music become a lot more important than it's come to be, but also that the act of live performance would become a unique event, where a piece of music performed in a live setting would be a true, one-of-a-kind event, akin to the classical period, where works would be commissioned for a special purpose, where the work will only be performed once, so whoever is attending the concert is experiencing a definitive, unique event. What's your take on it?
DC: Hopefully, it would be recorded. I think that music is going in the complete opposite direction than that. But when a composer gets a commission from the New York Philharmonic, that composition has a hard time getting a second performance anywhere. Space for contemporary artists is at a premium, and you want to be able to tell people that what you have is world premiere. So those compositions are generally only played once, from what I can gather. Maybe he was right; maybe that's what he was talking about. But ... how is it much different from jazz, or the Grateful Dead, or Phish, or more recent jam bands?
Q: Good point. How is it different?
DC: I don't know. Maybe it wouldn't be improvised. But if you're saying that something's heard just once and you'll never get to hear it unless it was recorded, I think that's what jazz is. I'm sure that there's things in some Coltrane concert in the south of France in 1960 that might have happened that, unless you were there, you wouldn't get to hear it, and will never be there again in quite the same way. Or something happened at a Dead show at Giants Stadium in 1987 ... maybe Bruce Hornsby went crazy or something.
Q: I didn't foresee Bruce Hornsby coming into this conversation --
DC: Neither did I.
© 2002-2010 Island Zone Records ― A Division of The Island Zone Productions, Ltd. Home