Technology and imperfection. The raw and the processed. Curator and curated. Solo explorer and gregarious collaborator. The life and work of Taylor Deupree are less a study in contradictions than a portrait of the multidisciplinary artist in a still-young century.
Deupree is an accomplished sound artist whose recordings, rich with abstract atmospherics, have appeared on numerous record labels, and well as in site-specific installations at such institutions as the ICC (Tokyo, Japan) and the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (Yamaguchi, Japan). He started out, in the 1990s, making new noises that edged outward toward the fringes of techno, and in time he found his own path to follow. His music today emphasizes a hybrid of natural sounds and technological mediation. It’s marked by a deep attention to stillness, to an almost desperate near-silence. His passion for the studio as a recording instrument is paramount in his work, but there is no hint of digital idolatry. If anything, his music shows a marked attention to the aesthetics of error and the imperfect beauty of nature, to the short circuits not only in technological systems but in human perception.
And though there is an aura of insularity to Depuree’s work, he is a prolific collaborator, having collaborated with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, Stephan Mathieu, Stephen Vitiello, Christopher Willits, Kenneth Kirschner, Frank Bretschneider, Richard Chartier, Savvas Ysatis, Tetsu Inoue and others.
Deupree dedicates as much time to other people’s music as he does to his own. In 1997 he founded the record label 12k, which since then has released over 100 recordings by some of the most accomplished musicians and modern sound artists of our time. Many share with Deupree an interest in stark minimalism, but the label has also found room for, located a common ground with, the acoustic avant-garde, the instrumental derivations of post-rock, and the synthetic extremes of techno.
And collectively, the cover jackets to the 12k album releases have served as an ongoing exhibit of Deupree’s photography, its lo-fi aesthetic, with an emphasis on damage and wear and antiquated tech, closely paralleling his music. (His photos have also graced numerous books, design anthologies, and other recordings and projects.)
Deupree continues to evolve his sound with an ambition and drive that is masked by his music’s inherent quietude. He approaches each project with an expectation of new directions, new processes, and new junctures.
What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?
My first *sound* memory is being very little and lying in my bed and listening to my mom vacuuming downstairs. I could hear the vacuum through the floor and through my bed and I loved that sound. It would put me to sleep. Looking back on this now it’s no different than when I like to sleep to the sound of crickets, or rain, or music. Ambient noise has always been fascinating to me and obviously is something I’m conscious of when I write music.
Years later, as a young teenager, my best friend at the time introduced me to Brian Eno’s “Thursday Afternoon” album. This was in 1986, not long after the album came out. We were making music together at the time and I’d spend the night at his house. He’d put on “Thursday Afternoon” as we went to sleep and put the CD player on repeat so the album would play all night long and still be playing when we woke up. It was a very strange feeling, sort of warped your sense of time. This was also my introduction to ambient music, and to Eno, and continues to be my biggest influence.
I still listen to “Thursday Afternoon” this way.
Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?
I’m influenced by everything around me, both positively and negatively. As a sound artist and photographer my ears and eyes are always active. Eno’s ambient music from the ‘80s really guided my music, though I didn’t realize it until years after first hearing him. I also realized, after reading books on Eno and learning of his philosophies that I think about a lot of the same things in the same way. I think this is what makes a good influence, someone that you not only learn from but that you discover a similar mindset with. The best influences are not just about taking someone’s ideas, but realizing you share similar ones.
I’m influenced a lot by the tools and technology I work with and especially by visual artists like Donald Judd or James Turrell and photographers like Michael Kenna and Hiroshi Sugimoto. I find the visual work that these artists create echoes so many of my musical ideas. I like to take inspiration for music from non-musical ideas. Remove that inspiration a few steps and it helps spur creativity as you reassemble the ideas into a different medium.
My influences were probably quite in flux as I was growing as an artist but have been pretty consistent for the past few years as I’ve become more comfortable with who I am and the work that I do. I’ve found my place, I think, and my own voice.
Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process? What other technology, if any, do you use?
I don’t have a regular schedule for writing although I’m constantly making sounds and just playing around in the studio. I need to be in a very specific mindset to actually write an album, though, and I tend to write in the winter. There is something about the winter landscape and how the music wraps and warms me that makes me more creative at this time of the year. Once I do get into that mode, however, I will write constantly and work towards finishing. I also have to have an album’s title before I begin writing the album. It helps me focus and gives the album a direction right from the beginning. My albums tend to have loose concepts, so this is an important part of the process. I don’t really actively think of a title either, it usually comes to be serendipitously… and once that happens, I know it’s the right title and the time to start working.
I use a computer as a multitrack recorder and arranger. I use the software Digital Performer, for many, many, years now. I know it very well and am comfortable using it and it doesn’t get in the way. The computer as recorder definitely doesn’t inhibit my process but I’m careful to keep its role to a minimum. I’m not a big user of software to make sounds but the computer as a mixing tool is very powerful.
To make my sounds and music I use a lot of hardware synthesizers, both old and new, a modular synthesizer system, as well as a variety of acoustic instruments like guitar, xylophone, various percussion and found objects. I use tape recorders as sound processors and often mix my final mixes to tape, either reel-to-reel or cassette.
I like my music to be a blend of high tech and low tech where synthesizers and modern technology, which I equate with being “clean” and precise, get roughed up and worn around the edges by tape, room recording techniques and other older or more organic processes as well as being paired with field recordings and acoustic instruments. I think this combination of instruments creates a richer, deeper palette, a more detailed, engaging sound world.
Please describe one of your recent compositions and provide a link to an audio clip.
This year I’ve been making and sharing what I’m calling a Studio Diary. It’s a way for me to exercise my creativity in the studio on a day to day basis and share the experiments with my listeners. The sounds are not supposed to be finished compositions by any means, merely experiments with difference processes and ideas. I’m concentrating mostly on sounds with my modular synthesizer, which is pretty new and constantly a work in progress. It’s such a limitless instrument that I find working with it a little bit every day has been a great learning experience. It’s a lot like learning a language where you have certain “a-ha!” moments and grasp a concept that sticks with you. I’ve been really pleased with what I’ve done so far during the year. It hasn’t been every day… as I anticipated… sometimes life gets in the way, but I do it as much as I can. What will happen with all of these sounds and sketches at the end of the year I have no idea… perhaps I’ll create an album using them all…. or just leave them be and work them in occasionally to new pieces. I’m not too concerned about that yet. Right now it’s all about exploration. You can hear the progress so far and follow along at: