Interview with Kyle Landstra (July 2016)
1. What are some recent inspirations?
The seasons always seem to be some form of inspiration for me. Regardless of whether or not I am actively harvesting this inspiration, it is always there subconsciously. With my work on “Jeweled Moon Codex” my inspiration was the dim and isolating aura of a Chicago winter coupled with the pleasant feeling of being warm in my apartment. For the current warm season, my inspiration has shifted towards a livelier and more active pace. The contemplative nature is still present, but instead of going inward with it I am letting these sequences explore my outward experiences. Therefore the warmer temperatures have inspired more arpeggiated patterns running freely as to explore the outer regions as opposed to conjuring deep drones that will warm oneself up from the core in the winter.
2. What differences do you notice when performing your pieces live for an audience and performing live for a recording?
It really depends on the piece of work I am presenting. There isn’t really anything lost in translation between recording and performing as I still record all of my pieces live in one session, without overdubs. Although I become more self conscious performing more patient work as I still want listeners to be enveloped by it, but also don’t want them to become bored if they came into the show with preconceived notions. My intention with my music is not typically to grab the listeners attention, but to become their attention. When I performed “Jeweled Moon” live in March I didn’t really feel it as a performance piece but more of an environmental piece (similar to side a of the tape). Thusly, I want to lead the listener to that environment, but I want them to explore it as they deem fit (whether it be just enjoying a deep drone or picking apart the layers of texture they are hearing). Although I can’t really speak much to what I noticed from the audience reactions, I can say that performing livelier pieces seems better for bar venues whereas patient and somber pieces feel more at home in a deep listening environment.
3. Are there any video game soundtracks that made a strong impression on you and your direction in music?
Not really. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with video games until I grew older. Although I can say that the “Aquatic Ambience”
track from Donkey Kong Country really struck a chord with me when I finally got my own SNES as an adult.
4. Does your decision to mainly record live without overdubs stem from a greater, non-musical philosophy or concept?
It all boils down to the fact of wanting to be able to perform what I record. After growing on that concept it just seems easier for me to put something together and perform in a live manner rather than to think in terms of overdubbing. Surely some day I will reach that depth of musicianship, but for now I feel more connected to my synthesizers when they are talking to each other in real-time.
5. Can you foresee a time not using synthesizers to make your pieces?
I look to the past and before I even touched a MIDI controller in my very early beginnings I used a bass, e-bow, some trinkets, a mic, and a loop pedal to make music. This was definitely a part of me looking for my sound (I couldn’t even play bass that well, ha!), but I am not sure I would return to traditional instruments to make music again. I foresee there being some type of VR for making music in the future, but as of right now I enjoy the physicality of my synths (even the menu diving on the digital ones, heh). Who knows what the future holds though!
6. Do you wait for inspiration before working on sounds? Or do you work regularly whether or not you’re inspired?
I’d prefer to work strictly from a well of inspiration, but realistically that is just not possible. In situations where I am hard up for inspiration I don’t like to force myself to make music, but instead try to be more active in the outside world and get out of my own headspace. There are times when I may encounter a situation that really inspires me to pick up the synths again and work on something new (which could be a positive or negative situation), but the frequency in which that happens is just as consistent as the levels of inspiration in the well that are always in flux. If I don’t reach that point, I may set aside some time to just create patches from scratch on my synths if it has been too long. I truly never know what I will come up with for a piece of music (although I may have a general idea of what I want to express), so working on creating/fine tuning some complex patch or exploring a new synthesizer or style of synthesis might inspire me enough to dig in deeper and find inspiration in my cave of gear. Composing and fine tuning a new piece can be exhausting and sometimes hard work, but it never ceases to be deeply rewarding. Having said that, that it never hurts to take a break from working on music and often leaves me yearning to do come right back with vigor after a dry spell.
7. Are there any visual artists that you feel mine a similar territory to you with your sounds?
My release on Twin Springs Tapes, “Dream Array”
, was born out of a commission for artist Nathan Abels to be played at his art exhibit at the Rule Gallery in Denver in 2014. I couldn’t think of a more perfect pairing. His paintings are gorgeous, lush, and contain a sense of mystery and/or curiosity which is congruent with the type of aural imagery I try to sculpt for listeners.
8. What drives you to put sound into the world?
Expression, definitely. A lot of my work is rooted in emotive responses to life happening within and without me. These responses may be intended to convey a specific situation on a macro/micro level or even to create an environment to float in as a result of my experiences. Being able to record these movements and put them out into the world gives me a great sense of relief, finalizing the fact that it is no longer a part of my present state of mind and is a part of my past.
9. What do you notice when you revisit older work?
I don’t really revisit my older work that often, as I would probably cringe! Haha. The main difference is my current state of composing vs. improv loop pedal jamming. With using a sequencer and mapping out every single note played for each of my synths has brought on a lot more structure and also has helped express myself in a more complex way. Since I dove into the realm of meticulously composing work and sometimes writing sheet music for it, I thought that I should also read up on some music theory a little bit. So there is a lot more thought put into my newer stuff. The more obvious differences between my newer and older work are astronomical, but I feel like there is a thread of emotional expression that runs through all of it.
10. Words of wisdom you like to recall in times of need?
“Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.”
Kyle Landstra is currently based in Chicago, Illinois. He runs Temple Music, a monthly music series showcasing ambient artists. In May he released Jeweled Moon Codex
, his first album for Inner Islands.