Daniel Guillén and Steve Targo
From left: Daniel Guillén and Steve Targo
In Conversation with Path of the Sun (March 2021)
Path of the Sun is a new musical project by Steve Targo and Daniel Guillén - better known for their projects as Inner Travels and Lunaria (respectively). They released their debut album, Path of the Sun, on Inner Islands in January 2021 and I, Sean of Inner Islands, got to chat with them about their process and philosophy of music making. The following is a conversation we had over email and it has been slightly edited for clarity.
Inner Islands: Hi guys, it's been such a pleasure working with you both on this project! I'm so glad we could make it happen :)
I want to ask, do you think the process of working together and pushing each other into somewhat unfamiliar territory has influenced the work you will each do in your respective solo projects? Perhaps incorporate new sonic or compositional ideas?
Daniel Guillén: Thanks Sean, it's been a joy for me too.
When I first listened to the serene bed of sound Steve provided, it worked like an empty sky for me, so to speak. Without thinking too much about it, there began to appear some dynamics that I'd describe as tides and oppositions between two complementary concepts —light and dark, above and below, tension and relaxation, that could interact on the base of that soundscape, like creative energies emerging from primordial waters. I think this combination can trigger a special inner movement, potentially able to help some kind of change happen. I had already explored this to some extent, but working with Steve's creation helped it take form in a more conscious way. I believe this exploration will be an essential part of my path ahead as a musician.
Regarding the more technical side of the process, working with Steve, who has different methods and views, has definitely helped me improve my working process. Long-term conversation, dealing with a different perspective, the need for deep listening, all took me beyond my limits, and this has always helped me grow as an artist and as a person too. And hopefully, having made contact with Steve's ear for peaceful, flowing, nature inspired sounds will make my music more organic.
Steve Targo: That is very kind of you, Daniel. I am so happy you felt this. Your response beautifully illustrates the need for collaboration — not just in music, but in all parts of life. We can become so absorbed in ourselves, especially now, that it is easy to forget how important others truly are. People open doors for us that did not know existed, whether they realize it or not.
What I gave Daniel, which formed the basis of “Portal of Twilight,” was a series of overlapping drones. I gave him a texture which he imbued with life, structure. I was amazed when he first shared it with me. What he heard in something so minimal was gorgeous.
I really went through an enlightening process with “Aquatic Sun.” The sound bed Daniel gave me was quite challenging for me. It consisted of sounds that slithered and bent through various different keys and moods much darker than I explore in my own work. So I knew I wanted to bring light into the darkness, but my usual methods of creating music were not successful here. Ultimately, I broke up his sound bed into different sections and worked on each one separately. Once I did, everything fell into place. I can’t wait to try making my own music this way.
II: I love that idea that working with other people can open doors that we were previously unaware of. I've felt similarly in my own collaborations.
There is a common theme to what you are both saying about trying to find a balance in the elements of light and shade. Can you tell me more about this inclination? Is some aspect of it trying to mirror life as we experience it?
ST: Striking a balance between light and shade — I like that descriptor by the way. To me, shade is like someplace nice and cool, where one can rest. That really appeals to me.
But I find parts of this album to be dark. Not in an unsettling way. Intriguing maybe, mysterious. Like exploring a cave. There is a passage in “Aquatic Sun” I made from echo feedback and a phaser pedal that always makes me think of like going through someplace subterranean. Then what happens? Daniel’s sound bed returns and we enter the heavens on choir like drones and my own clavichord jam.
I did try to balance light and dark in “Aquatic Sun,” and I suspect Daniel did on “Portal of Twilight.” I will also go out on a limb here and suggest we both did this in order to try to create a sonic journey.
II: More specifically what I'm asking is, what is behind the motivation in balancing the "dark" and the "light" in the music? Both of you have mentioned this intention, but I'm wondering what is driving that?
I was using the word "shade" in place of "dark" - something I read Jimmy Page talk about in a Led Zep biography that I read when I was 13 and it stuck with me. They also made a point of trying to balance the dark and light elements in their work.
ST: We all do. I hear it in Daniel’s solo projects, in yours and in my own music. I think I understand better now your question about this mirroring life. We spend our lives trying to achieve balance of various elements, “light” and “dark” included. We exist within that balance. It defines who we are.
Musically, when I use the terms here, I’m talking about moods. From a compositional standpoint, achieving a mood balance makes sense, especially for pieces that are around 20 minutes long. You do not dwell on one thing and that kind of hooks people by making them wonder what they will hear next.
But that was not how I approached it, to be perfectly honest. Since I try to bring comfort and peace with my music, well, I wanted to remain true to my intentions. At an early stage, I tried to make what became “Aquatic Sun” exceedingly dark, almost bleak, but it just wasn’t me. So what I said about bringing light into the darkness from Daniel — darkness in a cosmic sense — was more about me trying to be honest in my contribution to the music.
But again, I also like to create a journey. I love it when music goes from darkness to light, so that might have come through here subconsciously.
DG: I see things very much like you on this, Steve. Regarding composition, I usually try, more or less consciously, to achieve that mood balance, and sometimes I even try to emphasize the contrast between light and dark. I'd say the darkness I seek in my music has more to do with the mysterious, numinous, hidden side of reality, than with dark feelings. So yeah, darkness in a cosmic sense, as you said.
Nevertheless, this makes me think about something I experienced in my life as a listener. Sometimes I focused too much on comforting music, trying to banish darkness so to speak. However, this often caused a reaction where I listened to a lot of really dark, depressing music, which anyways would help me to externalise my shadow. Somehow I was trying and failing to be 'only spiritual' in my listening habits but I struggled to find a balance until I slowly realized that the darkness that we see outside is but our own darkness, and the only way out is accepting and integrating it as part of us. What I experienced as a listener was of course mirroring my general inner journey in life. Probably this learning influenced me when it comes to music creation. When I worked with Steve's contribution, I saw comfort and peace, and my natural reaction was trying to balance that with some darkness. That brought about a journey, with tension and resolution, just as in life.
II: And one could even say that embracing the full range of forces and embracing the full range of emotional experience is just as spiritual of a practice as only looking towards the light.
Would either of you say that music is a spiritual practice for you? If so, what do you think makes the medium of sound an appropriate avenue for that practice?
DG: Well, whenever I listen to what I have made, I often have this sensation of strangeness, like did I really make this? My experience of music creation is like a journey, an adventure into unfamiliar ground where I connect with parts of me that are usually veiled. I believe music is a deep mystery. Everything is, but sound has this quality of transcending time and space, and opening doors to unknown places. These places can certainly be a wide range of different moods and psychic states, and I wouldn't say all of them are spiritual, but it all depends on what one means by this word.
Currently I don't follow a formal method to approach music creation as a spiritual practice, just let go and see where the wind blows, but that's transcending my self-imposed limits in a way. However, I have sometimes intentionally done a formal meditation just before recording improvisations, trying to keep an altered state. This can bring about interesting results, but I rarely do it these days. I just try to be very mindful and receptive to the inner silence that arises from my daily sitting meditations, as I try to do with anything else in my daily life. It's kind of turning the silence into an active mode, but again I often have this feeling of surprise, like I'm not doing it myself, so it's passive too, in a sense.
Anyway, sound can be indeed a door to the world where you are not an isolated being but something that is an individual and transcends individuality at the same time. I'd say listening is kind of an art, the art of disappearing in the joy of a greater reality through sound. Listening to nature sounds out there and listening to acoustic instruments have had somehow this effect on me. I think the key is being very present and allowing the sound to reveal itself without any thinking. Opening to something beyond my own will and control. In this sense I can consider music a spiritual practice.
ST: Growing up, I was raised Catholic. When I reflect on that — sitting there in Mass as a young child, listening to all the prayers and Bible readings — that time seemed so serious when I was a kid, even frightening. Then, the music would clear the path to understanding spiritual truths. Mass no longer seemed so massive and scary.
Music is the universal language, and language is a form of expression. Of course, it can be spiritual. I just read Tape Op’s Laraaji interview. He said he hopes his music creates a sense of stillness in his listeners which may enable them to hear their own “inner music.” That is such a noble, spiritual intention. In making healing music, one must not neglect the spirit.
I must mention that Daniel perfectly described how I feel when I make music. I am routinely surprised by what I hear when I’m done. Like it’s coming from someone else. I may set out to do one thing, but I almost always fly off on a tangent, which takes me in directions I never expected.
II: What do you two think is happening during the practice of improvisation? Do you think elements of your subconscious are coming forward? Some people say they experience energy outside of themselves coming through, like a channel for something else. What are your experiences?
ST: To me, playing from a sheet of music is like delivering a speech. It is formal, rigid, it commands a level of respect. Making up the music as I go is far more spontaneous and alive — casual, loose, exciting.
Most times, I improvise with myself. First I’m the drawing up some sort of sonic atmosphere, then I’m the bass player, the lead soloist, etc. I’m sure my subconscious plays a big part in this. And I have felt like I am channeling some form of energy. I certainly did on this album. Sometimes, sounds give me visions with the energy — with “Aquatic Sun,” there was a jungle and a temple on a cloud with ornate pillars. Seeing these settings quite vividly guided my musical choices on the song. I recall after a session thinking, “How did this stuff even happen?”
When discussing this, it is important to consider how we collaborated on this project. I don’t know about Daniel, but I believe that if we made music while being in the same room together, it would not have sounded like this. Had we improvised in a more traditional way, I probably would have been more influenced by the vibe in the room, playing with another musician, direct feedback through nonverbal communication — so many factors. Swapping audio files and writing messages to each other, a lot of that doesn’t exist. On one hand, I find it does improve my focus. On the other, it’s kind of lonely, haha.
DG: What is happening during improvisation is intriguing. Talking about the subconscious, I think about the mind as being individual only relatively and to an extent. According to spiritual views, the deeper the content that appears in consciousness, the more shared it is by everyone. Deep down it's universal, and in between there are all kinds of transpersonal stuff. I believe creativity and improvisation always involve connecting with something from that world, be it energy, ideas or influences. You let go of control and stop directing what is happening, then something beyond what you think you are takes control. From then on, something you hadn't planned comes through you, something that is probably even better than your original idea. So I suppose it's possible to talk about channeling something from the inner worlds, whatever we think these are. Also, I think quality of intention defines the quality of the energy you channel, so it's not necessarily a merely passive process, and this brings up many interesting questions.
I often feel this letting go of control as a natural part of improvisation. It's exciting and invigorating, and I forget my worries for a while and focus on freely flowing with music. I think this is because I'm connecting with something beyond my illusory and limiting identity. Of course improvisation involves some will to get somewhere too, and then a different phase comes when I work on the music in a more analytical way. But there is always this part of not knowing what I'm doing, and maybe that's the best part. I think artists are not the only creators of their music in a sense. They are collaborators, so to speak, with the soul or however we want to name it, so that some ideas and energies can be manifested.
By the way, I find it interesting that both Steve and I had some imaginal experiences involving ancient architecture like a temple or a portal in nature, before actually talking about it. Maybe we shared something more than words in our communication? Who knows, but I think distance doesn't limit consciousness, strange as it may sound.
II: Indeed, distance creates no barrier to consciousness. When I listened to the album I was very inspired by the visuals of ancient architecture and the image of a gateway. It seems that none of us discussed these things until after the creative process! I love that synchronicity.
Do you two plan to continue working together as Path of the Sun or is this perhaps a one-off collaboration?
DG: Yeah I would love to collaborate with Steve again. I don't know if it will be as Path of the Sun or under another form. At the moment we have not a plan to begin working on a follow-up within this project soon, but it could happen for sure. I have some ideas for a possible new collaboration, maybe shorter songs and a different way to combine our respective styles. I think the way this album happened was quite unpredictable, so who knows! In any case, we are very pleased with our work together and I think the right time will come sooner or later.
ST: I hope so, Daniel. I would love to work with you again, either on a different project or another Path of the Sun album. Seems like we have a seed for something new already. Shorter songs, new sounds and approaches — I’m excited about this already.
II: Wonderful, I look forward to hearing new work from the two of you whenever the time is right :)