Dave Seidel's work is akin to the slowly-evolving drone-based tradition of the likes of Elaine Radigue and La Monte Young, but remains distinctly and uniquely his own. He has been writing and recording his own electronic pieces in this style since 2004, often under the moniker Mysterybear. I spoke with Dave in February over the phone in a sort of "loose interview" format, and based my interview below on the themes covered, so in a way, this is a more formal version of the more casual conversation we had on the phone. -Aaron Krister Johnson
UnTwelve: It seems your creations have a few key themes: austerity/severity (the use of electronically pure sine waves), rational frequency relationships (i.e. Just Intonation), acoustical beating...and as we discovered in our previous phone conversation, we both have a shared cultural reference to the concept of 'objective music' via Gurdjieff/Ouspensky, which was fun to discover. Is this accurate? Can you talk a little bit about this? Specifically, assuming the accuracy of these observations, I was interested in your creative process: how you come about exploring variations on these central "themes".
Dave Seidel: It's true that in my computer-based music, I like to work with a certainly level of austerity or simplicity, though I don't use only sine waves, except in some pieces. (I also use other waveforms, sometimes ones that I build with a certain harmonic structure, such as using a subset of prime or Fibonacci numbered harmonics.) I'm fascinated by sound phenomena like beating, binaural or otherwise. Rational intervals have a quality unlike anything else. I think of most of my work in this vein as minimalist in La Monte Young's sense of "that which is created with a minimum of means." A lot of complexity can emerge from a simple set of ingredients. The idea of an objective music is interesting, whether or not it truly exists. One way of looking at it is to think in terms of psychoacoustics. As biological entities, humans have a certain set of perceptual and processing capabilities relating to sound. To the degree that a certain timbre or pitch or chord might evoke a reaction that is shared by many or most people in a way that doesn't depend on cultural context, we might consider that to be objective. It's not what I'm always thinking about, but it's often there in the back of my head.
UnTwelve: You mention the inspiration mathematics has for you. Say more.
Dave Seidel: I'm bad at math, but I love numbers, which seem to exist in their own perfect Platonic forms. But since they appear in our brains as well, they're an infinite source of ideas. I get excited by prime numbers, number series, and the patterns that emerge from mathematical formulas. I may not really understand math in a deep way, but that doesn't matter if a a mathematical construct starts a thought process that generates ideas.
UnTwelve: To what degree do you notate your pieces? What counts as a "score" for your works, if any? Where on the gamut of improvised to fixed do your works fall?
Dave Seidel: My computer pieces are not improvised. Most of them are not performed, but are generated from code (usually Csound, some of which might be generated by Python), so in this case the code is the score. For pieces that are performed using MIDI or OSC to control events in realtime, there is some flexibility in terms of overall pacing and timing, and for these pieces I sometimes make myself some kind of a graphic score indicating relative durations on a grid as a performance aid. In the process of writing a piece, I might have a few pages of notes where I'm looking at different sets of pitch ratios or sketch out a structure.
UnTwelve: Are your temporal relationships as "rational" as the pitch relationships? Are they intuitive? Highly structured? Both? You also mentioned "proportional time" being used when we talked on the phone.
Dave Seidel: I think of most of my pieces like objects that exist in space, like a sculpture. I don't really think of them as linear but as existing all-at-once. So the shape as a whole is important, and the sizes of all the parts relative to one another, but I usually think of the overall duration as scalable. For example, the piece Prism, Mirror, Lens consists of a series of dyads, each of which blooms into a big chord or cluster. The lengths of all of the chordal events are the same in any rendition of the piece, but the length of each one might range from about 1.5 minutes to about 4 minutes, depending on how much time I have to play in, and how patient I am in allowing the sounds to take amount of time it seems to need.
UnTwelve: I think you should do Robert Rich style sleep concerts!
Dave Seidel: I would love to do a sleep concert!
UnTwelve: Is any of your work more traditionally inclined, in the sense that it incorporates rhythmic, melodic, and/or harmonic aspects akin to traditional varieties of music? Do you see that in your future at all, or are you content exploring the restricted "minimal space" you are typically exploring now? As an example, we brought up drums and percussion -- would you ever consider their use?
Dave Seidel: I do some more traditional work from time to time, but it's pretty rare. I love many kinds of music, and as a musician I can play a few different kinds of music, but as a composer my ideas mostly come from somewhere else. In this context, I'm interested in percussion, and rhythm in general, as a sound world, but not necessarily in terms of any perceptible meter or tempo; I'm more likely to think in terms of fields of particles and continuously changing tempi.
UnTwelve: It seems like granular synthesis would be of interest to you and would be a good logical extension to your current explorations. Where are you with that? I know you have some familiarity with it...
Dave Seidel: I haven't done much with granular synthesis yet, but I plan to. I have some pieces, for example Herald of Water/Herald of Air from my Elementals release on Stasisfield, that consist a kind of cloud of musical particles, but so I haven't done this using granular techniques yet.
UnTwelve: Speaking of synthesis, say something about your typical software and hardware. I know you use Csound and blue, the csound front-end, and you have some hardware with knobs for live twiddling and twaddling.
Dave Seidel: For my computer music, I use Csound, generally with blue or CsoundQT as a compositional front end. Both are capable of being used for performance as well, but personally I don't like to manipulate a mouse or a keyboard (computer or musical) when performing. So I've mostly used the computer to generate composed, fixed-media pieces and also perform mostly-improvised pieces using mostly analog hardware such as Moogerfoogers and other boxes. But I'm starting to figure out how to combine these worlds in a way that's satisfying to me. For Prism, Mirror, Lens, I play a SHNTH (which is a self-contained digital instrument) though realtime Csound processing. Csound is running on the laptop. but I'm using a Arduino-based device called a rePatcher to control Csound, so I don't have to touch the computer once the piece starts. The rePatcher has a six knobs and six patchbays that can be mapped to whatever you like. I use a little Processing program (written by J. Siemasko, who makes music as Schemawound) that translates the rePatcher output into OSC, and I read the OSC messages in Csound. I really like the rePatcher+Csound combination, which feels like I'm actually playing something. A knob is always better than a mouse, as far I'm concerned. I also have a CV-to-MIDI converter that I plan to use to connect Csound with hardware devices.
UnTwelve: Does your interest in rational pitch relationships ever lead you to explore *irrational* ones? How do you go about picking a pitch gamut or set?
Dave Seidel: I have a special interest in rational intervals, but I think it's all grist for the mill. In ~60 Hz, which is all sine waves, there's a section where I include an interval based on the golden ratio, 1.618:1, because I like the "flavor" it lends to a harmonic structure that is otherwise rational.