Interview with Greg Dixon for the album « Cedar Forest »

GREG DIXON

Greg Dixon is an adjunct professor of music at Grayson College in Denison, TX, where he teaches audio engineering and music appreciation. His compositional research focuses on electronic music and interactive music systems for acoustic instruments, sensor technologies, and human interface devices.  He has worked for more than a dozen years as a professional sound engineer, which has greatly influenced his strategies for composing electronic music in the studio.  Greg’s electroacoustic compositions often make use of his own personal field recordings exploring a wide variety of source material, acoustic spaces, social and cultural artifacts, and transduction methodologies. Greg also works as a composer of commercial music, freelance sound engineer, instrumental music teacher, and performer, appearing frequently as a laptop musician, guitarist, violinist, and violist. He holds a Ph.D. in composition with a specialization in computer music from the University of North Texas, where he worked as a composition teaching fellow, recording engineer, and technical assistant for CEMI.  His composition instructors include Jon Christopher Nelson, Cindy McTee, Andrew May, David Bithell, Michael Pounds, Jody Nagel, Keith Kothman, and Cleve Scott.

-what or who are you influenced by?

I am influenced by music technology, the sounds of the natural world, the sounds of humanity, and literature. Some composers that have influenced my compositional style include John Cage, Henry Cowell, John Luther Adams, Béla Bartók, György Ligeti, and Luc Ferrari. I also pay close attention to almost all genres and forms of popular music. I grew up in Indiana and during the mid-1990’s I was involved in the Midwest punk/ hardcore music scene as a teenager. I still am deeply involved in the DIY/ punk/ underground music scene today in my community in Denton. Not unlike many composers, playing in rock bands was how I got my start composing. Experimental popular artists that I admire and am influenced by include Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band, Frank Zappa, The Residents, Brian Eno, Can, Cheer-Accident, Guided by Voices, and Royal Trux (just to name a few). I am also influenced by rap and hip-hop producers, especially J Dilla.

-To me, your music is really alive, chaotic and organic, it grows like nature. Can you talk about the form and structure of your work?

Many of my electroacoustic works are written in through-composed forms and many of them also employ mobile forms, algorithmically generated forms, or forms containing sections with improvisation. My forms I think often naturally arise from the nature of the sounds hemselves. My source materials tend to be come from the aesthetics of musique concréte or soundscape compositions. I usually record all of the source material myself; rarely using other people’s recordings. When electronic synthesis or digital processes are used in my music it often mimics the behaviors of the natural world, or augments or distorts the sounds of the natural world. I try to concern myself with the visceral nature of the sound itself, its symbolic potential, as well as affect that it has upon a listener rather than the technical process that makes the sound possible. However, a few of my older works are process-driven. I am not usually composing with a kind of aesthetic where the sounds are removed from their meaning. I actually want to compose with sounds that can be loaded with meanings and are potentially familiar to an audience. For me, this allows me to create a surreal style. Surreal works of art are impossible to create if you abandon all references to real life and our everyday experiences.

 -Your album is seeped in references to America and American culture. I think it could almost pass as a piece of “Americana”. To what extent is this a conscious artistic stance on your part?

Also, what role does collage play in your work?

 I am glad that you hear an American sound from listening to my music. I do not try to force it into my music and I’ve never really thought of my music before as being especially referential to America. But, I think you’re correct and thank you for making me more aware of this quality of my music. I think that in particular Fractures, Disconnect, and Diskonacht reference American culture. Some of it is conscious on my part and I try to keep it fairly subtle. Most of it I believe is subconscious or simply a result of being American. I believe the references to America are a byproduct of sound samples loaded with culture, symbolism, and meanings. I am very inspired by Luc Ferrari and his approach to recording crowds of people, and intimate conversations between people. Recordings like that are loaded with a sense of community and setting, and I enjoy including those qualities into my music as well. So, in that sense this music has American culture written all over it, but there are other types of symbolism and meanings contained within the sounds and their relationships that I think go beyond just that. Disconnect was written in a short period of time, approximately one week, at the Orford Sound Workshop in Orford, Québec. It was a particularly inspiring time; for the first time in my life I was able to completely lose myself for days in experimental and electronic music. But, at the same time it was a particularly difficult; in my absence my family was having some unfortunate problems. This left me quite anxious, paranoid, worried, and homesick. I think that feeling of homesickness/ nostalgia is probably why there is such an American sentiment to that piece and of course Disconnect leads directly to the companion work, Diskonacht, which is stylistically similar. Fractures references American music quite differently, in that it appropriates ideas from a wide range of American composers including George Gershwin, Wendy Carlos, Ruth White, and William O. Smith. The music of the Canadian composer, Mort Garson, plays a significant role in Fractures and the work goes as for to re-create a small portion of his composition “Exorcism” from the record Black Mass: Lucifer. I am obsessed with pop synthesizer records from the 60’s and 70’s and America has a rich history with those records and I think that distinctly relates to the “Americana” sound you might be hearing. Collage is a very important idea that I often apply in my music and some of my works could be consider sound collages. John Cage’s Williams Mix had a big impact on me and I began making computer algorithms to create unpredictable and random collages of digital sound starting around 2004. The possibility of juxtaposing musical time and space through sound collage is very attractive to me. I often use an intuitive and stylized approach to making sound collages. These collages are generally made up of seemingly disparate sounds that I’ve recorded (collected) at various points from my life. I keep an immense collection of sound recordings that continuously grows. When I make a new sound collage I have to be somewhat selective about what I use and the context with which the samples are placed. Sometimes when I’m listening to recordings I’ve made, I’ll find a little nugget of sound I find intriguing which I’ll edit and save to my hard disk, dubbed the Sonic Journal. I continually collect these little found bits and pieces so that maybe one day they might find their place in one of my collages. I am intrigued by sonic glitches and unexpected transitions. My work in sound collage naturally led to my interest in sonic mosaicing or concatenative sound synthesis. In this collection, Fractures probably employs the greatest amount of concatenative sound synthesis techniques. There is still so much to be done in the field of sonic mosaicing/ concatenative synthesis especially with regard to compositional techniques, and I look forward to hearing these new possibilities.

-How would you describe the musical scene in Denton?

 The music scene in Denton is incredibly active and there are many bands and songwriters that perform in this area playing in all kinds of styles of music. UNT’s composition program hosts concerts at the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia (CEMI), which is one of the primary centers for experimental electroacoustic music and new media in Denton (and where I worked when I studied at UNT as a doctoral student.) There are also quite a few noise musicians working in this area and many of these musicians interact and play concerts with students attending experimental music classes at UNT. In addition, the University of North Texas has a very large music school that produces hundreds of concerts every year and also includes a strong jazz department. Consequently, you can hear many jazz and classical music concerts at UNT and out and around the town. There are a handful of bars and venues in town that host live music, which can be found practically every night of the week. In addition, Denton has consistently had places where locals host house shows. Denton is nearby larger cities like Dallas and Fort Worth so Denton’s artists frequently cross-pollinate with artists from those communities and surrounding areas. Denton also is just a few hours drive from Austin and Houston, so many artists play in Denton from those locations and vice versa. Texas has many folk, bluegrass, and country musicians and these genres are especially popular. There are hundreds of rock bands from Denton, which is impressive for such a small college town. The 35 Denton Music Festival is fairly young music festival that features mostly indie artists (many of them local) as well as several major label artists. Denton also hosts both a Jazz and Blues Music Festival.

-Could you please tell us about your upcoming projects?

 I’m starting to write two new pieces of interactive music. The first one is a piece for viola and electronics that I will perform and the second is a piece for pedal steel and electronics that I’m writing for a friend of mine, Burton Lee. I write and record my own experimental popular music under the pseudonym, quixod, along with guest musicians. Quixod started as an outlet for my popular compositions, but now the music often crosses over into “art music” territory. At this point, some quixod albums like Dust Mosaic have music in them that would be difficult to discern between the compositions I release under my own name. Soon I will be completing a full-length quixod album called Not Far From the Truth. The album mostly consists of remakes of older quixod songs that have been re-recorded. Some of the tracks feature a live quixod band that I formed fairly recently. The album also includes some new songs and a quixod remix that is kind of like a sound collage of older quixod recordings. I have been sporadically working on Not Far From the Truth for over two years and hope to have it out soon! I also play electric guitar and violin in a heavy, dark, dissonant, and progressive rock band called Vaults of Zin and I am currently in the process of performing, recording, and mixing several songs and compositions with them.

 – 2 of your favourite composers and 2 of your least favourite ones?

 It’s too difficult for me to pick any two! J.S. Bach would probably be my desert island composer. I don’t want to name any names, but there are definitely some pieces out there that make me cringe. Pieces that make me angry are actually good in a way, because at least they made me feel something! I like to think about why works of art or music irritate me. The worst music doesn’t make me feel anything at all.

-What is your secret weapon?

It’s a product of many things! An arsenal: my family, my friends, my mentors, my studio and recording equipment, my ears, my memories, my imagination, and my intuition.

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