Griffin, Matt

Matt Griffin
US artist

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biography

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Interview: 10 questions

1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?
I started writing music when I was quite young – maybe 10 or 11 years old – in the most rudimentary way I can imagine: words on a page, melodies in my head. At that point in my life, I’d stopped playing piano, and hadn’t yet started guitar and trombone, both of which I picked up the next year. Unsurprisingly, the guitar was my main instrument for writing throughout my teenage years, but still most of the music remained unnotated. I began music school after I quit math school, and soon after began using computers and electronics as mediators in the compositional process (while remaining to notate instrumental music). You could probably argue that not a lot has fundamentally changed over the years, that I’m still trying to recreate certain sounds/melodies/textures/whatever that are in my head, using whatever instruments or mediators are available to me, and, incidentally, I think I’m failing in the same ways I have been since the beginning.

2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.
As I said, my musical education has ranged from the instrumental (piano and trombone) to the theoretical, to the technical (perhaps we’ll again mention math school, particularly as it relates to the physics of sound). Also, as I mentioned, what I’ve found is that my education hasn’t ever fundamentally changed my approach, but rather given me new techniques and avenues to explore what I think I’ve been interested in all along.

3.Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?
As of this moment, technically music isn’t my profession, as I’m finishing up my graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but hopefully this degree, achieved through my musical pursuits, will allow me to both teach in the future and keep my practice as well.

4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?
I usually have some idea or framework going into a composition. I’ve found over the years that I’m very bad at just messing around. Which isn’t to say that my ideas are often successful – quite the opposite, and in fact, the final compositions tend to be derived from these failures. It’s happened so often and to such an extent that it’s not so surprising, but I also can’t work counting on them, which I’ve discovered is pretty much equivalent to just messing around.

5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?
I rarely synthesize. Most of the material I work with at some point began as an acoustic instrument, probably played and recorded by me (limiting the range of instruments to brass, pianos, guitars, voices, etc.). However, my working method, to my mind, has become more painterly as of late, which is to say that I’ve often gone back to finished files and found little snippets I like, and use those as source material for new work, obscuring the sources far beyond recognizability in most cases. This is fine with me, as I have very little interest in being fancy, or showing off what I can do with the processing of sounds.

6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?
New Media is such a nebulous term that it’s quite tricky to say what it means to me. I’m certainly not against the term. I suppose you could say I’ve done work in New Media, but I probably wouldn’t be the one to say that.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?
I don’t really want to worry about having to finance big projects, so I do my best to make music without much cost associated with it. Then I also have the freedom to give it away (or as near as possible) without worrying about losing money. For me, I just enjoy the work, and producing new work. I’ve worked a few times on projects that are larger and have some significant amount of money involved (usually films), but I do my best to avoid getting caught up in that aspect of those projects. If I could keep making work at a reasonably fast pace and break even (assuming I have some other source of income…) with my practice, I’d be incredibly happy.

8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative? If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
I collaborate quite a bit – with film, as I mentioned, but also with dance, video, theatre, performance… I really am motivated by the collaborative experience, but they are quite unique to disciplines, so it’s tough to generalize. Filmmaker’s, for example, tend to be quite focused on the final product, and are thus more likely to dismiss work. You need a thicker skin, I think, to work in film. But certain other disciplines, like dance, tend to move more in parallel, and as a consequence there’s more freedom to create (which also means there’s more responsibility to self-edit). With that said, rarely do I work in the studio “creatively” (as dangerous a word as that is, I just mean it as opposed to something technical, like doing a sound mix of a film) with anyone else present. I don’t enjoy having to make decisions like that when anyone else is around – I prefer to come to some end point, and then present to a collaborator.

9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?
Assuming this question is asking about me specifically, I’d say “yes, of course. But I find with me, the influences are somewhat removed from the genres I tend to work in. For example, my work tends to owe a lot to Christian Fennesz, but I think that’s mostly because we both work with the guitar a lot, and our pieces generally move at similar tempi. And sometimes I’ll finish a piece and then be listening to something and think that I’ve ripped them off (this happened recently with a Kieth Fullerton Whitman piece that I hadn’t listened to in years.). But, in truth, I don’t spend all that much of my time listening to the people that one would assume have influenced me the most (but of course I do admire their work tremendously.). No, I find instead that I take very small influences from many sources, and then it’s much easier to sneak them in unnoticed. Plus I think it’s healthy as a creator in general to be listening a) lots, all the time and b) to a wide variety of work, and for me specifically to things that don’t sound like me. Maybe I’m afraid of sounding like I’m ripping people off, or maybe I’m afraid of reinforcing too strongly that what I’m doing is good and acceptable.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?

As I said above, pretty soon I’ll be leaving the academic environment (but hopefully re-entering as an educator soon after), and it would be nice to continue to work quickly, I think. That’s most important. In that respect, I really look up to Woody Allen.

More of my work can be heard at maxalexander.net and maxalexander.net/lions
More of my work can be seen at youtube.com/maxalexander