2015 photo by Johan Bergmark
Speaking of musical abundance
Interview by J. Vognsen
Music - like air - is all around us and we don't have to pay. All we have to do is turn on our gadgets, click and listen. What's not to like about that?
Well, for one thing, the fact that all of this is free means that the people actually making the music often find it hard getting paid. But abundance also creates problems of its own for the people doing the listening. How do you choose what to spend your time on? How do you make it mean anything? It's this second line of problems I'd like to focus on here. What does the current musical environment mean for our listening?
To approach the question, I wanted to reach out to a serious, long-term music collector. Someone used to handling very large amounts of music, physically and listening-wise. I wanted to learn from their practical experience. The first person that came to mind was saxophonist and self-declared discaholic Mats Gustafsson.
Since the late 1980s, Mats Gustafsson has been active in the worlds of free jazz, noise and rock and everything in between, above, below, around and beyond. Citing Little Richard's horn sections as a key early influence, Gustaffson's music has grown to a wild sprawling landscape held together by an unfailing dedication to intensity and exploration.
If, as Dolly Parton sings, you are known by the company you keep, Gustafsson need not worry. His impressive, ever-growing list of collaborators reveal an artist at the centre of contemporary music. In addition to his work in long-standing groups like Gush (with Sten Sandell and Raymond Strid), The Thing (with Paal Nilssen-Love and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten) and Fire! (with Johan Berthling and Andreas Werlin), Gustafsson has also recorded and performed with Paul Lovens, The Ex, Neneh Cherry, Barry Guy, Zu, Sonic Youth, Four Tet, Derek Bailey, Dålek, Ken Vandermark, Radian, Hamid Drake, Otomo Yoshihide, Merzbow, Hans Joachim Irmler, Jim O'Rourke and many others.
For more on Mats Gustafsson, visit his personal website at http://www.matsgus.com as well as his Discaholic Corner dedicated to record collecting at http://www.matsgus.com/discaholic_corner/
Mats Gustafsson answered questions by email from October 2020 to August 2021.
Thanks to Martin Escalante, Michael Mørkholt and Chris Cutler for comments and ideas.
PSF: We find ourselves living in an age where staggering amounts of music are easily available to anyone with an internet connection. Pretty much anything can be listened to at once directly online. And the internet also makes it easier than ever to track down physical releases from all around the earth. How did you experience the unfolding of these developments? How different is the situation now from when you first became seriously interested in music?
MG: The change is here. It all changed with the internet. For the better? For the worse?
The Internet is a great tool for finding information (if you read critically ALL the time) quickly. It is a great tool for finding all kinds of music (if you learn how to navigate, critically). One click away from the... "truth"...
Seriously... I see a lot of advantages. BUT, there are also a lot of factors that make me pretty sick of it all. Since it is taking the most important thing away from us: the EXPERIENCE of the music!
The speed of getting access to knowledge might not be that important in my perspective. I have to point out that it is GOOD when things take time. To reach a deeper understandance and an emotional and intellectual connection to what we are listening to. Music, art and life should be like that. It should take time. We will never be finished with "it.".. anyway. Life is not about perfection. It is about RESEARCH!
No deeper knowledge is reached, by clicking once... I am looking for deeper knowledge and content. In music, art and poetry that can change the way we look at life and related matters.
Good things take time. I truly believe so. And all tools are good as long as you are aware of what you are doing and WHY. I use the internet as one tool, of many. To find information about specific artists and music. I find YouTube quite useful for this. I will never use Spotify, since that is the biggest rip off ever...
The copyright money that arrives from the various digital platforms on the internet is a joke...iTunes, You Tube, Spotify, Facebook and others... Phhheuuww. And very few musicians and artists are even reacting to this any longer. This is beyond bad. We need to change this. And take matters in our hands and ears.
But, yes, I confess... In order to do quick research on a specific artist or group, I tend to use YouTube, since I can also see the artist and the instruments at hand etc. But only as a first guidance. Second step is of course always to try to find properly released music to listen to and to see and hear the artist live.
We need to be WAY more critical about what is going on right now. Not just because of losing money to the "Industry," but also because we risk losing the real emotional, spiritual and intellectual connection to the music. Sometimes... I miss the "old" times, when you walked or went on your skis to your local record shop and ordered a record, waited 3- 4 weeks and during that time, longed for the album... And finally getting it, bringing it home and listen to it. Great joy!! And a reason to celebrate (do we ever celebrate a digital download or a stream?).
Of course, I buy some records on eBay and Discogs, primarily. To wait and long for those objects during these Covid-times is kind of interesting/frustrating/fun, since it can take anything between a week and 4 months to get a record delivered to your home. Very unpredictable...
But nothing compares to going on a vinyl hunt with your best discaholic buddies. Preparation and execution. And HOW you approach a real shop... how you prioritize the various crates or/ and walls. Very intricate (and of high importance). Something you learn over looooong time. I love the feeling of entering a shop where you have never been before - and try to make the proper priorities of where to start digging. Or to return to a really good shop after some years, knowing that there will be gold in there. Nothing beats this feeling of anticipation.
To go hunting in Tokyo is a wet dream. So many great shops and so many knowledgeable people working in the shops. The process of finding the music. And the surprise of finding something different, and equally great.
So, it is really the matter on HOW you use the tools available and WHY you do it. And we have to remember that not all music is available on the net. When it comes to experimental music, there are shitloads still only on cassette, vinyl and tape, or in memory...
PSF: How much music do you generally listen to nowadays and when do you listen to it? Do you set time aside specifically for listening or do you do your daily chores at the same time? Are there activities that you find go particularly well with listening to music?
MG: I listen to music all the time. While cooking, while driving, while working and I make sure to have a moment every day when I sit down and listen to music in a focused and concentrated way. I really try to make that every day - it gives me such an energy buzz and intellectual/emotional stimulation and it is like an act of meditation for me. My audio yoga sessions... I really need that moment of relaxation and refeeding/recharging the system.
I LOVE the act of listening at home. I am privileged to have a separate room for my record archive, where my sound system is installed. Very few things give me such pleasure as the process of planning what to listen to each day (and DOING it!). The process of picking the vinyl and the procedure of taking down the album from the shelf, putting the vinyl on the turntable (either my normal turntable or my designated mono turntable). And either do office work or sit down in my favorite listening chair, perfectly positioned in the correct degree and angle with my electrostatic speakers and just BLAST IT! Surrounded by all my vinyl... I can only smile.
I NEED to hear music. And again. And again. For my well-being. For my sanity.
But also, for inspiration. In order to make new music. To take elements, from wherever I find it... and put it all together in a new way and give it new functions and meanings. To borrow new perspectives, parameters and more. It is ALL in the vinyl collection. You just need to go and look for it and be open enough to realize it when it happens. When the music hits you.
I love to sit down and listen in a focused way. To details. To energies. Quite often I do it in the company of some good and creative books/texts. That is continuous research. And various music makes the text(s) change as well... It is a nice process of sharing. Lots of poetry is used at my listening sessions. But it is also extremely rewarding just to listen. And listen carefully. Or get blown away. Or take a quick dance with the bass saxophone if something really bad hits the fan!
The process of listening is an important one. The active process of listening. And to listen to music together with other people is a bliss. To share thoughts and ideas - and to go along with the chain of associations. I love that. Something in the music hits you...and you get an idea of where to move next. And next. And next. It never ends... Or it is at least very hard to break that chain (and we should not...).
I was fortunate to be able to do a lot of active listening sessions together with my best friend Edward Jarvis and our mentor Harald Hult (who passed away in May 2018) of Blue Tower Records and Andra Jazz-fame. We met on a regular basis - sometimes once a week - and played records for each other as a blindfold session with set up rules for the proceedings and all. Main thing was always to be able to argue WHY you thought the music was good or bad. Some very interesting discussions could spring from that. Many, many times, I have changed my preconceptions. Sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the good of the music (or the specific artist). Secondary is to actually guess who is playing and on what record etc. But the discussions could sometimes take hours, so we always had to reschedule new listening sessions. That was my university. 100%. I learned HOW to listen and WHY I did it. I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to learn such things in such a great company. Sometimes, I think it is as important WHO you listen together with as it is to decide who you actually play with.
And for my music it is really a HUGE inspiration. To borrow elements, techniques, colors, energies or other parameters and turn it all into your own music. This is KEY to me.
During the Covid time, I have listened to a huge numbers of records at home. 90% on vinyl and the rest on CD's or cassettes. Digital I don't care much about- NO vibe. NO energy. But I do have a USB stick in the car that I am using every day. Music comes on in the car, always before the car start rolling. Listening in the car is actually great. Especially on longer journeys where you can really listen in a very focused way, but you need to be a bit careful and not listen to music where you get too carried away emotionally... risking the lives of other drivers around you. The Covid-pause made me listen a lot in my archive room. Every day. And usually different themes and links of associations. Listening a lot alone, of course - but enjoying every second of it. I would go insane without the possibility of an active listening session at home. Especially in these times, where touring is really not possible any longer.
PSF: How much of your listening is dedicated to re-listening to familiar music and how much time do you spend exploring unknown music? What are some examples of music that you keep returning to and what is it that makes the repeated listens rewarding?
MG: It will always be a balance between the two. I love coming back to music, simple because it KICKS MY ASS... and makes me feel good and puts me in good spirits. It is very much up to in what mood I am, what music I will choose every day.
But, for sure, certain music I will ALWAYS go back to. A lot of music I was listening to years ago, keep getting back at me: Miles's 70s stuff, Keith Jarrett's US quartet and his Scandinavian unit as well, Abdullah Ibrahim, early Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ornette on all levels make me feel GREAT! And if I wanna fly in the sky... I just put on some late Trane, Ayler, Frank Wright, Takagi or early Brötzmann.
I have a pretty large collection of vinyl records... getting close to 3 ton now. And there are a lot of jazz stuff in there that I keep continuously getting back to. The classics. The really cool stuff with Hank Mobley, Monk, Gullin, Jackie McLean, Morgan, Chaloff, Mingus, Konitz, Marsh and more... and of course: KIRK!! Almost every day there is a reason to play Rahsaan! Early Sun Ra's... makes me smile and dance!!!
And I keep on coming back to a lot of rock stuff, the Cramps, Sonics, Stooges and of course my big hero: Richard Wayne Penniman. Some very intense concrete poetry, early electronic music and other experiments keep getting back to me. Åke Hodell, Pierre Henry and more. I need those to be able to breathe.
But, I am constantly doing research. I am looking for new stuff all the time. Sometimes, you forget what is really in the archive and sometimes it surprises me what I can find. Especially within Ethnic music! A never-ending source of inspiration. To go into the deeper levels of world music. The real music.
So, not so much research on the net for me. Since it is usually without the necessary vibe/initial kick. So, most research is through friends and colleagues and in real shops. It HAS to be that way. You trust your instincts and your discaholic friends to advise you and put you in the correct and creative directions. It is all about sharing. And there are a LOT to share.
Repeated listening makes us go deeper. Deeper into the materials. It is not just the mechanics of the "enjoyment of recognition" of the music that counts. That can be a dangerous way. And a path without reflection. I want to try to really understand what is going on. I want to understand why this particular music came to that specific point and how. And when. To learn something from the music.
Listening actively to music will always be a mix of two listening techniques and mechanics:
The two do not necessarily have to be in opposition to each other. One technique might help the other. But very often when I am in the number 2 state of mind... the music makes a transition into number 1. And I am "lost." With a smile.
- The emotional/spiritual listening - the music that grabs you by the heart and soul. No analysis necessary. Just go with the flow. Going into the zone of mind and soul-alternations.
- The intellectual listening - how to understand the music in a social, historical, cultural, political and musical-scientific way.
It is important that you let the music decide which listening situation/technique you should go. When I listen to most recordings of Albert Ayler, I find it very, very difficult to remain in the number 2 state of mind... It always brings me into an emotional listening (number 1.) situation. And it is impossible to switch back to number 2. Every time.
When I work in my office - where I have my sound system and my archive installed - I often choose to listen to music I recognize, since choosing new music puts me off track with what I am working on, ha ha!!! I listen all day long. I need it. Both to revisit the old favs and to explore new territories. It gives me such PLEASURE! Both inspiration and information. Both are a necessity for the development of your music (and life) - the record collection (as well as a library of books) is an amazing source to go to and means ALL, in order to move on and make new music from old ideas. Old Bottles. New Wine. New Bottles. Old Wine.
I can't wait for tomorrow. What music will be spinning on the turntable and how will it affect my day? Revisit? Explore? Let's see...
PSF: Any serious music fan is faced with the problem that there is much more interesting music available than it's possible to actually listen to. One will inevitably have to choose between listening widely or deeply when approaching a certain topic, artist or genre, and between what to engage at all. I guess one way of framing the problem is: How do you choose what not to listen to?
Have you set up any kind of limits on what you will listen to? Are there areas of music that appeal to you, but that you have still decided not explore much, because it will take time away from focusing elsewhere? How did you make those choices?
MG: It is in a way quite intuitive. But, I have to point out - for me personally - it is a matter of survival. I feel sick, physically, listening to some types of music. Like an allergic reaction of sorts. Cold sweat pouring out when the radio is tuned in incorrectly...
Of course, there are genres where I find very little interest in. Like techno and house related music, traditional schlager and such. But unfortunately for me - with the time I have at hand - my interest lies in very many different directions. And the time is never enough to check it all out. It tends to be a lot of "periodical"-listening. I go deep into certain things for a period usually. And then I move on. Whatever kicks my mind and ass puts me in a new direction - and I can always go back to the "first" direction at any time I want and choose. It is amazing what you can find in each genre actually. There is so much GREAT metal and HC music, classical music, electronic music, ska, latin etc. etc. - in a never-ending flood of events.
I tend to have some genres that appeal more to me than others, but I can never keep my ears and mind totally away from things. I think one should never set up limits (only perhaps, when they actually make you feel physically sick...). Who knows, perhaps one day I will find some really ass kicking house music??? What seems unlikely today, could be the norm tomorrow. The main key is always curiosity! If I lose that... I am done for. And I can focus on something else than music...
It feels like I can really find interesting bits and parts in any kind of music. Bits and pieces that I can bring into my own language and expressions and use later in musical situations. That is the beauty and the mechanics, the way I see it. You listen, you do re-search, you learn how to control the sounds and techniques you hear and you make them your own. You put all of it into your own music.
Muzak - I fuckin HATE. The reason for it to exist, the smell of it and how it sounds. Music is not intended as a background. I get easily provoked by that behavior of listening. And I feel physically ill (again...).
As serious as your life... ( great book by Val Vilmer)
The one field I REALLY like to go deeper into- every day - is Ethnic music. This is the richest source. And it is original. It has depth. It has a spirituality to it. And it is about history. Deep history. It is an amazing journey to dive into different cultures. For example, take the parameters of different tunings!!! How we - in the west - have forgotten how to actually tune our instrument correctly, in the way that the older instruments were intended to be tuned in. When I start to scratch that surface, I can never stop. It is endless what you can find. And I get constantly surprised or shocked by what I find. And it is all there. It is ALL up for grabs!
I love the fact that different genres work differently, depending on when you listen to it and in what mood/space you are in. Extreme noise music can be absolutely wonderful to wake up to - or listen to before going to sleep. As well as it can be totally enjoyable to listen to some really smooth cool jazz from the '50's in the same way. It all depends on... the mood, the situation and where we all are "at."
So, yeah... so far, I choose to stay away from some genres... Like schlager, electronic dance music, muzak and such... I just don't get it... and it all gives me allergic reactions (for real!). But, I tryyyyy to stay open. Main problem will always be, there is not enough time to listen!!!
PSF: I'd like to follow up on your comments about the importance of curiosity. It seems to me that with musical abundance can also come a risk of a certain laziness in listening. Curiosity might become a bit less natural if one is not chronically bored with the options at hand. Does curiosity always come easy to you?
Have you found good ways of challenging your taste, making sure it keeps developing? Do you have things you will always listen to no-matter what, just to force your habits? For example, new releases from certain artists or labels, things recommended to you by certain friends, things given to you by fans, things that have received particularly bad reviews by disliked reviewers, etc.? Do you ever force yourself to listen to things that initially do not look promising?
MG: Oh YES! Totally - curiosity is ALL. And this quality IS something you need to feed. People are different. And some people are happy with things as they are. Keep on listening to the same 3 Miles Davis' records over and over. While others jump from one thing to the other, without even considering what they are doing and WHY. We are living in a time where the "truth" is only one online-click away at all times, 24 h. And it is quite easy to get blinded by that. I need to really sit down and listen in a focused way. When I choose to really sit down and listen... I do LISTEN! And the music will change the time and everything around me, depending on what the content is. I need to find a balance every day - of listening to: old favorites that kicks my ass constantly and new finds and experiences that might change the way I hear and see the world around me. But you need to stay curious and want to have that new sensation. And it is really worth all the work. There is just an amazing complexity to find out there... so much music to explore. And never enough time.
It is a complex thing... Some records I do get back to after years of neglecting them... And finding that they are absolutely fantastic - or that they suck, big time. Trimming my garden. All the time - constantly. Some artists and labels will always be there for me. Something I can lean onto. Music I need to stay sane. Music I need for inspiration. Music I need for living a life.
There is a definite risk with online listening. When you stay only seconds at one thing and "make up your mind" about what is good and bad. You need to learn how to use all that information. It might be a great tool. But in most cases... not.
That is why I prefer analogue listening. Listening to physical records. WHOLE ALBUMS! They are made as an album, with sequence and all - because of a REASON!!!
It is of a huge importance to me to explore further and further... And making sure that my ears are open. They do change. For sure. Our minds change. Our listening behavior changes. We change. We need to be aware of that. It IS a quality!
Many types of music I have avoided for a long time. I just couldn't stand it at the time. But I had to completely change my mind, when I gave it a new chance. And another new chance. Keep on feeding it. You need to challenge yourself. All the time. Never take anything for granted. I couldn't stand Brazilian music at first. When I was around 20-25, I automatically rejected ALL Brazilian, Cuban and Latin music. I just couldn't stand it. I can still remember HOW I felt back then. I got allergic reactions listening to Neil Young and Johnny Cash as a 20-year-old... And this shit is something that I listen to all the time nowadays. For sure! I cannot get enough of it now. It gives me the creeps, to think about my initial reactions.
I can't get enough of all the great Tropicalia, Cumbia and Latin music around me. Gal Costa and Gaetano Veloso have made some of the most beautiful music ever created. And Joao Gilberto, Os Mutantes, Joyce, Gilberto Gil... and of course Tom Ze!! Amazing listening's! Life changing.
Some things never change... Albert Ayler and Derek Bailey for instance... That is for me... everything! Has always been.
But, we need to take care ---- and keep on trimming our gardens. And we need to stay open for changes. In our listening behaviors. In what we collect. In the music we do. in life. Curiosity is ALL. When I stop being curious. I will stay home. No more playing. And curiosity reconciles a lot of other matters. Curiosity towards music, leads to curiosity towards art. And life. Towards other people. It is all connected. Will always be.
It is a GREAT journey toward new kicks and inspirations. I am totally a curiosity and new-sensation- junkie.
Of very high importance to me is the advice I get from my closest friends and colleagues. They all seem to have a great capability of finding the most interesting and creative music there is. This level of SHARING is as important as the music itself sometimes.
To get things recommended is beautiful. Fruitful. I have went on entirely new paths because of the routes that some of my (discaholic) friends went. It never ends. You just need to stay open. You can't like all music. And you should NOT. But you need to keep trying. The world might look very different to you after trying. I love being surprised or even shocked by music. There are so much to explore. Endless. And highly inspirational. The search for new input is of course a TOTAL necessity for me in my urge for making new music. To find new elements to work with. To assemble new methods. New mechanics. New techniques.
But, it always needs to balance up against old favorites and necessities. I will always go back to early Mahavishnu Orchestra, Stooges, Little Richard, early Keith Jarrett quartets, early '70's Miles, kick-ass-be-bop and The Cramps for inspiration and JOY! It is a great journey of keeping old habits and breaking new rules, looking for and exploring new inspirations. Equilibrium!
The sensation of curiosity and listening is of course on many different levels. It is a complex beast. Receiving it. The perception. The focus. Listening back to old favorites can totally transform into something new (if you want). You listen in different ways at different stages of your life. But, there is always a key emotional level that you will always get back to. When the endorphins kick in - you can't hold back. You should not hold back.
Just go with the flow. And stay curious to the new. Stay curious to the old.
photo by Michele Giotto
PSF: You've made clear your preference for vinyl and dislike of digital formats. In addition to the amount of music available, another type of abundance we're dealing with is in the types of media on offer: Vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes, downloads, streaming, radio... As a listener, what do you think are the strength and weaknesses of these different formats? Most recently, the digital world has introduced some completely novel ways of listening. For example, you can have a library of 10.000 albums and play the tracks at random, or you can have 10 hour long playlists dedicated to specific themes, periods or people, or you can listen to random radio stations from anywhere on the planet with no idea what they're playing. Do you ever find such new ways of listening enjoyable, or useful?
MG: Well, simple answer. ANY media where I can enjoy an ALBUM the way it was intended and produced - I would go for. ANY medium where the music is travelling to(wards) me. I look at the album as a statement - as a piece of art, if you want. There is a reason why the artist/ composer or producer chose to make that specific sequence of songs to make it an album. The cover art. The photos. The liner notes. The tactility of the cardboard. The design of the labels. The smell. The overall VIBE! I don't like the idea of online -"one-hit-wonders." Hit song - mentalities sucks! And random playlists... are really a provocation towards the belief that there is actually something in the music that means something.
Music is not tapestry. Music is not meant as a background (in my world). Music is meant to deliver a message or a feeling of sorts... music is meant to carry an emotional or/and spiritual content that can make people think in a different way. Art, poetry, dance, theatre, music... it is all there to make us see the world in a different light. In a different perspective. To learn from. To learn by. This is my belief.
I have a lot against the use of playlists... simple because it prevents us from critical thinking... And just become a "pleasant" background. Music is much more than that.
That is why I love other mediums, where you actually need to think, consider and reconsider your choices. Of course, you can use streaming and playlists in this way too, but you need to work for it - and always listen critically. And most people just tend to let it flow... as a background...
I think most people are using Spotifuck and other platforms in that way. Most people seem happy having a background that they can recognize... or in the worst case: not care about the content at all, as long as it is "pleasant." WHAT is good in recognizing the same songs over and over and over? I mean, it makes me happy too, to hear my favorite songs. The music is love. But, I want more. I need more from the music. From art. From literature. I want it to change me - to make me think, to make me play, to make me act. To listen actively seems to be a more rare thing these days. I learnt how to listen actively and critically and it has given me so much back in return. I was lucky to have a great mentor; Harald Hult of Blue Tower Records/Andra Jazz. When you listen to music you LISTEN! You listen up. And you listen again.
You pay attention. Focus is all.
In a way - I don't care what medium it is. As long as you listen in this way. When it comes to spotifuck and other online streaming "services" - we need to consider also the fact that they are the biggest thieves ever in the history of music. Never ever before have the copyright holders/composers/artists being robbed of their copyrights of music and money in this way. And in most cases, totally voluntarily!!!
This is INSANE! We don't have to give our music away like that - there are other ways. Other platforms. People are so eager to have exposure, to make a "career," or whatever not - so they agree to anything these days... it is very very sad to me. Personally, I prefer vinyl to any other medium. Because of many reasons.
Tactility, sound, design and feel are of high importance to me. To me, vinyl has so many advantages compared to CD's, cassettes, files... and they are very collectable. I love hunting them down. A long endless process, ha ha! But a process where I need to sit down and listen carefully and pay attention to the music I hear, from the records I find. It is a great pleasure to bring it home, sit down, and pay attention. Search and research.
It is ALL about the WAY you listen.
Playlists and streaming in general have other purposes... it takes you AWAY from active listening mostly. I really don't like that. And anyway... music in an MP3 format sounds really terrible. I can still enjoy the music, I can. Sure thing. But, sometimes the compression and lack of information is just too tame.
But, NO, in general, I don't dislike digital sounds or formats. They can deliver some great and creative music to my ears and mind, but, I totally prefer the analogue sounds of a vinyl. With crackles, background noises and all. It has a history. It has a meaning. It has a true connection to the time when it was made and planned for. It delivers on an entirely different level. Music has the capacity of deliver so many things to us, on intellectual levels, emotional levels, spiritual levels, philosophical levels... you name it. But, we need to listen accordingly.
PSF: You've mentioned the social aspect of listening and finding out about music through a community of like-minded people. I'm curious how you feel this community has been affected by the current listening environment and the easy availability of music. Does it mean that everyone digs deeper into their own little musical biospheres with shared references disappearing and the conversation dying? Or do you find that it brings people together, making it easier to build bridges? Does availability make the community less important because everything is easier to find on your own, or more important because there is so much to navigate through?
MG: It will always be preferred to SHARE experiences of listening, for me. Togetherness. Unity.
The way society and the times are changing... we might be moving away from direct sharing... and being fooled to think that online sharing is about real sharing... but, we need to keep track of what is going on and SHARE for real. To listen together, to discuss and to share information is VITAL.
Information is easier to find now, yes. It is easier to access. But - the real sharing has to be done in real life. When we meet, when we get inspired and when we share what we feel. What we think.
I might be old school - and I am happy living by it. It makes me happy when I can meet my friends and listen to some music and share the why, who and when's. That is the way I learned about it all --- and for me it was a great and extremely inspiring trip to make. I had my buddies, Harald, Edward, Raymond, Christian, John, Kjell, Isak and Joacim. We met frequently to listen and give each other tips on new experiences, new music that would change our view on how the world is constructed and where it is all going. Sharing the mysteries. This is not done online. It will never be enough to read about the music online... you need to hear it in a proper situation - with friends sharing it - and sometimes you need details, history/ background and other necessary information to fully understand and appreciate the music you are listening to.
I just LOVE the act of meeting up, discussing, listening and moving on in a never-ending chain of associations. It is all about SHARING. That is the name of the game. I need both. I need the time on my own. When I listen really deep to music. Emotionally. Focused. At home. In front of my own sound system. I need that sphere. It is a different situation to listen alone --- and I totally need it. As much as I need a situation when I listen together with close friends. This is comparable to the necessity to playing and performing solo and to play and interact in an ensemble , to me. I need both, to develop musically and as a person. There needs to be a balance between the two.
In pandemic times, it all changed. And I can't wait to meet up with my best buddies and compare notes on what music is REALLY kicking ass and mind these days!
PSF: You talk about how music is important to you, not as a form of idle pastime, but really as a fundamental part of your life, and as a way of connecting with the world. I think this relates directly to the big question underlying much of this discussion: how can music remain meaningful when it's so easily available and when often no effort is really needed to acquire it. I guess you had something like this in mind when you said earlier that "we risk losing the real emotional, spiritual and intellectual connection to the music." The way I think about it is nicely illustrated by Howie Reeve in his song "July Into August" where he sings about "the numbness of abundance." When something else - probably just as good - is always just a click away, does the music become less precious? And with all the material available, how do we avoid that our listening becomes provisional, just a way of simply filtering through the blob to decide what to return to at some later unspecified date?
MG: No, I have not experienced this numbness and my intentions is to stay sane and keep avoiding it. You have to get past the fact that there is almost an unlimited amount of music to be found online and such. The road is important... the path to find the creative, good music. The music that can make you look on the world in a different light. The search is more important than what you find, I truly believe that. Since it is about a learning process. You learn by bad music as well. Stupid music, background music. Playlists and shit.
The key is curiosity! As long as you have this - you will be fine. More than fine. You will keep on finding great and compelling music everywhere you look. IF you want to. We just have to be aware of the whole picture. Why we do it. And HOW. Awareness! Curiosity! Music is now easily accessible, that is true - and we need to use that in a good way. It is WHAT we do with the content that matters.
When music is changing the way we hear, see and understand things, we need to ask ourselves some questions of why and how? And we need to continue our research. It never ends. I am sure about that. And I love that fact. But, for music to remain something of highest importance to me, it needs to be asking the questions. There needs to be frictions and energy levels in there...
Music is not about entertainment. That is a huge distinction for me. I am not particularly interested in mainstream culture. I can enjoy bits and pieces that appeal to me, yes I can. There is even great mainstream music around. BUT, in the long run, it can never be only about entertainment. That is a cheap way of looking at life and art. It needs to go upstream. For change and awareness.
Everyone set their own standards and meanings. For me, music, art and literature are a necessity. In order to breathe. In order to go deeper, in life. It is really not about availabilities... it is about content. And search. Emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. And WHAT we do with it. And HOW.
It all has to have a certain element of mystery to it, as well. Not everything is possible to analyze. It is not all about the facts and statistics. It is about what the music makes us think. And do. Curiosity. Awareness. IS ALL. When you hear something that touches you - on different levels - you need to deal with it right away. Not put it aside for later - I really don't like that idea. When something really moves you. You need to act accordingly. That is valid for all art. For life.
I just love the search for creative music. Knowledge shared by others. Associations and new directions in a never-ending chain of events. The fact that it is a SLOW process. It HAS to take time. You need to digest it properly. And do that again. And again. Otherwise it does not mean shit. It needs to sink in... to let you really think about it all... to feel it all. It HAS to take time. Life is about process. And music is about process. It means absolutely nothing to me if it is just a "click" away. The content of that click, means shit to me.
Facts and emotions have to be put in process over a longer time. To be digested. To really mean something. On a deeper level. ACTIVE listening. ACTIVE search. ACTIVE research. Will all give us an active... LIFE!
PSF: If I open a new music magazine and see 40 pages of reviews and hundreds of advertisements for new releases I feel overwhelmed and apathetic. But if I enter a record shop with thousands of albums, I feel wonder and excitement. Can you help me make sense of my feelings?
MG: Because the records are talking to you. Digital shit does not speak to you. And magazines and net-pages can be totally overwhelming. It is too abstract. You need to touch the records with your fingers and your mind. You need to CONNECT!
Distribution of records has changed... it is all a different playground now. And it makes people nervous not knowing HOW to find the records... BUT, there are still record shops around. Support them! It will always be an adventure to go through the collection of a shop (or a friend's collection).
It is inspiring to look around in a physical shop. On all levels, inspiring. Real albums. Real covers. Real vinyls and related formats. Real people. Nothing beats that feeling. What will we find? What surprises are positioned in the next bin? What is behind the counter? Is there an extra inner room somewhere? Are all the yummiest vinyls exposed on the wall? (HIT THE WALL, FOLKS!) It is an adventure where you can't click yourself towards a "truth." You need to FIND OUT for yourself. That is a HUGE difference. The Internet is too much... too much is open... and "available.".. the illusion of a one-click-truth...the one-click-wonder...
There is no mystery to the whole thing online. We need some mysteries in life. In music. In art. And mysteries we find in real record shops or at people's houses, while digging through a collection. Mysteries, truths, needs and deeds!
PSF: A question from fellow saxophonist and record collector, Martín Escalante:"It's inspiring to read about your ideas on deeper, closer listening. It's a process that comes natural to me as I too am a very curious listener, in both the emotional and the analytical ways. How, where or from whom do I get my music from? The answers often give tremendous context and enrich the listening experience as well. I am tempted to ask you about the general audience's experience for music, popular music is almost completely experienced in the background. "They're playing our song", when a person says this to their loved one, they are remembering a special moment when the DJ on the radio or at a club or party or maybe even a playlist on random, began playing a song and it just completed everything, and magic was in the air. Is there room in your life for these casual/unfocused listening experiences?"
MG: Deeper listening is a necessity. MUSIC is a necessity. It can be approached in many different ways. It needs to be like that. You just need to make the choice of HOW you listen.
But, of course... I do all kinds of listening. Music is ALL. It is always around... in nature... in life. All sounds organize themselves in various ways and become music if you want them to. I always hear connections between random sounds... my brain and my ears can't really relax from that and I don't want to have my mind taken away from those mechanics. As a listener and a musician, I think you develop a certain way of HOW to listen... but, also finding a way to filter the sounds in day- to-day life... and it is all connected somehow. A lot of memories are trigged by sounds. As well as taste, smell and tactility. For me - sounds are a major trigger. Connected to large things and small things,
in life. I can't really deprogram it. And I'm dying to hear what sounds will show up next. I can approve of background music as well as I love deeper listening. Both ways of listening have a quality to them. But, to listen deep makes you start a creative process... that will take you further and deeper. The connection between open listening/curiosity and an active way of action-making is definite there. It is a never-ending process of learning and finding out. The road - the path - is ALL. What we find along the road of unfocused AND focused listening is... monumental!
LISTEN UP! And listen again... Pay attention. LISTEN UP!
PSF: In 2020 most live music suddenly came to a screeching halt with the COVID-19 pandemic. As listeners, what do you think we lost that couldn't be compensated by listening to recorded music at home? And has this absence of concerts changed the way you think about live music in any way?
MG: I think we all miss live music a LOT. The interaction between musicians and audience. The interaction between musician and musician. The interaction between the members of the audience. The sharing of energy at the instant moment. All the freaking streaming events was a necessity in the beginning of the pandemic... but, I quickly got frustrated with it. Mainly because of the lack of physicality and tactility and the negative sides of experience, a technique that is yet, not technically satisfying and up to the quality standards that we need and deserve. There is no real communication. With the audience. The viewer. And please, take away those chat-functions from such platforms. It seems to me, a lot of frustrated people are out there commenting and bitching about stuff. A giant pool of whining. I cannot take it. The chat function is just tooooo much for me. A chimera that makes you think that you are actually communicating. And totally without REAL connection to real communication between people. I am sorry. But nothing compares to a real live situation, where people listen and interact... for real! Where people don't comment on things while people are playing. My god, Tor and Odin, focus on the music, please!!! The concert situation is such a great social event anyway. Before the concert with all kinds of preparations and expectations and afterwards as well, when you can actually share your experiences with both the audience and the musicians. Giving and taking. SHARING. As you know, it is ALL about sharing. But, not preferably in an anonymous way online...
I really missed the feeding of energy in the room during this live music-lockdown. When musicians can really absorb the energy and frictions in a room and turn it into music. I love it. I miss it.
On the other hand, for me personally, to sit and listen to vinyls at home, on my own audio system is difficult to beat. To put yourself in the ideal listening position and let the Quad 57's do their job. Just let yourself into the music. When you can listen focused and actively and do it exactly when you want and need to. Not as good as live music. But, pretty darn close!
PSF: There is the sad fact that loud music damages the ears, over time destroying the ability to listen. Arto Lindsay has a song called "Ondina" where he asks, "What do you give up your hearing for?" I've often thought about this line at live shows, wondering whether to remove my earplugs to enjoy the full sound, but suffer the damage. Watching, say, Lightning Bolt or Swans with unprotected ears you'd incur a severe cost, but might it still be worth it, if only for a brief moment? Other experiences would surely not... How do you think about the trade-off?
MG: It is a complex question since our abilities/capabilities all look different. Loud for one person is not necessarily loud for another. Up to a certain extent it IS psychologically related. Music you like, music you love... can be listened to at a louder volume without damaging the ears. Extremely loud muzak, disco or techno music would for sure damage mine. I never ever had a problem going to concerts with MBV, Sonic Youth, Merzbow or similar sound-tornados. I never ever had a problem with my hearing until I had an accident at a soundcheck in Korea 12 years ago. A sudden and unexpected BANG while my ear was 20 centimeters from the large bad-ass PA. And I almost completely lost my hearing on my left ear. It is still gone... not many % left. But, in day-to-day life I manage well, with an advanced hearing aid. Life is being experienced in a broad mono kind-of-sense these days. But, the brain is compensating to a high extent and I can work pretty smoothly in mixing situations and alike. But, I am now much more careful with ear protection in live situations to make sure my right ear will not suffer a similar damage. That would be... bad.
A lot of music NEEDS to be experienced on a loud volume. NO doubt. It needs to have a special physicality connected to it, you need to feel it in your stomach, when your trousers start to wobble, when your spine is shaken, when your whole body is experiencing a full-on-sound-massage. I LOVE that. And I miss it.
But, I am very much convinced that a certain degree has to do with if you like the music or not. The real damage to your hearing happens when you are not mentally prepared for the sound. Fireworks, gun shots, metal-to-metal and any sudden loud sounds close to you - when you are not prepared for it - will for sure damage your ears. But, hey - a concert with Lightning Bolt can only do good. The loudest concert I have ever heard was a Masami Akita solo concert at Fylkingen in Stockholm 20 years ago. That was pure massage for the body, for the bones, for the whole DNA- structure... and for my mind and soul. Not a ring in my ears afterwards. Just a stupid smile that was impossible to wash away.
PSF: What about silence. Do you seek it out?
MG: Silence is everything. Within the silence are ALL the frictions and energies. The directions, the questions (never the answers...) and much much more! The energy is really not within the actual sounds. On a time-line: it is all in-between the sounds. In the silence(s). Within the silence we can understand the relation between the sounds when they happen. It is all about that.
The silence. This is where we understand what (and why) is actually going on. And where it is all going towards, beyond and further. This is where all the frictions are created. And the mysteries. This is where the perspectives are opened up. A cut in space.
I love silence. The roaring silence of the north. Nothing beats the feeling of Sápmi in the winter. The northern Scandinavian soil in winter. Where the snow absorbs all sounds, making it all very... silent. A cut in space. I love silence.
PSF: Suppose someone, upon finishing reading this interview, decides to spend a day listening to the music of Mats Gustafsson. How would you suggest they proceed?
MG: By choosing something different! Ha ha! There is so much other music to listen to. Come on, a whole day of listening to me? I think that is a bad way of spending a day.
If suggesting anything - I would go for the next recording coming up. The most recent. Who knows what that can be? Always look forward - but always bring your library of knowledge and experiences with you, at all times.
Be critical. Listen UP! And repeat...
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