CultureCritic interviews Dustin O'Halloran...
Dustin O'Halloran is having a busy year. Following the acclaimed release of Lumiere in February and the re-release of live album Vorleben in June, September sees the release of his latest venture, a collaboration with Stars of the Lid's Adam Wiltzie.
Now based in Berlin, the American-born pianist has been releasing solo piano compositions since his move to Europe, appearing on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's Marie Antionette and scoring 2009 indie film An American Affair. We spoke to him about what to expect from A Winged Victory For The Sullen and his lack of musical training...
How closely did your move from the US to Europe coincide with the start of your ‘solo' career?
I initially moved to Italy, and although I was pretty active with my band Devics then still (we wrote and recorded two records there), I found myself having a lot of time on my own. And I had access to this wonderful piano - that really was the key to unlocking all this music for me.
Lumiere and Vorleben were released on FatCat's neo-classical imprint. Does the term 'neo-classical' sit comfortably with you?
I don't think anyone loves to put labels on their music, but I realise its easier for people so I'm OK with it. FatCat really found a nice collection of artists who I see as friends and contemporaries: Max Richter, Johann Johannsson, Hauschka, Nils Frahm [on Erased Tapes]; we have all worked together and inspired each other.
How has being synaesthetic has affected your music, and do you ever compose in relation to a work of art?
I didn't really fully understand it until I started to do some research, and realised this connection so many painters and composers have had over the ages. It made complete sense to me. Sometimes paintings have a stronger effect on me than music. The paintings of Rothko have had a big influence; his use of minimal color and space.
Is a coherent ‘album' important to you?
Maybe I am old fashioned, but yes. An album can really capture the time and period of an artist much better than one song. In some way, the job of a composer is to capture time and record it. And you need space to do that.
You've previously described your solo work as providing a creative outlet that wasn't satisfied in Devics. The melancholy tone of Lumiere would suggest it comes from a pretty sad place.
I always worked on piano pieces, but never had the time to get deep into them until Italy. The main difference for my solo work, compared to my band work, is that it is instrumental, and can be approached really differently. There's a lot of optimism in my work actually. These are always fine lines though: there is melancholy even in the happiest of moments, because we know they will pass.
Can you tell us how the collaboration with Adam Wiltzie came about and how you co-wrote A Winged Victory For The Sullen?
We met in Italy when he was playing with Sparklehorse, and had a lot of respect for each other's work, so the collaboration came naturally. We recorded in some amazing locations: Grunewald Church in Berlin, the old DDR radio studios, and mixed completely analogue in a studio in an old villa in Italy.
How do the dynamics A Winged Victory For The Sullen collaboration work?
It's definitely the most equally divided one I have done. We compose together, and that's why it works so well. It's rare for me, as I have a particular way to compose, but because we both have our own projects as well, we are really open to each other's ideas.
Why do you gravitate towards non-studio spaces such as these for performing and recording?
Real acoustic spaces are really important. I wanted to create recordings with which you really feel a space and time. The piano in Grunewald wouldn't sound the same anywhere else, and you can feel its history in the reverberations. It just adds this extra layer to the music.
You're currently based in Berlin. Is it still a creative centre?
It seems everyone is moving here these days... I may have to move soon! But there really is nowhere like it. It's not as cheap any more, but it's one of the last cities I can think of where you feel this kind of optimism in the air.
What would you consider your main musical influences, and does classical take precedence over pop for you?
It's hard to put it into categories. I listen to a lot of old film music, as well as experimental music, electronic, African... a lot of different things.
Do you ever regret not having proper musical training?
Sometimes I feel I have a real freedom creatively because I had no formal training, but it has its limitations too, which can also be good creatively... I try not to think about it too much. As I get deeper into composing for other instruments I have had to do a lot of studying on my own, so I'm learning more by doing it.
You have composed for film. Would you ever consider composing for live performance genres such as opera or dance?
I would love to do something for a dance piece. Some of my favorite pieces of music were created for dance. It's a really natural collaboration. Recently a piece of mine was used for the Stuttgart Ballet, and it looks like there could be something we can do together in the future.
What records have you been enjoying recently?
I really like Tim Hecker's new album, and I have been listening to this Ethiopian pianist Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou from the 1960s. She only made one record, which is genius. It's just so natural.
Are there any plans to come over and tour the UK?
For the moment I don't have any confirmed dates, but I will definitely come back soon!
A Winged Victory for the Sullen is out on September 12th via Erased Tapes Records. Read the latest reviews here.
Listen to a stream of 'Steep Hils of Vicodin Tears' from A Winged Victory for the Sullen here.
Lumiere is out now. Read the latest reviews here.
Sorry no reviews have been returned.
- Opera & Dance