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Yann Novak

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15 Questions to Yann Novak

— Interview

The story of Yann Novak proves that reincarnation is a reality. At the end of the 80s, Paul Novak founds Dragon’s Eye Recordings as a subsidiary to his main company “Only Connect…Publications”. Between 1989 and 1991, the label publishes two Soundsheets featuring the “melodic rural folk piano style” of composer George Winston, before falling into a long lapse of silence. For 13 years, Dragon’s Eye will not utter a single note. Meanwhile, Paul’s son Yann discoveres his calling as a composer and his family’s tradition of keeping complete artistic control of their creative endeavours. In 2004, he surfaces with his first release on the outfit and breathes new life into his father’s brainchild. This second version of Dragon’s Eye proves to be even more inspired than the first, driven by the tireless activities of its new owner and infused with a spirit of aural experimentation. Over the past four years, the company has published a ceaseless stream of Mini-CDs and full-length albums, DVDs and online releases, taking its concept from a platform for Novak’s own solos and collaborations to a prolific and colourful powerhouse for various performers – and Yann has grown into an artists comfortable both in the world of studio production and installations. Despite the praise bestowed on his oeuvre, he has remained modest, insisting that he is still very much in a process of finding his audience before moving on to more universal questions. Once he does, the musical direction of this new phase is anybody’s guess: As much as artistic reincarnations can lead to exciting results, their outcome remains uncertain.

Hi! How are you? Where are you?

I’m ok, I am just getting over a cold. I’m in my studio in Seattle WA.

What’s on your schedule right now?

I’m working on a couple pieces for compilations right now. I am just finishing up on one for a compilation called “Au Clair de la Lune,” which is based off the newly discovered first recording in history by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville of a woman singing a segment of the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune.”    Also in the works is a piece inspired by autumn for a compilation called  “Mandorla Autumn Net-Project Vol.3“ on Mandorla Records out of Mexico.  I am also working on a piece for my own label’s third anniversary compilation called “Leather.” All of which will be out in the fall, I think. I am also about to start work on two installation, one at The Henry Art Gallery with Jamie Drouin titled “+Room –Room” and the other is a sound piece to accompany Alex Schweder’s “A Sac of Rooms all day Long” at SFMOMA.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

I don’t think I would say there is a crisis, at least in the corner of the music or art world that I inhabit as an artist. As a label owner I definitely see the climate which people acquire and distribute sound works changing. I think that it’s changing to the smaller boutique labels benefit because more and more they are the ones releasing work that’s worth seeking out and collecting.

Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?

I do. I see myself probably in the broadest sense of traditions. I see myself as a composer. Whether composing for a recording, installation, performance, or scoring a modern dance piece, the main reoccurring thread in that is that I am organising sounds in space and time. Since my approach differs slightly from project to project, composer is really fitting for how I identify myself.

What, would you say, are the factors of your creativity? What “inspires” you?

Every piece I have ever done started with a field recording. With almost all of my work the inspiration starts with the feelings evoked by the initial situation of the recording I am working with. If I am working with another artist on an installation or dance piece then it usually comes from the initial exchange of ideas.

How would you describe your method of composing?

Again it all starts with a recording. The main goal of my compositions is to distil in the final piece the feelings and emotions I was having at the time the recording. Because I do have a somewhat conceptual goal when I sit down to compose and because every recording is so drastically different, I don’t often do the same thing more then once. Themes have emerged in my work due to the fact that every time I go out to do a recording, once the record button is hit, it becomes a meditation for me and that meditative quality is I think always present in the work. But it’s really about focusing on the recording and transforming it into something new, however that happens is up in the air.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

I see sound as a raw material or the medium that I work in. Composition for me is the act of arranging these sounds in a deliberate and meaningful way.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

I don’t really think about it. Some of my work is very much sequenced in time and space. For example, if I am working with a dance piece, there might even have to have to be sound cues for the dancers. In other pieces, like when I perform, although I always have a conceptual composition in mind it can be very much improvised.

What does the term “new” mean to you in connection with music?

I have never been concerned with creating a new style or new genre. With my work I want to express my own personal voice. Because we are all unique, I think if you are truly making work from the heart and really put ourselves in the work then you will create something no one has heard before. I think if someone utilizes an aesthetic that has been used before, but uses their own original voice, they can still breath new life into it and make it new again.

Do you personally enjoy multimedia as an enrichment or do you feel that it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?

Having worked in many multimedia projects and environments, I find it a very enriching and essential part of my practice. I find that the pairing of sound and other media sheds light on parts of my own sound work I may not have come to without that experience. Those experiences can then be folded back into my work taking it in new directions.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

A good performance to me is one that is emotionally and intellectually captivating. My goal when performing is to create an environment for the audience that is also a very visceral experience to inhabit. Because my focus when performing is to create an experience for the listener, and because my source material and process is ever changing, my approach to performance is also always changing. Earlier this year I was working with a video piece to accompany my “In Residence” material; because of this the performance was very composed but I was not even present onstage. Tomorrow I will be doing an in store performance at a local record store that will be almost totally improvised to respond to the relaxed atmosphere of the venue.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?

I do think there should be more to creating and releasing work then personal satisfaction but I don’t know that it has to be political/social. I think it’s an artist’s responsibility to create things that in some way contributing or enhancing to the current cultural landscape.   I think it is hard to be an artist because you have to consent to a life of making things that no one needs and no one asked you to make, but because of that there needs to be personal satisfaction.  I just believe in the power art has to change minds, views and experiences and that every piece of art is an opportunity for that to happen.

How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?

I don’t really feel qualified to answer that question. At this point in my career I am still figuring out how to get my work heard by the relatively small audience of experimental/sound-art fans. I feel like I need to figure that out before I can hypothesize about the mainstream. I will say that I think it is possible to not lose your soul when making work at any level in your career, you just have to have pure intentions and make work from the heart.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?

I think I would choose a theme, some kind of curatorial direction. Then I would showcase artist that were in many stages of their careers (emerging, mid-carrier and established). I would also include many different mediums of art and sound split into exhibition in the day and performance in the evening. I would really stress the diversity of the artist so that there could be a dynamic dialog between everything happening.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?

I have never thought about it. Making art for me a continued process of learning about yourself and I guess I don’t really believe that ever ends. I put the same amount of passion into all of my works and inevitably there is something I learn about the work once I release it into the world which makes me rethink things a little which his then applied to the next project.