Talks with Tim Story
In Search of Angels
The Perfect Flaw
A Desperate Serenity
Wheat and Rust
Three Feet From the Moon
In Another Country
AV: I was reading over your bio on your website and surprisingly you are a self taught pianist, where did your love of music come from and what are the advantages of teaching yourself the piano as opposed to being "taught" the piano? Did it allow you to interpret your musical inclinations in a more fluid fashion?
TS: We always had music in the house, whether it was my mother's piano playing - Debussy, Chopin, etc. - or our record player spinning everything from Stravinsky to Simon and Garfunkel. I had taken a few guitar lessons at the age of about 8 which didn't go so well, but a few years later I picked the guitar back up, this time just to make up and play my own modest bits. A little later I started fiddling around on our piano, which opened up a new possibility of sounds and harmonies, and I was hooked. I've probably missed out on some things, being self-taught, but it did allow me to find my own voice from the beginning. I can't imagine it any other way, now.
AV: You cite a wide range of musical influences in your bio, were there any musical styles or musicians that played a large part in your early compositions and was there a particular niche that you were aiming for as you started out or were you pretty open at that point?
TS: By the late 70's, courtesy in large part to a record store job under a great, open-minded manager John Thompson (who later became very influential in the Cleveland music scene of Devo and Pere Ubu) I was listening to quite a variety of music. Some favorites of mine were Robert Wyatt, the German group Can, Cluster, minimalist Steve Reich, as well as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and some quirky pop music like Talking Heads, Television, and Roxy Music. But some of the home-made electronic music coming from Europe really struck a chord - it opened my eyes to the possibility that you could make exciting, personal music on a small scale, without involving huge record companies and expensive recording studios. It was more a philosophical influence than a musical or stylistic one, I suppose, but it was very inspiring. There was absolutely no niche I was going after so to speak, it was just the music I wanted to hear.
AV: Did you find the growing movement towards electronic music (synthesizers, loops etc.) helped expand your vision of what was possible and where your own music might go?
TS: Yes, I was drawn to synthesizers early on by the variety of sounds I could work with, and the possibilities of creating a unique 'stamp' for the sound. At about the same time, and equally exciting to me, were the new multitrack recorders which would allow me to layer parts together, to really explore composition. Because I worked alone, and wasn't much of an instrumental virtuoso (an understatement!), these two technologies really changed the way that I could work.
AV: When was it that you started to think about putting your music down on tape and releasing it for sale to the public? Is there a big difference between creating music for yourself and music that you are going to put on public display so to speak?
TS: I had been working - playing is more like it, I guess - for years before I had any music that I thought was good enough to share with anyone. By '79, I had collected about 45 minutes of music that I wasn't totally embarrassed by, and sent out a handful of tapes, mostly to small record companies in Europe. I was astounded to receive an offer from a French label, but they sadly went out of business just before the record "Threads" was to come out. But in the meantime, I had finished "In Another Country" which I was much happier with, so it wasn't much of a setback. Another record label, this time in Oslo, liked the new record, so that became my 'first' release.
AV: What kind of reception did your first release in 1981 get from your audience and was it what you expected when you put it out there?
TS: Sales were very modest, which I expected from this somewhat 'eccentric' music I do, but I was very pleased by the response - it got very good reviews, and seemed to really reach people that gave it a chance. It was a thrill just to have it released, really.
AV: It is said that you are very meticulous with the creation of your music, how much tweaking do you do to your music from the time that you first get it down on paper to that final product where you are satisfied with the result and ready to let others listen to it?
TS: It takes quite awhile usually, months I guess. Sometimes, whole parts or lines are apparent right away but it takes days to create just the right sound to play it. Or I'll continue to refine a melody over a period of weeks while I'm working on something else, until it strikes me as just right. Having developed my process in the 'old days' when I had only 4 tracks or layers available on my recorder, it really made me put a premium on composition, on ideas. If each part did not have a real value, be critical to the piece, I would just throw it out. With only 4 layers, there was no room for ear candy! This helped hone my compositional skills immensely. I can't imagine beginning today really, with these 64-track software recorders, it's just so tempting to try to cover up inferior ideas with more and more layers of 'fat'!
There's just such a huge glut of music out there, so many choices for people, that I feel it's my responsibility to make the music as good and as lasting as I can. How can I expect anyone to spend years with my music, which I hope they can, if I'm content to dash off a new piece every few weeks?
AV: Were there any of your releases that were standouts in your mind or releases that represented large steps in your musical evolution?
TS: There are things I like, and things I don't like about all the releases. "Glass Green" I always felt was a big step forward, though in some ways I thought "Beguiled" was a more appealing evolution of that. And "Perfect Flaw" really began to incorporate orchestral instruments a little more fully than before. I'm so close to the process, it's really hard for me to judge.
AV: With a growing trend towards more and more electronics and synthesized instruments what are your feelings on the blending of the traditional with the contemporary in regards to instrumentation on your records?
TS: I've always loved the creativity of developing my own palette of sounds electronically. But I feel that the strength of synthesizers is in creating the sounds that are unique to these instruments - not in emulating acoustic instruments. So for me, the key is using each instrument, whether a synthesizer or an oboe, for it's own unique voice, and having all these voices live in some unique imagined space that I can create.
AV: As a musician what is it that you take from one project to the next in terms of experience and how does that experience allow you to build onto your next project?
TS: It's an intuitive thing with me , I guess. Certain things I try (or stumble on) can get my musical juices going, and these are the things I find myself gravitating towards when I begin the next project. It's a hard process to isolate, I notice it sometimes more clearly in hindsight...
AV: Do you work on your new compositions on a regular basis?
TS: No, I find it a little too rigid to set a schedule for it. So, it seems to go in fits and starts - sometimes I won't touch anything for a while, and other times I'm just totally absorbed in a piece, and really can't do much else. That intensity, the singlemindedness, would probably get softened if I worked more on a defined schedule, so I try not to push it. Doing a soundtrack or other project with a deadline necessitates a bit more discipline, though.
AV: Do you feel a sense of satisfaction playing live and watching the reaction of the audience to your compositions?
TS: I think of myself as a composer more than a performer, so I don't do too many concerts. Playing live is very gratifying, and I like to travel, but I feel that performing really takes a back seat to the composing, which is what I really love. I'm not much of a musician, I could never do a solo piano performance for example, at least not one that anyone would want to hear. The music is so layered that I'd have to pull an ensemble together to do it justice. And relearning old pieces of mine is never as much fun as creating new ones.
AV: You've done a few collaborations during your career, tell me about the process and how it differs from when you are working alone on a new project. Is it a more difficult process or is it just different?
TS: The biggest difference is that there is someone else to trust. When I work on my own, I get into my own little world of sounds and processes. With a collaborator, the interest lies in the mix of the two of us - sometimes the whole direction of a piece might fly off in a brand new direction because of a surprising addition by the other artist. I have worked with artists whose approach I like, and it can be a great experience, really unique. With Dwight Ashley, we've often worked in the same room at the same time. With Joachim Roedelius, who lives in Europe, there's been some of that side-by-side work, but more often it's the two of us working alone on shared material. Both ways can be very gratifying.
AV: How did you go about securing a home for your music on a record label? What kind of relationship do you have with the labels that release your music to the public?
TS: The labels and the relationships can be very different - I've worked with everything from the smallest 'one-man' labels to the giant multinationals. Some have been incredibly artist-oriented and sympathetic, others can be quite faceless and corporate, as you might expect. I won't name names!
AV: Tell me about the music of Roedelius and what it was that you liked about what he created?
TS: I discovered Joachim - and his duo, Cluster - back in the 70's. As a friend of mine Russ Curry brilliantly put it, their music seemed 'like some heavenly music except the primary instrument appeared to be a coffee percolator."
They've been extremely influential to many artists, too, like Brian Eno and David Bowie, and a whole new crop of electronica artists here and in Europe. The music is so personal, charming, funny, spontaneous. It's also very organic, despite being unapologetically electronic. Achim is a lot like his music, and it's been a pleasure counting him as a friend for so many years.
AV: What was it that brought about your most recent CD, Lunz, and the collaboration that you did with Roedelius? Tell me about the process the two of you went through as you worked on creating Lunz.
TS: We met in '83, and had often talked about doing a collaboration. In '96 Cluster came for their first US tour, and I spent some time with Joachim here. He came back several times over the next few years, and we did a concert together in Philadelphia. We started recording together during that time - first with the very improvisational, sound-collagey "Persistence of Memory" and then with our latest "Lunz", which I'm especially happy with. I guess I always wanted to recapture a bit of that timeless feel of the early work I loved, but also make it very modern in a way. It took years to finally finish. I was very happy that Groenland/EMI in Europe and Narada here in the US opted to release it. Groenland has been one of the best labels I've worked with, they are always working in the best interests of the music, and the people are great. Achim and I just hooked up in London last month for a concert performance there, and we have a few more concerts planned this summer in Austria.
AV: You've had some opportunities to work in movies and television in your career, what are the differences for you as a composer in creating music for these mediums as compared to your regular compositions?
TS: For me, it can be quite different. With my own solo work, I can explore whatever musical and emotional connections I'm attracted to at the time. With music for film or tv, the 'content is king' - you're always looking for ways to support the action or the emotional connections onscreen. My solo work can be very ambiguous and subtle, which does not always work in film, where scenes often need something a little more obvious. But fortunately, a producer or director will usually only approach me because they already WANT the aesthetic that my music has. Needless to say, I don't get hired for many action films.
Music for film can be fun, and a different challenge, but just a few projects sprinkled in with the original 'art' music is enough for me.
AV: How is it you as a composer connect with the opportunities to work on movie and television projects? Are the producers already familiar with your work and seek you out to score projects that they are working on?
TS: I don't have a steady stream of offers by any means, but when I do, it's always because a producer likes my work, and feels that my music would be a good fit. When I got the "Caravan" soundtrack last year, it was because the music supervisor for the documentary had heard some of my music on the radio in Madrid. He got in touch first just to say he appreciated the work, and then began to think of me when the soundtrack opportunity came up.
AV: How has the Internet changed the way that you promote your music and connect with your fans? Do you think that more listeners are learning about your music via the Internet these days?
TS: I think the Internet is becoming a great way for the less 'mainstream' artists to reach an audience - an artist isn't so dependent on the big record companies for promotion or marketing anymore. A fan and friend, John Green, did a website for me (www.timstory.com), that has reached a lot of people who are interested in my music, and might want to learn more about it. I also hear more and more from listeners that have discovered me on the various Internet and cable radio stations. The Internet is huge, but in a way, it's very personal, too - an email sent from my website comes right here to my computer - I can answer everything that comes through.
AV: With broadband penetrating more homes than ever do you foresee a time when you will no longer release your music on CDs but simply make them available for download on a website? Is this idea unsettling to musicians/composers or liberating?
TS: I think it's liberating really. I'm probably old-fashioned, but generally I still like having the physical object, and the artwork of a cd. But that is likely to change, and that's fine. Making music available for legal downloading is very inexpensive for the musician, so it really plays into the hands of the independent artist. It's also a great way to make individual songs, remixes, side projects, etc., available, when a full cd release isn't feasible.
AV: I've heard a lot of varying opinions about how downloading is killing the music industry and yet more often than not I have seen many ambient and new age artists giving a lot of their songs away for free on the Internet just to get them heard and to promote their music. What are your views on this aspect of the Internet as it doesn't seem to be something that is simply going to go away?
TS: No, it won't go away. Illegal downloading is piracy and theft, pure and simple. I've heard some defend it as simply taking a little from the greedy media corporations, but smaller 'fringe' artists like myself really depend on royalties (and honesty) to be able to continue to make music. That said, I am a big believer in the Internet and the opportunities that legal digital distribution can offer to lesser-known artists who deserve a chance to be heard. It can be a great and very viable alternative to the big record companies.
AV: Does traditional radio or Internet radio play a big role in promoting your music to existing fans and new listeners as well? What other methods are at your disposal these days to get the message out about a new release that you have available?
TS: More and more, I'm seeing the Internet and cable radio stations have a much bigger impact for my own music. Traditional radio has gotten so stagnant that it's the net stations that are able to push the envelope a little more.
Public radio is still a great supporter, too. As far as other ways of marketing, I just don't know. Honestly, I don't have much patience for that part of the business. It's probably naive, but I'd much rather work on a piece of music and hopefully make it good, than spend my time telling people how good it is!
AV: Where do you see your music going over the next 10 years or so? Do you want to progress as you have up till now or are there other things that you might like to try?
TS: I hope the music will progress naturally from here, and I hope my compositional skills will continue to evolve and improve, too. I enjoy exploring new things, so I look forward to a couple of new challenges as well, whether that will come via collaborations, commissions, or...?
AV: Finally, are there any new projects that you are working on that you might want to give our readers a heads up on?
TS: Well, there are a few things. "Lunz" the cd with Joachim Roedelius is being remixed by a talented bunch of young electronica artists, and will be released in London later this year as a 2cd set, packaged with the original "Lunz" cd.
I hope to start work on another collaboration with Joachim, too. Dwight Ashley and I are currently finishing up our 3rd collaboration, due out next year.
I also remixed and reworked the 'Caravan' soundtrack for a possible cd release - I'm very happy with it, hopefully it will come out at some point in the near future. And last but hopefully not least, I'm getting ready to start work on the next solo project - this will be my main focus over the next year or so...
AV: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us Tim and I'm always looking forward to your next release. Good luck with your future projects.