- 28 Oct 16
As Detroit DJ, Jeff Mills, prepares to deliver the Irish debut of “Light from the Outside World”, a special collaborative performance with the RTE Concert Orchestra at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre on October 30, our man Will Kinsella – who is also involved in making the show happen – talks with the American composer about the fascinating process of combining electronic and classical music.
Light from the Outside World has been a phenomenal success. How has that experience been for you personally?
It’s been wonderful. All shows have been full and very well received. Not just by people from Electronic Music, but from listeners of Classical. I think what is most unique is that the mixing two genres together in this way creates something new.
How does a collaborative process with an orchestra work? What challenges did you face?
Finding the balance between the various textures of sound is key. For instance, making sure the robust kick drum from a Roland TR-909 drum machine doesn’t drown out the delicate sound of the flute – so the right understanding between myself, the conductor and the sound engineer in creating the right chemistry is most important. All sounds should be heard clearly. For this show, we usually have about 3-4 rehearsals and a good amount of this time is spent creating balance and fine-tuning.
Has that become easier with time or do new challenges emerge?
Yes, it becomes easier with time. After many shows, I have a general idea of what should happen in the preparation that makes for a good show and presentation. It’s fascinating. I think we’re presenting this type of collaboration at a very special time in our music history. I’m very much hoping that it might have an encouraging effect on the music generations to come.
We love your new orchestra project “Planets”. Can you give us some insight into the concept?
Planets is a tutorial journey in which we (musically) visit each Planet in our solar system. It was inspired by The Planets, created by the composer Gustav Holst in 1918. But where my version differs is that I used factual data about each planet to score the compositions. So, the density, mass, rotation speed and other known facts were sewn into the way I made the original sketches. This project took over 10 years to make and should be out and available next spring in various formats. In the meantime, we are scheduling live listening sessions in and around Europe.
The Planets by Gustav Holst was first broadcast back in 1918 in the last week of World War One. What is the significance of that composition in today’s world?
I think that one of the significant factors might be that the idea of actually travelling to and colonizing another planet is more realised now than ever before. Another factor might be that because we’re very much in the Computer Age and things are still expanding, the shift from human hands-on manual labor and computer automated/autonomous labor creates certain modifications to not just the idea of ‘the worker’, but to family structure, to a person’s outlook about the future and so on. I wrote this score with the idea in mind that there are many other worlds to explore – that what we see around us here on Earth is but a small portion of our possibilities.
Can you imagine being a soldier leaving the Western Front and hearing that broadcast back in 1918? What emotions do you think you would feel?
Yes, it must have been fantastic and reassuring to think that there could still be hope, in a time when hope might have been difficult to see or imagine – that all was not in vain.
Were there any particular challenges for you and the arranger Sylvain Griotto in reinterpreting a piece that’s almost 100 years old?
Well, it wasn’t a re-interpretation actually. I was inspired – but also I realised that the average person today has a tremendous amount more factual information about each Planet than the average person did in 1918. Holst wrote about 6 planets and approached the concept through Greek mythology. With tour project, it was based on what we know as fact – a scientific approach. To start, I presented the 9 music sketches to Sylvain and explained how the journey should work. The idea is that we travel in space to each planet by being spun around one planet’s gravitational force and being propelled to the next. This motion, and the way sounds loop and repeat themselves to create an energy, was discussed and written into the score. Another known fact was about the water we now know exists on various planets. Sylvain and I created a rhythm and melody for this element that can be found in the composition of Earth, Mars and Pluto.
“Planets” has been recorded. You took it to Abbey Road to be mixed. Can you tell us about your experience there?
One of the versions of the recording will be in surround 5.1 and I had imagined that the project and special mix-down session really needed someone that had an extraordinary skill, to be able to translate the concept and manage the sounds in the stereo field in the best way. I researched and discovered the work of Jonathan Allen, who is the senior engineer at Abbey Road Studios, so it was there that we decided it should be mixed. Jonathan had extensive experience in dealing with surround, and could read and interpret a classical score. He studied in France and could communicate with Sylvain Groitto and the editor Anne Laurin more fluently. It turned out to be the best choice I could make.
We are looking forward to seeing your “Spiral Deluxe Tour”. It’s your first live band since Underground Resistance. Can you give us some background on that?
I used to play percussion and drums before becoming a professional DJ. I was in a few bands and we used to play Jazz and Rock fusion material. This is the style of music I listen to the most. I always thought about blending Electronic Dance and Jazz fusion together, in a way that would be complementary and new. I tested the idea about a year ago and finally found the musicians that I thought could make it happen. The project and band is called Spiral Deluxe – a collective of artists from various backgrounds, using improvisation as a means to create, in front of a live audience. So, every show can be different and special. We only rehearse a slight amount of time and figure out the rest in real time during the performance. Because the musicians are so good, it creates a unique and explorative way to make music.
What other projects can we look forward to from Jeff Mills?
There are a few more in the works right now. I composed a new soundtrack for Trip To The Moon (1902) by George Melies. I’ve also recently created a project based on the film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977). I’ve also been working on a book/CD for the 25th Anniversary of Axis Records, as well as working on another classical score based on Black Holes.