Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
My father was my first and undoubtedly the most important musical mentor to me: he surrounded me with music in my very early childhood and basically left me no other choice but to become a musician, for which I’m very grateful. After pursuing a career as an oboe player for about 15 years, performing as a soloist with major orchestras, touring around the world and winning numerous international music competitions, I eventually came to realize that I needed to make a new turn and start a new musical chapter. Playing an instrument and being a part of traditional classical music scene wasn’t fulfilling anymore. I immersed myself in underground experimental music scene, started to improvise and looked for new challenges. My biggest dream was to became a composer. However, I probably wouldn’t have dared to make this radical shift had I not got lucky enough to meet a great teacher and composer Johannes Schöllhorn, with whom I studied for the next eight years or so. At the time, I was particularly driven by music of John Zorn, American composer and improviser whose artistical integrity and open-mindedness inspired me to follow my own artistical path without falling into any pre-existing musical scenes.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
My inner universe has been shaken up a number of times by (among others) Morton Feldman, Alfred Schnittke, David Krakauer, Fred Frith, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marin Marais, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Diamond Galas, Ryoji Ikeda, Mark Fell, Uwe Schmidt (aka. Atom Tm) and many others. Throughout my life my work has been influenced by such philosophers and thinkers as Gilles Deleuze, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, as well as friends and family. Especially my brother and my wife (both amazingly talented musicians and composers) never stop to amaze me with their incredible talent and creativity. They inspire me to explore new ideas and musical fringes I could never reach by myself.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
When working on a commissioned piece the biggest challenge is to deal with pre-existing guidelines. There is nothing wrong about them per se, but it takes some time to make them my own, to incorporate them into my own creative process. On the other hand, there is always a great pleasure of possibly meeting new musicians, making new contacts, learning new things and often dealing with tight deadlines (I love deadlines!)
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
I enjoy very much working with musicians whom I’ve known for a long time: it could be old friends, or artists I’ve admired for a long time without meeting them in person ever before. Either way, collaborative projects allow creativity to find new ways, which would not be possible otherwise. Knowing a musician for a long period of time allows me to write music not only for a specific instrument / set of instruments, but more importantly, for a specific person/group of people. In other words, not only do I get to work with all the capacities of an instrument, but also the unique artistic voice of a real person. This leads to a very special kind of creative process I enjoy very much. Being able to relate to my collaborators on a personal level is very important to me and my work, as it often brings us to places neither of us has explored before.
Of which works are you most proud?
It is very simple: I’m most proud of my most recent album „Ecartele“ (released 26 May 2017). The album consists of 14 short pieces for string quartet, piano and electronics and it’s an imaginary soundtrack for a feature film dating from the 1970s about the meeting between two of the major thinkers of the 20th century – the Nobel Prize winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the psychoanalyst and the creator of the theory of archetypes, Carl Gustav Jung. The album relates in musical terms to the story of the unusual friendship between the two scientists and explores the mysterious grey area between physics and the psychology of the unconscious. It is also my first collaboration with a new Berlin-based label Neue Meister, which I’m extremely excited about.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
I don’t pursue any particular musical aesthetic and I’m not seeing myself as a part of a particular music scene or composition tradition. Every project, every piece I start to work on is always the beginning of a new and exciting adventure. I feel most comfortable when blurring lines between musical genres. I love to combine my concert music roots with sound-design skills, and my years-long experience as an electronic music producer in order to explore new sonic landscapes.
How do you work?
I usually start by spending endless amount of hours sitting alone with my notebooks: brainstorming, drinking coffee, fooling around, coming up with craziest ideas, always thinking on paper. Then, there is a wild mixture of old-school pen & paper work, applying different generative techniques, recording improvisation sessions, programming my own sound generators, collecting sounds… My workflow incorporates a lot of digital tools and software such as Native Instruments Reaktor, Ableton, MaxMSP and a wide selection of my favorite plugins and hardware synthesizers.
Who are your favorite musicians/composers?
There are just too many of them… My recent Spotify playlist includes new releases by Actress, Carl Craig, Clark, Dedekind Cut, Hauschka, Kendrick Lamar, Lorenzo Senni and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Mixed with favorites albums by Simone Kermes, Theodor Currentzis, Gerard Pesson, Mica Levi, Nico Muhly and others…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I was extremely happy to play in one year both Berliner Philharmonie (which was just incredible) and Berghain (one of the greatest clubs on earth). Two experiences I surely will never forget.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be true and make music you enjoy yourself. Sometimes it’s harder to achieve than one may think, but it’s definitely worth it.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Just recently I was sitting on a train going home after an exhausting but very productive and overall fulfilling day in Berlin promoting my new album, when my wife sent me a short video of our four-month old daughter whom I was missing very much for the whole day. In this very moment I suddenly understood that happiness is something very real and there can not be more happiness in life than I was felt at that very moment.
What is your most treasured possession?
Maybe not the most treasured, but certainly something I couldn’t imagine to separate myself from, is my old collection of cassette tapes from the ’90 I collected as a teenage music junkie. It is to me a kind of embodiment of my subconscious mind, an integral part of myself. There is still a lot of musical treasures to find in that box!
Damian Marhulets’ new album Encartele is available now
Damian Marhulets is a Germany-based composer, visual artist and producer.