Interview by Bruno Heuze - from the French edition of Keyboard/Home Studio magazine  


After co-producing Herbie Hancock's << Future to Future >>, Angelique Kidjo's "Black Ivory Soul", the new Lucky Peterson and still having time to work on thousands of other projects, captain Bill Laswell implies himself again in his mothership MATERIAL, who'll play at the "Jazz a Vienne" festival and should give birth to a new live album.

Because of its rarity and evanescent, meeting Bill Laswell is a little bit like meeting a legend. Leader of the american avant-garde since the early 80's and recognized sorcerer of all the conceivable musical crossings, our New-Yorker globe-trotter has probably met all the good musicians carried on earth.

He's a bass player, however it's his production and studio mastery that takes most part of his time, that time he uses to flood the market with the incredible amount of outputs.

Commander of the AXIOM label, being involved in lots of collaborations, we recently found him in "Tabla Beat Science" (the project he holds with Zakir Hussain) which "Live at Sterngrove" came out, with the Dub Chamber serie who's now completed with a 4th release called "Book of Exit", in "Illuminated audio", a remix work of Ethiopian singer Gigi, and with Material again.

Beyond this huge activity, let's try to ask him what could be an existential question:
How the great helmsman boards the creation of new musical spaces and landscapes?

Do you think that it is still possible to create new sounds and how are you looking for them?

I don't think we're creating new sounds the same way we create a new genre or a new mode, simply because they've always been there. But we can arrange them by juxtaposition. We’re living a time where musician are foremost arrangers. It's the way we currently build the music, by organizing sounds, rhythms, bass lines, guitar licks...and noises too.

We are all arrangers and it's on that base we evaluate what we are creating, but not on sounds quality or novelty.

The sound has always existed, and it has been created by the nature, we're just trying to imitate the nature.

Nevertheless in the early 80's we had the impression that we had the possibilities of finding new sounds?

No, it was the same but it was a period of discovery. We were going "hey, I've found a new sound in the subway!!!" It's not because we can't see something that it doesn't exist. When we found it, we release that it has always been there. Now we're much more in a period of sound understanding.

It seems that you’re telling that it is not more possible to found new sound textures...

No, that's something different that is part of the process of reorganization I've talked sooner. We can find new textures, but they’re always made of existing sounds.

So how do you look for these new resonant constructions?

But I'm not looking for them. I'm waiting for a sign. In the past I've searched, but now, when things are coming, I put them together. Creation is not a clear process, something you can decide, precisely because it's about intuition especially when it is question of sound.

When I have something very precise to do, I start from references and try to see the best way to move differently inside a given space.

There was a time when I've recorded all I could hear and collected sounds everywhere as many musicians did. But now I think that it's not the good way to proceed, because the decisive step starts in the head.

Working fast seems important for you. Is it because you want to collaborate with numerous different musicians?

Yes, but not only for that reason. Working fast means working efficiently to avoid wastes of time, energy and money. I think we should not stay too long on a production and I sometimes found staggering when a project takes four or five years to be released. It’s not reasonable. We must go ahead and see beyond.

In the wide diversity of your musical production, ambient music has an important place.

I loved working for ambient, trance or environmental music. It's a very interesting domain even if it's not very commercial. Some people even tried persuaded me doing that kind of stuff because it doesn't sell a lot. But each time there’s an opportunity to produce ambient music I go for it. I also feel that meditative aspect when I'm working with Indian musicians. Even when we're recording rhythmical pieces, there's always that idea of the raga behind. I think it's linked with Indian culture.

Do you sometime have the impression that these musics allows you to found other paths that would be like a kind of antidote to the world’s noise and chaos?

Yes, it's a little bit the case. But in the same time I found that noisy world very interesting because I hear it as an orchestral world, so I don’t see it as something negative.

Don't we have there something like the two poles of your music?

Yes and it always was. It's the dynamic principle.

Your ambient music approach could be compared with Brian Eno’s?

Our respective approaches are very similar and I've been influenced by him a lot at the end of the 70's, when I worked with him. I was very careful to the way he produced some releases and it probably let some marks on me. I was very sensitive by his intuitive way of working, preferring listening carefully to the sound rather than referring to systems or directions that should lead us to the expected results.

I particulary remember the way he approached the new synths, directly, without opening the user's manual. Together we created many ambient sounds based on natural sounds that have been treated. It has surely be determining for me.

Are you still surprised by what technology can bring to you?

What technology brings me first is rapidity and storage. I think it's dangerous to think that it leads to new horizons. Technology only accelerate a process that has already been thought or allows us to store the important quantity of data we need. But she doesn't teach us something. Technology is not always a good friend. It's not something neutral and we have to be careful. I like to say that it comes to us from the future.

And what does the future currently tell you through the technology?

To work faster, to ask less and less questions and have less doubts. To approach things in a very instinctive way, what allows us to believe in what we are doing. To create networks with people everywhere around the world.