Raz Mesinai: Evading Genre, Escaping Geography
Molly Sheridan: You said to an interviewer that you had a love, or at least an interest, in Charles Ives.
Raz Mesinai: I think that was more so a few years ago. I love Charles Ives, but I think that’s also coming from a DJ point of view, the sampling aspect. I always liked the story about him listening to bands marching back and forth. Varèse, for example, if he had had a sampler, he would have gone buck wild, you know what I mean, because he composed in blocks of sound, and some of the instruments he wrote for I don’t think were there yet. Somehow I just feel, even though we don’t know what he would have wanted, now they should play his pieces differently were you use a little more futuristic instruments and samplers to do his music. I didn’t know him, but I think that he was ahead of his time and they didn’t have the instruments that he needed for his music. And I think Ives is the same way. He would have been an awesome turntablist who’s also running an insurance company. [laughs] These days, DJs are everywhere, and even though I don’t DJ much anymore, I’m a big advocate of it. And John Zorn, too, is also kind of a sampler. Learning from the sampler. I mean, you can’t get away from it. Music’s being sampled and regenerated and changed as it’s done. Maybe Ives was seeing something in the future about that.
MS: Where are we on that curve? Are we only just seeing the beginning of the impact this will have or is it on its way back down?
RM: Well, I think the laws applying to it are stopping it a lot, which is good. I’ve sued people for sampling my music. I don’t like it.
MS: But it’s at the core of what you are?
RM: Yeah, well I use a sampler, but I don’t sample people’s records or their compositions. I use a sampler only to record my own compositions and improvisations.
MS: You never use outside sources?
RM: No. I used to when I started with the sampler, but I had a big problem with it. I felt like it was stopping me from learning more about music and how it was made. Now I’m trying to get into recording groups of people, recording one thing over at one studio and another, and then sending it off to get mastered by different people as if you were going to make a CD and then sampling them.
You can start hearing the recordings are different, so it has that feel of hip-hop. I really like particularly hip-hop music when they sample because, just the way it’s arranged it’s really incredible. Anyone that denies that it’s not amazing is very close-minded. It’s the future, whether you like it or not, and you’ve got to start thinking about the future and how things are going to be done in ten years, because things aren’t going to go backwards. Disco might return once again, maybe atonal music will come back to the way it started, but I don’t think that’s true. It will come back, but it will have something else with it. But I’m kind of going off track there.
MS: But this is important, because we usually have to wait for the academy to acknowledge the importance of aspects of music and culture like this until well after the fact. The fact that you’re taking something from that and seeing it as important is worth talking about.
RM: Well, this goes back to not going to school. I think I have open mind about this because I spent my days in the street listening to all kinds of music and music of my age, as well as music from the past. The academic world is just starting to jump on a form of music that was going on in the ’70s, but that’s great. At least they’re doing it eventually. Maybe one day there will actually be a female composer who can win some awards.
So many aspects of it just enrage me about the academic world. They’re way behind, even though those people are so smart and they have so much at their fingertips. They have libraries, but when something’s going on that hasn’t been written about, they don’t know about it.
MS: Do you have interest in what they’re doing, though? Downtown doesn’t mean anything. So Uptown doesn’t either, but the people who are working in a more formal academic setting, what do you take from them?
RM: I take the way they apply music to intellectual ideas, and I think I’m from a totally different world. I’m starting to really understand that; that I don’t belong in that world. I mean, why would I? But I really appreciate a lot of composers who are academics. It’s very important to teach the next school of musicians, but I feel like some of the teachers aren’t doing that. They want to stick to the old ways and that’s just not going to happen, because the students are just going to get so bored they’re going to leave school or they’re just going to do acid for a few months once they get out of college and if they make it through that maybe they’ll make some music that they feel applies to their time. That’s another thing about the academic world that I appreciate—taking what’s going on in the world today and responding to it very eloquently, in a very educated way. It’s very important. And just keeping composition alive and ensemble music is also very important. People who aren’t coming from school do it the way I do with just electronics, but I think there’s also a lot to be said for writing for ensembles and keeping that alive, too.
MS: Do you listen to that kind of music or go to concerts?
RM: Yeah, when people give me free tickets. [laughs] Anytime there is a Varèse concert, I’m there. Or Morton Feldman. Feldman’s a really good example. To me, Morton Feldman is the greatest because it’s so pure. I don’t think, oh, this is intellectual, even though he’s a brilliant intellectual. I just seep into it, I’m there, I’m in his world. And the same for a lot of the people I’m inspired by.
MS: Would you ever teach?
RM: Yeah, yeah, I’ve taught, and I love to teach. But as long as I can do it my way and teach what I want. I don’t want to be held back by what I want to say. I also want to be able to curse when I teach. I think that’s important too. [laughs]
MS: What do you want to teach, then? I’m just curious since you yourself shunned so much education.
RM: Well, my teachers are John Zorn and people like that who saw me when I was very young and said, hey, come play with us, and put me through the ringer improvising with them. Just being like, hey, what the hell is going on? And going back home and practicing and thinking. You know, to me that’s the way to learn. I’m really lucky that way, that people of the older school allowed me to sit in with them, and hang out with them, and listen and talk about music. That’s how I learn music.
MS: Is that how you would teach? Sort of trial by fire?
RM: Yeah. I would take them to shows. I think I would do a little more outdoor stuff than indoor. But also, with students, everyone is different and you have to see what it is they need. Sometime you can’t do that with an entire class—see what everyone needs.
MS: Who’s coming up that you’re really interested in?
RM: Well, I have a very good friend who’s like my musical soulmate, and his name is Eyvind Kang, and him and his girlfriend Jessica, they’re just the most amazing musicians I’ve ever heard. We’re about the same age, I guess, but we’re all part of something I think that’s coming up. And I think there’s a lot of other people who are doing other stuff who I also feel are part of the same thing which is going to be an explosion of new ideas that are coming from people who really know how to play, who’ve played in all kinds of music. People who are open enough to just play in a noise band and then play some classical music; people like that. I think this is all going to add up to something. Once that happens there’s going to be this explosion of a sort of hybrid music.
MS: Speaking of hybrids, do you keep all your projects separate in your head, or can a track start one place and end up somewhere else entirely?
RM: Definitely it can end up being for something else. Generally my work process takes three years to really realize something. I have an idea and then three years later I can realize it. So every record I thought of three years before. I’ve found that it’s pretty consistent that way. So I have to keep having ideas, write them down, work on that, and maybe a few months later I have another idea. I try and separate it as far as the work process and do it differently, and sometimes I think, well, that would go really well with this other idea. I try not to do more than two ideas at the same time.
MS: You said that everything is dub in a way. Is that still a good distillation of your working methods?
RM: Yeah, I think I’ve applied dub to everything I do. If you don’t think of it as what you know as dub, but the form of how to make dub and the idea of subtracting. Dub has vocals and then you just start stripping down, and I’m really into that. And also remixing and making something else from something you wrote. I’m into writing something that could go a lot of different ways. That also comes from dub, which led to remixing, which is leading, I think, to a new style of music which is acoustically played music, sometimes notated, but also recorded and the studio is used as well, and the person who mixes it is also a player in the overall sound, so he’s actually listed as one of the musicians. And that is something I think is going on that’s starting to emerge. It may take a while to really hit.
MS: It seems like things are less and less single-author anymore.
RM: Yeah, and with the Internet, it’s just unavoidable that there’s going to be all this interaction in a kind of anti-social way—not really talking but all this interaction over the computer. If it’s going to be used for something, that’s the best thing I can think of.
MS: Is it weird for you to work with real people at a live show if you’ve been working for a long time on ideas in this room?
RM: Yeah. I mean I’ve been in this room about thirteen years, and sometimes never playing a show for two years or something. If I played out, I’d usually DJ. Or sometimes people would ask me to do a live show and I’d show up with one drum and then do a concert that way and sometime piss off some promoters. For some reason I felt really strongly that I had to do it with the least amount of things as possible. Sometime I want to do it that way, and sometimes I want to do it with like so much. It’s kind of like how I am. I grow my hair really long or I shave it all off.
MS: So, being a dad, waiting for the babysitter, is that changing musical life for you?
RM: No, not really. I mean, it does change certain aspects of art making because you don’t have as much time to ponder on what you’re going to do. You kind of have it all set and decided, before you go to work, so you work on it all in your head. Or I guess I’m speaking for myself.
MS: You’re used to spending more time just messing around in the studio? Do you notice that your results are much different then, working so much in your head before you actually try things out?
RM: Yeah. I’ve felt a sort of change in myself over the past few years where I’m hearing the music in my head and figuring out how to get it done, whereas before I had ideas on how to make music, and then I saw how it came out. They’re both good, and sometimes I miss the latter, but I guess they’re both just ways of doing things.
I think I spent a lot of time in my earlier years just tweaking, trying this and that, especially with recording gear, instruments, and electronics. I think I was preparing myself for this because now that I have kids, I can just get it done. And it feels right. I used to worry that I’m not going to be able to waste time sitting around and thinking of twenty different ways to do something. But I think it’s better for me at least that I can do just one thing and get that done because I don’t have time to do it twice.