Interview: Ljubov Dzuzhynska
Photo: Paul Barsch
Matti Gajek is a Berlin-based music producer and sound artist.
Pre-order the 'Vitamin D' LP ~ here
What do you feel when you look back at your life?
Maybe it is just what 2020 does to you but making a statement about the life I have lived at age 36 seems to have a vaguely ominous Checkhov´s Gun-kind of vibe [ed. note – a notion that every element in a narrative must be necessary, and non-essential elements must be removed]. It almost feels like a dare: famous last words. So I might be tempting fate by even answering that but looking back at my life I am actually very grateful and happy about where I am now. Less enthusiastic about the general state of the world obviously.
Do you think of yourself as one who lives and breathes music or would you easily give it up and switch to something else?
For me, both are true at the same time. I am certainly obsessed with music and spend pretty much all of my time making it and thinking about it from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. Sometimes I dream of music. Still, I have this feeling that I could just stop completely one day and walk away. That I would never make a sound again. It almost seems like the necessary flip-side to what I do now. There would be no middle-ground. Just excess and abstinence.
What have you learned about yourself through your music?
That I am in it for the long run, I guess. That I have patience and persistence. But I also changed a lot through things that I learned through music. There are some lessons in the process of making music itself. But for me, it was really about the places that music took me and, most importantly, about the amazing people I had the privilege to meet.
You are composing music for films, theatre, performances, and installations. Could you tell us what difficulties you face in each direction? What makes each of these so special for you?
The main difference between working on my own music and working in theatre is the very welcome social factor. When I work alone for longer stretches of time I become a weird person. I don’t mean to but it happens. In theatre you are part of a team, working closely together with a group of people every day for several months. It is a lot of fun and comes with some responsibility. There are people who rely on your work to create a piece collectively. And I really like that – doing my part in a bigger production. I also enjoy the technical aspects of producing for the stage, using the spatiality of sound to create places, narrations, atmospheres. But mostly it’s working with other people that I enjoy. Seeing the amazing work of costume designers and stage builders, actors, and writers making something come to life. Working for film is closer to my usual process because it is mainly me and a screen but it involves more creative negotiations. In my own music, I get to decide everything – for better or worse. I connect a lot to the visual aspects of both film and the visual arts perhaps because I have a background in visual arts as well. I love connecting sounds and images and I think very visually.
Is it important for your work to have a meaningful context? Why?
Yes, it is. I actually think that most art or music does have a meaningful context – some of it more obvious, some less. It might not always be easy to put it into words. But
I doubt something can be interesting without meaning.
Even art which is mainly about form doesn’t exist in a vacuum because it relates to aesthetic questions that can be very concrete and have a history.
Was there ever a moment when you were fed up with music?
With music itself no. With the music business, it has crossed my mind. But really also no.
Are you embarrassed about any of your previous work? Why?
No. I don’t think there is anything shameful about learning or failing. I find some parts of my work better than other parts but generally, I think it is necessary to start somewhere, and being too perfectionistic and harsh with your past output (or your output in general) is unproductive. I am deeply embarrassed about my first set of press-pictures though, which fortunately has never been published.
What kinds of questions are you asking yourself when you are creating music?
While I was working on ‘Vitamin D‘ there were times where I wasn’t sure if what I was making was still music. Especially when I finished ‘Double Bind Avenue’ there was a funny phase of a day or two where I was kind of lost, sitting with myself and this mysterious piece that I had made, unsure of what it was. Sometimes my work becomes strange to me like that even though I was there every step of the way of making it. I mean Double Bind Avenue for example had turned out exactly as I had pictured it! Yet listening back to the track I thought, ‘Well. It is interesting. Fresh, I think’. But also, ‘What is this?’. I never felt like that about my previous album, 17, although people tell me they find it more abstract. But for me, every track on 17 is clearly musical. Vitamin D despite having vocals and melodies has moments where it enters something else for me.
What factors define and influence you the most?
A huge influence for my creative process is listening to music by colleagues, the exchange of content with friends, really consuming creative products of all kinds.
Do you remember the first time you apprehended beauty?
I perceived a lot of beauty when I was a child but I cannot really remember a specific thing. There are many cloudy memories. I remember vibes and emotions. The feeling when I watched a Micky Mouse Clip on a 9x9cm black and white TV; shiny tiles in a primary-colored bathroom; really almost everything can be beautiful. For art though, it is no use if it is not also somehow interesting.
Clichés can be punk and breaking the rules can be stale.
I wouldn’t describe my music as beautiful.
What was your first musical memory?
I have many. But one thing I thought of a lot lately is this Charles & Eddie song – “Would I Lie To You?”. I used to listen to it with my mom on the radio when we were driving around in our old East German car, a Trabant that my mother had bought for a large sum of East German currency on the day the wall came down. It was probably the worst day to buy a Trabant in history but at that moment she didn’t know what was going to happen. We would sing together loudly in this car mimicking the English lyrics phonetically but somehow understanding the feeling. It is a happy memory.
What was your mindset when working on this new album? Did you somehow reinvent yourself while working on it?
Yes. I did reinvent myself. This record was a journey that took me far outside of any comfort zone I had before. Working with language, working with my voice, entering the picture with my body, speaking about my personal history. It felt necessary. I don’t think it made me dumber which is always good.
Now is not a time where art should be regressive.
If you could travel in time then where would you go and why?
I time-travel all the time. It’s being in the present that is difficult.
What is one thing that you would want to wipe out from existence?
I’m not convinced ‘wiping things out of existence‘ is the best format to think in when you want to improve matters. It never seems to make anything better. I mean think of the Terminator franchise. That is exactly what it’s telling us. Even when you terminate the thing that threatens to terminate you, another thing will come from another horrible future and it will threaten to terminate you again. And there will be another movie about that which will also star Arnold Schwarzenegger! If terminating would work there would only be one Terminator movie. If you want bad things to disappear and stay away you have to do the daily work of making sure of it.
What is the biggest difficulty you face as a musician right now?
The two challenges musicians have faced for most of western economic history: making meaningful art and paying rent.