Tilman Robinson a composer, producer and sound designer has set up a new recording space in Fairfield and invited radionotes in for a chat. Tilman’s standout release Deer Heart (Hobbledehoy Records) is soon to be followed by a new release that again touches on society through sound – with recordings made in their very unique and purposeful ways. Between, they’ve been busy composing and collaborating including a work for Gregory Euclide’s Thesis Project with Aaron Martin.
Recorded in Melbourne, Victoria (Australia) in June 2018 and shared for the first time here.
Tilman is this episode’s feature guest….
To listen, click the green ‘play’ triangle… [note: may take few seconds to load]
(Transcript of Tilman Robinson chat below, check to delivery in audio)
PHOTO IMAGE CREDIT: radionotes
SHOW NOTES: Tilman Robinson episode
Where to find the show to subscribe/follow:
- PlayPodcast – this link directs you, to the Podcast app on your device (subscribe to not miss an episode)
….or you may prefer to Search “radionotes Podcast” in your favourite podcatcher.
In The Box:
- Dirty Churches – Washington (YouTube)
- That’s Country Bro – Toby Keith (Lyric Video)
- Kiss Me Into Monday – Abby Christo (Spotify)
- All I Want – Sunfruits
- More – Cassidy-Rae (iTunes) Official Music Video (added May 23rd)
FEATURE GUEST: Tilman Robinson
…definitely sonic and conceptual differences too…
- Official Website
- Instagram – Twitter – Facebook
- Kieran Welch – A Missing Moon (Project Details) and Direct link to funding
- Gregory Euclide (Official Site)
- Thesis Project – Thesis 11 feat. Tilman Robinson
- Beating Heart Stories – Luke Howard (Spotify)
- Hobbledehoy Records (Official Site)
- Where We Began (Live Video)
- Yours, Deer Heart (Official Music Video)
- Deer Heart – Album (Bandcamp), including Vinyl copies
Who Sent What?:
- Inside My Head – Kathie Renner
Next episode guest: Felicity Ward – from the archives
More details on playpodcast here, thanks to Matt from them.
[Radio Production – notes: Imbruglia chat takes most of the episode and suggested tune to play The Creeps and/or Carry You Around from Scared of You – LP ]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
You can make direct contact with the podcast – on the Contact Page
For direct quotes check to audio, first version of transcript by Stephanie T at REV
John Murch: Pleasure to be inside your new space. Let’s explain where we are.
Tilman Robinson: At my new studio in Fairfield in Melbourne. As you saw on the way in, it’s definitely in a state of construction, as is the room that we’re currently in.
Tilman Robinson: The whole building used to be an old … I’m still trying to find the gender-neutral term for this, but seamstress place. So, clothing making factory, essentially, with a huge factory floor underneath us. Where we’re sitting right now used to be really long tables with various sewing machines and these kinds of things.
John Murch: If we go by the fact that at an actress can be an actor, would not-
Tilman Robinson: A seamster?
John Murch: A seamer.
Tilman Robinson: A seamer, yeah. The only male version I could think of is tailor, but that doesn’t seem right either if you were a male seamstress.
John Murch: This was somewhere that made shirts, pants.
Tilman Robinson: Exactly. The team that is currently building this up, had already a recording studio behind this wall. In 2014, I was the recipient of a commission to write the piece for PBS. Funnily enough, we actually mixed it down in this studio. There’s a control room elsewhere, that we mixed it down in, which would be pretty funny, I think about now.
Tilman Robinson: But then they slowly took over the rest of the building. Firstly, this half of the top floor that we’re on now, and then the entire bottom floor, which is a factory floor. So, they’re slowing building them into a series of studios and workspaces.
John Murch: So, this very much is a home of audio?
Tilman Robinson: It is now, yeah. No longer clothing but audio.
John Murch: As we walk through, there’s some very old audio equipment that may have come from the old studio of 2014.
Tilman Robinson: I believe that the person in charge of building this place up is just a bit of collector as it were. Seems sort of seemed to find their way here, and then eventually he fixes them up. It’s all very DIY, which I think is really lovely, actually.
John Murch: Within this space that we’re in what is yours? What other proactive tools that would be yours, the Moog?
Tilman Robinson: Audio interfaces, tape machines, a series of compressors, speakers, some synthesizers. There is a bunch of stuff that isn’t actually set up yet, but a whole series of guitar pedals, these little audio toys that become part of the palette.
John Murch: The main mixer itself looks like it’s a classic.
Tilman Robinson: Right. Actually, it’s a bit deceptive. It’s a relatively new … As in, by new, I think it was made maybe 15 years ago by a company called TL Audio, who de-funked now, unfortunately. They’re an English company.
Tilman Robinson: They made this series of essentially tube mixers, so it’s got all tubes inside it, that also had digital capabilities. Unfortunately, this unit doesn’t but there is a card that you can get, that I’m really chasing, that has a ADAT In/Out, so I can just plug it straight into my audio interface and use the tube pre-amps, which would be very handy.
John Murch: Is this a space, Tilman, that you would perceive yourself spending days upon weeks in, in the near future?
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, definitely. For the past few years, I’ve been playing musical chairs, as it were with studios. I first had a space above a wonderful bar called LongPlay, which is in Fitzroy North, which was really great. They had performance space out the back that doubles as a cinema. Come sort of seven or eight p.m., there’d be bands playing down there and I’d have to sort of get out of there, which actually was fine because you’ve gotta stop sometime. Otherwise-
John Murch: Did it also give you a sense of community as well, that you had other genres of music other than yourself?
Tilman Robinson: Well, not so much at that space because that was usually just bands coming to play, and I’d hear them start warming up, and I’d get out of there.
Tilman Robinson: Although, a lot of colleagues and friends of mine do perform there, but I think this place will probably be more like that.
Tilman Robinson: Eventually, and this will happen quite quickly I think, we’ll lay cable into the live room next door, which is huge. You know, half the warehouse in size. And there’s also a couple of other smaller rehearsal rooms that they rent out, that I’m in discussions with turning them into live rooms.
John Murch: Can we talk about Tilman and his experience with the live music because you have recorded some live music in your time? Is there still a passion for that or is that the good old days?
Tilman Robinson: Do you mean live music in terms of me performing?
John Murch: Yes.
Tilman Robinson: And performing with ensembles?
John Murch: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tilman Robinson: Is there still a passion for that?
Tilman Robinson: I guess so, yeah. Later this year I’m running a commission for the Australian Art Orchestra. That’s premiering here, and then going to the London Jazz Festival, and then to Poland.
Tilman Robinson: That’s very much a return to that, I think. From a relatively long hiatus, year a couple of year hiatus of writing for an established ensemble. You know, writing a commission for an established ensemble.
John Murch: We’re going to get your solo work, which is very crucial for this space and what you’re doing, that solitude that comes with that.
Tilman Robinson: Right. Yeah.
John Murch: But can we stay on the ensemble just for a little while?
Tilman Robinson: Of course, yeah.
John Murch: When did that all start for you?
Tilman Robinson: I played in ensembles all my life since I was a kid. I used to play trombone, up until just a couple years ago when I set it aside. Listeners might be able to hear the smile in my voice.
John Murch: Is that a stigma thing?
Tilman Robinson: About the trombone?
John Murch: Yeah, because one does not blow their own trombone.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, one blows their own trumpet.
Tilman Robinson: No. I think it’s an amazing instrument. In fact, I miss it from time to time. What I don’t miss, is what I perceived to be the shackles of it, in terms of expressing myself creatively.
John Murch: Right.
Tilman Robinson: When I was younger, I played in symphony orchestras touring. I studied the trombone both classically and from a jazz point of view. I’ve had some incredible experiences with the instrument, in terms of traveling the world, in terms of performing with people I would otherwise never have had the chance to perform with, making contacts.
Tilman Robinson: But it was never my main mode of creative expression. And often, coming back to the ensemble thing, I felt most at home playing in a large ensemble on my instrument but I never felt truly comfortable being a solo voice within that context, with that being my mode of expression.
Tilman Robinson: When I moved more towards composition and organizing sound in that fashion, originally for the ensembles that I was playing in, that became a better vehicle for my creativity. And then, eventually, that just took over. That was a long process.
John Murch: At what age was that?
Tilman Robinson: At what age did it take over?
John Murch: The solo, yeah.
Tilman Robinson: I mean, it’s hard to … You know, there is transitory periods of that time but I guess the first time that I really felt like major compositional work was coming out of me, I was 26, I think. I just received a commission to write what ended up becoming my first album, Network of Lines. But that was originally conceived as a performance, as an hour-long concert piece.
John Murch: The age of 26, heading into 27, did you get a sense there were things you wanted to say through your music, for which the solo was the only way of saying it?
Tilman Robinson: It’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I don’t think that I ever felt … And maybe not even until now, have ever felt a burning push to say something, to say something meaningful. I don’t think that I do it in order to fly my own flag and say to everyone, “Hey, look at this thing that’s really important.” Maybe until my new record comes out, which is another conversation.
Tilman Robinson: But I do think that there’s just been something that I just want to express in a way that is not necessarily in words. That comes out through me musically. I mean, it comes out of people in very different ways. In some people, it comes out in rage and anger, in the way that people have road rage, or experience bouts of those kinds of aggressive tendencies, or melancholic tendencies, or things like this. And mine, it’s musical.
John Murch: Well, Tilman, how much of the creative composition at that stage, maybe even now, we’ll get to the new record later, is about controlling those vibes, those feelings, those tensions within?
Tilman Robinson: I think it’s the opposite of control. I think that there is something to be said for relinquishing control and allowing things to exist in their on temporal space.
Tilman Robinson: I would add though, that is probably more likely to be the outcome when I’m writing for an ensemble of other musicians, then when I’m working on an album of my own in the studio. Because, obviously, when you’re writing in the studio, and you’re writing with largely electronic instruments or very meticulous recordings that you can edit to the nth detail, you have a huge amount of control, probably too much to be honest.
Tilman Robinson: When you’re writing for a series of incredible improvisers for live performance, like I will be later this year or like I did with Network of Lines, you actually … Well, obviously, you have to give over that control to the musician at some point but choosing the right musician becomes an aspect of the compositional process.
John Murch: You’re talking about writing improvisation now. Initially, people think improvisation is just that, it’s improvising, you’re making stuff up.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah.
John Murch: But talk to us about the compositional elements of improvisation.
Tilman Robinson: I can only talk from my own perspective. I don’t profess to really have the Ph.D. in the history of improvisation.
Tilman Robinson: From a compositional point of view, I think improvisation as a compositional element stems from the language of the person that is improvising. What I mean by language, I mean the tonal palette that they create. That’s defined by many different things, usually who they are as a person, is number one. But also, the instrument that they play. You know, they have musical history on that instrument, all of these kinds of things.
Tilman Robinson: When you’re writing for improvisers, you have to take into account these aspects of it. And so, I will write a piece of music that has a section in it, amongst many notes of written things and what people might think is pretty classic composition, writing dots on the page, but I might have a section for an improvisor to do whatever they like, within the framework that I give them.
Tilman Robinson: And then, that is a very conscious choice to let that person loose on that part of the music because I know that what they will create through their knowledge of their instrument or their knowledge of music in general, will complement the composition at that stage.
John Murch: There seems, listening to what you’re saying there, an intimate knowledge of whatever that language is.
Tilman Robinson: Yes.
John Murch: Because music is a language, but knowing the language which that musician speaks and in the way of fluency, I guess that they speak it.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, indeed. And that comes from listening to the musician. If I’m working with a musician, I’ll go and see them play, probably quite a few times. If they’re not playing too many gigs at that point in time, I’ll listen to recordings, or I’ll go and meet with them, and like we’re doing now, sit down and they can show me their latest tricks that they’ve been doing or something. That makes it a bit reductionist, but show me what they do on the instrument.
Tilman Robinson: And then, I can incorporate that both into the dot writing that I’m doing, the note writing, and into how I can let them loose on the piece.
John Murch: The issue of trust when it comes to that relationship-
Tilman Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, a big one.
John Murch: Yeah.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah.
John Murch: How do you navigate that level of trust?
Tilman Robinson: Work with people that you trust. There’s no other way around it really. I think what’s interesting with this line of thought is you think about from a classical point of view, and I’m talking classical music now, there are always very disparate chamber pieces of music that have very strange instrumentation.
Tilman Robinson: So, you have your classic sort of chamber groups, like the string quartet, the piano trio, these kind of groups, or the wind quintet. Then sometimes you’ll have composers writing for a viola, a flute, and a harp, or just these very disparate groups. For years, I was thinking, “Why would you choose that group of instruments? That seems quite strange to me.”
Tilman Robinson: Then, of course, you realize, they’re writing for their friends. They’re writing for the people that they trust. Often, that is the way that composers will do it. Their friend says, “Hey, I really like your work, can you write me a piece?” You go, “Sure.” Because you trust that person, you know? And you trust their musicianship. You trust them implicitly. And it goes both ways.
Tilman Robinson: I might ask people to play on my music, and they’re usually people who’s musicianship I trust, and also who I trust as people. So, that becomes quite important.
John Murch: So, you could have a class of 30, but there’s only four or five that you would trust, but they only play these instruments?
Tilman Robinson: Ergo those instruments become the instrumentation. Yeah.
John Murch: And that becomes the piece and you make that work for the outcome.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, absolutely.
John Murch: Xani Kolac, you’ve worked with her?
Tilman Robinson: I’ve worked with her. She played on one of the earliest iterations of my first record, Network of Lines.
John Murch: What’s your vibe about Xani, and the work that she does?
Tilman Robinson: I think she’s incredible. I mean, recently I’ve been admiring her progress as a performer, and as a musician from afar. I haven’t really caught up with her in a while. But she used to work with my sister, who is a great cellist. They played together a lot. And, actually, Mel Robinson, my sister, was the person who put me on to Xani.
Tilman Robinson: I think she’s … What’s become quite beautiful to see, is the dedication and the fastidiousness that she’s doing in putting together new projects that are championing women, women in the arts, or whomever. There’s a real social consciousness and a drive to lift everyone up in that sense, which I think is really beautiful.
John Murch: That gives us a chance now to move back to you and your work. That’s the ensemble work. Then the solo work came about.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. I mean, I don’t really see a distinction between the ensemble work or the solo work. It’s all my output, essentially.
John Murch: Okay. I see that difference.
Tilman Robinson: Right.
John Murch: Because I perceive it as being long hours in a studio, compared to reaching out to other performers for them to do your work.
Tilman Robinson: Right. I think that the link that you’re missing there, is that in the composition of the work for the ensemble, there’s still many hours spent in the studio.
John Murch: Of course.
Tilman Robinson: The unfortunate downside of being a composer, I guess, is that you do spend a lot of time alone, and you have to get used to that. Often, that can become part of the process in a really beautiful way, and make you ask questions of yourself, and hopefully answer questions of yourself as a person. But I know a lot of people that don’t like that.
Tilman Robinson: A lot of crossover between the studio in the ” ” work and the ensemble work in that, both require huge amount of preparation in this space now on your own and making that happen.
John Murch: If we look at the solo now, and particularly when talk future release, this is very much a personalized input. This is you having your voice, instead of giving the voice to other musicians.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I hadn’t thought of it like that. But, you’re probably right. Yeah.
Tilman Robinson: In taking complete control of the sonic world that I’m creating, maybe it is more mine than it is others. Yeah, I wonder if that’s true. That’s something to think about.
John Murch: By the time this is released, you’ll be very much focused on the next solo album, which I’m interested in very much … In fact, interested in hearing some insights about before it’s out, of course. But what is the difference between that first and second record? What’s happened between the two?
Tilman Robinson: Well, the first … Essentially, it’s my second record, actually. Deer Heart is the first one, the first sort of studio album that I made. That was made very much while on the road, around the world. I wrote a lot of it in Canada, when I was in residency at The Banff Centre, and in Iceland when I was there, and in rural Bavaria, and just all these disparate places.
Tilman Robinson: It was kind of DIY, in that I recorded things all over the world, and ended a lot of work actually at the studio in Iceland called Greenhouse.
Tilman Robinson: I think the difference between the two, is that this one has all been made here in Melbourne.
John Murch: So, the difference between Deer Heart and this new record is that?
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s putting it from a practical point of view. I think there’s definitely sonic and conceptual differences too, which I’ll get to. But there’s something to be said about feeling a bit more grounded, even if I haven’t been in the same studio the whole time in creating work in one space, working with musicians that I know and trust that live here, rather than hiring session musicians.
Tilman Robinson: You know, these are the friends the colleagues that I was talking about trusting earlier, that I can work with on a more one on one basis, before just going in and booking a session for X thousand Icelandic króna. You know? Which allowed a certain amount of freedom and creative process that wasn’t on the other.
John Murch: What did you get from the residency, The Banff residency, for example?
Tilman Robinson: Time. Time and freedom. I think what’s not to be underestimated for people in my position, is that you need to spend a lot of time uninterrupted on your own making this stuff.
Tilman Robinson: Obviously, life gets in the way. So, if you’re in your home city, you’re more likely to be asked to do work, obviously, friends are around, right? You want to go hang out with your friends. But if you’re sitting in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains, and there’s no one else around, then it becomes quite a beautiful place of solitude where you can make these things.
Tilman Robinson: And, actually, I’m about to take off to Europe next week on a tour with a group from Melbourne. And then, after that, I’m going to spend a week again in rural Bavaria, just sequestered writing this piece for the Art Orchestra.
Tilman Robinson: So, it’s about finding time really, to really dive into the work that you’re doing.
John Murch: When and how did you first experience solitude as a good thing?
Tilman Robinson: I feel like I should be lying down on a couch now. Probably at The Banff Center. I did a two in a half month residency there in the winter, their winter of 2013.
John Murch: All right, so November/December-ish?
Tilman Robinson: I guess it was … Yeah, October into early December.
John Murch: Okay.
Tilman Robinson: So, yeah. Probably late Fall, late Autumn.
John Murch: Yeah.
Tilman Robinson: But, of course, we were snowed in quite quickly. It was minus 36, pretty debilitating.
John Murch: Yeah, that’s minus 36 in Bedford, yeah.
Tilman Robinson: But what was beautiful about that, and this is actually where a large chunk of Deer Heart first came about, definitely conceptually, and two of the first compositions were written there, was yeah, just having this uninterrupted time to focus on my own and practice on my own work.
Tilman Robinson: The difficulty with that is that you start to equate this time of solitude and this time of having that time with being the only way to create your work. Then in order to make Deer Heart, I flew to the other side of the world and took that time again.
Tilman Robinson: And coming back to this new record, this has all been made here in fits and starts of creative time, essentially, which has been a change in process. But it’s probably more likely that will be the way that I’ll make records from now on, so it’s actually good that I’m making it that way.
John Murch: You’re very much on the edge of the seat, and rightly so, to share some insight into the new record. I’m very much happy to take that onboard.
Tilman Robinson: Right.
John Murch: Even if this goes out after it’s been released, at least it’s-
Tilman Robinson: Oh, no, I can tell you about it. I mean, I’m not shy about that.
John Murch: This is the end of June 2018 that these comments are being made in case it changes.
Tilman Robinson: Right.
John Murch: Or is it already in the can?
Tilman Robinson: Look, when you leave today, I’ll probably do the final bits and pieces. Then I’m mixing it when I go to Europe next week. Yeah.
Tilman Robinson: So, the new record is the working title and the probably title is Culture Side, which is a sort of newly minted term in literary circles around the end of human culture/civilization by our own means. So, hot topic, yeah! Pushing the button.
Tilman Robinson: Well, to me, it’s a cathartic exploration of those things, really. Generally in the way that I conceptualize a body of work, is I will take a metaconcept, which has often been outsourced to literature but in this case not, take a metaconcept and then zoom in on the aspects of it.
Tilman Robinson: The metaconcept of this, was essentially this idea of Culture Side, which I think the definition is yeah, the end of human culture by human means. So, what does that mean? The end of human civilization. What are the differences between the words culture and civilization? They have very different connotations to me.
Tilman Robinson: If it’s the end of human civilization by human means, does that mean the end of human culture? No. If it’s the end of human culture, does it mean the end of civilization? Probably. You know?
Tilman Robinson: But it’s exploring sort of aspects of how humanity might meet its own demise. And from a sonic, that’s a meta-conceptual point of view. Whether listeners get that from the record, that’s completely up to them. I probably won’t hammer that home too much. I’ll leave it up to people to decide.
Tilman Robinson: But from a sonic point of view, there’s kind of an extension of some of the sonic ideas I was exploring in Deer Heart. In Deer Heart there’s a lot of sounds that I harvested from my own body, so using stethoscope microphones to record heartbeats or hydrophones to record myself doing mundane things, like doing the dishes, or having a bath, or something like that. These became part of the sonic palette.
Tilman Robinson: In Culture Side, in keeping with the theme, essentially, I took that sonic idea to another place, which is recording machines that monitor the human body. I spent a really interesting night at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, recording MRI machines, electrocardiograms, these kind of things, and then trying to find a way to make that musical, have an idea of what that sound is when it’s monitoring my body or nobody. I mean, I couldn’t really get into the MRI machine.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, and then try to weave that into the sonic texture, to varying levels of success.
John Murch: Do you get a sense that culture is on the way out?
Tilman Robinson: I think things are very turbulent at the moment. It think things are changing. I don’t know whether that’s for the better or the worse. And I think there is a very real threat to our survival as a species. No, scratch that. I don’t think there’s a very real threat to our survival as a species. I think that there’s a very real threat to the survival of the current form of civilization.
Tilman Robinson: Whether it’s in my lifetime or in a lifetime soon after, I think there will be a very big shift in how we live and whether or not the planet will be able to sustain how we live our lives.
Tilman Robinson: But yeah, do I think that there’s an end in sight? Yeah, I do. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in the way that the extinction of the dinosaurs wasn’t a good or a bad thing, you know?
John Murch: How does the conversation of this music then play a part?
Tilman Robinson: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, to a certain extent, I feel like I’m shouting into the void a little bit by making it. To a certain extent, I feel like a lot of my listeners potentially share this malaise and this feeling of helplessness around those events.
John Murch: Thus, is that some level of comfort they may find in it?
Tilman Robinson: Well, yeah. I mean, either comfort or if people aren’t thinking about these things, maybe it’s a reason to start thinking about it.
Tilman Robinson: But realistically, it’s a selfish exercise in aligning myself this cathartic process of exploring these things and finding a way of organizing my thoughts about it into something as disorganized as my music.
John Murch: During this recording process of this new record that we’re speaking on, did you find some answers within us doing it?
Tilman Robinson: I don’t think I found answers because I don’t know if there are any, but I did find solace in thinking about it in the way that I was, which was taking it very much from the academic side of my brain that loves to obsess about politics, and obsess about reading aspects of this, and reading literature about it, and allowed me to give it over, essentially, to the artistic side of myself, which is not as concerned with the minutia and more about how I feel about it as a whole.
John Murch: This travel that you have done, what’s that done for your sense of politic?
Tilman Robinson: Well, the interesting thing about that and Deer Heart, is that some of Deer Heart was written at that point when there as a huge amount of refugees coming into Germany, where I was at the time, and in particular, into Munich on trains in 2015. Late in 2015, there was train, after train of refugees coming to Munich welcomed with open arms. You know? There were people at the train stations with bags of food and these kinds of things, to welcome the refugees from their plight in Syria, and how much that has changed. You know?
Tilman Robinson: Even within Germany, which is one of the more liberal-leaning democracies I think, as far as that is concerned, as far as refugees are concerned, and there’s been a huge wave of nationalism that goes against this. It was interesting that was such a timely and informative time to be at that place in the world.
Tilman Robinson: There’s a piece of Deer Heart called Orison, that I originally wrote at exactly that time, and was influenced by that I think. That then became, I guess the germination of this project.
John Murch: So, back to the differentiation between the two releases, Deer Heart and the new release, what are those differences? Because I haven’t, obviously, had the pleasure of listening to it yet.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, and you never will.
John Murch: So, it will never be released.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah.
John Murch: Oh, no, you’re saying I’m going to die tomorrow. Thank you, I forgot. It’s my time.
Tilman Robinson: We’re all going to die tomorrow.
John Murch: Oh, well. I’ll go first. I’ll take one for the team. I’ll tell you what it feels like. There’s a different palette though, isn’t there?
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. I think that … And the subject matter leaned itself towards that as well. My compositional practice has been on a slow crawl towards electronic music. But I will make a distinction there, that every single aspect of this record either had its germination on an acoustic synthesizer, or is an acoustic recorded sound, or was electronic sound but I re-amped into a room, so it could take on acoustic properties, and then has been manipulated and rerecorded.
Tilman Robinson: There is definitely a push in my practice towards working with sound in that way. There is a difference between a lot of more ensemble-driven music that is on Deer Heart, and Network of Lines, and this one.
Tilman Robinson: I don’t know whether I’ll keep going down this path. I think, as we were talking about earlier, the time spent in studio just sitting here finely turning an electronic element, is getting a little too … I guess, boring. I just want to be around musicians again. So, maybe the next thing will be a string quartet, a series of string quartets that I can get my friends to play or something. I don’t know.
John Murch: Full solo work, who’s your sounding board?
Tilman Robinson: There are numerous people that I send stuff to.
John Murch: Because it’s not just yourself because, obviously, you’d keep on going, wouldn’t you?
Tilman Robinson: No, actually.
John Murch: Okay.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah.
John Murch: But there are-
Tilman Robinson: That’s totally … I totally see that in my colleagues. I can absolutely see why people do that. But I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m pretty good at just going, “Okay, I’m done now.” That’s not usually because it is done. It’s usually because I just can’t be aft to listening to it anymore.
John Murch: And so the sounding board then becomes what?
Tilman Robinson: Well, I send it to other people.
John Murch: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tilman Robinson: And then I go, “Okay, it’s time now.” Then I go, “Right. We’re going to mix.” Then there might be a couple of changes in the mix, but then after that, it’s finished.
John Murch: Tilman has an Adelaide connection, which I’d like to talk to you about and that’s your record label.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. It was a really organic process. I think when I was releasing or about to release Deer Heart, I was thinking about where to put it out and what was happening. I talked to my friend Luke Howard a lot about that. I guess he must have contacted Tom and Aaron unbeknownst to me because when I sent them the record eventually, they said, “Oh, yeah. Great. Let’s go.”
John Murch: Okay.
Tilman Robinson: That was actually a really beautiful process. They’ve been really great in the process of releasing Deer Heart. We haven’t really talked about the new record yet, so we’ll see what happens there because I don’t know. I have a feeling they’ll probably just say, “Great, let’s go for it.” But it is quite different to what is on the record now.
John Murch: Something new to bring to the table?
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but we’ll see what they say.
John Murch: They’re a vinyl label as well, very much.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. Yeah.
John Murch: Was that on your radar?
Tilman Robinson: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s … And, in fact, I feel like I’ve probably sold more vinyl than I have CD’s. You know? Which is inevitable in this day and age, but it says a lot about the people that listen to my music, that there is an audiophilic quality to people, that they want to have this object and the best possible sonic representation, which I think is in the vinyl and that listening experience.
John Murch: As someone who’s made the art, to then know it’s being listened to the way it was meant to be listened to.
Tilman Robinson: That’s another whole conversation … Not conversation, but an aspect of that comes down to releasing Network of Lines, there was a piece that I wrote, another concert piece that I touched on called Agony of Knowledge. That was for PBS and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.
John Murch: Yeah.
Tilman Robinson: But these pieces were intended to be listened to as a 60-minute work. You know?
John Murch: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tilman Robinson: What I think is interesting about that is that nobody is sitting down anymore and listening to a 60-minute work, or not many people, on their stereo at home and neither am I, really.
Tilman Robinson: When I was making Deer Heart and now with Culture Side, it’s like I want to think about them as individual compositions of two to six minutes in length. And condensing all of that thought process into these smaller works so that people that listen to them, digitally can still have an idea of what each composition is.
Tilman Robinson: But, obviously, they form a part of a larger whole, which is the album release. So, thinking about how to structure that is part of the composition. In that, even when we were talking about Culture Side, the metaconcept of what Culture Side is, is this overarching thought about the entire record.
John Murch: As you also said regarding Culture Side, it’s up to you, still whether or not you’ll put the narrative out as openly or leave it up to the record to be-
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. It’s something I probably need to talk about with whomever, the PR person or something. It seems a little on the nose to me, to kind of just bang on about this doom and gloom.
John Murch: Yeah, well Moby did it with his releases.
Tilman Robinson: Right, yeah. And there’s a few-
John Murch: Like there was a release and an essay every time.
Tilman Robinson: Right. Oh, right.
John Murch: For at least a couple records, there was always an essay. The CD booklet was an essay.
Tilman Robinson: Oh, I don’t think I’d go to that length.
John Murch: No?
Tilman Robinson: But it’s more about whether talking about it in interviews like this is really appropriate or constructive to what the music is because I really do want people draw their own conclusions from the music. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things, is people coming up to me after a show and saying, “Wow, your music made me think about this and this.” I say, “Hey, cool. I definitely wasn’t thinking about those things when I was writing it, but beautiful, go for it.”
John Murch: But you personally and deeply have some views as well that, obviously, are on the record.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah.
John Murch: But also in your daily life as well.
Tilman Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John Murch: How much, Tilman, does that influence your decisions of what the next project or what the next element of music to be written down will be, by your daily opinions and thoughts of the world and what’s actually going on?
Tilman Robinson: Right.
John Murch: This, as a concept record, of course, it’s in there, it’s happening. From a day to day point of view.
Tilman Robinson: I think the daily actions are affected in that, we all try to live better lives. We all aspire to. In terms of making new work, I don’t know whether this will be a continued point of exploration. I don’t know how helpful it’s been. It has been nice to do. I don’t know.
Tilman Robinson: Obviously, it’s not released yet, so I don’t know if it’s going to have any impact on how people think or whether people think about it. And I don’t know if it’s necessarily something that I need to now sit down and really mull over again.
Tilman Robinson: So, the next thing might be, I don’t know, return to literature, either parts of my life or the lives of others that I feel like thinking about, in as much detail as I’ve thought about this because it is a lot of thought given to the topic.
John Murch: What was that first record for Tilman? And was it influential on where you are now?
Tilman Robinson: The first record-
John Murch: Record you bought.
Tilman Robinson: That I bought.
John Murch: With your own money.
Tilman Robinson: The first record I bought, No Doubt, so the band No Doubt, from the mid ’90, and their album Tragic Kingdom. And the time that they had that huge hit single, Don’t Speak. Banger.
John Murch: Still a fan of Gwen Stefani? No, clearly not.
Tilman Robinson: I mean, no. Actually, post that album things got a little weird I think with her. There was this whole Harajuku phase where she was big in Japan. There was all these … Yeah. That was the first album I bought.
Tilman Robinson: The first CD single I ever bought, back when that was a thing, was the theme song to the reboot of the Mission Impossible series. The version that was done by the two people from U2 that you don’t know, the drummer and the bass player. Wow, what a time, mid-’90s. Good times.
Tilman Robinson: I can’t really think of definitive albums, in terms of shaping what I do now, until I get to maybe 10 years ago. When I first heard the music coming out of Greenhouse Studios, specifically this label Bedroom Community. When I went to Iceland in 2015, I worked for them at that studio. That was a long process of going, “Wow, how is this music made?” And then going there and demystifying it. I think that’s had a big impact.
John Murch: So, you were introduced to the music and then went?
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was kind of a fascination of these four very disparate artists that have very disparate practices, and I wanted to see how they made all this music together that was so different but used all of the same musicians.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, it was quite an eye-opening experience, I think, and continues to have an impact. I mean, I still am in touch with these people and work with them to varying degrees.
John Murch: That’s where the travel started then?
Tilman Robinson: Well, travel has always been a thing. I was born in Germany, and would go back quite frequently. Well, not really but from time to time. And then, I just had a real travel bug and just wanted to keep going and going. And eventually, I found a way to do that and also do work, as I continue to.
John Murch: But in terms of the music travel bug.
Tilman Robinson: The music travel bug started in 2011, the first time I went to the Banff Centre.
John Murch: Yep.
Tilman Robinson: And then, when I went to Iceland was in 2015. There had been a couple of longer … The trips were getting longer and longer and that one went for most of 2015.
John Murch: Do you see yourself as a Melbourne Australian or just international artist?
Tilman Robinson: I see myself as an Australian artist because I am Australian, and I want to express aspects of being Australian. I would like to have an international career, and I think that there are … I am, hopefully, on the trajectory towards that.
Tilman Robinson: I don’t think I’ll ever call myself anything other than an Australian artist.
John Murch: Is there inspirational icons, maybe a Luke Howard, for example?
Tilman Robinson: Within Australia?
John Murch: Well, that are setting you on your path to where you want to go?
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, I mean Luke’s career has been incredible to view, as a friend and as a colleague. You know, there’s definitely people like Lawrence English, who I very much admire and other people like that. I would say Ben Frost, but he kind of left Australia maybe 15 years ago or something. I think most of his output came when he was already a resident of Iceland.
Tilman Robinson: But yeah, there are a lot of Australian artists that I think are really doing incredible work around the world.
John Murch: Now, looking the other way, to artists that may be looking up to your good self, how do you take that onboard? What’s your elements of teach?
Tilman Robinson: When somebody comes to me and wants to talk about music or their practice, it’s very individual. I think the most important thing I try to impart on people, that come to me to talk about being a musician, is to be magnanimous and to pay it forward.
Tilman Robinson: There are an unbelievable amount of people who have helped me to become the musician that I am today, without ever having asked for a dollar in return. And so, I like to pay that forward.
Tilman Robinson: And quite frequently, if somebody emails me out of the blue and says, “Can I get a lesson or something? I’m going to be in town for two days, can I have a lesson?” I’ll say, “Yeah, of course.” And don’t charge them a cent. I mean, I know what it’s like to do that kind of travel, and wear your heart on your sleeve when you come into the room with somebody that you really respect.
John Murch: Does that give you a sense of faith that your new album may not be as bleak as it needs to be? That there is some sort of cultural engagement that society has done all right like that.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. It’s a distinction I haven’t drawn. Yeah, maybe. I think, yeah. If there are enough people trying to be as helpful as possible, that’s definitely the way that I can see a future for all of us.
John Murch: What music are you actually listening to right now for Tilman? Not Tilman, the composer. It might be hard to make the difference. But for Tilman the bloke who goes and gets the milk from the shop, that kind of thing. What are you currently listening to and why do you think you’re listening to it?
Tilman Robinson: To be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of music anymore, which is really unfortunate. I spend all day sitting in here listening to music, and you just want to give your ears a rest.
John Murch: Your own music?
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, my own music, or other projects I’m working on, or if I’m doing front of house sound for an experimental percussion group, making all these kinds of crazy frequency driven sounds. The last thing I want to do is go and have to analyze more music in my mind.
Tilman Robinson: So, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Having said that, stuff that I’ve been really enjoying recently, some of the releases of Thesis that I’ve been checking out.
John Murch: Okay. Because we want to talk about that as well.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah, sure.
John Murch: What is Thesis? Because you do have a work on one of the sides of the vinyl that’s been released.
Tilman Robinson: Well, it’s actually one whole record that is a collaboration between myself and cellist and composer from Kansas. So, Thesis was conceived by Gregory Euclide. I think that’s how you say his name, who is an artist from Minnesota. Famously did the album artwork for the Bon Iver album.
John Murch: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tilman Robinson: Which of course, is a multi-platinum album. That’s just a small aspect of his career. He’s an incredible artist. He just decided to create this record label and ask people, such as myself, to do a collaboration with another artist that they’d potentially never heard of.
Tilman Robinson: I’d heard of Aaron Martin’s work before, not in any great detail. But I was aware of his work. This is the person that Gregory paired me with. And so, we set about this sort of international collaboration of sending files to and fro and making a 10-inch vinyl, that will only be released as vinyl with handmade beautiful artwork by Gregory. It becomes a series of a set of these collaborations that he releases at any given time.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. It’s really special. I think it’s going to be really good.
John Murch: How do you describe that collaboration process? You stated there that you knew a little bit of their work, but obviously, you got to learn a lot more during the process.
Tilman Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. I think what was interesting about the process is, harking back to what we were talking about, about being in the room with people, and working with people that you trust implicitly, and these kind of things. I had none of that history with Aaron and as email exchanges, we never spoke on the phone or anything like that.
Tilman Robinson: It became a very different process of collaboration. I’m very happy with the outcome and it was really great to work with him. But it was definitely a way of collaborating that I’m uncomfortable with, which is good to know that I can still make good work with another person, without having that comfortable process that I’m …
John Murch: That’s a sense of maturity, isn’t it? That you know the work that you can do.
Tilman Robinson: Right. Yeah. Trusting in yourself, I guess.
John Murch: Yeah.
Tilman Robinson: You know? Trusting in your own facility as a musician, and then having that confirmed by being able to make work in whatever way is necessary.
John Murch: You have the confidence as a musician. When did you get that?
Tilman Robinson: Do I have the confidence or just confidence?
John Murch: Well, the confidence to be a musician.
Tilman Robinson: I mean, I guess I have to.
John Murch: Yeah, right.
Tilman Robinson: So, I do it now. It can be pretty soul destroying at times, this business. But I’ve been a musician in some way or another, freelance musician in some way or another since I was 16, so the trust is there because I’ve been doing it, and doing it in many different incarnations for half my life now.
Tilman Robinson: So, yeah. It’s important to just trust in having been able to do it for so long. That gives me the confidence to keep doing it.
John Murch: For you, do you give yourself limitations, in terms of length? I think you may because you were saying that you’re focusing on six or shorter piece of it.
Tilman Robinson: Something that was expressed to me, in amongst all the composition lesson that I’ve had is explore an idea to its logical conclusion, and don’t mistake the length of a piece for its success.
Tilman Robinson: So, if you can explore a sonic idea or a compositional idea, and express everything that you want to express about it in two in a half minutes, done, great. If it takes you 20 minutes, that’s also fine.
Tilman Robinson: But what you have to be careful of, is not thinking to yourself, “Okay, here’s this musical idea that I’m really into, and here’s another musical idea that I’m really into, and they should be the same piece.”
John Murch: Right.
Tilman Robinson: So, it’s going, “Okay, I recognize these two different musical ideas, and they are two different pieces of music.” And then, when I realize that aspect of music making and composition, I stopped writing long extravagant pieces, that I thought were my magnum opus, and realized that I could express as much from one musical idea, rather than trying to sandwich two. You know, put a square peg in a round hole and call it a composition.
John Murch: Tilman, I’m fascinated to know what the next 10 years are like for you because you’ve had a very solid last 10 years of performance composing, and doing what you do so well. Have you cast the net over the next decade of where you want to be, in I guess what will be 2028?
Tilman Robinson: I would hope that I am still writing music. The past 10 years have been a very conscious decision to move away from teaching, other employment, playing my instrument now, towards writing music. I feel like I’m on a trajectory now with that, and I just hope that the next 10 years continue that, and I find a way to continue the critical success, continue to create music that I’m proud of. I mean, that’s the ultimate goal.
Tilman Robinson: And if people like it, great, then hopefully they can be some kind of financial reward as well at some point.
John Murch: Tilman Robinson, absolute pleasure. Good luck with your new release.
Tilman Robinson: Cheers. It’s been a pleasure.