Carl Stone – Realistic Monk – Photo by Miki Yui

Artistic languages are moving in consonance with their times, sometimes trying to anticipate the ongoing trends, sometimes constituting then one of the most enduring testimonies.

As one cannot talk about the beginning of XXth Century and its history without quoting Futurism or Dodecaphony, for example, or the second post-war period without quoting Abstract Expressionism or Rock’n’roll, so one cannot talk about the 80’s without quoting Post-modernism and Hip-Hop culture. But actually divisions appear artificial, when we discover that threads are interwoven, traces are mixed and the results of very art have often unthinkable ties.

Some of the seeds sown by the “Dada” phenomenon – a deflagration – are taken up by William Burroughs’ “cut-up” techniques, and a threshold is exceeded, from which there won’t be a coming back. In music one can pick up the cue, in parallel with the birth of tools fit to express it: in the 70s

Music walks down the street, with its “beatbox” and the instant poetry of Rap, while DJs torturing records, partitioning and revolutionizing sounds. The first digital instruments to treat the sound arise, since then always more sophisticated. They invite more attentive ears, and freer spirits, to diffuse curiosity for sonic experimentations.

Carl Stone has been feeding on all the musical “spore” in his atmosphere, was that from USA or from the beloved Far East, and all others that, being persistent in his memory, have activated the creative process. He made use of always better means to “cultivate” a body of works, and collaborations, in which he synthesized his electronic explorations, developing and earning an absolutely original space in contemporary music. The listening opens curiously, often surprising, and deconstruction and reconstruction of sound is the “echo chamber” where we found references to popular culture, to the spirit of the places, to the music of the world, to the “mind games” they can trigger.

Carl Stone supports his commitment as composer, musician and performer to teaching on the faculty of the Department of Media Engineering at Chukyo University in Japan.

We met Carl Stone on the occasion of his masterclass and live exhibition at Turin’s “Circolo del Design”, a project curated by ALMARE – a research collective about languages using sound as expressive mean – and SØVN Records, part of the exhibition “The Listeners”.

Carl Stone’s website

Carl Stone – Photo Martin Holtkamp []

Marco Aruga: How would You describe your evolution as a composer, trying to summarize your main interests?

Carl Stone: From the beginning of my musical life, as a composer, I’ve been interested in the idea of using “found” or “appropriated” music as a starting point from my own.  It comes from a fascination that I developed with many different kinds of music, while I was a student at the California Institute of the Arts, where I discovered many different kinds of music and the music library. I began to experiment with different combinations and mixing, using collage techniques and editing techniques. I am interested in exploring pre-existing music, so people could find a new way to listen to something. Something that they thought was familiar, in developing the un-familiar inside the familiarity, so the people could have new discoveries and make new emotional connections to a music that might never have thought they would have.

Marco Aruga: Several of your compositions, as You said – are using heterogeneous elements, coming from different sources. How do you collect them? How do they attract your attention?

Carl Stone: It’s sometimes difficult to say why a piece of music might find its way into my consciousness, sometimes it is very random. I can’t say always exactly what it is that fascinates me about a particular piece of music, that makes me want to sample and explore it. And in fact, it is because I don’t understand why I am attracted by some piece of music, that I have the urge to explore it. The composition that I might make from that piece of music is the method of exploration, where I discover the answer, at the end.

The music that was important to me, in my youth, will find its way into my own music, because it has sentimental connections, or just some emotional connections. Because I don’t listen to a lot of popular music, I am quite unaware of what is going on in the pop music world. It is not because I don’t like it, but it is because – somehow – I don’t listen, I don’t consume it.

But when I am out, maybe walking around in a new city, or in a café, and there’s some background music, and I hear a song that I never heard before – and it might be a very popular song, but I’ve heard it for the first time – there could be one phrase, one aspect, one measure, one “something” that I find interesting about it. So I go, I look up who the artist is, find the track, then begin to explore. This is something that is a kind of intangible, to what the interest I might have, but that’s the fun actually, it is exploring and finding out where it is.

Marco Aruga: This method of composition is directly linked to the ones of other artistic trends: the “cut up” language, used in literature, rap and hip-hop culture and music. Do you see any similarity between these artistic manifestations and your research?

Carl Stone: I think there is similarity between “cut up” artists, whether they come from a post-modern tradition, whether they come from rap or hip-hop. I think in some ways we are exploring the same territory. We both started in the same time.  My early experiment with LP recordings, cutting them up with a digital delay and a sampler, in the early 80’s, was done in parallel with the things that Grandmaster Flash and other DJs were doing, mostly in the East Coast. I was unaware of Grandmaster Flash, and I am very sure that Grandmaster Flash wasn’t aware of Carl Stone, but it didn’t matter, because it was a sort of “zeitgeist”, I think, that was happening at the time, and continues at a different level, today.

Marco Aruga: One of the passions, and fascinations, that you developed during your career, is the one for Asia, living on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Which kind of elements did you attract towards East?

Carl Stone: Well, the music of Asia is very attractive to me, of course, for my proximity, living in Japan. Not only Folk music from Japan, but also from other parts of Asia, East Asia like Korea or China, or even further to the South, in Thailand or Vietnam. Asia of course presents a lot of very very rich musical cultures, but I’m not interested only in Asia. I am interested in the music of Africa, music even from some parts of Europe and so on. Living in Japan helps of course a lot, and the Japanese approach to time and the structure is very special, and has had some influence to me, but actually I am also interested in a lot of different kind of music.

Marco Aruga: How the evolution of electronic instruments affected your way of working with music?

Carl Stone: The musical technology has evolved a lot over the past 20/30 years. The things that I really appreciate about the evolution is – number one – things are more compact and smaller. In the beginning it was a very laborious task to haul around all this big equipment when traveling and performing. Now everything can be contained in a laptop. And now we have also the precision of high-speed computing, that allow us to timing down to really a microscopic level of just fragments of a second, 44.000 “divisions” of a second, or even finer resolutions. This type of precision is a wonderful thing that has happened over the past few years.

Marco Aruga: All over the world we are facing the A.I. issue. As an artist, and a composer using technology, what do you think about it? Do you consider it stimulating, a composing tool, a possible “partner in crime”, or…

Carl Stone: Artificial Intelligence of course now is finding its way in the mass market. There are a lot of intriguing questions that have been raised, both about the practicality of using A.I., versus what can be considered the norms we should be establishing using A.I..

I have been using limited A.I. techniques for a number of years, for example, for separating musical elements inside of a track, but now that we have the possibility, for A.I. machines, to create actually music and musical styles – not to mention what can go on in the visual domain and anywhere else -, it is exciting and in the same time haunting project to consider that, in a way. I feel as a human being almost unable to really fully grasp what the possibilities as well as the pitfalls might be…