7 Questions for… Owen Kilfeather

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(picture courtesy of Inês Saldanha)

Owen Kilfeather is a composer and multi-instrumentalist resident in Barcelona. His collaborations are as eclectic (and eccentric) as his compositions. Having close ties with Discordian Records, he’s written for several longstanding Discordian artists and groups, including the Filthy Habits Ensemble, Sin Anestesia, and the Discordian Community Ensemble. He also finds time to write music for himself…

1. Name an experience that contributed to your becoming a musician?
I’d say chiefly that all of the women on my mother’s side of the family are musicians. While my grandmother and her sister had five brothers, sea captains all of them, they are both conductors and pianists from whence came violins, violas, cellos, guitars, clarinets, flutes, bassoons, pianos and vocal cords. Although I played from an early age, I did rebel in a way by writing fiction in my early twenties, and at the time took it so seriously I felt that was what my life had in store for me from then on in; I was in a glorious writer’s collective called The New Absurdist (RIP), wrote fifty short stories and two novels. That gave way to musical composition over a series of salient life-moments wherein I found I had a knack for musical form (whereas my fiction, pleased as I am with some of my output, was mostly created through plugging away in the dark, so to speak). I went back to schooling, took harmony with Joan Carles Sender and analysis, counterpoint and orchestration with Patricia Balmaceda, and here I am.

2. Your compositions encompass (and combine) various ‘labels’, including avant-garde, baroque, free, choral, etc. Where do you feel most at home, and why?
I feel best working on what I want to hear coming out of me that I’ve never heard before blended with what I’ve already toned up on through practice. Regarding labels, I’ll spare you the “labels don’t apply, maaaaan” schtick, as your answer partly lies in your question: I get great pleasure out of seeing what I can combine without falling into pastiche.

3. What’s the starting point for a composition? (assuming you have one!)
Starting points are many and varied, be they from a raw musical idea that surfaces up in me, an adaption of literature, poetry, philosophy or cinema (of which I do a lot), writing for study purposes, or a particular proposal instrumentation-wise (whatever motley bunch the Discordian Community Ensemble happens to be comprised of at the time, currently working on a series of electric-guitar-duo-plus-various-soloist pieces with Diego Caicedo). Too, a composition can have more than one starting point: a still-unreleased recording that I am deeply enthused about started off as a cadenza in 2011 to be pulled out of the pile and reharmonised for chamber orchestra in 2014. At the other end of the scale from leisurely gestation periods, deadlines I regard as dear friends, so when I come home to discover there’s a concert in a matter of hours for which paper is required, heap plenty fun ensues.

As a sample, here’s Brunette x Blonde³ from Sin Anestesia’s “The Transdimensional Seduction Handbook”:

4. What superstitions or rituals do you have? (around performance, recording, everyday life?)
Where the everyday meets the musical, I generally abstain from sex, or at least ejaculation, the night before or the day of a performance: as opposed to a female orgasm which sets a woman up nicely for the rest of the day, male ejaculation tends to deplete reserves, the production of sperm being most taxing on the body – especially if they are to be expelled recreationally, as is the wont of humans and dolphins. Miles Davis put it succinctly (as if he ever spoke in nebulous terms!): “You’re goddamn right I’d fight Muhammed Ali. But he’s got to promise to fuck first. If he ain’t going to fuck, I ain’t going to fight. You give up all your energy when you come.” If it’s a shorter engagement we’re talking about, a 45-minute concert, say, I might be inclined to break my rule, but if it’s a day-long recording or rehearsal for which much more energy is required, I’d be inclined to keep to it. That said, there are age-old Taoist disciplines that separate orgasm from ejaculation, and plenty of not-so-age-old texts on the practice.

5. Who is the most inspiring person you’ve collaborated with, and why?
That would be my colleague El Pricto, for multiferous reasons. As a tireless composer-producer-improviser-theoretician, he has done incredible work for avant-music in Barcelona and, though I am loathe to ascribe credit for a movement to one person, I would say with his foundation of Discordian Records in 2011, he contributed a fair whack to the resurrection of the city’s free-improv circuit, which had been dead as the diplodocus since the weathering-away of a once-fertile movement in the 80s and 90s. Regarding El Pricto personally, I could give you lots of adjectives attesting to his pleasantness and industriousness, but to keep it short I’d say the most inspiring part is he’s philosophically-slanted, in that the idea (and the exchange of ideas) is paramount – something which can often get lost between the notes. And to paint a broader collaborative picture, I’ve had seriously enriching times collaborating with Tom Chant, Vasco Trilla, Johannes Nästesjö, Eugene Martynec, Marc Egea, Luiz Rocha, Pablo Rega, Diego Caicedo, Ilona Schneider, Ferran Fages, Gabriel Millan, Julia Sinusía, Mar Márquez, Rafa Lopinski, Andreas Kyriakou, Naná Rovira, Ben Palmer, Agustí Martínez and Enric Ponsa, among quite a few others; plus, while being the occasional photo-subject for her might not count as collaboration in the strictest sense, Elena Márquez is doing sterling work documenting the scene photographically and I’d say she’s everyone’s collaborator in that sense. Musicians I haven’t collaborated with so much but I think are incredible are Iván González, for his conduction work, and Àlex Reviriego, for the composerly eye he brings to improvisation. I also love working with alto/baritone saxophonist Alfonso Muñoz but he’s in México now, the bastard.

6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
I suppose we must bear in mind that fifty years ago actually getting to record was like jumping over the moon, whereas these days one can belch into a phone and process it into a perfectly uploadable track in a matter of minutes and so, just like in cinema, photography and every art that gets tossed into the brine upon the arrival of new technological endeavours, the financial side of music is undercut by (among other things) the glut of bedroom producers who’ll do things cheaply or pro bono out of lack of experience. The technology itself I have no bone to pick with, like any other tool it can be used to either help or harm and as such is neutral. From the music-listener’s vantage-point, I do understand that people were so burned by the sheer avariciousness that major-labels displayed with the price mark-up from vinyl to CD that they will shear as much free music as possible off the net; this is further complicated by the fact that the tech companies currently falling over themselves to emit what they’d call ‘content’ and I’d call ‘music’ are not at all in the business or pleasure of music, but are rather deeply invested in keeping afloat the programmed-obsolescence trinket economy peculiar to this era of late, hopefully post-, capitalism. To speak of my personal practice, I will of course work for free for friends, or if it is to create from scratch with people of similar intent, but generally you’re going to have to tuck a folded bill under my A-string if you want me to dance.

7. If money and time were no object, what would your next project be?
Oh, fantastic question. There would have to be some programme to keep the bassoon alive, which is in danger of extinction; as a composer, it would pain me greatly not to be able to write for that gorgeous animal which combines grace and awkwardness so well. Specific to Barcelona, a project fostering extended vocal technique would be ideal as that is one instrument noticeably lacking in avant-music circles here. For more immediate compositional purposes, I’d have Mike Patton, Mary Halvorson and The Iranian New Music Orchestra here to record with my colleagues, and for altruistic purposes I’d throw a hefty wad of cash at Scott Walker.

Owen’s many projects and nefarious musical activities can be followed on Facebook. The album “Shadow Cuts” is available from Discordian’s Bandcamp page.