Originally from LA and currently residing in Berlin, Adam Gunther is the producer, composer and musician behind Dzang. Working alongside visual artists and making music for the senses, his cinematic, ambient debut is an ethereal track-by-track journey. Along with weightless space-evoking electronics, he features many live instruments, including guitar and a great use of vocal snippets, giving the record a uniquely human sound.
He was kind enough to give us an interview on his influences, inspirations and the films he’d wished to have scored. All featured images are taken by Adam, from his blog dzangtech.com.
What first inspired you to create music?
I can’t remember my first impulse to play music; it probably had something to do with my grandmother. She was a concert violinist and would play every day in her living room. I started at an early age: violin at seven and then guitar at nine (I switched to guitar because all my friends were doing it). I do remember starting to record though. I got the cheapest version of Cubase and a SM57 when I was 11 in 2002. That was a huge year in music for me. Beck’s Sea Change, The Strokes’ Is This It, The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi, and Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot all came out. Those albums collectively blew my mind and inspired me to start writing music. I actually made a full record when I was twelve. It was so bad though… I didn’t make another one until XLO, haha.
Can you tell us a bit about your collaborations with visual artists?
I often find collaborative processes to be more fun than solo work. I’d always rather have someone to bounce ideas off of or present challenges to my assumptions. It’s also great to work with someone that uses a medium besides music. Artists and choreographers often have a different conception of
the purpose of music, which forces me to work with their broader idea of composition. So far, I’ve worked with the choreographers Sarah Ashkin and Adam Linder. Adam and I did a small piece for the HAU in 2013. We’re also working on a hip-hop project. He’s a really good rapper. Right now, I’m working with video artist Sharyar Nashat and director Jay Dockendorf. That’s more traditional scoring work: putting music over a pre-conceived filmic presentation. Sharyar’s work is non-narrative, which gives the music a lot of room to define a viewer’s experience. We’re going to start a new piece soon. It will be part of this year’s Berlin Biennale. For the score of Jay’s new movie Naz+Maalik, I’m trying to back up the action and reinforce the vibe. Music can be incredibly powerful when you’re trying to tell a story, convey emotion, or fill-in the sensory void of watching a movie. We might be consciously putting together the words in the dialogue and gaining meaning from them but we are also always being affected by what the music is doing. In a way, it’s even more powerful because people are generally unconscious of that process.
Your Freunde von Freunden mixtape brilliantly highlights some of your influences, were there any key tracks that stand out for you as turning you onto a completely new direction?
“Love Stepping Out” by Disco Inferno really exploded traditional song structure for me. “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Roy Ayers changed my perception of groove… It’s definitely a funk song but it has an uncommon looseness that makes it move like no other track. “Psychotic Photosynthesis” by Omar S was probably the first techno song I heard that felt unrefined and handmade to me. It was on repeat for weeks after my friend Zully Adler sent it to me. Dean Blunt’s old band, Hype Williams, affected me in a similar way. Its contemporary electronic music that really ignores quantization, the 4/4 grid, and the in-the-box/super-clean sonic quality we’re all used to. Finally, the guitar on Elyse’s “Houses” is played by Neil Young and he is the ultimate for me. His playing has hugely influenced my own. His song writing is also next level and, throughout his career, reflected so many different emotions and experiences. His oeuvre represents a real person to me. I suppose that’s my goal too.
XLO evokes all kinds of ethereal landscapes, reading somewhere it could be compared to Brian Eno, I also think of Plaid’s soundtrack for Heaven’s Door, what was the inspiration behind it and how was it made?
I decided to move to Berlin form Los Angeles in April 2013. On the way east, I stopped for a week in New York to get a final taste of America. I booked a recording session with some friends because I figured I wouldn’t have the opportunity again for a while. That session generated a bunch of material that was actually really good. Once I discovered that I had some compelling tracks to work with I decided that I wanted to make a record. As I had just moved to a new city in
a foreign country, I had a pretty free schedule so I spent a lot of time editing and reworking those basic tracks until they were “songs”. I then spent another 5 months overdubbing and mixing. During that time I also composed some completely new music that is also on the record.
Sonically and aesthetically, the record developed as I was working on it in my bedroom. As a result of all the editing and Berlin descending into winter, the sound changed from guitar/bass/drums to more electronic. The combination of “live” and electronic instruments is really exciting for me. Eno is kind
of the master of that… Berlin-era Bowie, Talking Heads, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Music for Airports. It all uses electronics/computers for sounds and compares/contrasts it with live instruments that have a human performance quality. That actually emphasises the humanism for me.
I just listened to the Plaid soundtrack for the first time recently. It also uses a similar combination: electronic sounds to define the aesthetic and performed instruments (namely percussion) to define a more human groove. Boards of Canada do a similar thing too.
Is there a film out there you’d love to have scored?
There are a lot of scores I wish I had written! I wish I had written any of Jonny Greenwood’s scores (There Will Be Blood, The Master, etc.), Bernard Herrman’s Taxi Driver score, David Shire’s score and Walter Murch’s sound design for The Conversation,Trent Reznor’s score for The Social Network, the song “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Aaliyah and Timbaland’s music for Romeo Must Die… The list could go forever. There are just so many ways to combine music and film. For that same reason it’s rare for me to see a film and say “I could have done a better job on the score”.
XLO is available now on 12” LP here, all hand-numbered with screen printed covers, be sure to get a copy!