Alberts: Has blending live, acoustic, analog, and digital elements always been important to you?
Wyatt: I did my first album in 1980 by recording my parents’ piano to a stereo cassette and bouncing that to a second cassette deck while using two Y-cables to mix in a monophonic synth part! Since then I’ve been largely immersed in the electronic world, but my music has taken a big turn back toward the acoustic world since I began working on what became this project. I found myself using a piano sound more and more, and bought a digital piano not long afterwards.
I think of piano and other acoustic instruments as being timbrally limited but extremely expressive, where tone, dynamics, phrasing, and articulation are everything. By contrast, synths have a huge timbral variety but limited expressiveness, so using both is a way for me to combine the best of both worlds.
Alberts: While you were still a teenager in the ’70s, you built a synth from a PAiA kit. How did that spark your musical imagination?
Wyatt: Being impatient, 17, and not at all mechanically inclined, I ended up having to send some of the modules back to PAiA because I hadn’t soldered them correctly. I used the PAiA fairly intensively for a couple of years but, since it was monophonic and not touch sensitive, I was ambivalent about it at the time. The PAiA sparked, but only barely began to satisfy my curiosity about the possibilities of synthesis until I bought a polyphonic, touch-sensitive Yamaha DX7 in 1984.
Alberts: Your music is sourced mainly from improvisations, yet sounds more organized than most ambient works. How do you approach it?
Wyatt: I’ve been composing this way since I first got a MIDI sequencer in 1985. I try to navigate between two extremes. A traditional approach to composition can sound “box-like,” with abrupt transitions, lacking flow and continuity. Improvisation can flit from one idea to another without ever really “landing,” or can feel less than 100 percent inspired. It seems that I’m constantly re-evaluating this balance between improvisation and flow versus traditional composition.
There is a lot more composition than layering of improvisation on my new album, so much so that often the improvised foundation became secondary, or even extraneous, and was removed. On these tracks, sometimes the process felt like a detective story, scrutinizing the improvs for clues to a hidden structure. I particularly got that sense on the piece “Artifacts and Fantasies,” which started from over nine minutes of 16th notes in constantly shifting odd meters. A large amount of the work was to look for parts that would superimpose a stable rhythmic feel on it.
Alberts: What did you enjoy most about the unusual live instruments available to you at Aerosol Grey Machine?
Wyatt: That’s an interesting question. I’d previously thought of most, if not all, the instruments I played there as being more “ordinary” than “unusual.” I was wrong. The cembalo was a great surprise. I never would have composed with that sound. A cembalo patch on a synth just goes “plonk,” but the actual instrument has a rich, resonating tone that fills the room. My parents had an antique pump organ, like the ones Christoffer has at AGM, so that sound also has a special connection for me.