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John L Walters Interview

JOHN L WALTERS INTERVIEW: Sunday, August 10th, 2008

How did your interest in contemporary music begin ?

I don't remember a time when I wasn't interested in music, and a very early memory (from infant school) was hearing Kodaly's Harry Janos suite, which begins with a musical sneeze . . . also seeing my Mum's piano music with songs like Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy and stuff by Hoagy Carmichael and realising that there was a big difference between what you could write down and the way it sounds . . . I was fascinated by the swing that was clearly impossible to write down . . . another memory was sitting mesmerised by a Radio 3 broadcast of Steve Reich's Piano Phase in the front room at home, and my Dad coming in and asking whether there was something wrong with the radio! But I don't remember whether I ever used the term 'contemporary music' . . . I liked pop and rock music, where everything was contemporary by defninition, and then realised that all the most interesting musicians had strong connections to jazz and classical music.

Early memories make fascinating interview items - I did a pile of them for Unknown Public no. 16, Childhood, and I have a few more, collected on digital voice recorder, but not yet published!

As well as your various musical roles,I know you have a professional interest in Graphic Design. Can you give me some examples of where you think music and design intersect most fruitfully?

Well I've earned my living editing Eye for almost the same length of time I've written about creative music for the broadsheets (at the Guardian since summer 2000) so I guess it's been entirely fruitful for me! I wrote a long article for Eye 63 [Reason and rhymes] saying that some of the most interesting music design takes place in the creative music (i.e. World, jazz, experimental, contemporary classical) arena, while it's more dull or functional in more mainstream areas. Having said that, most of the albums that are sent out for review feature mediocre design and art direction, so when I see a good design by (say) Stephen Byram or KarlssonWilker or Chris Brigg, my interest is piqued. That wouldn't stop me giving a rave review to an album that I thought had really bad design and artwork [such as the last Christine Tobin album. And I loved working with John Warwicker on the early Landscape artwork [we were his first client], and years later on the identity and design for Unknown Public, which was at the same time John was founding the Tomato collective.

You produced Mike Gibbs' "Big Music" album and I read in the notes that you initiated that project. I'm not very clear about the role of producer in these cases . . .

It's like being a film producer and director in one, really, except that there are many different ways to produce an album [check out the book The Art of Record Production - now The Art of Music Production - by my great friend Richard James Burgess], and it's not always easy to work out who did what.

For more on John L Walters go to his wiki page