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Interview with Lifesaver Laboratories - conducted by e-mail - 10/4/97

Jester: How did the record contract with Tone Casualties occur?

Michael: I discovered the label via the Internet and sent them one of my demo tapes of "Terms & Conditions" (the same one you reviewed) in June of 96. In July I got a reply from Mike Mena who, I found out later, manages the label, saying he liked the tape and that the owner (Gabor Csupo) needed to hear it. Apparently Gabor really liked it. Mike later called me with an offer and in October I received a draft agreement from their attorneys. That is when I realized this was not some small college label. By the end of the year I had a signed contract with the label.

Jester: Did you have any role in the artwork design on the Tone Casualties release?

Michael: For the most part, no, although I did let them know what I did and didn't like. Anything I was not happy about was either changed or eliminated. The wording on the inside is mine.

Jester: Apart from the change of track order, where there any changes made to the tracks that originally appeared on the "Terms & Conditions" demo tape?

Michael: The track order didn't change. The time listings got screwed up though. I didn't make any changes, except of course Tone Casualties got the original masters. Mike Mena did mention to me that they thought the "demo" was well-produced. I worked hard at getting it right with the resources I had at the time. I probably shouldn't have used the word demo but I wasn't sure what was considered acceptable quality for review purposes.

Jester: What kind of media response have you had from the release of the album?

Michael: So far there has been a positive review in the October issue of Keyboard Magazine, Rocklove Magazine, (The Tone Casualties web site has these posted) and college radio air play.

Jester: Are you working on any new material?

Michael: Yes, I hope to have my next album completed sometime this Fall I have some WAV file snippets of recent works on the Lifesaver Laboratories web site.

Jester: Does your contract with Tone Casualties extend beyond a single album?

Michael: Yes, they hold the option for three additional albums.

Jester: How did you first get involved with composing music? Why did you choose to compose music in this particular genre as opposed to any other?

Michael: I have been possessed by music since I was a young teenager. I always relished the thought of rushing home with something new to put on the record player. A lot of the time I would buy an album just because of the section it was in and the album cover without knowing any more about the music. I've always relished the idea of not knowing what to expect.

Listening to music I realized after a while that, from time to time, I would "hear" sounds ( riffs, passages, counter-melodies, etc.) which I thought were part of the actual music. The sounds turned out to be my own auditory hallucinations - my mini compositions.

I used to think traditionally about what it means to be a composer --- command of an instrument, training, education and so forth. I remember one day looking at my large collection of records on day and realizing that "listening" - really hearing is what it takes to make music. If one can't hear, all the training and education will simply make ones work sound like nothing more than "training and education". I don't just mean academic training there's also the formula of "how to make a pop recording" which is, of course, : man loves woman, woman loves man or something like that.

I've always wanted to do something with music because of the unexpected, exploratory nature of sound juxtapositions . I've learned that music can be anything - its the context which makes it boring or amazing. Speaking negatively, I'd rather have someone say my music is crap rather than boring - at least a strong response is better than a I've-heard-it-before-yawn!

Jester: Have you ever had any type of formal musical training?

Michael: Of course; five years of school band, fourth grade to ninth.

Jester: Have you ever thought about adding vocals to your music?

Michael: Most definitely, I'll be using the human voice in my recordings..

Jester: What would you consider to be the most influential element in helping you make music? (authors, other musicians, artwork, friends, etc.)

Michael: Miles Davis's approach to music, especially during the misjudged 70's period for one. I love the fact that his bands during that period were labeled "experimental" i.e. meaning even the critics were befuddled by what was taking place on stage. To me it was, is, wonderful stuff.

Jester: Where was the name "Lifesaver Laboratories" derive from?

Michael: From a gift from my wife and the fact that the name describes for me what music can be: an amazing experiment which affects ones life.

Jester: Any plans to perhaps collaborate with other artists in the future?

Michael: Nothing definitive as of yet.

Jester: Any plans to ever perform live or does your music not lend itself to that type of forum?

Michael: After having heard Cluster when they were in Portland last year I'm beginning to think about it.

Jester: What do you do in your free time away from music to help fund your hobby?

Michael: I don't have any hobbies. Websters Dictionary defines a hobby as: a pursuit outside ones regular occupation engaged in for relaxation. While hobbies are a good thing I also think using the word in association with ones art can bring about a sense of self-dilution (as well as delusion). By calling something a hobby one can end up with an excuse for defeat, for the lack of pushing through to a new level of understanding, growth, innovation etc. I pay the bills with an 8 to 5 job working for the City.

Jester: What is your favorite track off "Terms & Conditions"?

Michael: I like the moodiness in 'Mauve' and the juxtapositions in 'Interview' quite a bit but a "favorite" would depend upon my mood.

Jester: What can your audience expect from your new material ?

Michael: I've always liked the idea of it being a soundtrack to a film. As much as I like drones and atmospheric textures I like my stuff to move. I've tried to envision this next CD as a sort of travel log. Some pieces were developed as if one were passing through an environment, - the way one moves through a marketplace, picking up upon various interactions. Other pieces were approached from the stand point of events passing by the listener.

There are more organic grafting experiments, lab escapees which made it on disc; a phone message of love with respectful homage to the genre of musique concrete, and various terrain crossings.

Jester: How has your formal musical training helped or hindered the way you compose music?

Michael: I used to think it was nothing more than the obligatory learn-to-play-for-school-credit. Actually there was a good and bad part to it. The bad part is that the traditional learning process of our school systems usually severely damage the embryo of the creative spirit in the majority of students, which is probably why the learning curve is like a bell curve. Most try an instrument at some point but very few succeed in continuing with music seriously.

The message I got from school training was that I wasn't good enough to go anywhere with music. What I really lacked was inspiration and just how wide the door of myriad possibilities really is. My son decided in the 6th grade to take up the sax. As he got going with the school lessons I noticed the same bored struggle most of us become entrapped by, beginning to take over, so I told him that he should take the most interesting part whether its two bars or two notes, close his eyes, and just play them any way he liked. His response ( which was a great lesson for me ) was, "you mean its okay to play anything?"

The point here is that beginners expect to be led and the message we are given is: you must first develop talent before you can explore it. I believe it is this approach which helps to kill creativity in anyone (only the really strong survive). It should be the other way around: explore first then develop ones skills.

Later I would grab the sheet music he was practicing from and tell him to walk around the house and play what he remembered from the sheet music and play off the acoustics of the house. Now at 16 he is in the high school jazz ensemble and taking private lessons in Be-Bop. What I'm trying to say is music does come from within - we should be listening to ourselves.

The good: if I had made the grade I may have ended up an uninspired player or like my father. Technically he excelled with the trumpet, but self-expression was nowhere to be found in his playing. I had to struggle with the history of inadequacy and to challenge myself as to what I meant by my love of music to achieve what I have today. I doubt I'd have made anything worthy of marketing if I had tried to make music which goes-with-the-flow.

Jester: Will you be using the human voice as another instrument or will it include lyrics?

Michael: Whatever way works in all honesty. I have one piece, which may be on the next album ,which is part of a conversation at Christmas. Rather I should say the music comments on the conversation, not the other way around.

Jester: If you were forced to place a label on the type of music you compose, what label would you choose?

Michael: Jim Akin in Keyboard Magazine called "Terms & Conditions" Eccentric Ambient Techno. E.A.T. music - hows that? A music dealer in Texas called it killer weird Dark Ambient. I take weird as a high compliment. Overall I really don't think of my stuff as Ambient per say. I think what is happening to Ambient is the same thing that happened to Jazz then new age. They each became a catch-all for anything which didn't fit any other genre at the time. Most of the airplay "T & C" has been getting is from Industrial / Experimental DJs, from what I've been able to find out.

Jester: Who would you consider your musical contemporaries? A few of the artists whos stuff I like, in no certain order, are : Paul Schutze, Jeff Greinke, Barry Truax, Nocturnal Emissions, Daniel Menche Nurse With Wound, Hector Zazou. Some artists really challenge me. Take NWW, there is some stuff I don't like at all but the recordings I do like, I really like.

Jester: Is there anything you would like to add that I haven't asked?

Michael: The reviews and comments regarding of Lifesaver Laboratories music seem to indicate that I don't fit easily into particular musical category. I take that as a sign that I'm headed in the right direction. The death of popular music is when it becomes nostalgic. If the music your making doesn't fit a popular niche it may never be receptive to a broad audience but it may retain a sense of newness / uniqueness. I listen to Musique Concrete recorded in the 50's and I still find a lot of it to be amazing and awe inspiring. Thats the type of goal I'd like to work towards.

I feel fortunate to be on a label like Tone Casualties which heralds the experimental aspect of music. Although a lot of the Ambient, Techno, Industrial music is gaining mainstream acceptance these genres have helped to broaden peoples acceptance of new sounds and that's wonderful

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