📺 Chilly Gonzales on Art and Artifice | Red Bull Music Academy

Watched Chilly Gonzales from redbullmusicacademy.com

Pianist, composer and entertainer Chilly Gonzales is no ordinary musician. Originally from Canada, he has broken a Guinness world record for the longest solo piano concert, scored a Grammy for his contribution to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and seamlessly switches from working with Boys Noize to Feist to Drake. In 2018, Gonzales launched his Gonzervatory, a travelling and all-expenses paid music school, teaching aspiring musicians how to become performers.

Key to Gonzales’s work is a desire to push the boundaries of what is considered entertainment, continuously tackling the high brow/low brow dichotomy. In his lecture at the 2016 Red Bull Music Academy, Gonzales opens up about his formative years, his time in Berlin with Peaches and how Franz Liszt birthed the musician as celebrity.

In this interview from 2016 with Emma Warren for Red Bull Music Academy, Chilly Gonzales discusses the world of music and for him what actually matters.

Reflecting on studying music at Macgill University, Gonzales suggests that institutions should be about finding out what it is you like.

You know what? Screw this. I don’t like this, but this, this I love.

For Gonzales, his love was:

Music with classical colours and a jazz touch but fundamentally using the structure of pop music.

Associated with this, it is a time to look the opposition in the eye and challenge conformity.

It’s good to look in the eyes of those people that are essentially your enemy and at the same time, be smart enough to take the good parts that you can get out of a school situation.

For Gonzales, these good parts were harmony. In some ways this reminds me of Philip Glass and his lessons with Nadia Boulanger.

Gonzales also spoke about his other education, exploring emotions and instruments in music alongside Peaches and Mocky.

A good musician never shows off, only uses virtuosity in the service of something important and emotional, hopefully.

Gonzales spoke about how early in his career he was challenged about whether he wanted to be taken seriously or be playful, he realised that in taking a rapping approach to music he could have both.

I didn’t even think about rapping or making a beat, I just thought, “I’m going to take that approach and apply it to my music.” That was my first influence, was how to ignore that false choice.

Associated with this, he pointed out that feeling something is actually more important than just being good.

The rest of the world experiences music. They don’t care if I’m technically good, they just want to feel something.

Continuing his story, he reflects on his move from Montreal to Berlin and how he found his place by challenging conformity.

There’s so much conformity in every scene. I identified the weak spot. That’s what I do. I try to look for, “Where is there something I can add to with my skill set?” It’s all well and good, but like any scene you just see that there’s… “OK what is everybody doing that they don’t even realize they’re doing? What is the assumption that no one inside this scene will ever be able to really question?”

The particular weak spot in Berlin at the time was facelessness. Gonzales response therefore was to challenge Alec Empire for president of the Berlin Underground.

To make this point about facelessness and have fun doing it, I decided to say that I’m going to run for President of the Berlin underground. Of course no one in the Berlin underground wanted to be called the Berlin underground, right? It’s like, “Noooo don’t put us in a group.” I’m like, “No, no, no. I want to be president of all of you. Berlin undergrounders.”

Gonzales ended this period of collaboration in Berlin with a ‘pre-tirement tour’, only to then

These stories reminded me of Damian Cowell’s reflection on the Melbourne music scene in the 1980’s and TISM’s decision to place themselves somewhere between the yobs and wankers. Such antics also remind me of the way in which they would lambaste people like John Butler and Jet.

One thing that Gonzales comes back to again and again is the idea of music and the Platonic world of forms.

To do piano albums means you’re playing everything. You’re playing rap. You’re playing orchestrally. You’re playing… You can dream as much as you want, because it’s the Platonic world of form’s best instrument.

However when unpacking the writing process, Gonzales also discusses the importance of connecting with others and how this often dictates the final outcome.

You don’t remember that trauma or that sweat when someone connects to it. That’s the beginning of the second life of any piece of music. It’s the look in the eyes of the person who’s hearing it.

This process often involves a lot of different focus groups. Interestingly, this is a point that Carly Rae Jepsen spoke about in her interview on Switched on Pop.

Gonzales also talks about the dangers of becoming too technical and over-thinking the writing process. He compares his approach with that of Peaches.

Peaches has a system of music in her head. I’m sure of it. I’ve seen it at work. I happened to learn a system that was in books. That’s one way of doing it, but Peaches instinctively feels all those things. She just has maybe different words in her own mind for them, or just different associations. There is a textbook in her head, it’s just only her own at the moment.

In the Q and A at the end, Gonzales is asked about being personal and putting on a persona. He explains that songwriting should always be personal, however the performance should be fantastical.

Any musician who thinks they don’t have to be conscious of the fact that there’s a transformation when they walk onto a stage. That’s who I was saying is full of shit. I believe if we look at the record, that might be what I said, “Full of shit,” but there are many singer-songwriters who, when they get up onstage, they transform themselves, of course. That problem isn’t limited to singer-songwriters. I didn’t want to give you that impression.

Songwriting has to be 100% personal. It’s walking out onstage. It’s taking a photo, choosing an album title. All that you have to have in mind. It can’t be personal any more. It has to be fantastical, which is still personal. It’s the part of your personality that is a fantasy, that has to… That’s the part that carries the football into the end zone of the audience, but when you’re like, planning the music, of course it has to be one hundred percent personal. I never think about who’s listening when I’m composing. That moment is strictly reserved for you and yourself one hundred percent.

What I am always left intrigued by during such interviews is how much of this conversation is itself artiface? Maybe that is the magic of the art.

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