Interview: Duane Pitre

I'm a fan of his sparse, slowly evolving musical compositions. My dad was a fan of his skateboarding style in early 90s. It doesn't matter what medium Duane Pitre's working in; the product always leaves an impression. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his music. You can read his answers below.

You've been on top of the music scene since your days as a skater (Dinosaur Jr. Songs in both the "Footage" and "Memory Screen" videos). Did skating have any sort of influence on the minimalist/avant-garde musical compositions you've been turning out lately? If not, then what was this impetus?

I don’t feel skating has had a direct influence on my work of the last 8 years or so, like you’ve said, my “minimalist/avant-garde composition years,” but indirectly, for sure. Skateboarding fostered the same kind of thinking that led me to where I am today. But to put it in a short and clunky way…Dinosaur led to My Bloody Valentine, which led to Brian Eno, which led to La Monte Young, which opened me up to the world of ‘odd’ music within academia. It was a lineage.

All of the releases of yours that I've listened to share a droning sense of tranquility, yet, under scrutiny, I think that each has an aura that's quite unique. Would you agree? What sort of experience do you set out to create with an album?

I’m happy you see them that way, each of them being unique that is. This is something I’m conscious of and strive for…that’s not to say that if a new piece of music ends up having a lot in common with an older piece that I’ll trash it…what is most important to me is if the new piece can, well, “stand on it’s own two feet” if you will.

For each album, as it’s been so far as least, I have something new I want to explore…whether that be a new tuning (I work in a tuning system called ‘Just Intonation’), conceptual themes such as fictional narratives, new instruments to delve into, etc. So it changes from record to record. But like I’ve mentioned, I hope to create something new, in relation to the body of my work.

You've come out with two cassettes so far, one on NNA Tapes and one on Sonic Meditations. I cover a lot of tapes of Half-Gifts, how do you personally feel about them as a medium?

Three actually, another very limited (to 20 copies I believe) cassette on a French label called Atthletic Duddes too. The label was intended to be a short-lived project I believe, and went from 2008-2009. You can download the track on the tape for from here: http://www.atelierciseaux.com/ad/

Cassette tapes as a “new” medium…well, it makes the music (on it) harder to access, in a general way. There are ups and downs to this in my opinion. It embodies a certain duality…one which my verdict is split on, if you will. I’m a vinyl lover, but of course making LPs is very expensive, and it’s certainly not accessible to all artists, not even close. Tapes allow such access to just about anyone. So there is more of a random element too, maybe there is more exploring that one can do in the tape world, because of factors such as affordability and accessibility. And with tapes, it’s similar to the ritual of actively listening to an LP…whereas with mp3s and such, it’s on shuffle (or the like) and it’s a passive experience. 

What sort of composers/bands have an affect on your sound? John Cage and Philip Glass seem to be the most evident. Any that might seem surprising?

Though I understand what you’re saying, Cage hasn’t influenced my actual sound so much, but he has been an influence on how I would end up organizing my music, and my process. His theories were much looser and free though, I’ve more restrictions and rules in my pieces. Glass, not so much, I’d say more so Steve Reich, though I can’t place where and how his influence made it into my work. In recent years I’ve allowed some influences of my deeper past, to mingle with ones of the last 8 years or so, which is about the time I starting studying modern composition and such. This was also the same time I learned of La Monte Young, whose work/sound has had a big influence on my work, though more so in the music I was creating during what I jokingly call my “music university” years (2005-2008) in NYC. I put it like this because I did not go to music school, I’ve studied everything on my own. These (serious) studies started in 2005, a year or so after I quit playing in bands, which was how I cut my teeth playing music.

But I’ve taken in influences from a wide range of music: from Indonesian Gamalen, to Led Zeppelin, to John Coltrane, to Industrial Music, to Terry Riley, to Metal, to The Smiths, and many others. It isn’t always obvious, once such influences are “melted down” into one of my works, but I prefer it that way.

From looking at some notes on your website, I see that there's a lot to do with prime numbers and other mathematical concepts. Tell me a little about that.

Like I’ve mentioned above, I work in a tuning system called ‘Just Intonation.’ It can be quite “heady” stuff to talk about, so if anyone’s interested there’s some info on the Internet for sure. But put simply (as I can) it utilizes whole number ratios to calculate the pitch relationships within a given tuning. It is a tuning system aligned with the harmonic series, or in other words, nature. As far as the mention of prime numbers goes; when the whole number ratios are simplified, they will consist of at least one prime, or compound prime, number.

There is a term used within the Just Intonation world that illustrates what prime numbers are used in a tuning (the higher the prime number, the more “far out” the tuning). One could say, for example, “the tuning used in [insert composition title] is 11-Limit.” This means the tuning used in said composition uses ratios with prime numbers no higher than then number 11; it limits the prime number usage to 11.

What sort of performance do you find the most satisfying, live or in a studio?

I enjoy both, for sure. But if I had to pick it’d be ‘studio.’ The act of creating something, watching/hearing it grow and progress…the act of making something is the most rewarding to me.

What sort of non-musical things interest you?

Various world religions, in a historical sense and what they mean to humanity. Geography. Traveling. The Languages and foods of the world. Nature, especially trees (the superior sculptures IMO). Quiet. Kindness. And much more…

Any plans for future releases?

Indeed. I’ve a new album, the follow-up to last year’s Feel Free, titled Bridges, which comes out this month (June 2013) on LP & CD. The end of summer will see the release of a new collaboration LP between Eleh and myself, called PITRELEH…and in September we’ll have our world premier live performance in NYC. Then in October, a live recording of a sextet performance of Feel Free, recording last June in London at Café OTO, will be released on LP & CD. Important Records will release all of these 2013 albums.

I’d just like to add that it’s fantastic to see someone of your age approaching this kind of music, from this angle…journalistically that is. I met someone in France, when I played the countryside in Arras, about your age doing similar things….DJing on a radio station and doing interviews and such….and now I know that wasn’t an isolated incident…it’s a movement maybe? It’s rad!

Find out more at: http://www.duanepitre.com/