Today, course lecturer Thom Yorke touches on the ability to read music traditionally, John Coltrane and the 'musical movement' of Radiohead
As part of a week-long series, we're rolling out a collection of questions posed to our February issue coverstar, Thom Yorke, and his insightful answers - from 14 innovative producers of a new generation including Flying Lotus, Caribou and Actress. 'Class 3' sees the hugely talented and varied electronic artists: one half of Sepalcure, Machinedrum, as well as Hessle Audio's Pangaea and Brainfeeder / Pictures Music's Lapalux who we've got an exclusive track from, premiering later today...
MACHINEDRUM: It’s cool you don’t know how to read music traditionally. I can’t read music either so I found this exciting and encouraging. Do you think it’s important to teach ear training when developing music skills?
Thom Yorke: Apparently you can get into Julliard’s music school in New York not being able to read music now. You will have to pick it up but it’s not a prerequisite. So much great music would never have happened without it, but nowadays it’s not as necessary as it ever used to be. When we work with orchestras they can be quite inflexible in understanding rhythms. The rhythm side of it is very strange for classically trained musicians to understand – ideas like swing emphasis – but when you work with jazz musicians or someone like Flea they get it. They can all read music but that’s not where they started, they all started by ear. For me, writing down music is unnecessary. Your work is intricate, dense and very complicated, so to me you’re treating the laptop like a score anyway.
PANGAEA: Have you ever felt part of a musical movement of some kind, or pretty isolated as a band and solo artist?
Thom Yorke: Well, I certainly never felt part of Britpop. I think that the scene you come from is stronger as a movement than it is as an isolated artist, so that can be a good thing. It’s great when there’s a sense of healthy competition between artists and they’re all hanging out together. When we started out as a band there was no sense of healthy competition, there was just fighting and vicious, petty bullshit, it was horrible. Dance culture doesn’t seem to get like that. I’m sure it’s there but believe me, it ain’t nothing like what I was used to. Things are happening so fast nowadays, it’s good for musicians to stick together.
LAPALUX: Do you think listening to other music while you’re creating music is an inspiration or a hindrance?
Thom Yorke: I think you have to listen to music that’s so far away from what you’re doing that it almost cleanses you. When we were doing OK Computer we listened to a really extreme Coltrane track, the one that apparently sent Syd Barrett mad after he had done acid. It’s so intense, just 20 minutes of freeform jazz – it’s like taking a shower, there’s so many notes. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m ready now.’ I was beaten to a pulp after listening to it. Anything coherent after that sounds wonderful. (laughs)
Check back on Dazed Digital this week for daily updates of the Uni of Yorke project