“Hill towns and empty mountains pass by, but the smoothness of the train blurs the view. It’s easier than ever to fall asleep in the low morning sunlight, coming in through the train’s windows”. The lines of “Sky Limits” (recently released on Baskaru) by Will Long, the artist behind the Celer moniker, gives an impression of the lovely sounds he explored here. Let’s go to Celer’s and his album’s heart….
Chain D.L.K.: First of all: do you think “sky really has a limit”?
Celer: If you take the meaning literally, then there’s no limit, as everything in and beyond space can still be the sky. I always interpreted the sky as whatever is above us, however far it reaches. I chose the title more as a play on irony, with regard to the old phrase ‘the sky’s the limit’ – which of course doesn’t make any sense anyway, with the intention of giving something that is really limitless a defined limit, instead of the true meaning of the original phrase, which has a completely different meaning.
Chain D.L.K.: Can you say a few words about the relationship between this “philosophical” title and the music in the album?
Celer: Even though the title says one thing, it really means something else, and I think the music can represent both ends of that theory, as well. It isn’t meant to be literal, and though I have a defined pervading idea throughout, it’s still left open to interpretation. I don’t expect everyone to see it from my point of view; it’s just part of the story for me; and what it means to me.
Chain D.L.K.: I really think that “time” is the core element in this album, as the track’s alternation seems to suggest the way time perceivable or perceivable for a man; the field recordings that I have in mind that represent instantaneous outdoors shots. And then, the drone-lead tracks suggested the subjective interpretation of the same picture, seen from the inside, I believe. Do you think I got the right picture, at least in some ways?
Celer: Yes, it can be seen that way, as a half daydream/half awake state; as if you’re walking to a train, and then the next moment you remember waking suddenly as you’re speeding down the tracks; all you can see is the passing countryside. It’s just like our memories – it’s not an exact record; just pieces that you can remember here and there that make up together a story. In reality (as in the album), those pieces are in and out of order. The field recordings aren’t supposed to be original or extraordinary; they’re just snapshots (as you suggested) of the actual time and places; a literal record of what happened. The music is the opposite side of that.
Chain D.L.K.: So, could we see in “Sky Limits” a kind of travel in time, inside and outside the consciousness?
Celer: Yes, I think so; or in the reality of the present, rather than time, necessarily.
Chain D.L.K.: How did this concept take shape? What inspired you to create this principle of “snapshot uniqueness”?
Celer: I’m almost always connecting my projects with current activities, almost as if it’s a journal of my experiences. It’s really nothing new for me. Maybe the descriptions are there in most of my albums, but difficult to find or omitted, for some reason. I focus on some things in a different way, so it’s less-directly related to exact moments, and instead, on a particular idea or roundabout event. Sometimes, it’s just a recording of a particular time, just as in the case with Sky Limits – even though the events aren’t all directly related. In this case, I knew that I would be living in a different house and community one year later, and I began noticing small things in my neighborhood and in my life that would probably be different after I moved. Those things seemed to stick out to me, and I don’t consider any of those details mundane or useless – they can be appreciated just like everything else if you pay attention to them.
Chain D.L.K.: And what about the sound? Did you develop it directly or was it a kind of process-generated drone?
Celer: Sometimes with music, it really just depends on what I’m making at the time: sometimes there is no particular direction, but once something starts to develop, or an idea to center it around comes into place, it’s usually easy to match where I want it to go with the musical flow. I typically make music impulsively over a short time. Sometimes nothing matches with music for a long time, and then suddenly, it’s there.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you see this album, compared to your previous ones?
Celer: For example, I think it was a very different one from the last “Zig Zag”… Yes, the style is very different from Zig Zag, but not so dissimilar with many of my other albums. However, I tried to make it very accessible and restrained. It would have been easy to make any of those loops last for 20 or 30 minutes each, and push the boundaries of the disc’s space, but it didn’t seem necessary. In comparison, I guess I just spent a lot longer working on the mixing process, and thinking about how it sounds best. I usually go through many different versions of an album, and listen to them in different situations and places, and go back and forth and change things over time. With this, I did that a lot.
Chain D.L.K.: Coming back to the more general level, your research seems to have taken a lot of different directions during the last years… Are you actually developing some parallels “sound-themes”?
Celer: Yes, some directions only exist as an experiment or two, and others seem to take further development and evolution. I think I have multiple directions that I tend to repeat (with an evolving improvement, I hope) and it’s important to do this – finding out what interests you the most, what works and what doesn’t, and what is satisfying or not. Sometimes, it’s difficult to say what you want, but so far, I’ve been able to mostly express it, and it seems to have become easier and more focused, as I become more patient and confident with what I’m doing.
Chain D.L.K.: This could also be a good explanation for the large number of albums you’ve been publishing in the past six years… What do you think about this real proliferation of music?
Celer: Proliferation of music in general or of my own? Early on, I was publishing almost anything and everything that I made, and to me it was part of a growing and learning process. Over the last few years, I feel like I’ve really been able to control where it’s going more and more, and it’s become much less random, and more focused. As to why there have been so many, I just followed my inspiration and was spontaneous about it. Recently, I’ve tried to curtail some of them, and focus on quality over quantity. It’s far more work, and worth more in the end. And that’s true, it does depend what the approach is – some approaches are easier than others.
Chain D.L.K.: I particularly liked your broader works, such as “Without Retrospect, The Morning” and “Capri”… They seem to put together serenity and melancholy, emanating a sort of “peacefully-but-gloomy” ambiance… Do you feel the same way about this?
Celer: I’m not sure exactly. I never really set out to make a piece sound this way or that way – it just happens to come out that way. Of course, I shape the music to sound in a certain way, but I think it mostly sounds the way it does because it’s the way I do it, and the result is what sounds good to me. As far as moods go, I think that’s commonly misinterpreted. Many people say my music sounds sad and things like that, but maybe they’re making that assumption because of past circumstances they’ve read about. While I do want people to make their own interpretations of how they can connect with it, perhaps the real circumstances are much different.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you got any particular connection with your homeland and nature, in general? Is this reflected in some of your work?
Celer: I grew up in a very rural part of the American south, where there is a lot of history (good and bad), nature, and little else. My family and the nature around us have always been a big inspiration for me, and other parts of America have been an inspiration as well. I have great memories traveling around the country with my family when I was living there. However, that’s probably about where it stops. When I left the US in 2010 it was for a number of reasons, and having lived in Japan for the last 4 years, I believe I made the right decision. This is also a theme I’m planning to explore more in the future, particularly related to America in memory and from afar.
Chain D.L.K.: I also think you’ve always paid a lot of attention to detail in your musical production. And not only sound details, but also physic ones, such as the cover art for the albums… Do you agree?
Celer: Yes. Artwork, packaging, and everything to do with an album (not just the music) make a huge difference. I would go as far as to say those things are equally important to the music. Only once have I intentionally used no artwork for albums, and that was for the black vinyl series – which was 5 LP records with black labels, black vinyl, and black paper sleeves. However, that in itself, that’s also a type of artwork. Without the right cover art, package, and concept, it doesn’t mean the same thing. Sometimes, it has worked perfectly in the past, and sometimes not. But regardless, I think this is how my music exists in the best circumstances, as a package of combined pieces.
Chain D.L.K.: What instruments do you usually make your music with? Are you still using some organic and direct-playing machines, such as keyboards or synthesizers?
Celer: I use a lot of reel to reel tape, cassettes, some FM synths and keyboards, and some simple effects. I’m not really into buying lots of expensive gear. I like having a few things, and using them in a way that respects the instrument. I won’t usually keep something that I can’t use often. Most of my stuff is very cheap, but useful. I don’t care about studios, and I don’t even use monitors. Since I’m not a trained musician, I don’t really have many nice instruments or play anything in particular too often, so the instruments that I use just vary all the time.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you see this struggle between the fascination of analog and the comfort of digital?
Celer: I think I’m rooted in a more hands-on time period, because digital music production isn’t really comfortable for me at all. I like using things that have buttons, sliders, knobs, spindles, capstans, and tiny LCD screens. Usually, the only time I use a computer is mixing and post processing. I still like some old programs that are now outdated, but they’re far more creative. I find plugins and software boring and endless, mostly.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think that sound design is more suitable for rendering emotions or perceptions through music?
Celer: Some music may respect this definition, but I think music should move beyond too much definition, and have more freedom for different ideas, emotions, and perceptions combined. The idea of music as background music is outdated to me, as well. In addition, reducing something down to one definition is a simple way to see and easy to describe it, but if you think of a memory – it’s not something you can describe in one word – and if you can, it’s not a very good explanation of its depth. There are many layers, and even if you can’t describe them, they’re there.
Chain D.L.K.: What about your way of working with labels? Due to the incredible amount of albums you’ve published during the years, you’ve created a lot of great labels… What were your favorites?
Celer: It’s great working with labels. Now I’m trying to self-publish more of my music, but one of the things I miss most about it is just working with other people. It was a good experience working with Baskaru, and there are always the labels that I come back to for multiple releases, like Infraction and Streamline.
Chain D.L.K.: I never took part in a live set by Celer… How do you usually build them? What does the live dimension represent for you?
Celer: When I lived in the United States, I tried a lot of different approaches with live setups, and it never seemed to work out. It was always impossible to transfer my working style into something that would work for a live show without using a computer – by using the computer, the material was deadened, and also became boring for me. When I moved to Japan, I abandoned the computer and started working with portable reel to reels and cassettes. Since then, I’ve gotten really comfortable with a really minimal setup. I finally discovered that presenting just a moment with small changes works the best. I try to make it like looking through a window for 30 minutes. What you see and hear won’t change a lot, but it doesn’t have to be less beautiful because of it.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think your music, that sometimes focuses on contemplation and reflection, can fit well with the peculiarities of live action?
Celer: It depends on the audience a lot. In Japan people are almost always very quiet, and nothing stirs. It’s been so long since I played in the US, I can’t even remember what it was like there. I think the last time I played in the US, it was at the Echo Curio in LA, and the entire audience was there to see one of the other bands. During my set, they all stood outside the glass window on the street smoking (with me on the other side of the glass by myself in the venue). Things like that happen sometimes. I think it can fit if people are in the right mindset or are open to something that isn’t a ‘performance’ so to speak. I think you can look at it in a multitude of ways. Sometimes people close their eyes, almost in meditation. That way you can imagine on your own. Sometimes I’ve projected a still image, as a semi-literal representation for people, and you can follow it that way, too.
Chain D.L.K.:What projects are you going to work on the next months?
Celer: I think I’m finished with all the music I’ll release for this year, so a lot of the rest of the year will be devoted to the actual release process of all these things. But there are several projects that I’m working on for the future:
• A project centered around CV (controlled voltage = pre-midi) using the Roland MC4 sequencer. Using this sequencer as a source, I’m visiting the studios of friends who have analog gear with CV connections, and making something together. The sound depends on what instruments they have.
• An album for my own label for 2016, based on loops and field recordings. I played this music at a show in Niigata a few years ago, using cassette tapes, and the transfer was so crude there was an overarching noise in the recordings. Through my EQ and delay, everything sounded as if behind a waterfall.
• A concept/collage-based album about a Swiss town that was completely covered by an avalanche.
Chain D.L.K.: You’ve never abandoned Celer as the name of your project. After the previous question, quite a difficult one, I want to finish this interview by asking: what does Celer mean? And what does it represent for you?
Celer: I think the name just got chosen almost randomly and it stuck. I think nobody ever expected it to be more than a one-off thing. Since then, I never thought to use anything else, and at this point, after 10 years, especially if I’m continuing to make music that is similar in style, I don’t see any reason to change the name. If I started making deep house or acoustic music, it would probably need to be somewhat different. Even if it doesn’t mean anything, it’s important to at least be consistent.
Chain D.L.K.: My last question is a bit personal – you can refuse to answer it, of course. I was really surprised when I saw your reaction to Danielle’s passing away. I was quite sure Celer was dead right there. But instead, you increased its rhythm year after year… Where did you find the power to overcome your pain, and go on doing what you did before together?
Celer: I think that doing it was one of the things that kept me going, especially in the most difficult times. When anyone experiences the death of someone close, with whom you’ve spent time doing things, the only way to survive that is to keep on going on your own. It’s easy to get lost in the things of the past, and be unable to see the future. There were several reasons why I decided to continue the project. After her death, I found myself with still many albums pre-arranged to be released – meaning I would have to continue working on them regardless – it was also a lot of work that I had put in; a lot of time and effort also; so it wasn’t something to just abandon. At the same time, leaving it as only music of the past didn’t seem right to me – and it seemed like there was no reason for it to disappear because of that. There was much more I wanted to say, and on my own, I was able to overcome the past and move on. It’s important to appreciate and understand the past, but it doesn’t have to rule the future. Now, 5 years later, I’m living in a different country, I’m married and I have an 11-month old daughter. Things change, and everything happens for a reason.
Visit Celer online at: www.celer.jp