It was to my great delight that I was granted the opportunity to spend part of a blustery Southern California afternoon speaking with John Zorko. John is the mastermind behind the musical outfit Falling You. Reviewers here and elsewhere have described the music of Falling You by using phrases such as “sensuous waves”, ” a gorgeous journey”, “no form…just pure music”, and “devoid of light but not of innocence”. Of course this is all so much like describing to a blind person the discrepancies between charcoal gray and slate. Read the interview and then visit the Falling You site. I couldn’t recommend highly enough getting a copy of one of their albums.
GOM: Hey John.
John: Hello Seth!
GOM: How’s it going? Is it rainy down in San Diego? It is San Diego right?
John: I’m in Santa Cruz, and yes — it’s rainy. I don’t mind, though … reflective weather.
GOM: Santa Cruz! I actually lived in Soquel and then up in Ben Lomond for awhile…..great neighborhood!
John: It is — I live in Bonny Doon, which is right above Ben Lomond … I love it here, all the big trees and the like. I’m a big nature nut …
GOM: Well I had all the nature I needed yesterday while sailing in very heavy seas, torrential rain, and ten foot waves…I’m ready for some Sun man!
John: We had the worst snowfall in 25 years a couple of weeks ago — actually had a foot of the stuff! It was a mess for a few days, but all is cool now. Wow, sailing — sounds like mondo fun!
GOM: It almost always is but staring at your own mortality is hardly ever fun (laughs) – the trip ended very magically though. We moved through a pod of dolphins feeding. We were surrounded by a couple hundred of them! They were chasing along side the boat in groups of three and four. Jumping and playing……pretty cool morning!
John: Oh, wow … that sounds incredible. Gee, I should get out more (laughs).
GOM: So…when did Falling You form?
John: 1996 pretty much. I was making some music, and a friend introduced me to Jennifer (the first magician). We hit it off right away and started working together … she thought of a bunch of names, but I liked “Falling You” the best … it said a lot about how we felt about the music and what the whole premise was.
GOM: Was that in Santa Cruz?
John: No, that was in Ohio — a small town between Cleveland and Akron called Streetsboro.
GOM: What prompted the move to California?
John: Oh, a lot of things … a cool job offer, a chance to see what I’m made of i.e. to see if I can rely on myself, to see what I could accomplish using my own feet / hands / head / heart, if you dig.
GOM: Sounds very similar to my own move to the Left Coast! You said you were making music before Falling You. Was it in the same vein?
John: Sort of — it was a lot more new-agey back then, a lot more melodic and a lot less experimental. I had tons of fun, but it’s kind of interesting to see how things change with respect to what we create over the years, how life affects us, how it colors the music we make, the pictures we paint, the words we write, even how we relate to others. It’s all about growth …
GOM: Where did this musical journey begin for you? What are you earliest musical experiences and when did you realize you needed to join the already swollen ranks of musicians?
John: Oh, I think everyone is a musician, and a writer, and a painter, and a sculptor, etc. It’s pretty much in everyone and everything I think, just a matter of whether it speaks to you more than the other things speak to you I guess. Anyway, I was always into making neat sounds and stuff, but I didn’t get really serious about it until about 1989 (what I mean by ‘serious’ si that it didn’t really begin to occupy vast amounts of time and energy until then — that’s when it really just hit me over the head and said “Here I am!”)
GOM: The music of Falling You seems very personal but what do you see as the role of the artist in society? Does the artist have any obligations?
John: Thanks! I see expression (that being what artists do) as just one of those core pieces of the human experience. I don’t know about ‘obligations’ but I think it’s natural for people to want to express themselves, wearing whatever hat they’re wearing at the time. To not express yourself seems a bit unnatural to me. I look at it like this — when you express yourself, the whole world is your audience. When you can’t, the whole world is your cage.
GOM: When in your career, what piece of music, best reflects you living up to that definition? Are some pieces more expressive than others?
John: Oh, I’m definitely much happier with the newer stuff, as I’ve discovered a lot of things about the world inside and outside of me. Some of the recent works which seem to speak to me the most are “… a cry for the broken-hearted,” “inside the whale” and “something about eve …” I just feel a lot more free and open and better about myself, a lot more comfortable with this head and heart of mine, and the whole world in general.
GOM: so artistry can occur anywhere….an artistic cab driver or an artistic laundress…..not just in those narrow mediums of music, film, painting, etc
John: Oh, definitely. One person’s piece of artistic genius is another’s piece of trash — it’s a big world, full of all sorts of different ideas / viewpoints / experiences / etc. It’s like getting in touch with what connects us all, sort of like this really cool ethereal soup we all swim in. This soup sort of has ‘form’ but no color, sound or shape, until we paint it with our brushes, and we’ve all got a different set of colors…. sort of like dark matter in the cosmos.
GOM: What are some of your non-musical influences, those things which are not musical but which find themselves distilled and included in your music?
John: Well, I love my job (software development) and, though I like to think of them as completely different things (work and music), they both seem to come out of the same person, so there is evidently some overlap. I love animals, nature, skydiving (!!! mondo fun !!!), reading, learning new stuff. Major influences are definitely the people I meet and the places I see, how I feel in a particular situation, emotions in general, etc.
GOM: What’s your favourite beverage?
John: I love Soy Milk — especially Watermelon flavored .. Barq’s root beer is a favorite as well, and Pepsi is always welcome in my fridge (laughs)
GOM: I’ve heard it said ‘art is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration’. Do you see yourself as a craftsman labouring endlessly over details or do you channel your muse and then stand back?
John: Sort of both. Yes, I spend only about 10% of the time coming up with the source sounds / recording the magicians / etc., and 90% of the time mixing / tweaking / etc. — but I think the muse is ever-present, even in the more laborious stages, so even the ‘perspiration’ part has a lot of inspiration. So yeah, I spend a lot of time on the little things, but I try not to ‘guide’ it one way or another. I usually don’t have a clue as to how a piece is going to turn out until it’s done, then I’m often surprised, like “wow!” Also, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some really, really talented people — Jennifer, Sara, Krista, Dru, Tara and others soon … they put a lot of themselves into the work as well, channeled their own muses so to speak. Falling You would be a very pale shade of what it is today if it weren’t for each and every one of them. I’m honored to have worked with them all.
GOM: That was actually my next question. Do you have a steady pool of collaborators or are you always finding new people?
John: Oh, the pool is always getting bigger. I’m flattered whenever I ask people and they accept! I mean, these are some _breathtaking_ magicians … to have them grace sonics I create is just … wow. Words really start to fall apart here.
GOM: Understandable. Even though (perhaps because) I’m a writer I am very aware of the limitations of spoken and written communication.
John: Exactly! There are things the heart and head want to say that cannot be manifested with this tired alphabet.
GOM: So if these people are magicians you must be the High Priest?
John: Oh no … I’m just some guy who makes noise, and is flattered when others agree to collaborate with me. (laughs)
GOM: Which usually comes first the song or the collaboration? Do you write songs with certain people in mind or do you get together and collectively produce pieces?
John: First, there are some sonics — usually pretty minimal stuff, just enough to give someone. Sometimes I have certain people in mind, but sometimes I also like to ask people to do something I’ve not heard them do. For instance, Dru is from an ethereal rock band called This Ascension. She is used to singing loud, over a bunch of guys playing their instruments loudly. I sent her stuff where she didn’t need to do that, and consequently another side of her came out. This is the coolest I think — giving someone something, and having them put their own spin on it, taking it to places you never even dreamed of. Everyone I’ve worked with has done this … floors me every time! … But the magicians are free to do their own thing, I don’t know what they’re going to do until they do it, and it usually makes the piece that much better.
GOM: Is there anyone you’d drop everything for the chance to collaborate with them?
John: Oh, I’ve got dreams (laughs) Sarah Brightman, Bjork, Madonna (yes, I _like_ a lot of Madonna’s music), Lisa Gerrard … Robert Rich, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Robert Fripp, Steve Roach … Autechre, Tetsu Inoue …
GOM: I compared your piece “inside the whale” to Nurse With Wound for the way in which I hear a very cinematic approach to the compositions. In The Nursery are another group who I feel do this. Does that interest you, scoring film?
John: Yes it does, but it would have to be under the right conditions. I’m afraid that I’m not very good at giving people something they are expectant of hearing, if you dig. I don’t know how a piece is going to turn out, and the few times I’ve tried to make the piece go a certain way, it usually turns out badly. So, if someone said “we need a piece with such-and-such a beat, a certain sound here and there, etc.” I’d have to say “yikes, I can’t do that.” However, if someone said “here’s a piece of film, make some music that illustrates how the film touches you,” — now THAT I could do.
GOM: So you’re approaching composition from a much more improvisational standpoint, letting pieces unfold in a bit of a more organic manner?
John: Yes, definitely. In fact, a lot of the organic / fractured / generative style of composition really interests me now, while perhaps a few years ago it didn’t. It manifests itself in other ways, too. I used to sequence a lot, use a lot of MIDI and the like. Now, I rarely do. Not that one can’t get all free and stuff with MIDI — you can — but I’m much more comfortable without things like time signatures, or metronomes, etc. Sure, beats and things are cool sometimes, and sometimes they add a lot to a piece, but the majority of the time I prefer to go beatless, spaced-out, free-form.
GOM: Yes, you’ve chosen an art form (electronic music) that catches a great deal of derision. Perhaps much of it is valid criticism but what would you say to those detractors? What is it about this medium of electronic music that is (usually) self-published and distributed over the internet that you find attractive versus the more traditional instrumentation?
John: The coolest thing about e-music is that the rules are so open, and I think this is in part why it sometimes gets a bad rap.
GOM: Some of the same negative critiques as bebop saw in the early ’50s
John: Regarding those who would criticize it, I don’t think this is necessarily bad, as long as there is some thought behind the criticism. It’s new, e-music makes exploring lots of new ideas easier and faster, and a lot of new ideas are specific to e-music. For instance, Pole / Twine / Autechre / Tetsu Inoue / eM / Maeror Tri / Aube, so many others … these people take e-music way beyond the normal techno / trance / new-age stuff, and incorporate clicks and pops, noises, weird eqs, weird fx, cut-ups, edits, etc. It’s all open — and the more people do it, the more there is to listen to, the more there is to move and touch people. Another thing, I like free jazz a lot … and some friends of mine who are waaaay into jazz think I’m nuts! They spend all this time trying to introduce me to jazz, and when I finally told them I bought some Pat Metheny or something, they say “Cool! Which one?” I say “Song X, it’s really cool!” They then exclaim, “No! That’s awful — you need to get this and this.” Almost like I fell in with the jazz stuff that is too weird! (laughs)
GOM: So what’s next for Falling You? What’s being explored by you and your magicians?
John: What’s next? Oh, some of that fractal / generative stuff would be cool. I’m listen to a lot of sound-as-art experiments now. I thin it will remain very spaced-out and ethereal, though … I just love a good chill-out. Some of the same magicians, some new ones … it’s all about growth, trying new things
GOM: Well good luck John! I’m sure to keep an ear out for whatever’s coming outta the Falling You camp!
John: And to you! Thanks!
GOM: Thanks a lot for your time. I’ve had a blast. Enjoy the rest of this pensive weather.
John: I will! You as well … dolphins, wow!