About this Recording
11009-2 - MARK, Jon: Asia Journey

Interview with Jon Mark by Maurizio Torretti

How did your musical history begin?

A strong interest in music began for me at the age of twelve, when one of my school teachers showed me how to play acoustic guitar. I was instantly drawn to playing folk melodies and simple classical pieces, and I studied the styles of other guitarists and practiced obsessively.

I was strongly influenced at that time by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Big Bill Broonzy, and Leadbelly, and I collected a vast amount of folk and blues music. I was also interested in Spanish and Latin guitarists and composers and listened to a lot of music by Carlos Montoya. I found that I could play my own arrangements of other people's music, and then I began to write my own songs.

I'd like to talk about your records; through them I'd like to follow your work since you founded White Cloud. Can you say something about White Cloud's history?

Following is a White Cloud press release that outlines the beginning of the label:

White Cloud is the record label based in the Southern Hemisphere. The company's aim is to create an international awareness for leading instrumental composers from the South Pacific, and distribute their music throughout the world. The White Cloud label releases contemporary instrumental music to a wide international market, cutting across cultural barriers with timeless, positive music.

Early in 1993, I met Klaus Heymann, who is a very significant influence in the world of classical music recording, with his acclaimed labels, Naxos and Marco Polo. The combination of my production and Klaus Heymann's administration have culminated in the contemporary music company called White Cloud. While the international administration is based in Europe, Asia and the United States, the creative production bases are New Zealand and Australia. With the support of Naxos' international profile and highly successful sales marketing, White Cloud's artists have international exposure.

Our music ranges from ambient soft jazz, Celtic, progressive, classical and world music, and our commitment is to offer the best music in each of these fields.

Which of your albums do you love most, and why?

I don't prefer any of my albums, because I don't listen to them after they are completed! The great excitement for me exists at the point of composition, that feeling is so emotionally powerful, it is enough reward. After the process of composition and recording is completed, you have to let it go, and leave it to other people to decide whether it touches them in some way like it did when you were composing it. So for me, the album I love the most is always the one I'm working on at the time.

You live in New Zealand, I am interested in how you live, your relationship between music and surroundings, or between music and nature.

I would say I'm definitely very strongly influenced by my surroundings. For me, a tranquil environment is the natural way to live. I enjoy social and cultural activities in the city, but I'm always happy when I can return to a peaceful spot on the beach or in the hills. I think it's important when writing music, to try to reflect the tranquility, peacefulness and flow that is in nature, and express it through music. While my preference is always to live surrounded by nature, I can also write my music in a city, or anywhere, because it's that inner space that I'm creating from.

Your wonderful music is decidedly unusual and unclassifiable. Your instrumental technique and your skill in creating structures that share something of acoustic, classical, symphonic and traditional music make you a great genius. I'd like to know if in your work you follow precise schemes derived from periods of study and practicing, or do you always compose by instinct, or better by inspiration?

I've thought about this quite a lot over the years. I think it's very important to practice hard and develop compositional and performing skills so that they become like a second nature. Then when you write, these skills are instinctive, you're free to let the imagination develop the musical imagery, while knowing that you can depend on your musical ability.

As to how I compose, I usually begin with an imaginary story, place, time, something that appeals to my imagination. For instance, with my album, 'A Celtic Story', before I wrote it, I knew I wanted to write something about the ancient Celtic people, as my ancestry is Celtic, and I feel a strong connection. I began by reading Celtic poetry and histories of the Celtic people and their traditions. Then I would always have Celtic ideas in my mind, I became immersed in the feeling of the subject. In a way, I was directing my subconscious mind to open a doorway to that imagined Celtic world. The story began to unfold itself in my mind, the images, the characters and the village, the cold and stony bay where the first Viking ship was sighted, became like a movie in my head.

Then comes the most exciting time of all, which is locking myself away in my music studio, and thinking of nothing but the feelings and images that I want to portray. I sit at my keyboards, and the inspiration of the images flow through into the music. Once I go through this process, the actual work of refining the music is a very small part of the work. It is as if it is almost complete, already there waiting to be played.

What are your influences and how would you define your music?

I can't define my own music, I believe that's for other people to do. The best I can say is that I try to write music that has a reason for being; a story, a thread, an emotion, and I try to appeal to people positively and emotively. I think I was like a dry sponge when I was young, sucking up influences from everywhere. Now, as I get older, I am not as influenced by new music as I used to be. I guess I tend to spend a lot of my time wringing out that 'sponge'. Like most musicians, I've been influenced from Bach to the Beatles, from folk to jazz, from classical to modern, and just about everything that lies in between.

What do you think of New Age music?

This is a very difficult question to answer, because this title encompasses such a wide variety of music. Generally speaking, if you mean by 'New Age', music that influences people in a positive way, and has musical integrity, then I believe it is a very important form of musical expression.

What is your opinion of the infiltration of electronic instruments on the contemporary musical scene?

I'm sure that if Bach or Beethoven, Verdi or Paganinni were alive today, they would be working with huge amounts of computer software, samplers, synths, and all kinds of electronic gadgets! Any musician would want to take full advantage of any invention that offers freedom of expression in their work. However, it is important to say that an amateur with a computer is still an amateur. As an example, two people can buy exactly the same food items, but the meal they cook would be totally different. One could make a gastronomic delight, but another could make something that is barely edible. In other words, electronic or acoustic instrumentation is still all in the taste and skill of the the operator.

What are your long term goals with your music?

I don't like to set myself long term goals, I prefer to take one step at a time with my music, just project by project. I never look further ahead than my next immediate release. That way I neither create false expectations for myself or let myself down, plus it gives me the exquisite pleasure of being able to change my mind at any time as to what I want to write.

Naturally, my immediate future plans are to develop the White Cloud label. One of my great satisfactions is to pass on my experience to future composers, guide them through the process, help them to develop and release their music. Basically, I want to release music on White Cloud that reaches out to people with no barriers, stereotypes, just positive music that contributes to the overall quality of life.

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