CELER, originally a duo, is now the solo experimental sound project of Will Long, an American living in Japan and developing works that are an earful of quietude. With over fifty recordings released in only the past seven years this project is one of the most prolific around, especially for a young artist who has worked with numerous international labels. I had the opportunity to catch up with him at the crest of releasing nearly a dozen new projects this year alone.
TJ Norris: The title Lightness and Irresponsibility is intriguing in contrast to the quiet content on the record. Can you say some about the title, particularly the irresponsibility portion?
Will Long/Celer: The title is actual a lyric from a Fred Astaire song, I think. I picked it because it sounded interesting, and a little bit mismatched. It’s usually two things I’d never consider to be together. While it is the title, it doesn’t really have any significance to the way the music sounds, or the composition. Though, I think adopting a title for music in the end gives the music an entirely different definition than it had before. It adopts a new description, whether it’s relevant or not. I’ve had people comment on the album ‘Tightrope’ saying they don’t particularly like the album because it doesn’t remind them of a tight rope. Even if the title is vague, and even randomly picked, there’s still a reason, and identification.
TJN: Celer is the project duo (“the singular we”) by yourself and your dear departed Danielle Baquet (aka Chubby Wolf). In the short four years you worked together (2005-09) you created quite a prolific body of work. Are these what you may call, and pardon me for asking, posthumous works, or are you taking the project solo? If so, how is the creative process different?
WL: After she passed away in 2009, I didn’t really want to make music. I spent the 6 months after just releasing the music we had made. Though there was still a lot of unreleased music left after that (and there still is some now), I slowly began to want to make music again. I couldn’t stop being creative, but it took some time to come back after 2009. I moved away from California, and spent another 6 months at my home, where I continued to release the music, and was mastering all the Chubby Wolf works. I stayed creative, but worked mainly on photography when I wasn’t mastering or releasing, which took up most of the time I had. I’m not really sure when I started making things again, but it started to happen, and I decided it was the best thing to do. I tried breaking away from the Celer name at first, but it was difficult. Labels didn’t want to release things under my own name, but as Celer shows wanted to book me, the name was stronger, and it had more interest, or more people were aware of it. When I finally decided to continue on using the name, I realized that there wasn’t any way to change what happened in the past, but I had been one of the creators at the beginning with Danielle, and continuing it on leaves some part of that intact. Separating entirely from it seemed selfish, and trying to act like things that happened hadn’t happened.
Now I’m not sure how the creative process is so different. When we worked on music before, many times it wasn’t together, but at different times of the day. Now it’s the same for me, I’m just doing it all myself. Now I’m in more creative control, as before she titled most of the albums and did the photography for the most part as well, so I have to try to be more inventive and do everything myself. It’s fine though, as it’s a challenge, and I’m lucky to have come along as well as I have so far. I’m happy with the present, and content with the past.
TJN: In the past several months you have released A Couple of Swells (free @ Bandcamp!) in three parts online. Altogether its nearly four hours of cooly atmospheric drone that ripples and hides. In the development of such slow sound I could imagine these works easily paired with the art of butoh. Are you familiar with this form of movement and have you ever worked with performing artists in a live situation?
WL: I’ve played alongside dancers at exhibitions before, but it was usually just an accompaniment to the show and not about the work specifically. I think it could work really well for a performance though, and I hope an opportunity comes up in the future. The A Couple of Swells series works as a multi-room installation, as well.
TJN: I’d certainly like to immerse myself into that situation.
Recently you collaborated with Machinefabriek on something of a travelogue called Greetings From…, with pictures and postcards from various destinations. What is the significance of place in your work? Secondly, where are you physically located..and how might that effect your work?
WL: We had a 7-date tour of the Netherlands and Belgium together, and recorded all the shows. I took photos during the tour, so after we thought it would be nice to compile it all together for people to see and hear, and have a memento from the trip. I think location was important on the trip, but maybe we took the live shows into bizarre directions for no reason at all, it was just purely fun. There was one place where the crowd was a little bit awkward, so that show was a bit strange.
I’ve actually always wondered about location, and whether it affected my work. Myself, I can’t hear it, but others have told me they could. A friend of mine used to tell me when I lived in California that he could hear the ocean’s influence in the music. Obviously some records that have more apparent field recordings from India or Indonesia have locational importance, but now being located in Tokyo, I’m sure that being here has a vast influence on my music, I’m just not sure what exactly.
TJN: Well now that you mentioned you have been thinking about sense of place, which seems implied by many of your works. Growing up in Mississippi and now living and working in Tokyo seems like a huge stretch from your origins. Do the sounds of your surroundings, whether they be field recordings or the latter echoes of the familiar grounds that you call home, find their way into tracks you lay down…and if so how evident (or not) would you like that intimate experience to be expressed?
WL: I’ve always tried to trace those influences in everything I’ve done, but I still can’t pinpoint where things come from. The places where I grew up, and the place I live now are so different, yet I feel very at home in both. I try to put everything into every piece.. there are influences of everything, not just the sounds and environments, but things I see, memories that come back, and bits of culture from each place. It’s all just a giant collage of diaries of experiences, feelings, and each passing and future moment.
TJN: You continue to release some of your work on cassette tape. I find this mildly amusing as I look back on tape culture of yore. Though it does, in so many ways, puts limitations on your audience and access to your work. Does that at all concern you and could you say some about exclusive small editions like this?
WL: Yes, cassette tape. It is an old format, but I release it still for the same reason as many others.. I’m okay with any format, I just release on whatever format people offer me. I don’t try to only release CD, vinyl, or cassette, I just take what comes. Probably not surprisingly, releasing a large output makes it difficult to find labels to release your work frequently. It’s actually quite a lot of work trying to find the right labels, so sometimes cassette is the only format available. Digital is my least favorite format, but it’s useful for out of print physical releases, and archival material.
TJN: Ahhh, cassette culture strikes again (love it)!
You have developed a knack for lower end ambient sounds? Actually, do you even consider your work ambient?
WL: I actually do consider it ambient, but not so much in the style of directionless music that Eno describes it as. For me it does have direction, it isn’t just endlessly wandering. For me, ambient means thoughtful, and pure. I think it’s significantly different from drone, which my music is constantly labeled. Drone is something I always associate with deep, continuous sounds. I’m not sure exactly, but I’ve always thought of it as ambient, but maybe my own terms and ideas for it are different.
TJN: There are few of your contemporaries, like yourself, such as Christopher Bissonnette, Jamie Drouin and even Thomas Köner to some extent who help bring about this waking sleep effect when you let yourself loose to a deep listening experience. Are you familiar with Francisco Lopez’s sensory depriving blindfolded shows where the audience usually is laying on cushions — or — Steven Stapleton’s or Robert Rich’s ‘Sleep Concerts’? Could you imagine performing in this most interactive way? Thoughts….
WL: Strangely I’ve never intended to accompany my music to any kind of sleeping or meditative state. For me it’s about touching emotion and feelings. I think this kind of music can still be interactive in a live space though. It’s lazy music. I don’t mean it to be entrancing or meditative, but something you listen to sometimes, sometimes not, and interact with that way. It’s like hearing one part, and thinking about that moment for a while. When you come back around, and stop daydreaming, you find something else is already happening.
TJN: You have recorded for over a dozen labels, but have kept a consistent sound. Knowing that you’ve also independently self-produced quite a bit of material how do you feel working with an outside label helps in/form what you do or release? Do you have any good examples of how your creative direction may have been influenced as such?
WL: I do enjoy a lot working with labels, and working with new labels is always a good experience too. Sometimes labels have a large amount of influence in albums, but for the most part it’s only an influence in the artwork or presentation. I almost never change the original submissions to labels unless I do it by my own decision. Most labels never ask for any changes, or I’m already doing something to rework it myself. The artwork sometimes is heavily influenced by the label, but I think it just helps with uniformity for their label catalog, and at the same time, it’s really nice being part of a larger group in a catalog, like a series.
TJN: I’m curious about your musical influences and emergence. Were you in a high school band or do you play any traditional instruments? The low lying bass nodes make me wonder: were you into punk rock or heavy metal?
WL: I played drums in the school band for maybe 2 years in junior high, and quit after that. I wasn’t ever in any bands, but I did listen to all kinds of music. I liked grindcore a lot when I was in college, and in high school, mostly shoegazer and 80’s industrial. My father liked oldies and movie scores, and my mother broadway. Strangely those things still influence me a lot in different ways, too. Now I’m enjoying a lot of new wave and 70’s and 80’s film scores mostly.
TJN: The work of Celer seems custom made for the backdrop of a silent motion picture. Have you incorporated your work in other forms?
WL: Hardly ever. I’ve made a few installations, and have made music for some films, but largely it’s limited only to independent music. Hopefully I can develop that more in the future.
TJN: Thanks for being here.
WL: Thank you for listening, and being interested. I appreciate it a lot 🙂
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