“My life from the start was filled with the sound of piano. Before I could read I started fiddling with the piano. One day I started playing a song I have heard many times before. It came out of the blue and ever since that day the piano made sense”.
The creative process in music is something that is fascinating to me. I like the idea of being in the studio and knowing what musicians use in making songs. It is a treat to know what inspires them and what their influences are in creating that distinctive style.
In this Interview, we are going to meet Alf Kelty. Let’s get to know the man behind the The album Joy Is… His music is dreamlike, vivacious and spiritual. There is this sweet optimism and a sense of control in his compositions. And you can bet he is at home in a live recording environment. As he mentions in this interview:” I ‘m a hardcore recording artist that believes in spontaneous musical combustion.”
You can hear traces of Classical, Celtic and Folk influences in his instrumental pieces. To hear his songs, simply visit his page at myspace: http://www.myspace.com/alfatlastree
Tell us a little bit more about the place where you live in South Africa.
I live in Hartenbos a suburb of a picturesque coastal town called Mossel Bay (Bay of Mussels). It forms part of the Garden Route, which is one of the most spectacular tourist attractions in South Africa. I love it here. If there is one South African town where one should live it is Mossel Bay. It is a tranquil place with lots of sunshine, beautiful beaches and mountain views. It does not get any better than this.
You are a self-taught pianist. What is it about the piano that spoke to you as a child?
I grew up in a nature reserve called the Kruger National Park. The community was very small and my mom happened to be the local piano teacher. As a child many a morning I woke to the sound of my mom playing the piano, and in the afternoons the children came for piano lessons. My life from the start was filled with the sound of piano. Before I could read I started fiddling with the piano. One day I started playing a song I have heard many times before. It came out of the blue and ever since that day the piano made sense. It happened without any rhyme or reason. I think certain people are born with a musical intuition. And in the right circumstances it comes to the fore. It can’t be explained. I feel very blessed that I was raised in such a milieu. I think it is easy for people to miss their callings in life. On the other hand my mother tried to teach me to read music and play from the book many times since then. It never worked out. I always loved playing by ear and making my own melodies. I was a bit hard headed and here I am today still doing my own thing. I must say – sometimes I wish I listened to my mother. It would have been wise to get some proper classic training. It must be very fulfilling to sit and play an intricate piece of classic music from the book. I look up to those musicians.
First of all I never start a song with a specific image or theme in mind. I try to keep it as spontaneous as possible. Usually it starts with a few lucky notes, which leads to the right emotions or imagery. I want my music to be without pretension. Spontaneity takes center stage in my music. I let the notes run their course. Afterwards I will select the best parts of the recording and weave them together. Usually I leave a recording for a few days and come back to it. If it makes sense and awaken the right emotions I will work on it more and refine it. Rarely will I add anything to it. Just clean it up a little and play around with the material. In reality the final product you are listening to is the core of an elaborate jam session. That is also why my tracks are so short. It stops where the emotions and imagery stopped. Rarely will I perform a piece twice. It is once-off musical snapshots that you are listening to. I ‘m a hardcore recording artist that believes in spontaneous musical combustion.
What are the musicians you listened to as a child and then growing up
My earliest memories of music were ABBA and Boney M. Later on I listened to Kylie Minogue, Suzanne Vega, Sandra, Madonna, Cindy Lauper. The usual 80’s play list. Most importantly I discovered Enya and Andreas Vollenweider in the late 80’s.
Tell us about your album Joy Is..
My album “Joy is…” was released September 2008. It consists of 21 instrumental tracks. It is available at CDBABY.COM in mp3 format or CD. It is also available in mp3 format through ITUNES and various other portals.
What’s the timeline in creating this album?
“Joy is”… was made over the course of many years. When I came to the point where I decided, “Now it is time” I had to go and select from a bunch of compositions old and new. The tracks that made it onto the album were the ones that held the fondest memories and moments of joy. Some compositions were more than 9 years old. I see “Joy is…” with its many imperfections as a scrapbook documenting the core of my musical self-discovery. I am glad today that I recorded and kept those joyful musical moments. Not only for posterity’s sake but also for the joy it brings me to share it with those willing to listen.
Did you work alone in the studio?
Yes I work alone in my home studio. I wasted some money on fancy studio time in the past. But I have discovered that working on my own, with my own unconventional ways works best.
Tell us about the instruments and gear you used in this recording…the mixing…simply the whole process.
My home studio consists of a very basic electronic music setup. I find that it works well with my spontaneous ways. It consists of a music keyboard, Midi Interface, Soundcard and Midi Sequencing Software. All my music is done electronically. So I do not work with live audio recordings. All the sounds are electronic in nature, triggered by me playing the keyboard. I tend to work with ethnic instrumental sounds. I love Celtic harp and Oriental instruments. I find it challenging working with these sounds electronically. I always aim to keep the sound as acoustic as possible. I think it is a key factor in keeping my tracks sounding as spontaneous, unedited and live as possible.
You credit Enya, Andreas Vollenweider, Vangelis, Yanni and Deep Forest as part of the mix in your music. What an interesting mix. Tell us more about them and why you love their music.
I think Enya and Andreas Vollenweider’s music had the greatest impact on me musically and psychologically. Their music opened the doors to a whole new world of emotions. Their music has a magical quality to them. As a child their music took me on the most amazing journeys imaginable. Their music took me to new emotional heights and today it still does. I think Enya and Andreas Vollenweider were unique. They were musical pioneers in their own right. The world of music would have been a much poorer place without them. They are my Idols. Other artists like Vangelis, Yanni and Deep Forest should be credited because I feel many artists like me composing music within the new age/world genre should be thankful for the influence they had on the music industry. These artists gave something fresh and extra ordinary to the music industry and opened the minds of many people to a different kind of music. I think each and every New Age/ World Musician is attempting in some way to follow in their footsteps. Aiming to gain as much success and respect as these pioneers did. We should be forever grateful for their works.
I love your take on melodies. I think melodies are your strong point in song writing. Where did you get this gift of magical melodies?
To me the main purpose of music is to create positive emotion and well-being. One of the main means of achieving that is through stirring and striking melodies. Personally I do not like mindless music with a lack of melody. Nor do I like aggressive or negative music. I think it is evident in my taste of music that melody is important. Enya is a great example of what can be achieved with simplistic melody. I have found that composing striking melodies are in the luck of the draw. The longer you play around and scramble through the notes with a fine tuned ear the sooner you will strike a piece with potential. The trick is recognizing the beautiful parts and rejecting the bad parts. That is why I leave a recording for a few days and come back to it again. If it stirs good emotions like before, it will get attention. If not it will be scrapped. But there is always a little bit of magic included in the whole process. I think every musician ever so often stops and ask him or herself “How did I come up with this? Where did it come from? It must have been my muse?” Who can say why or how it happens? But it remains one of my driving forces to make music. The unknown of what will be next in this endless universe of sound. Constantly striving to discover the most beautiful and divine melody of all time. That challenge keeps me going. Like Natasha Bedding field sings in her song – These Words – “tryin to find the magic, tryin to write a classic ” That’s what it’s all about really.
What’s your ideal time of the day to compose music?
Mostly I compose at nighttime. I am more relaxed and less distracted. But the creative urge can hit at any time. So one needs to follow the natural flow of things and it will lead to useful material. No use in pushing it. Weeks or months may pass between compositions. So the trick is to let it fly at the perfect time.
Do you get inspired by places or landscapes when you write music? What are the places you’ve been to?
Yes. Nature is one of my main sources of inspiration. I tend to zoom in on the little things in life. Be it a bird in flight or a flower growing in the back yard. I draw inspiration from those mundane things knowing at the right time they will aid me in making music. I also believe that many a new age musician has a special fantasia from where they create. A place where every thing is at peace. Where everything is possible. A mental utopia that needs to be unlocked each time they compose. I have found it to be one of the major keys to my creativity. Entering a special place where the world disappears and where I can reach new emotional heights. It is a combination of these experiences that inspires me to make the kind of music I do. It has been like this since the start.
I have traveled to Egypt, Israel and Mozambique. I would like to encourage everyone to go and visit these countries. Each and every one of these countries is amazing.
Any touring plans in mind?
Music wise. Not soon. They way my music is constructed makes it nearly impossible to perform live. Unless I totally redo them more simplistically which in my mind will kill them and me all together (laughing out loud). Like I said most of my tracks are spontaneous snapshots. And I think it is better we keep it that way. But with future projects I might just (small might) end up on stage doing a little tour. Traveling wise there are so many places I would love to go and see. Just sitting here thinking about it makes me HIGLY depressed so lets not elaborate on that any further.
What’s your message to our readers?
It may sound like a cliché. But people get disheartened too easily. I think a lot of talent goes to waste because people stop dreaming. I am nowhere near where I see myself. But I have dared to keep to this dream of making and sharing my music. And each tiny step has brought me a deep sense of satisfaction. Today I am much further than I ever thought I would musically be. In a nutshell, I would like to say… never stop dreaming. And if you did, it is time you start again. You will be amazed what you can achieve when you stick to your dreams. God Bless and Thank You!