Mick Raubenheimer’s ROUND CORNERS mini interviews situate given artists outside their medium whilst peeking into their various worlds. In the first of two interviews with guitarist Jonathan Crossley and drummer Etienne Oosthuysen about futurefunk improv trio Deep Spacer (featuring Cesare Cassarino on bass), he chats with Jonathan Crossley about exploring new territories and all things guitar.

Jonathan Crossley - take a listen to the Deep Spacer 433 Eros album
Jonathan Crossley – take a listen to the Deep Spacer 433 Eros album

When did you first identify as a creative artist?

I started formal classical guitar lessons when I was six years old after harassing my parents for a number of years to do so.  I fortunately had some great teachers and completed my classical guitar grade 8 when I was 15. I completed my BMus (Hons) in 1997, specialising in classical guitar, but thereafter I became interested in improvisation and studied under the late South African jazz guitarist Johnny Fourie toward an MMus.

Succinctly, I have never known anything but music and guitar, and have always been interested primarily in ‘that which I currently cannot do’, trying to understand what could be musically possible, and how. This initial interest has never waned, and from dodging school to practice, to releasing albums, touring internationally and even building a cyber-guitar with exoskeleton, the stimuli and centrality has been constant and consistent.

How did Deep Spacer come about?

Deep Spacer came out of a long association with bassist Cesare Cassarino. He and I have worked together over the years in a wide variety of projects (from a band project called Skid to touring with Riku Latti) as well as supporting each other through some difficult life experiences.

Artistically Deep Spacer is in my mind the extension of the Cyber-Guitar systems thinking into a modality of contemporary beat-driven music. Free improvisation, as a technical form, has never migrated into the beat-driven environment, but (and I say this with confidence) Deep Spacer has found a way.

Outside of your medium, what branch of art most stimulates you?

That is an interesting question: Music is fundamentally different from other art forms, and it has been interesting to watch, over the last 20 years, how that ideology of difference has eroded. For instance, in the mid 20th century the difference between music and painting (at a technical, functional and aesthetic level) was well recognised, and the difference led to some very important work. For instance, the mingling of the work of John Cage (music), Merce Cunningham (dance), and Mark Rothko (painting), in aesthetic narratives is something so vital which yielded so much.

The difference can been felt in music’s inherently mathematical core – the numerical supremacy of harmony and form is constant, and emerges not from modernist thinking, but rather from an intrinsic waveform function.

The art that has most stimulated me comes from the period referred to above. The paintings of Mark Rothko were a long obsession of mine, and the music of the composer who is most close to him, Morton Feldman. Then Jackson Pollock’s work is immensely fascinating. Interestingly Dutch researchers have found that Pollock’s work adheres to fractal maths, so maybe painting is closer to maths than we know?

Which artist/s in said discipline have significantly inspired you, and why? 

Mark Rothko (the peace of his single panels), Jackson Pollock (the insanity of the creative process yet the apparent order of fractal mathematics), Marcel Duchamp (the ready-made and the recognition of the importance of societal relevance – also the relationship to the futurists), Andy Warhol (the expressive beauty in repetition is integral as a reflection of loop-based musics).

What is art’s most important function?

This is a tricky question currently – in a dystopian society artistic expression is prophetic. Although I referred to only painting above, the work of the cyber artists is also massive in my life. For instance the work of Stelarc, in terms of the transient boundary of the body and the flesh as medium, has been prophetic in so many ways as to where we are today.

Art is so necessary currently as certain unforeseen aspects of technology have destroyed so much of creativity – frankly I think that Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have collectively lowered the emotional and artistic EQ of the planet. Thus we need art, art that doesn’t shock (as was relevant in the 20th century) but maybe which re-elevates mankind in a late romantic sense. We need more expansive, long musical forms, that traverse the sensualities of the human condition. The way a Mahler symphony can take the soul to loftier heights, rather than the short-form temporal pit of Cardi B.

Local creatives (in any medium) that currently excite you?

I am fortunate to be related (by marriage) to Naomi van Niekerk (van Vliet) who is an astounding and internationally recognised artist. The conversations we have around dinner and family events have been inspirational to me. Also I have recently worked a little with Kathleen Tagg, who is based in New York. Tagg and I were friends when we were in school, and her artistry on the piano is something to behold. Lastly, although only partially South African, I have been fortunate to work with and for Lukas Ligeti. Lukas is a world-renowned composer and drummer and has been a huge inspiration in my life.

What specific work – be it in literature, music, or visual art – do you return to again and again, and why?

This would mostly be musical, however my interests and listening habits are very wide. In recent years I have been listening to some older materials, which is unusual. The variety is odd though, Tangerine Dream (electronic work), Mahler and Wagner on the classical side, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher on electronica, various new death metal works such as Silent Planet and Becoming the Archetype, a recent Genesis binge … LOL, you get the idea!

Any current project you’re unveiling/wrapping up?

Deep Spacer’s new album 433 Eros is in its final stage. Due out in June 2020!

Read drummer Etienne Oosthuysen’s insights on Deep Spacer.

What: Jonathan Crossley interview