Forrest Fang short interview
photograph by Carl Weingarten
In some ways, I find it difficult to describe something that has been with me as long as music has. It’s more than just a soundtrack of my life; it’s also been a way for me to express myself since my college days. I started creating music for fun and as a hobby, but it has evolved over the years into a serious hobby. I never intended it to be a means to support myself. I consider a music project a success if I can at least break even. My day job over the years has been as a lawyer. The trade-off is that my law practice can take a substantial amount of time away from creating music.
Probably the most satisfying thing about making music has been meeting fellow musicians and learning about how music fits into their lives. Some fellow ambient musicians, such as Robert Rich and Carl Weingarten, I’ve known for over 20 years. When I first started making music in the 80s, I was inspired by the independent cassette culture scene and its global community of bedroom musicians who were, for the most part, making music for music’s sake. Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate in working with supportive independent labels such as Cuneiform Records, Hypnos, and Projekt Records, that have given me the latitude to experiment and pursue whatever has interested me. That has been extremely important to me, as the music I make is not particularly commercial in nature.
As many already know, rapid technological changes to the music industry over the past 10 years or so have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most musicians to make a living from their music alone. On the other hand, advances in recording technology and the growth of online music platforms such as Bandcamp have made it easier to create music outside of formal recording studios and to make it available to the public fairly quickly. It’s both an exciting and a scary time to be a musician.
For those who have serious thoughts about becoming a musician, I would recommend being realistic about what may be possible and having a longer view about gradually developing your identity and style as an artist. It can take a while to develop your own musical style, and even when you do, you may have difficulty describing what that style is. But whatever course you might take, it would probably work best as an organic process, rather than it simply being a checklist of goals.
Probably the biggest and most important influences on me musically have been the ambient and non-ambient work of Brian Eno and the early minimalist music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. My exposure to non-Western musics through my studies of the gu-zheng (Chinese zither) with my teacher Zhang Yan, and workshops with Gamelan Sekar Jaya (Balinese gamelan group), Sensei Suenobu Togi (Japanese gagaku court musician), and Kulintang Arts (Filipino kulintang ensemble) also influenced my development as a composer. These different musics and disciplines have given me new ways to look at the compositional process beyond the five-staff line and Western equal temperament.
My current music is primarily electronic, though I also use acoustic instruments that in many cases have been subjected to extensive sound processing. I continue to use instruments such as saron (Javanese gamelan) and hicihiki (double-reed Gagaku instrument), as well as violin (which I have played since childhood). I compose almost exclusively while recording in the studio, though the process is only quasi-improvisational, since I often structure the piece while overdubbing different parts and while editing the piece itself.
I have always enjoyed listening to music created by others and contributing parts to music created by my friends. Thankfully, that enjoyment has not diminished over the years.