On first meeting Dylan Aiello, I am taken aback by how present he is. He is one of those people with dancing eyes, like he was struck by lightning and has electricity coursing through him. I learned that his performative, often jester-like theatricalities are sincere. He likes to play. Knowithall is a very painterly, textured, heavily-scented album. A dash of this, a dash of that. It’s like a kaleidoscope, a motley collage of sound and colour with a sort of pixie-esque, boyish, flamboyant flare. This is Dylan in his natural state. The way he moves about the room, cooks, and speaks multiple languages fluently. He’s just sort of slinky like that. Waltzing in tanned and toned with a fresh Euro look, draped fabric and maybe some pointed Italian shoes (crocodile?). Dylan and I both are so tied to our families that we orbit around them. His relationship to his sister, Rosa, who interviewed Dylan for us, intrigued me right away, as they are both so incredibly bright and close and address one another as “sister” or “brother” when speaking to each other. The feeling I have in their presence is similar to the one I have listening to the more acutely personal moments in Knowithall. The long, crackly draws on the vape in “Sameway,” or his sultry cries about cumming in “Making a Murderer.” Dylan struggles finding personal acceptance for his path as an artist, and yet he’s one of the most hard-working people I know. He works almost feverishly. Knowithall is like a long, held breath finally let out, allowing all of the fragments, doubts, and emotions to tumble out together, smoothing the edges and ridges as they get tossed like rocks at sea.
Why is music important? To you…
You know that trick of putting a horror movie on mute, how it drains all the tension and suspense. Music and sound access a powerful part of human perception. I’m interested in this particular mixture of narrative, mood, suggestion, colour, and ambience in music that communicates with directness and clarity like no other form.
How did you get set on music? You have spent real time concerned with more concrete fields—the patterns of global economics, cybersecurity, law—but music always draws you back.
It’s the one thing I do that’s not involved in fulfilling expectations. Again and again I come face to face with the fallacy of linear progress and the absurdity of institutionalized communication.
In my life I’m more interested in hitting at the root questions, questioning the underlying structures that generate the problems around which these academic fields are built.
There is freedom as an artist to address realities in a language I can control, rather than spending half my life internalizing the vocabulary of these concrete fields.
Who is Mary Killian? What effect did she have on you?
Mary Killian was my piano teacher for five years in Berlin. To summarize her, or her influence, always feels like a superficial injustice. Incredibly clear person. So much passion and focus.
We did intense work with the body and alignment using concepts from Alexander Technique.
Some lessons were spent entirely lying on my back practicing deep internal looking.
I had experiences in music with her that changed me for good. “Don’t fool yourself, it’s that easy to find yourself in a cubicle.” She always encouraged students to make careers in music.
Mary would say: we use music to achieve clarity, and to find ways of working efficiently.
I’m absorbed in the news, in developments in law, privacy, warfare, inequality, environment.
I find myself looking to music to find clarity. To find a way to work that has full commitment, and complete investment.
I never met her, but I feel like I learned so much from Mary through you. I remember her describing a change of attitude towards the walking body: you shouldn’t imagine that you are struggling to lift your feet against the downward force of gravity, but rather that your whole body is floating, and each step is a reaching down to earth. She said something about creating as a state of flow, feeling the energy from breath to fingers. Can you talk about flow a little bit?
Flow is trying to create a state where I’m not invested in the implications of decisions while I’m making them. I’ve really started to see art more in the light of subtraction. A few clear and intentional decisions, working hard not to obstruct or crowd out the magic. During a period of work and focus my internal voice changes. I start to think a lot more like a bug or a bird.
Think in short repeating phrases that govern my decision-making. Like: “nothing repeats, nothing repeat, nothing repeating” or “point – counterpoint, image – mirror image, face – counterface” or “emotion, fuck it up, truth, fuckit up, vulnerability, fuckitup.” This “change your state” idea comes from the vocab of motivational speakers…it’s silly and trite, but it works and I haven’t found a better way to say it.
But you could also think of this idea as belonging to the realm of neuroscience, or of meditation? How do you get into a state of flow?
Start! I am prone to distraction. I love working in the kitchen and I thrive on the social. Need attention (Leo).
One exercise is to sharpen the nervous system through touch. The slight stimulation of touching the smooth keys on a piano, the felt on the piano bench, soft flesh, callus, cactus, paper, or rubber is understood by the fingers. I try getting to a place where these stimulations create stillness and sensitivity to my surroundings.
One take. Creating a sense of ceremony to get it right the first time. To hear what I want to do and use the audio recording as a record of that process of discovery. A lot of vocals on Knowithall are one take improvisations, I cut it up and take the best/realest parts. But I like to preserve that intensity of the first interaction of the vocal performance with an instrumental track.
When I’m writing I try to find an inner story-world. Outlines of characters, smells, encounters are based on impressions of experiences, distorted memories, fragments of dreams or fantasies—everything hazy hard to access. I tend to find worlds of debauchery, hedonism, and misery most fascinating. Once I’m in deep in this story, unexpected things happen. These are no longer creations of my brain.
What does repetition mean to you?
I think of repetition as a way to learn. If you tell me something once I forget most of it.
You learn in your brain, your body, and in a deeper place too. It takes repetition to really get something in your bones. When you hear anything, or read any phrase, your brain starts this involuntary subconscious repetition of it. Brain starts to play with pieces of this phrase,
making new patterns, re-arranging parts, distorting the sounds, or changing the emphasis.
It’s funny how, then, I get the urge to encounter the original again. I want to hear that song again, read that phrase again, see that drawing again. Putting all the disordered and distorted pieces of an artwork back into place. I’m trying to play with this process in “Piano Piano.”
Repeated patterns, never the same, repeated rhythm, wandering half-tone melodies.
There’s emotional movement playing across a fixed rhythmic machinery. Then sweeping, stretched, screeching textures that create a sense of the inexplicable. I’m trying to evoke a pleasurable state of play. A constant meaningless frustration of a clear sense of arrival or resolution. Playing, movement, changing your mind, playing a completely different game.
Mom likes to tell the story of you dressing up like Jason of Jason and the Argonauts as a little kid. You wanted to be a hero, kill the bad guy, save someone in trouble. Do you ever feel guilty about making art? Like when we go back to Italy and see the cousins and the attitude is, “Your father left the south to give you opportunities in life. You had an education, you could be a doctor, you could be a lawyer. An artist? What is that?” You know I’ve always felt so torn between direct and indirect ways of making myself useful. You’ve always been better at believing in the social potential of art. How do you do it?
When we talked at Christmas time this year I was torn and in doubt, and you said something really important that stuck with me: let’s move past this question of destiny. Think about your skills, what you want to do, what you want to say, and simply take the measured steps to make that a practical reality.
I think there’s a big difference in working for society or working on society. In both cases, you are operating within received structures and vocabulary. We need people employed on a full-time basis fucking with the macro structures, fucking with the accepted truths, and repurposing the language that we use to describe our experience.
Knowithall releases May 25! You can preorder it HERE.
Catch Dylan perform at Cooper Cole Gallery, end of July.
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