Gary P. Hayes: A true mobile musician
Updated: Mar 24
Based in the Blue Mountains of Australia, this mobile musician takes portability to the extreme, often hiking for hours into the local wilderness to compose and record electronic music in the solitude of nature.
When you are a conduit of the energy found in nature your mission is to deliver a message. Gary's music does this by carrying the listener on an epic journey of sound and vision--at times a catalyst for philosophical meanderings of the mind. He gathers inspiration by first experiencing the environment around him, paying attention to what is being said, and then translating that for us in sound. His breathtaking aerial footage provides the perfect visuals for his long-form improvisations that are cinematic in scope.
While the foundational basis of Gary's pieces is improvisation there is still quite a bit of planning and mindful coordination involved. Having the ability to live in the paradoxical realm of planning and spontaneity, yet outside rigid constructs of something like classical compositions, lends to creative freedom. Furthermore, it is this duality that holds the genesis of masterpieces. He spoke of this comparison during our conversation: Understanding the complexity of timing, layering, and the precision of the notes is extremely important when reciting musical compositions, but what is missed is the space between the notes where creativity lives.
“I usually sit for a while and take it all in and
Then I’ll improvise some music that
responds to the environment.”
Consider his Modular Symphony on a Pagoda 'Before Humans' in 5 Acts. Here he pulls on the strings of the universe to create an ambient sound that boasts majestic swells and carries you with him to the top of the Pagoda rock outcropping. Gong-like reverberations off the stone give a certain mystical element and at times even a guttural groaning of the earth itself: What would it be like to see nature before mankind touched it?
Gary gave insight into the struggle of creating long-form improvisations with a synchronous flow that is not interrupted by the physicality of managing the instrument itself. For example, his video Winds of Kanimbla Dreamtime begins with a humming discovery but soon picks up the rhythm of the dancing trees around it. Both listening to, and watching the piece makes sense, and it flows unencumbered. However, creating the end product required constant manipulation of five instruments, something Gary does with seasoned precision.
Hiking to remote destinations in the Blue Mountains of Australia, the mind is sure to absorb the offerings from the macrocosm: streams, wildlife, the crunch of the earth underfoot, and the long, low breezes like nature's whispers. With the effort and diligence it takes to produce these compositions, he emphasizes the necessity of allowing music to take its' own shape. While the artist may have an idea of what he or she wants, flexibility is essential for creativity, and it simply cannot be forced.
Gary has an extensive career and familiarity in music production and technology, having pioneered much of it: “I was lucky enough to be a teenager in Manchester in the ‘80s and a part of the music scene,” Gary explains. “Bands like New Order, OMD, and 808 State were just down the street from me.” In fact, Gary set up a production company featuring a small 8-track tape studio with midi and worked with many of the local bands producing demo albums. He was right at the forefront of the recording industry, working with the Atari ST computer and Steinberg Cubase in both studios and education. Having developed music courses in modern music production, he later taught at the Central Manchester College, Guildhall School, and the BRIT (British Record Industry Trust) school in London, as Head of the music production, music technology, and recording studio programs. While at the BRIT school, he also organized contemporary classical festivals with fellow faculty. “My degree is in music and physics so I’ve always been interested in ‘proper’ music”, he says with a laugh. Gary was also working with non-linear video editing technology in the early ‘90s, long before it was commonplace. This led to a 10-year position with the BBC, producing new media and interactive television. It was at the BBC where Gary helped to develop one of the first generative music software programs called Koan, alongside Brian Eno and the SSEYO company. Brian Eno would later release the album Generative Music 1, a collection of pieces created with Koan. Gary continued working in new media for the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, CA, continuing to compose music and contributing tracks to the radio, television, and film industry.
It was new media that lead him to Sydney, Australia, and finally to the Blue Mountains, where he currently resides. Here, Gary has rekindled his love of photography and film. Along with his music composition, Gary is a full-time landscape photographer and an aerial filmmaker, with hundreds of gorgeous photos on his photography website. “My aerial photography has really increased in demand lately. I take my small drone with me everywhere I go now”, he explains. “I license footage to the BBC and others.”
However, it is the mountains that have been the wellspring from which Gary has grown and developed into a mobile music extremist. “Having hiked these mountains now for 9 or 10 years, I have discovered all the best photography spots”, he says. “I was spending a lot of time standing around waiting for the right lighting for my photos, so I started bringing a Volca along to occupy my time. The mountains are so inspiring.” Before long Gary was building portable cases so he could bring along more gear and filming his performances for his YouTube channel. “Now I combine all of it into my excursions. I’ll take my recorder along and make field recordings as I hike out to a nice peaceful spot”, he adds. “I usually sit for a while and take it all in and then I’ll improvise something that responds to the environment.” What he usually comes up with is a mixture of Ambient and Berlin School music, full of dense pads and blippy sequencer lines. He is a master of weaving a common thread throughout his improvised and lengthy compositions. Built upon his vast musical history, he creates music that reflects the sensibility of a well-honed professional. He records the performance on his field recorder, camera, and drone, capturing the experience to share with others. “I try to film what I am doing on the instrument so my viewers can clearly see”, he adds. “I think it makes the video more interesting”. Gary has posted over 600 performances to his YouTube channel documenting his journey in mobile music--many times posting two videos a week. Gary has recently incorporated a Eurorack system into his music with great success. “It's a great workstation. You can have 4 or 5 voices going at one time but, no matter what instrument I am working with I try to focus on the flow of the composition”, he says. “I am constantly switching out modules in the Eurorack to help make it more playable”, he explains. In particular, Gary is interested in the “patch from scratch” approach to composition on the modular. “I want to develop a way to start from scratch and improvise a complete performance, building up parts as I go, as I would on tabletop synths.” After the live performance is completed, he will film himself and the surroundings with his drone for a spectacular aerial video that he edits into the final performance video. “I do all of the filming myself, so I have to film the aerial footage after the fact”, he explains. “The drones have gotten so good with automatic flight modes that I can pretend I am playing music while it flies overhead”. Gary creates something that few others are creating. His videos and his music are quite impressive and the fact that he can do all of this in the remote wilderness with battery power is a testament to the times that we live in and to the ingenuity that Gary possesses.
When asked about his future plans, Gary says, “Well I feel very fortunate to be able to make a living with my photography, especially landscape photography. After 25 years of high-stress jobs in television, I have to pinch myself sometimes”. He says he would like to do some performances in more extreme locations in the wilderness. “I do a lot of workshops with my photography where I take students out to these extreme locations. So, I’d like to incorporate more of those locations into my music videos as well”.
Gary would also like to do more collaborations with other artists. “I have done those in the past where I played over someone’s video, and they have played over mine. I am also interested in performing with a vocalist and see what kind of improvisation they could come up with over my music”, he says. “I want to continue to develop my modular performances and work towards playing more live shows around town as well”.
Gary says he isn’t interested in making a lot of money or becoming famous. “We are all very fortunate to live in a time where we can control our own music careers. With sites like YouTube and Bandcamp, we get to decide what direction to take”. Based on Gary’s impressive career and amazing art, I think no matter what direction he takes it will be successful. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, he is developing something quite unique by combining aerial footage, music composition, and landscape photography. He has curated a dedicated following on YouTube with his videos and has 25 albums and counting in his Bandcamp discography.
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