Conversations in Light: Robert Glasper – This Is What Alchemy Sounds Like

Conversations in Light: Robert Glasper – This Is What Alchemy Sounds Like


THE MUSEUM OF LIGHT: Just as an alchemist transforms led into gold, do you feel that being an artist relates to that of being an alchemist? Do you view the artist journey and your creative expression, as alchemy?

ROBERT GLASPER: I feel like the transforming of something into another thing as far as the alchemist goes in music is basically understanding all of the elements of the genre that I’m in. Once you understand the element, you’ve got to study the element, and you actually can authentically replicate that element, then, at that you point, you know the ins and outs of it, and you can change it. I feel like that’s what my band does. We’ve all studied and we know the history of the music and all these different things and we know sonically what makes one thing sound different from another thing. So that allows us to have the tools to be able to go from one thing to another and change things. And even have the tools to try to do something that is different that we haven’t really heard as far as we know. A lot of that really comes from studying all types of things. Some people know genres from a far when they hear it and never really played it or lived it. So it’s very important to be in it and then that really helps.


THE MUSEUM OF LIGHT: Artists are often labeled as “stars.” Just as a star radiates light and the planets then reflect this light, do you see your work as an artist like that of a star? Is this “light” that stars radiate merely the evidence of this journey of becoming a star/learning to radiate light?

ROBERT GLASPER: I see my work as a light to people. I feel that because I’ve been able to read feedback from people from social media, talked to people at shows, I get a lot of insight on what my music does for them. And even for some music, my intention wasn’t for a certain feeling, but for somebody else it resonated a certain way. I was like, ‘Wow. I didn’t have that in mind when I wrote this song.’ For them it’s like something else. It’s great. You never know what your music is gonna do for people. It’s very good to be open and honest about your music because people are going to interpret it different ways anyway. So being a cookie cutter and doing what somebody else does, for what? They’re going to have their feeling about what it makes them feel like. People can feel when something is pretentious. They feel it when it’s not honest. I try to always be honest because that’s what’s gotten me this far. People telling me how my music has changed their life or changed a situation. It let’s me know that was a light for them. I think that’s great and what motivates me.


THE MUSEUM OF LIGHT: When an artist is not “creating” it is often labeled a “creative block.” How do you navigate this space, how do you find the creative spark in the dark, and does it require courage to create from this unknown space? Describe this process.

ROBERT GLASPER: What’s helping me create and find that spark? It’s funny a lot of people when they create, musicians, we tend to say, All right tomorrow at 2 o’clock, I’m going to sit down and write a song. Like they got the universe on lock. Like at 2 o’clock that’s when the Gods are going to give me this beam and the song is gonna be written and this amazing thing. I don’t do that. Pretty much since I started playing, recording music, I’ve always had voice notes on my phone because I get inspired by so many things in my life: riding a train, walking down the street, in the bathroom. Like a song might play in the bathroom while I’m taking a piss and it inspires another thought. And as musicians, thoughts come and go really fast. So we let go of more than we keep, just naturally. So I try to record as much as I can to keep as much as I can. Immediately I pick up my phone and I sing whatever idea it was in my phone. And that’s how I recorded 95 percent of my music by doing that because I get inspired when I’m not in front of the piano. Seeing the piano doesn’t inspire me. Life inspires me. So whereever that might be, I always carry my phone so I can try to capture that moment. Then, I’ll work on it later. Flesh it out and make it something. But that’s what I’m inspired by: life. It could be anything. Any person, any song, a bird. The other day I saw this hummingbird flying around the tree. Somebody had a little hummingbird feeder with sap in it and boom. It inspired me somehow. I took out my phone and sung a melody. I might not use it for six months, but when it’s time, I’ll go back and listen and will be like, Oh, I can use that as a tag for that song or ending or bridge or anything. I just try to record all my ideas.

THE MUSEUM OF LIGHT: If you want to know what alchemy sounds like, listen to Robert Glasper Experiment’s work. His new album, ArtScience, out today, is transformation at its finest. It’s among pop music’s most eclectic merging of genres, incorporating jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, drum and bass, and more.

In addition to addressing the fusion of Art and Science in the album title, Robert also expounds on it on the album’s opening track, “This Is Not Fear.”  As the production moves from battling, frantic saxophone and piano solos, the music calms to allow Robert to speak. He says, “The reality is my people have given the world so many styles of music, so many different styles. So why should I just confine myself to one. We want to explore them all.”

As Robert’s voice fades, the music shifts again and so on. He follows this course for the duration of the album, refusing to limit himself creatively. It’s the way alchemists transform lead into gold.

Photo Credit: Mathieu Bitton

The Museum of Light is curated by: 

Billy Johnson Jr., Adell Henderson, Joslyn Rose Lyons, Rafael Casal, Matt Smith, Malik Buie.

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