From inspirational nightmares to self-perpetuating idea blenders, Josh Eustis lives in a world where musical genres coalesce, and imagination is everything. A prolific musician, producer, and sound designer, Josh is best known for his influential electronic music project, Telefon Tel Aviv, which has been shaping IDM since 1999. However, we wanted to focus on the future—we talked with him about what drives his creative process, where he pulls inspiration from, and his newest project: Second Woman.


You have a lot of different projects in motion at any given time. Do you have a different approach or creative process when you work with groups as opposed to working on your personal projects?

Definitely. Whenever I’m working on Telefon Tel Aviv, or Second Woman, my own initial instincts are usually what ends up being the guiding force. If I’m working with someone else, I almost always defer to their judgment—at least when it’s a collaboration. There has to be trust there, or otherwise what’s the point? Pushing your own musical agenda around everywhere? That’s what personal projects are for.

If I’m in the studio with another group, though, the process changes again because then I have to imagine what their ideas COULD be if they reach their potential. It’s almost like taking the potential energy of their musical idea and converting it into kinetic energy.

Can you tell us more about Second Woman?

Second Woman is the newest project, but spiritually maybe it’s the oldest. It’s a project that I do with Turk Dietrich (of Belong), who’s been one of my best friends for almost two decades. We’ve always wanted to make extremely kaleidoscopic sort of “dub” music and so in many ways it’s the perfection of ideas that Turk, Charlie (Cooper, from TTA) have shared as long as we’ve been friends. It’s liberating for me to return to instrumental, “out” electronic music.

What motivates/inspires you to write your music?

My terrible dreams, mostly! And of course those are affected by life, and that’s affected by… well, you know where this is going…

…sometimes I’ll hear a melody or chord change or sound in my sleep and I try to write it down, and come back to it later, transpose it, tinker with it, whatever.

What was the most important moment for you as a musician/person?

My composition teacher played me Steve Reich’s “Music For 18 Musicians” in my freshman year of university. Parallel to that was seeing Reich and his ensemble perform that piece live, 11 years later, at his 70th birthday at Carnegie Hall.

In a very simple way, I think I wanted to make music like that but what I had in my head was nowhere near as good as the real thing. I’ve always been really astonished by how Reich can make something convey so much feeling without being overtly emotionally manipulative. And, of course, the idea of something repeating, expanding and contracting, this has always fascinated me and is a cornerstone of what interests me musically.

What’s your #1 tool for making music?

The DAW, in general. I’ve used Pro Tools a ton, Logic Audio, etc, but now it’s mostly Ableton and Max4Live, and has been for a few years now. Max/MSP has recently become something that I use regularly and much of what I do is getting conceptualized there.

Why Max?

Well, there are just some things that are done more easily in Max/MSP. At this point, I’ve started to think of music more as something circular, as opposed to linear, and Max/MSP excels at this, of course. Not having a grid from left to right causes me to listen more! As well, there are just some things that cannot be done with a DAW but that are rather easy in Max/MSP, so some of the doors have been blown off.

A lot of your work seems to stem from pretty intense and long term collaborations. Why is collaboration so central to your practice?

I honestly don’t know. I think it’s because I’m extremely uncertain of everything I’m doing, and I usually need someone else to steer the ship and say we’re on the right path. And someone else coming up with ideas just breeds more ideas from me, so it becomes a self-perpetuating blender full of ideas. It’s a good feeling for me.

Do you have any other experiences or words of wisdom to share?

Simply put, try to think of a musical idea as being part of a fiefdom of ideas; where does it fit, what is its potential? What COULD it be, what SHOULD it be? Can you answer these questions about the idea? Imagination is everything in music. Imagining what a part or a melody or rhythm COULD be is, for me, an essential part of the composition process. Try everything (within reason of course)!

What’s next for you?

Probably a new Telefon Tel Aviv record, putting to use all the knowledge that Dr. Matt Wright has shared in this class. And more studies/digging/experimenting in Max/MSP. This is something that I’m interested in for my own personal edification as well as its incredible usefulness in composition.