Creative Quarantine: Artist and Musician Rick Valentin

TDM NFT 000, 2021, Digital Image | ©Rick Valentin

Rick Valentin has really put his COVID-19 social distancing time to great use. The change in routine offered him an opportunity to use his time differently when writing and recording songs and allowed him to release a full album made during the pandemic. This then led to a wonderful project that he recently launched where he incorporated NFT’s (Non-Fungible Tokens) and offered up a set of unique pieces of work and music for purchase on the blockchain.

1. How are you holding up?

I’m holding up surprisingly well. I’ve always been somewhat of a homebody so having to shelter in place hasn’t been too much of a burden for me. And everyone in my immediate family has found their own space in the house and seem to be well-equipped for a digital life. (Go figure!) I miss some things: live shows, rehearsing/playing with other musicians, restaurants, seeing my mother and brother in person but I’m treating this period like a long winter.

Dryer Lint – Normal Family of Four, Rick Valentin and Rose Marshack (2014)

That Was The Year That Wasn’t, 2021, Album Cover | ©Rick Valentin

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

Again, it’s a bit strange but I feel like it’s had a somewhat positive effect on my work. I need focused chunks of time to get things done and while I had dedicated time for creativity in my schedule pre-Covid, once most of my external commitments were cancelled, I found I had a lot more “chunks” available, my days weren’t as diced up so I could focus for longer stretches of time. My practice didn’t change but I was able to make more space for it. 

Top Two News Words (By Hour), 2007-present, Digital. Top online news sources are parsed every hour and the two most frequently used are posted | ©Rick Valentin

3. What are some of the unexpected creative things or projects that have developed for you while navigating the current state of the world?

I had a vague plan at the beginning of 2020 to record and release some digital singles but once the lockdown hit I could spend the free time I had between family and teaching commitments in my studio. I wound up recording 18 songs, released two at a time (one instrumental, one vocal) over the year. I found the process very enlightening. I’ve always thought of music in terms of albums, collections of songs, and for me, that can be very daunting. Trying to complete and record 12 to 15 compositions in parallel over the course of a year or two was often overwhelming. I’d sometimes reach the end of the process and need to write the lyrics for a half dozen songs, which would mean I’d have to focus solely on that task for months at a time, not something I enjoyed. This new method of working broke me of the album habit. Having to create and finish one or two songs in a month is much more manageable and the terror of the empty page or mind is not as bad when dealt with on a smaller scale.

This way of working directly led into my recent NFT project. I approached it as a stand-alone audio and visual composition and spent about a month focused exclusively on it from genesis to release. I like the one-month chunk, it feels workable and sustainable.

TDMNFT: 100 Unique Song Arrangements and Artwork by Thoughts Detecting Machines, 2021

Summer’s Come Undone, 2020, Cover Art, Digital Single | ©Rick Valentin

4. Who do you wish were still with us to provide pointed commentary on what we are collectively experiencing and why?

It’s more personal but I wish my father was around to help put this era in context. I inherited my interests in art and politics from him and it would have been great to hear his long view on what we’re experiencing. I’ve been around a while and I see so many of the traumas we’re collectively experiencing as having roots in the strong wrong turn we made as a society in the Reagan era and I would have loved to hear his even deeper perspective starting from the 50s and 60s. But I’m also relieved he didn’t have to experience the past four years, I don’t know how or if he could have tolerated how far things went astray.

Long Long Time, 2021, Directed by Rick Valentin. Shot by Gram Valentin

Sound, Noise, & You, 2019, Vinyl, CD, Cassette | ©Rick Valentin

5. What artists, performers, writers, have you come across recently that have created poignant work about where we are at right now?

It’s odd, I’ve found myself looking backward during this time, not really looking for contemporary reflections on where we are, maybe it’s because I’m not venturing out into the world. I recently rewatched Jim Jarmusch’s early films and they felt connected to now– groups of two or three people living in their own little worlds. I’ve been revisiting Sol Lewitt lately. His wall drawings and certificates seem to relate to NFTs and all the questions they bring up about ownership in the digital age. I guess as I get older I’m looking for echoes rather than seeking the new.

Work the Circuits, 2015, Cover Art, series of 250, computer-controlled pen plotter | ©Rick Valentin

6. What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to going to small clubs packed with a lot of people and going to museums packed with too many people and being in a classroom again. I was taking all of those things for granted before this all hit and I realize now that even though I love having time to myself for work, I also need the outside world to balance me out.

Rick Valentin | Photo Credit: ©Gilman Chatsworth

Rick Valentin is an Associate Professor of Creative Technologies in the School of Music at Illinois State University. He teaches courses in web design and development, web-based video, electronic music, and online cultures and environments. Rick has been a professional musician for over 30 years, having released 15 albums of original music with the bands Poster Children, Thoughts Detecting Machines and Salaryman and has performed extensively throughout the United States and Europe. Technology has always played an essential role in his creative output, including pioneering work in enhanced CD design, web presence and podcasting (Radio Zero). He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Fine Arts in New Media from UIUC.