We spoke with Ezra Feinberg about self-containment in the creative process, why we’re subconsciously guided by the longings we’ve had since childhood, meditating on the properties of the human brain and a painting that struck him while working in a psychoanalysis clinic.
The thoughts, feelings, the decisions we make and the conflicts we find ourselves facing in our conscious minds have everything to do with our unconscious wishes, desires, and fantasies that we’ve had since childhood.
We asked Ezra what comes to mind when he meditates on these parts of the human brain.
Low hanging ears.
A Patagonia fleece for the middle of an apple.
Kind of sounds like the name of a plantation owner’s wife in the 19th century.
If Jack from The Shining was more into neuroscience and less into rum.
The ugliest visual during an already bad acid trip.
San Diego-based EDM hitmakers headlining Coachella 2025.
It would seem that you have a pretty singular hold on your own vision, production style and way of distribution, all while releasing your music on your own imprint, Related States. Do you strive for self-containment in your life and artistic output? How so?
I think I do, although I’m not sure I “strive” for self-containment as much as I put myself through my version of it every day, as everyone does, necessary as self-containment is in order to survive. Music-making is, on one hand, an attempt at containing something that can’t be contained by any other means, and, at the same time, it’s an attempt at transcending self-containment. An attempt at leaving self-containment is left behind, reaching a point of uncontainment, and thus finding yourself in a very different state of mind. It’s a bit like going to the beach, getting into the water and finding that pretty soon you’re much farther out from the shoreline than you thought. You’ve let yourself go, you look up, and you’re faced with the question: now what?
I understand you currently work in the field of psychoanalysis. From the little I know about that field, I would think that deals heavily in the subconscious, rather than the here-and-now at the forefront of our minds, like having this conversation with you or wondering what I’ll have for lunch today. Can you describe this practice in layman’s terms?
The distinction you make — between the here-and-now and something else that is not here-and-now — may be a false one, at least according to psychoanalysis. The thoughts, feelings, the decisions we make and the conflicts we find ourselves facing in our conscious minds have everything to do with our unconscious wishes, desires, and fantasies that we’ve had since childhood. The here-and-now is comprised of, among other things, the there-and-then, one constantly shaping the other.
Psychoanalysis is a clinical process involving the attempt to access the unconscious wishes, desires, and fantasies of someone who is suffering in order to help that person. The process requires the development of a relationship between two people — patient and analyst — who meet on a consistent basis to talk. The aim is for the analyst to help the patient feel a bit better through what is sometimes called “the talking cure.”
There are always limits to one’s understanding of one’s self. We proceed through life by the ways of our own instincts and reflexes which can’t always be known.
What’s your relationship with your own subconscious like? Do you feel rather in tune with it for having experience with this region of others’ minds, or is it kind of like looking through a glass, darkly, like the brain can reach a certain limit in researching itself?
All psychoanalysts go through their own psychoanalysis, usually for many years, because you have to know yourself as well as you can in order to know and help someone else. Personally I have found my psychoanalysis, which I’m still in, to be transformative. Knowing yourself requires the perspective of another person, and this is the case both in and outside of psychoanalysis. Think of the ways people learn and develop who they are through relationships with other people from the earliest relationships we have in life. And yes, there are always limits to one’s understanding of one’s self. We proceed through life by the ways of our own instincts and reflexes which can’t always be known. Psychoanalysis and other types of therapy may broaden one’s perspective, but no one can ever have a 360-degree perspective. It’s impossible!
What questions do you ask yourself on a daily basis about the nature of the mind? How do you try and hone your understanding of what you do?
I find myself asking what mental health really looks like if, in fact, everyone is suffering to some extent. In this sense, physical health is very different from mental health. What I mean is, someone with no ailments or illnesses or injuries would be considered healthy, but there is no such parallel when in comes to mental health. Everyone suffers loss, all people must try to prepare for an unknown future, we all have significant internal conflicts, and everyone must contend with the anxiety of how to manage desires that cannot be met. There may be greater and lesser degrees of struggle — it’s not all relative — but the distinctions between greater and lesser can be quite grey. There is no such thing as an appropriate amount of desire; it’s always either too much or too little. Health or lack of health will always be determined by the patient and the analyst together, in an conscious and unconscious collaboration. This collaboration has the potential to help, but things can easily go wrong. In short, it’s dicey.
Are you inspired by any visual media or the written word, but in a totally musical sense? Do you practice the art of cross-media translation at all? I think that’s kind of the way to do it, like John Lennon adapting lyrics from a a carnival poster or Joni Mitchell singing about paintings.
Absolutely. My work as a psychoanalyst is literary in the sense that it involves listening and assessing words the way someone else might read and interpret the poetics of words on a page. That’s one sense of cross-media translation. Otherwise there are works of art, literature, and film too that I find have a lot to do with my work as a musician. I’ve been consumed by a seemingly endless range of aesthetics for so long now, it’s overwhelming to try and describe how or why, so instead I’ll share a story.
Some years ago, I was working at a clinic in which there were prints of famous paintings in the offices, all the well-known classics of impressionism and early modernism. At first glance the prints seemed like a predictable and hasty decision on the part of the office manager to put something on the walls that everyone would like. But there was one I had never seen before. It looked like a water color, wide swaths of dark blue, black and a big swirling red curving across the surface, enveloping a sun-like image. Working in this office day after day, I became taken with it and I even found that glancing at it during sessions inspired thoughts and insights about the patients I was treating there. It was a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe with a title that blew my mind: Evening Star, which is, of course, one of the most beautiful pieces of early ambient music, the second of the great collaborations between Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, and a huge influence on my work. I couldn’t believe it.
It’s been noted that you went through a pretty significant loss about seven years ago. It seems to lend itself to your newest record. Can you tell me about that, as well as how your relationship with this loss may have developed or deepened with time?
In college Clare was older and cooler, always, and she introduced me to so much crucial stuff, from Merce Cunningham and John Cage to the Boredoms to Mark Rothko. It wasn’t just that she had a line in to everything good, it was that she saw that there was no reason I couldn’t dive into all of it too, that I was welcome at this party, and that was a revelation to me. She inspired a commitment to the process of working through ideas all the way, and to the joys of spontaneity that come when you surrender yourself to the unknown. Her absence is something I remember every single day still, and it’s not uncommon for me to think I see her walking down the street. She helped shape how I hear music, and there are moments when I’l have an idea that is really a Clare idea, a certain possibility or decision in the process will occur to me and I’ll realize at that moment, or sometimes later, “Oh, that’s a Clare move.” It’s almost always an idea that sticks too.
There are so many things that scare me that if I told you all of them it might actually scare you. We are living in such terrifying times that fear has become a fundamental state of mind.
Can you describe your studio or workspace for me? What’s the nature of the room or space? What are you currently working on?
I live in a small railroad apartment in Brooklyn with my wife and six-month-old son, and I work on music in the basement of our building. Space is always an issue for artists in NYC, and I’m lucky to have a convenient place to do my work, but it’s mostly about the function of it; it’s so spare and basement-y I decided not to include a photo. I spend so much time in the apartment now, hanging out with my wife and son, listening to records, having fun, cooking, eating, reading, talking, arguing, worrying, planning, thinking, and generally working out life together. You’ll see, a bit darkened on the right of the photo, my son Rafael and my wife Jessie, during breakfast on a Saturday. Music is almost always on, and I’m the resident DJ, so a lot of my ideas start in this room even though it’s not where my music set-up is. I’m working on a new record at the moment, about to go to California to play some shows and do some recording at Louder Studios in Grass Valley, where most of the first album was recorded. I’m rehearsing the live performance of these pieces as well, planning to play more shows throughout the next few months.
Finally, can you please describe what scares you in as much detail as possible?
Answering this question, perhaps? There are so many things that scare me that if I told you all of them it might actually scare you. We are living in such terrifying times that fear has become a fundamental state of mind. Plus, I’ve recently become a father, which adds new layers of fear to the many layers that were already there, so it’s hard to know where to begin.
Maybe instead of naming everything that keeps me and most people I know up at night, I’ll share with you a very personal, psychological, irrational fear that I hardly ever talk about: I’m afraid that some day someone will tell me I’m no longer allowed to compose music, that I’ll be told “sorry, it’s over,” that the time and space that had been available to do this work is being eliminated, it’s time to be done with it once and for all, to say goodbye to this beloved pursuit, to put it in the ground, to let it go forever and to not expect it to come back. I told you it was irrational.
This is something I think about all the time, and it might even drive me to make more music, because with every album I’ve ever made, regardless of the project or band, I’ve thought “well, this is probably the last time I’ll ever do this.” Even though I always realize pretty quickly how irrational this thought is, it still occurs with alarming persistence. I hope it never comes true.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: February 15, 2018
Total questions: 8
Word count: 1927
Reading time: Seven minutes
ailment, anxiety, Apple, Boredoms, brain, brain stem, Brooklyn, cerebellum, cerebrum, composition, conflict, consistency, cortex, decision, decode, development, Ezra Feinberg, feeling, fundamental, glass, Grass Valley, health, illness, instinct, irrationality, John Cage, limbic, lobe, Louder Studios, Mark Rothko, media, mental, Merce Cunningham, mind, New York, personal, plantation, psychoanalysis, psychology, reflex, region, songwriting, space, struggle, system, The Shining, thought, time, transformation, translation, unconsciousness
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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