Artist to Artist: The Paradox (Jean-Phi Dary & Jeff Mills)


Freedom sits at the core of The Paradox’s debut album ‘Counter Active’. 

A project consisting of composer and producer Jeff Mills and multi-instrumentalist Jean-Phi Dary, the idea for the collaboration came whilst the pair were both working on a project with the late great drummer Tony Allen. 

An immediate connection formed, born from the pair’s shared love of, and knack for, improvisation, and soon the idea was conceived to apply this formula to a collaborative project.

Working within the belief system that freedom, combined with the manifestation of new ideas and techniques, could take them to a higher level of spiritual consciousness, they set upon recording ‘Counter Active’ in real time, capturing an organic, honest approach to composition. 

With no preparation beforehand and no MIDI connection or computers used, the pair were given the space to create without restrictions, compromise or creative conditions, demonstrating that there are no limits to what two minds can do when they are afforded the freedom to do so.

Following the release of the album – the first of two parts – at the end of January on Mills’ own Axis Records, Jean-Phi and Jeff discuss the healing power of music, the process of improvisation and the key to a fruitful collaboration.

Jean-Phi Dary asks Jeff Mills

Do you think music can heal people?

Jeff Mills: Yes I do, especially for those who are most vulnerable to such an application. Not all people react to music the same way. So reactions can differ. I think those that are more prone to healing are probably those that do not realize what the music is actually doing to them. The ones that believe they’re smarter or more clever than what they’re hearing.

How did you become an artist with this mindset? Did it take a long time?

Jeff Mills: I had a few regular jobs and began to notice and listen to the people I was working with. Those experiences quickly convinced me to be more serious in becoming an artist – to prepare, study and do all the things that might allow me to be able to make a living from it. It didn’t take long to learn, but it took decades to realize what I had learned and how to effectively use these skills.

Would you encourage young artists to follow your way to become an international DJ, performer, producer like you? And why?

Jeff Mills: I learned the hard way! So, I’m not sure if many young ones would have the stamina, focus and patience, but I would suggest that it’s very beneficial to know how to learn from making mistakes – that doesn’t just make them and push those experiences aside. Study what you did wrong and learn to find a better way to do it. There is no short and clear pathway to a long term success. One becomes successful by (eventually) making fewer and fewer mistakes. Also, what you learn in your career can also spill over into your personal life as well.

If you could write a movie to visualize The Paradox album ‘Counter Active’, what would the story be?

‘F is for Fake’ by Orson Wells. The movie, filmed in Paris is mosaic in form. A collage of characters and scenes all guided by this mysterious gentlemen in a black cape and a hat (Orson Wells). The album feels like this story. It’s players, it’s plot.

I know it’s not easy to explain but how do you think when you improvise?

Jeff Mills: I’m generally looking for something and I’m trying to find it (out loud). When I eventually find it, there is a deep feeling of resolve – then I move on to try to make it happen again – and again…

What could be the influences to engage for a new track while you collaborate with an artist?

Jeff Mills: Memories.

Could it be something else?

Jeff Mills: Yes, it could be that very surrounding, a conversation… many things, but clouded memories seem to work best.

I know you like contemporary art. Have you already performed live with a contemporary artist? And if yes, where and who was he or she?

Jeff Mills: My most recent performance with the painter Mathias Duhamel. It was a classical show of ‘The Planets’. A score that I wrote and performed in France. The score is actually a tutorial journey from The Sun to each Planet and eventually to Planet Pluto. During the performance, Mathias painted this abstracted trip on one very large canvas. We then displayed the canvas at the exit of the orchestra hall so that the people could see it close up.

How could we create an easier understanding of art for people who are not used to going to concerts, cinema, theatre, museum?

Jeff Mills: I think a touch of futurism can help. If more artists began to work toward the creation of works that effectively transcends the mind away from here and now, then creativity can have more a practical purpose. Creativity could mean “to travel or go somewhere”, like a special type of vacation. Subsciously, I think people would like to view the future more than the past because it’s an assurance that there is a time ahead to actually go to. The future is the accumulation of what we did yesterday and are doing today.

Do you think ‘Counter Active’ can help?

Jeff Mills: Help to stimulate a person’s mind, yes. Mostly definitely. The album bares all the traces of a certain type of freedom. Everything that one hears is there because of design, not by accidental consequences. Of all the tracks that I would recommend, I’d have to say ‘Super Solid’. It’s a seemingly simple track, but discreetly, it has all the elements that would make someone feel better after listening.

Jeff Mills asks Jean-Phi Dary

As a musician, what are the three most important points to remember?

Jean-Phi Dary: To groove, to groove and to groove.

Do you have a favorite chord or note, if so why?

Jean-Phi Dary: Well I love G minor / C minor. I like the frequencies of these notes and the chords you can build from them. To me they are opening mind frequencies and colors.

We know music is another form of communication, but do you feel that it’s more than that? If so, what?

Jean-Phi Dary: I think music is more than that. The frequencies that are spreading in the room, in the ears, make this thing very special. If you are looking at a movie without the music, or with a different music, it‘s a completely different movie.

Why should anyone consider music?

Jean-Phi Dary: It changes everything. Swimming inside vibrations that are healing you and doing something good for you is magic!

The composer/artist John Cage once said: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” Would you agree with his statement and why?

Jean-Phi Dary: I love it. Yes for sure, I prefer to experiment with new ideas than never evolve because of old ideas or habits.

What creative statement do you think The Paradox’s ‘Counter Active’ makes?

Jean-Phi Dary: We are exploring new ideas, I think. For my part we are going somewhere I have never been before and the reflection of this picture gives me a desire to step forward more in this direction.

Which composition on the album would you recommend listening to the most and why that one?

Jean-Phi Dary: Oh man. Not an easy question. I love them all. I think each track can touch a particular type of listener. From the Caribbean smooth jazzy flow of ‘Twilight’, which could be danced to by lovers on a Caribbean island beach, to the urban funky disco of ‘Super Solid’, the mystical ‘Residence’ to the modern jazz tale ‘The X Factor’… The image is a 360° movie.

What is a vital point to note when collaborating with someone on conceiving music?

Jean-Phi Dary: I think ”Listen” and “Trust” are the two big words of a collaboration.

This might be a difficult thing to explain, but how does one improvise? What are the advantages of learning how to play this way?

Jean-Phi Dary: You know I‘m sure music is made to play and to be played. It’s a game. We need to learn how to cook these different ingredients; like learning the rules of the game, then you play with the rules. In football you know what you can do and what you cannot do. But in music creation you make the rules, you decide and draw your own borders.

Why should other musicians listen to this album?

Jean-Phi Dary: Oh with all my respects, to feel and think that it’s possible. And, times are changing, so, maybe it’s the good time to evolve and share more freedom in our music like in our thoughts.

Buy Counter Active. Follow Jean-Phi Dary and Jeff Mills. Photo credit: Jacob Khrist.