ALL BUTTERFLY WINGS AND NO SOUND
WILEY WEBB, "WABI SABI," AND WHY STANFORD FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS ARCHITECT OF SOUND.
Wiley Webb gently places his teapot on the steel cube he welded in class last week. He designed it specifically for this purpose. Taking a sip from his teacup (which, we are told, a drunk kid once knocked out of his hands at a party) he says with a shrug that he simply sanded down the broken rim so that it would not cut his lips. As I prepare to interview Stanford’s favorite on-campus DJ, I cannot help but think that it must be a truly whimsical heart that falls in love with the shards of a drunken mistake, and then proceeds to sip his tea from it.
“It’s definitely a very long metamorphosis,” Webb says, describing his development as an artist. “Inspiration takes an instant to have but to actually act on the inspiration...takes a lot of fucking hours. It takes years and a lot of learning before you exit that cocoon and flex your butterfly wings,” he says laughingly, yet maintaining his characteristic calm.
Webb’s room at Sigma Nu happens to be as harmonious as his music. Rare on a college campus, the space is more like an installation piece than a frat-house bedroom -- an array of seashells neatly balance on the bookshelf, and hand-crafted tapestries hang from the bunk-bed frame. Gray tones wash over the walls and the bedding, where felt pillows of several shapes are tossed into a perfect geometry.
The 20 year old Product Design major says his “interesting self” was born at the Los Angeles 2009 Monster Massive he attended in high school, after his best friend dragged him there. It was his first electronic dance music festival, and, apparently, it was an impactful one.
Talking about his creative process, Wiley repeatedly uses the term “harmony.” “Everything I do -- my definition of beauty and art or music or lifestyle -- is described by this Japanese concept of wabi sabi” he says. One might recognize the term as one of the least translatable terms in any language. Looking around his room, I begin to believe how perfectly wabi sabi describes Wiley Webb.
“[Wabi sabi] is this aesthetic of a balance of simplicity and complexity and maintaining individuality… yet combining into one cohesive whole, and being subtly, perfectly imperfect, and natural but very consciously designed—all these beautiful paradoxes. That’s what I always work towards.”
But it seems to me that Webb is already there. As I try to imagine the person drinking tea in front of me at a Monster Massive festival, I realize that Wiley is a beautiful paradox himself. What’s most interesting, and perhaps most confusing, about him is how we get such high-energy dance music from such a calm, mild-mannered kid.
But, in the nature of wabi sabi, Wiley’s obvious paradoxes combine into “one cohesive whole.” As he points out, Wiley does not create sound, just as a writer does not invent letters, a painter does not create color, and a chef does not birth his own ingredients. He makes sense of the chaos and music from the noise. Wiley’s music, like his bedroom, is not a practice of invention, but rather a practice in harmony.
People say that all music is harmony, but after meeting Webb I’m hard-pressed to believe it. What makes Wiley different is that he does not make mash-ups or mixes but organizes notes and sounds into the same clean energy he evokes himself.
This purity is what leads Webb so far away from simply subscribing to pop culture. These days, it’s cool to mix a beat, and somehow pretty easy to become famous for it. At Stanford, just as it’s cool to make technology, it’s even cooler to make techno music. It’s cool to be the kid behind the dj stand. Of any artistic medium, music perhaps is the thinnest and the flimsiest, the most prone to the ultimate tragedy of “selling out.”
Clearly, what makes Webb so special, so far from ever selling out, is that by pouring much of his own spirit into his music, he “adds value as opposed to just adding noise.” The man and his music are indeed one kind of unique energy, one cohesive whole. It’s not that we love Wiley because he is the Avicii of the Stanford Campus. It’s as easy to love Wiley as it is to choose the path of least resistance.
"My ideas are worth your time--’ that’s the integral arrogance of the artist,” Wiley says, maintaining his ever-humble disposition. “But that arrogance is only a negative thing if the artist is less qualified than [their audience] to produce that art.” Stanford’s verdict seems to be that Wiley Webb is absolutely qualified to impose his ideas upon the Farm, no matter if he is still getting used to his new buterfly wings. In fact, we beg him to.
So far, Wiley has dropped two original mixes, Humour and Ambrosia, and has produced popular remixes of Katy Perry’s Roar and Rhye’s Open, all of which have been well received on the Stanford campus.
Photography: Ann He, assisted by Ameeqa Ali