Creative director at cycling mainstay Rapha, Alex Valdman leads a team tasked with discovering and developing products that respond to a cyclist’s holistic needs. While at his historic London home, he uses music and sound to communicate with his young daughter.

What do you do as Rapha’s creative director?
I’ve been at Rapha for almost four years and I’m in charge of anything the customer touches, smells, feels, tastes – that includes products, digital, and physical spaces. There’s a huge team working hard to make something that is more expressive than literal.

Rapha is at the cutting edge of cycling culture. Are you a cyclist yourself?
Everything that we do is informed by the culture of cycling from a local perspective. We treat each location with the utmost respect for what it stands for, and for the different kinds of social currencies within that region. Last year we did over 3000 rides! To work at Rapha you have to be a cyclist because those nuances are super critical to everything that we do. We want to ensure that we are representing our community’s needs in the best light.

Does music inspire your creativity?
Absolutely! I started dissecting syllables and bars in the 5th grade. This was before the internet. I would play a tape, pause it, write it down, rewind it, play the next lyric, write it down again, and then would count the amount of syllables in a bar to figure out what the pattern was. I’ve always tried to deconstruct the formula behind songs that were meaningful to me. I’ve always been obsessed with music on that level. I want to understand why music is the thing that creates the ultimate emotional response.

One of the biggest frustrations of my job is that I never convey the same emotion as music through what I create. Yes, it’s intimate because it’s next to the skin, but it’ll never create the same emotions of joy, or sorrow, or happiness, or motivation, or anger. I find music super compelling because of the power that it contains. Growing up I was always drawn to music because it’s the life force of creativity.

Do you try to imbue the work that you do with that same spirit?
You have to understand a craft before you can do your own version of it. When you study music or design you have to understand it at a microscopic level so that you can make something new.

How does music fill your day?
Sometimes you want music to be the counter to whatever mood you’re in. Today’s a winter day in London, it snowed for a little bit, and I wanted to listen to something that was more upbeat so I turned on the Nina Simone radio station through Sonos using Apple Music. If you’re having an exhausting day, you want something that’s really punchy. If you have to do some thinking, you want something soothing that will allow you to block out all the distractions.

What do you listen to while you work?
I’m always trying to find new music. A Tribe Called Quest’s album from last year didn’t get nominated for a Grammy, so I’ve been listening to Tribe this morning. There’s a lot of new music out there that I try to give an hour to – to see if my ears adjust to it. There are trends in colours. There are trends in fabrics. There are trends in prints. Sound has trends just like taste. There are trends in the way beats are aligned to words, or the way that words are harmonised, or the rhythm of delivery. It’s interesting to stay on top of what the trend is in sound and try to calibrate it. The work I do has to appeal to my community. It’s important for me to stay on top of what’s new so I can create things that feel fresh or deliver a new experience. Music captures what society is being influenced by.

What kind of music brings people together?
It depends on people’s upbringings. With my friends, the stuff that brings us together are the things that we grew up on. But I think, in today’s society, what brings people together are sounds that are a bit happier, that have a positive energy, that are celebrating something. It doesn’t have to be contemporary. Everybody loves Nina Simone, for example. No matter what your tastes, whether you’re into soul or not, or whether you’re into blues or jazz or country, her sound, her energy, that harmony and anti-harmony, are widely loved. I really want to try to understand what it is about a particular song or album or artist that can harmonise with everyone.

What makes your home special?
We wanted to live in a place that felt really open. Natural light is super important for the psyche – I couldn’t survive without a lot of light. It used to be a shelter for horses back in the 1600s, and all the columns are more than 400 years old. It’s quite amazing to see brick and mortar from ten generations ago. It gives you a sense of the people that have come before you and how you’re just a drop in the ocean when you live in a space that’s that old. I think that kind of history is important to the space you occupy.

How do you share sound at home with your family?
I have a special playlist that I put on when I’m hanging out with my daughter. It makes her really happy! There’s some Outkast on there, ‘Sound and Color’ from Alabama Shakes, ‘Grim’ from Raujika. Funny enough, one of the first things she ever did when she started making sounds was hum ‘Mask Off’ from Future. She also loves ‘Coming Home’ from Leon Bridges.

Sharing music with your young daughter must be such an interesting way to interact.
Especially from a communication point of view! She doesn’t know words, she doesn’t know meanings, but she knows feelings, and music brings out different feelings and moods in her.

You love podcasts – which are your favourites?
We don’t have HBO here in London so I catch up on Bill Maher through podcasts. The ESPN ’30 for 30′ podcast is incredible too. These stories are the fibre of American culture and many have never been heard so you feel like you’re unearthing something special.

You’ve had Sonos since it first launched. What’s your perspective on it after all these years?
Sonos is intuitive and easy. I can put something on for my daughter while I put something on to work. Sonos helps me get into the zone and start thinking about how to solve the problems I’m concentrating on. Music is the perfect way to block everything else out and get really focused and inspired.

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