Drones, moans and groans

Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a  group compare to a solo situation?

For years and years and years I played and mostly performed solo. Now I play lotsss with othersss and I luvvvzzz ittt! 

I used to live on the upper west side of Manhattan in the late '60s and my neighbours were Pharoah Sanders, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Garrison, Kenny Burrell, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba among others. I was jealous back then that jazz musicians could come together and with a common denominator musical language, they arrived to play and groove together! 45 years ago it was impossible to imagine that Charlemagne could travel almost anywhere in the world with his drones and moans and groans and szzwwabbblonzzzz and there would be people, several generations even, out there that he could groove with too now!! IT'SSzzz Greeaaatttt!!!   If ensembles are for YOU then DO! If NOT then ZOTTT!!!!

Some people see recording improvised music as a problem. Do you?

I don't like the term 'improvised' as it's used too often for any style and all flexible live situations. But yes, I love to record live and to keep an open free state of mind while I’m being recorded so that things develop naturally and unusually and differently than I had heard or imagined them beforehand.

In the 20th century, the relationship between music and other forms of art - painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?

Artists of my generation and myself in particular were among the first to integrate and dialogue between all different genres of the arts like painting, sculpture, installation, video and film art, body art, performance art and music. In retrospect, in my case I payed a very high price for not being a specialist in one particular realm but being a "charle" of all trades and  a "meister" of none! Ok, fuck me, but it's been one hell of a jolly roller coaster ride all the same!

In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences - and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?

I'd opt for saying that not especially cultural but more personal differences now are the shapers. We live now in a massive global shmobal society. Not like the little Brooklyn shmooklyn of my youth. Look at Brooklyn now for example, it has become one the of major dwellings now of that massive global society that I’m talking about.  Go to an art show or performance, look at the artist's name and provenance, born in Auckland; lives and works in Brooklyn, born in Bucharest;  lives and works in Brooklyn, born in Zaire; lives and works in Brooklyn, born in Bahrain; lives and works in Brooklyn. Amazing!  As we used to say "Go Figgah." It's personal differences now and everyone's multi-cultural and cross-fertilizing.

Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?  

To imagine an audience that "deducts the processes and ideas behind a work on the basis of the music" - what a nightmare! I’d prefer not to think that those souls out there that I see all over the place are deducting the processes etc. That's too heavy for me.  Friend’s 'n Romans if you are and you see me coming please don't tell me what you're up to. 

Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?


Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it?

I try not to  overbook my senses. If I do, I become a bad, sad n mad sponge! There's an enormous abundance out there that's for sure. I digest as much as I can and try to do right by my friends and colleagues and public.

BUT as Joe E. Brown said at the end of Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot, "Nobody's perfect, me least of all." Ciao friendszzz n neighborsszz!!!

!!!till next time!!!!

Visit Charlemagne Palestine's website at www.charlemagnepalestine.org

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