Part 1

Name: Dead Neanderthals
Band Members: René Aquarius & Otto Kokke
Nationality: Dutch
Occupation: Improvisers
Labels: Gaffer, Utech
Musical Recommendations: Staer and Parlamentarisk Sodomi. (René)
Paul Flaherty, because just hearing one note from him is already enough awesomeness to last a day. Galg, from the Netherlands, because they're cool and make you want to cry. (Otto)

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?
Otto: I started playing sax as a kid because my brother who drummed told me so. I conveniently forget my early influences.
René: I started drumming when I was 24 or 25 years, quite late! I was never a big fan of specific drummers, I always like drummers in the context of the band. I love drummers who add something special to the music, something surprising.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
R: I never played in a cover band and I never played along to albums. As soon as I could drum a little bit, I started playing in a band. It wasn't good or anything, but I wanted to be a part of the creative process as quickly as possible. From that point on it was just learning new things I suppose.
O: I've never wanted to emulate anyone, of course you learn from what others have done but that's a process that never stops. For me originality is important but it's more reflective. Like when analyzing recordings. When I play I try not to think.

Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results – and possibly even your own performance?
R: Haha, I have a second hand, worn out drum kit. It's amazing. I think its best quality is that I never have to worry about scratching it or anything. I'm not even using protective cases! It's my first kit and I love it in all its crappyness.
So basically, I feel comfortable playing it, which is the most important thing when using an instrument I guess.
O: I have quite a number of saxes, each one influences me differently and I play very differently between them. The best quality of my main baritone - a workhorse that I can just blast away on - is that is has a built in mic.

Many artists feel as though, at some point, certain people gave them the ”permission to do certain things”. How was that for you – in which way did the work of particular artists before you “allow” you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?
R: That's a difficult question. I think working with Otto for all this time, getting used to each other's playing and opening up to new things really set me free to play with less constraints.
O: I guess at every really crappy show I see (luckily not too often), I'm like: "And I'm having doubts about what I'm doing? ..."

What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
O: At the start: not knowing exactly what direction you want to take, and having minimal references in the direction you eventually take up. Now: planning all the different things you want to do.
R: At first it was more based on control and speed in my playing. Currently, I'm trying to focus more on reaching a new level of abstraction and minimalism. I don't know exactly where that came from, but that's keeping me busy at the moment.

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
R: I love both to be honest. The spontaneity, intensity and total focus of the musicians is something I love in good improvisation. The focus and meticulous craft of a good composition is great too.
O: Aside from obvious differences, for me it's probably about a long term work effort with others vs. wildly bouncing off others. Does that make sense?

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
O: I'd add time, other musicians, and the audience in there as well. I just try to get a feel for the whole context I'm in in that exact moment and keep that in mind as I start to play. I try to be in the moment, however spiritual that sounds. Is that a strategy?
R: Hmm, now that I think of it, I'm pretty bad when it comes to adjusting the volume of playing to the space I'm playing in. We've been actually kicked from the stage once because we were too loud. That was pretty bizarre. So definitely room for improvement there, this might just trigger me too look into it more. MIGHT :)

Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
R: Do you mean materials as in wood or metals?
O: Daytime television.

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?
O: If you can't hear another musician, he should have bought a better amp. Rule two sounds like John had some bad experiences. I've read Evan Parker's take on these rules, he quit the band :) Now that's something to think about.
R: Well... to be honest I don't know John Stevens or his Ensemble. So it's hard to comment on that. As far as the rules go: super if those work for him! To me those rules seem to make sense in some but certainly not in all situations. So I guess they won't work for me in a general sense. I think each situation requires different rules, or no rules for that matter.
I don't have much experience as a solo player, so I can't really comment on that, but when playing in a group it's important to understand your role and your relationship with the other player(s). I can imagine it's more important to hear what others are doing when playing together for the first time. When you're playing together with someone else for years I assume you sound good together and you can rely on the things you already know. This allows for more free playing. When playing in big groups, things can get messy really fast so I guess you need more (or stricter) rules in those kind of situations.

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