Name: Doug Wieselman
Occupation: Clarinet player & composer
Current Release: From Water on figureight records
Recommendations: Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje /
Oay Lahy E (O! Dear Friend) de Hiran'Ny Tanoran'Ny Ntao Lo
Website/Contact: You can find Doug online at www.dougwieselman.com.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started to play clarinet when was 9 years old - “beginning winds” in elementary school in Los Angeles. We were given a choice of instruments to pick - I chose the clarinet. I think I was influenced by a recording we had at home of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet. The clarinettist was Leopold Wlach - who had a very beautiful dark sound - to which I still aspire. I was more exposed to classical, and folk music than jazz - as well as what was on the radio. So, early passions and influences - Leadbelly, bag pipe music, a lot of international music (pre- “world music”) I heard from my parents records and The Beatles. I started to learn how to play the guitar after seeing “Help” even though I had a broken right wrist.
What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I think it goes back to a kind of physical pleasure I get from sound - music being a big part of that. When I was young I was fascinated by records and was lucky enough to be in a house where there were many. As a young child, I’d be happy sitting down with a stack of ’78s.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you?
I did try and learn to play things that I liked - particularly on the guitar, trying to identify what was really happening. This has led to a lifelong pursuit of analysis and transcription. I spent a lot of time with the tenor saxophone in my early 20s- which I still play - and spent a lot of time emulating others - from John Coltrane to Jr. Walker. Eventually I drifted away from that as I found that I wasn’t finding my own voice. As well I found that there was too much “baggage” with the tenor sax. I concentrated more on the clarinet and the guitar and eventually the baritone saxophone. Now with the tenor sax, having sort of left it for a while, I am more comfortable playing it, less concerned about the baggage and discovering newer ways in.
How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I started to really find my voice when I started to compose. I did some pieces at school - U.C. Santa Cruz - and was lucky enough to study with James Tenney who happened to be there for a couple of years while I as there. But it was working on my first score for theater - Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors with the Flying Karamazov Brothers at Chicago’s Goodman Theater (directed by Robert Woodruff) - that I started to feel like I was finding something of my own. As a player, I think I’ve tried to get away from extraneous (or borrowed) notes and phrases, to try to get to the center of things.
What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I learned from copying - or transcribing - things. You see what makes something you like “tick”. If it’s a structural thing, or the way a melody goes with or against a chord - and the rhythmic relationship between those things - those are all things from which to learn. The next step is finding your own way - having gone down those other paths. As well, if you discover something, it’s the thing of staying with it and seeing what “it” wants to do. So much is about getting in to the creative zone - once you are there, things tend to happen. As a player, there is the element of “feel” - which has a lot to do with rhythm. That is something I started to be more and more aware of as I grew. As well, trying to pay more attention to that in my own playing -and particularly playing with others.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
The main challenge, which is harder now, is getting into the creative zone. There seem to be more distractions, and practical concerns at this point. The most challenging thing for me now is energy for my own projects. If I working for others, which is how I am mainly making my living, it takes a certain amount of energy and I am finding there is less energy for myself. As well just living in New York City can be exhausting.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please.
I have a dedicated room in my apartment for music. I have a piano on one side and a table/ desk on the other. There are file cabinets with old scores and documents and instruments nearby - either outside or inside the two closets. I have a laptop on the table, with some powered speakers. As well, a moving rack of recording gear is by the table - board, pre- amps, converters, etc. I installed a sound-proof window - which has been very helpful. I live on a flight path for planes landing at LaGuardia Airport. It varies from day to day, hour to hour - but I’m at least able to shut out the sound if the planes are going.
What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process?
As I mentioned, the planes were really bothering me. An environment with this kind of sonic barrage makes it difficult to work creatively. I like to have the tools (instruments, equipment) nearby - so I’m ready when things start to happen.