Could you take me through the process of improvisation on the basis of one of your performances that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I’m sorry, but I literally can’t do that. And I’m fine that I can’t do that. I have spent the past fifteen years of my life learning to think in music. That is, rather than thinking verbally, I’ve trained myself (and practice every day) to formulate my thoughts in the form of ambiguous musical phrases and masses.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
#1: If improvisation is “making it up as you go along,” then, in fact, we are all improvising at every moment in our lives. Just with ever-changing rules of engagement and control. All to say, there is never a moment when I (or you (or “you” the person reading this)) is not creative.
#2: The primary distraction is the part of my mind that is either a.) focused on something else or b.) immediately pipes up to register its displeasure. In the case of a.), I make the decision as to which is more pressing/interesting and focus on one idea at a time and in the case of b.) I tell it to pipe down and wait its turn.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Quite plainly, machines excel at what they are designed to do and the tasks you set before them. I’m wary of newish technology in that I make sure to give myself a moment to observe my reactions to the machine before engaging with it. I want to make sure that I’m clear-eyed and dispassionate when using a machine, whether it be a 16th-century machine or a 21st- century one.
Humans, when placed in the proper environment and with the proper stimulation, excel at being themselves. And as long as I’m aware of their personhood and its potentialities, I’m quite satisfied.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I tend to stick to the old nineteenth century technology that I was first attracted to. I rarely mess around with anything beyond my horns and regular listening to other acoustic instruments (as far as authorship is concerned).
I love lots of new and recent music, but what I want to make is not always the same as what I am hearing. That being said, at the granular level, I engage in what Evan Parker referred to as the, “biofeedback mechanism” that exists between the practicing musician and their instrument(s). I start with an idea (sound and/or physical activity), after lengthy engagement with the instrument, I’m led to a new idea (or not). I continue.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
When I arrive in a new space, if I have time and the awareness to do so, I try to re-enact a story I read about Papa Jo Jones. When the Count Basie band was about to play, he would show up long before anyone else for set up (he had to anyway as the drummer), and before he set up his drums, he’d walk through the audience’s space and slowly clap his hands. I suspect he did this to listen for the reverberant quality of the space. From listening to the echo of his slow hand-claps, he could gain a sense of how loud/hard to play and how things might sound to the audience.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Living a life in music, I have learned three things. There is a distinctly physical element to sound that cannot be shunned or dismissed. Sound is felt as much as it is heard. In fact, the two terms often refer to the same biomechanical processes.
Music, like poetry, is the one art form in the west where thinking and feeling as we conceptualize them, are a unity. One’s ideas have an emotional resonance and one’s feelings can be rationally articulated.
Music, at its core, is an inherently social action. It’s never done without other people. And whether those people are real or imagined, remembered or fantasized, they are intrinsic to the dynamic process that promulgates sound art.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Live. Literally. Just stay alive. And make stuff. The very act of “making” in all its meanings, with all its connotations, is a definitively political and often revolutionary act today. When you make something, you’re not necessarily consuming something, or observing something. You’re staking a claim to the meaning of your own life, outside of anyone else’s definition of what your life can or should be. You’re stating a point of view. You’re engaging in real and meaningful constructive criticism of the world we all wake up to every day.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Have we? I’m not so sure. And I’m not sure there ever was a singular, basic concept of music to begin with. Like a lot of words “science,” or “politics,” or “intelligence”, I think we all silently agree to not formulate a definitively shared definition of the word when we discuss it (gotta facilitate communication any way we can).
That being said, I do think my definition of music does not fit at least 90% of humanity’s definition of it. I say that more to indicate my feeling that I sit in a slightly remote place from other people. Remote, because I, like many other musicians I know and some of the listeners, have listened to so many kinds of music in so many different formats. That doesn’t make me a special, just obsessed. So, yes, I do hear music beyond its current parameters. Every time I make some music (live or recorded) I do my best to manifest this; this thing that’s beyond what I hear now. It’s the least negative way I know to constructively criticize.