Name: Martin France
Current album: Infolding with Spin Marvel
Labels: Babel, Basho, C.A.M. Jazz, ECM, Linn, Rare Noise
Bands: First House, Perfect Houseplants, Spin Marvel
Musical Recommendations: Two drummers: Dan Weiss and Sebastian Rochford.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?
I was nine years of age and I guess music was of interest to me for some reason. I settled on drum kit after trying out a few other instruments first. My earliest influences were the drummers I saw on TV, English pop and rock drummers. After that my influences were very much my teachers that saw me through my formative years to the age of 15.
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?
Slowly and over a long period of time. Its not something I am conscious of, or any musician needs to be conscious of necessarily, but as you get older and you change so does your playing. All sorts of influences can change your music, and maybe it becomes clearer in terms of which road ahead to take as you move and develop over time. But some aspects of your musical personality I suspect never change.
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?
To me the drums/drum kit/percussion are not one particular instrument per se, not like a trumpet or a violin so to me they’re not so critical. As far as I’m concerned as a drummer the sound is in your hands. So to a large degree you can and should be able to get a good sound out of pretty much anything.
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?
I feel to a large extent, and certainly compared to a lot of other instruments, as drummers we are allowed a degree of improvisation in so many professional situations. Composers are usually pretty non specific when dealing with drummers in terms of notation etc, however our role usually and ultimately ends up being very specific and prescribed as such in many colourful ways! Creating the right environment for our musical colleagues forms the basis of the whole band, and we have to do this every time. How we get there is usually through a creative perspective, even within music with complicated structures.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
It’s always been to become a better musician. To listen and therefore constantly to learn from others around you all the time.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
That’s a hard question to answer because firstly I don’t necessarily look at myself and consider myself as an improviser or a composer. I don’t have any specific hard and fast rules concerning this. And secondly it’s a huge and complex subject which I can’t attempt to answer in a couple of sentences.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
To always remember your job is to fill silence with sound, or not. And then to think of the sound around the sound, and so on and so forth. Working within each space within the music.
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?
I’m not sure what you mean by materials but of course finding different ways to play the instrument: to create sounds etc and then combine your sound world with your fellow colleagues is how we make music. Once the music is made there is still further manipulation that can take place if that's what you want to do, from simple mixing/mastering to all manner of sophisticated processing and skulduggery!
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?
I agree with this statement. Music is a team game and I like to feel and play as part of a team player. I have never played a solo concert, I know drummers who do which is very brave, but it depends how you see your role within music. I view it very much as an accompanying instrument working with and supporting other musicians.