Name: Peter Gordon
Current Release: Symphony 5 (Out on February 16th on Foom)
Labels: Foom, Lovely, CBS, New Tone, DFA
Musical Recommendations: David Behrman, Eric Richards.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I grew up with a piano in the family home. Some of my earliest memories are putting dots on lines. I took piano lessons at 7, studied clarinet in grade school, and took up the saxophone when I was 14, soon playing in funk and R&B bands. My earliest musical preference was for New Orleans jazz; as a pre-teen, I favoured instrumental pop music, including The Shadows, The Ventures, Duane Eddy; in high school, it was Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Junior Walker, Igor Stravinsky, Duke Ellington; and I’d go see The Animals and Yardbirds, favourite bands, at local clubs.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
A few come to mind, out of many:
1.) “Machomusic“, 1973, was the first work that defined my style and modus operandi, consisting of sixteen analogue (Buchla) oscillators tuned to a unison F, guaranteed to drift, and six crossed-dressing saxophone players, playing riffs in a modular structure. The non-theatrical version, with a band instead of oscillators, was later recorded on my first LP, Star Jaws, and has been performed countless times by LOLO.
2.) Developing the video opera “Return of the Native” with Kit Fitzgerald. This began as a suite for LOLO, performed at CBGB; it saw subsequent development and performances, with video-shoots in Ireland, Poland, Dorset and New Mexico; culminating with performances in opera houses, including Brooklyn’s BAM/Next Wave Festival and Amsterdam’s Het Muziektheater.
3.) Collaborating with director Mario Martone and the Neapolitan theatre ensemble Falso Movimento on the score for “Otello.” It was a breath-taking process: entering into the musical world of Giuseppe Verdi, deconstructing the Verdi and the Shakespeare, then reconstructing according to Martone’s direction. My musical and technical skills were challenged to their limits.
4.) Residencies in Berlin (winter 1988, shortly before the Wall came down); and Seoul and Tokyo in 1990-92, where I studied the traditional double-reed music (p’iri and hichi-riki, respectively.)
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
I like writing for large orchestra, but the challenge is getting a performance. On a personal level, the on-going challenge is to be able to maintain directness, honesty and curiosity throughout each stage of composition and production. That, and knowing the right time to update the software.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
First comes the Pre-composition, when I learn, and invent, the “world” of the piece. This can be an idea, an image, a scenario, a place – travel works, for sure. This period one might call Pondering, Procrastination and Fear: Pondering the back-story; Procrastinating, as there are so many distractions in the world; and outright Fear, that I have nothing left to give, and will never compose again.
But, then comes the first musical gesture. It can be in any form – a riff on a horn, a synth loop, a chord pattern, a melody, a phrase – anything; and I’ve begun writing the piece.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
The two are entirely different. Composition is an asynchronous process, the experience of real-time is suspended - I may spend all day on a minute of music, repeating it over and over, manipulating different elements, making plans, and changing plans, for the eventual real-time experience of the work.
With improvisation, on the other hand, the creation of the music is synchronous with the actual production, and experience, of the music.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
Composition is about manipulating time: a vibration (sound) exists only in time. On the smallest level, moving anything – air, metal, skin, wood, etc. – will create a sound. Manipulating the sound events, in time, is the act of composition.
Some might say that composition is about creating relationships among these events in time, implying some sort of meaning or structure; I might suggest that the mere intentionality suffices.
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?
I try to make my music transparent and easy to understand – there are no real secrets behind my processes. This is intentional: when I first created LOLO, one of the initial impetuses was to be free of the obfuscation and unnecessary complexities of the contemporary music of the time (the Uptown school, so to speak.) Since I am not working within a general accepted common practice, or genre, I try to provide my audience with simple materials they can grab a hold of. This provides an anchor, for the listener and for myself.
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?
It has been my observation that creative decisions are shaped by the individuals’ personal attributes. I’ve worked with artists and musicians from Korea, Japan, Russia, Cuba, Senegal, Germany, etc., and personality generally trumps culture background.
Cultural differences certainly contribute to how an artist is trained, and to their lingua franca; and diverse cultures have rich legacies in which their artists are immersed. But this is more about the commonness within a particular group. Actual creative decisions are about the straying from the common, away from sameness: this involves a simultaneous embrace and rejection of history, cultural and familial, in order to find the inner creative voice.
On the other hand, if one were to generalize and suggest that creative decisions were based primarily on cultural differences, one runs the risk of invoking stereotypes and, if taken to the extreme, nationalism and racism.