Name: Graham Haynes
Occupation: Cornetist, trumpeter, improviser, composer
Current release: Echolocation, a collaboration between Graham Haynes and Submerged is out July 23rd on Burning Ambulance.
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Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
My cornet is an Olds Ambassador A6. I've been playing that make since 1989 at the suggestion of the great Olu Dara. It’s one of the best cornets for all around playing of all types of music.
When I use efx it's an Ipad. My horn is miked up with a contact mic and then goes thru an A/D converter and into the Ipad. Then it goes into a virtual mixer app called Auria. I put my horn signal into 1 channel and I use 2 efx sends.
The 2 efx I am using now are Flux and a stereo delay that's built into Auria. Flux is a great multi-effects app and it has a touch screen like a Chaos Pad which I use to sweep parameters and pan and mix the efx while I am actually holding a tone. I’ve been using it live for at least 6 years now but I haven’t really begun to explore all its possibilities. I use it in my own way which works great.
I’ve been using and experimenting with hardware and software efx since the 1980s. For me playing acoustically without electronics is sort of like making a film in black and white, whereas using electronic efx is more like using color.
I would say it's a lot more complex than that, though. I have been using and experimenting with electronic, digital and analog efx for so long I have now found my own particular voice with it. There are many reasons for using efx and many things you can do with them. I like to manipulate the pure sound, play with the sound. Using delays and reverse delays you can get into some very interesting rhythmic things. Working with delays a bit more like stretching the sound or idea or phrase.
I can trap delays and keep them going while I play other things on top. I can use a delay rhythmically, melodically and sonically, creating sounds that don’t exist acoustically. There are many worlds within electronics. Of course , there are many efx you can do acoustically as well. Spliting tones and things like that. Equally I can split my tone with efx such as ring modulators too, something I also like to do.
I also like to play with feedback and create feedback loops. This you can do by just overdriving, going into a sound system (or amp) to create feedback, much as Jimi Hendrix did.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
Improvising live you have to listen and make rapid decisions on the spot, in real time. You are totally in the moment. Recording is different cause you can always go back and do another take. But with composing you can take all the time in the world and work out and perfect an idea or phrase or concept. You can take your time and think about timing, dynamics, velocity etc. You can really perfect your ideas in composition which you cannot do improvising.
I like to think improvising at it's highest level is like composing, but in real time. Composing is more like writing a novel. You can go back, change timing, orchestration, dynamics, velocity, form etc.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspectI've, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Well, a musician needs a large enough toolbox or set of ideas to create with so he/she can deal with any given set of sounds or ideas or events that will come their way in a performance. This for me means understanding multiple concepts in music. The obvious ones are a deep understanding of melody, harmony, rythm, texture. Then there must also be a sense of how to dialog, tell a story, use emotion, form and contrast.
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 perspectI've on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
I like this statement by John Stevens. it's also in line with one of my mentors, Butch Morris, who created Conduction as a way to do the same thing which Stevens is describing.
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 for yiur improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Ultimately you must be totally prepared but you must also be empty. Empty of pre-conceived ideas on what you practice or study at home. You can use these ideas which you practice and study but only if it serves the music at hand at the necessary moment. It's not much different from theater acting in that way.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
In a live setting I must be completely aware of all sounds made by the other musicians and also all events that are happening in the general surroundings especially by the audience. I have to be 100% in tune with whatever is happening in the room. Then whatever sound happens first I react to, accordingly with what I think can further develop what that sound is.
I have many choices. I have quite a large tool box because I have been improvising and studying for over 50 years but I must make the “right” sonic choice at the moment. Then you go from there to continue and develop.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Well, for me many of my performances are breakthrough performances. There have been hundreds, but they are not all always breakthroughs.
Sometimes things don’t work, the timing is off, the magic is not there. The musicians are not listening or they don’t have a large enough toolbox and therefore I cannot create the way I would like. In that case you do the best you can and move on.
Sometimes musicians get distracted by external things. Bad sound systems, bad engineers, things that happen in life. The audience does not care. They want to see a great performance, so you do your best! You try to make the magic happen but if it is forced you know it immediately. Sometimes the audience loves it anyway but I know when it is on point for me and when it is not.
A few years ago, I played at a festival in Berlin with Bill Laswell and Material featuring Laurie Anderson. On my way to Berlin from Rome on a train my horn and iPad were stolen!!! I borrowed a horn from a friend of a friend in Berlin and I happened to have an extra Ipad with me. Needless to say, it was a distraction and a huge catastrophe which I am still dealing with. Anyway we played the gig and it was brilliant!!!!! I loved playing with Laurie, she’s a great genius artist! She really liked what I did and she marvelled at the fact that I was able to play in the manner that I did with the borrowed instrument. I hope
to work with her again.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
At best a uniquely inspired performance can be healing to others and to the aritist as well, improvised or otherwise. Great artists always find a way to capture magic and express it, even if the music is through composed. Such performances give us hope and a reason to keep living amidst all the other dramas and torments of this world.