Name: Mark Guiliana
Occupation: Drummer, composer, educator, producer
Current event: August 9th and 10th Mark Guiliana and Billy Martin will present an afternoon masterclass / workshop followed by a performance at The Underground (artist co-op) in San Diego and Motherland Music (African percussion shop) in Los Angeles, CA.
If these thoughts by Mark Guiliana piqued your interest, visit his website for more information about his work. Or check out his accounts on Facebook and Instagram for current updates.
For a look at the responses of one of Mark Guiliana's creative partners, head over to our Billy Martin (Martin, Medeski & Wood) interview.
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?
The relationship with my instruments is very special to me. Although they are inanimate objects, I do believe there's a life inside of them. And it's up to me - or it's up to any musician - to find all the possibilities that are hiding inside of their instrument and to wake them up and to explore them. And I really do think it is a two way relationship that can always be further investigated. And deepened.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I love improvisation and composition equally. Inside of a musical performance, the improvisational element is always what inspires me the most. But I also do love taking the time to craft a composition and to present it to an audience in the way that you've truly intended. In some ways, they're really the same process. Just one is faster, and in real time, which is improvisation; and the other is slower and more deliberate, which is composition.
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 do like this definition of improvising: the search for material, which is endlessly transformable. I really just think of it as searching for the best musical choices or solutions for any given moment. So I think that does imply endless transformation, or possibility.
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?
If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud - I absolutely agree. And number two, I like that as well. Definitely playing in a group is why I play music. There can be solo moments that can end up being inspiring. But for me, playing music with other people is what it's all about and creating this exchange and communicating in a way that words would not do justice is really what I'm searching for in a musical collaboration.
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?
This is a tricky one. You know, over the last year or so, I've been diving deeper into meditation and yoga, and been doing lots of reading, in hopes of gaining more access to that peaceful, creative space. It's certainly not always guaranteed, and some days, it's more difficult than others to taste that feeling. But it's not impossible.
I found that doing work away from the drums has given me a little easier access to that space. When I do get to the drums. however, I will say it's usually through collaboration and improvising with other musicians that helps snap me into that ideal space. It's a lot more difficult to do it on my own.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
I think it's no different than my decision process in any musical setting that includes improvisation. It's just truly trying to be so connected to the moment that I can make the best choices that help support the other musicians in the music.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
This is a good question. This also speaks to being in the moment in regards to what environment you are in and absolutely allowing the environment and the space to inform the choices you're making.
As a drummer, I'm very sensitive to that. Particularly the volume that my instruments might create in a particular space. And that often changes from night to night and from performance to performance. So just trying to be very connected to the specific results of each sound in each space and make my musical choices accordingly.
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
In some ways, there's no difference in the sense of these ultimate goals we've been talking about, which would be just making choices that are true to each musical moment. However, having an audience on board - if they're with you, and they're connected - that can really add to the spirit in the room at first. It can certainly provide a healthy dose of inspiration.
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?
I'm going to go back a bit to 2006, when the first record of my own music came out. I was playing with a band called Heernt. It was a collaborative trio, but we were mostly performing my compositions. So I think, to finally muster up the courage to make a musical statement on my own and release it out into the world was huge for me. Getting that first original statement out of the way really kicked the door open to want to do it more. And to dive deeper into my own compositions and presenting my own music.
So I'd say the Heernt album from 2006, called Locked in a basement for me was a breakthrough work quite literally in the sense of breaking through as a leader.
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?
I think music is the ultimate communicator of true emotion. I really do believe that words get in the way. I think maybe my answers are evidence of that. (laughs) I hope that's not the case.
But absolutely, there comes a time where words do fail. Music for me is the art that has allowed me to communicate in ways that words can't and I'm extremely grateful to have an expression and an outlet in this way. That's why I truly see getting to play music every day as a gift.