Name: Ryan Packard
Occupation: Percussionist, composer, sound artist
Nationality: American
Recent Release: Ryan Packard teams up with Paul Giallorenzo, Charlie Kirchen and Ben LaMar Gay for the debut LP The End and the Beginning of their quartet RedGreenBlue. It is out now via Astral Spirits.

If you enjoyed this interview with Ryan Packard, visit his official website for more information.  

[Read our Paul Giallorenzo interview]
[Read our Charlie Kirchen interview]
[Read our Ben LaMar Gay interview]

For many artists, a solitary phase of creative development proceeds collaborative work. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your first collaborations?

I think it will be too hard for me to really answer what my first stages of solitary creative development were like but since it’s always changing, I can talk about recent developments.

I find that my compositional practice, and often with instrumental music that does not involve percussion at all, informs my playing more and more, consciously and subconsciously. I treat composition as a tool to teach myself something about the intimacies of sound and the interpersonal relationships that instruments, the performer and the sound itself form as a single organism.

A recent work of mine for clarinet, cello, violin, pump organ and voices called “For Lying Down and Breathing” started with recordings of my partner and I sleeping. I then proceeded to study and transcribe our breathing patterns together. I became a bit disenchanted with trying to make a faithful transcription of the sound recordings. Instead, I created a score that embraces the breathing patterns of the performers themselves while still keeping in mind the original relationship that has to do with my breathing and my partner’s breathing. I think this particular piece opened up a new perspective on what is a composite sound and besides its timbres, dynamics, frequencies etc. how it embodies different energy, vulnerability and precariousness.

Every time I play the drums now I’m reinvigorated with this new concept of composite sound. How do we hold each other’s energies, vulnerabilities, and trust together?

Tell me a bit about your current instruments and tools, please. In which way do they support creative exchange and collaborations with others? Are there obstacles and what are potential solutions towards making collaborations easier?

I have been incorporating a more organic approach to electronics into my drum set up for some time now. Since 2011, I’ve been using bare speaker cones as percussion implements as much as I use them as simple sound sources. Instead of brushes, perhaps I’ll play 60 and 65hz sine tones through the speakers and use the resulting beating patterns of these frequencies in combination with rubbing the speaker cones on a snare head to create a complex brush texture.

Sometimes I’ll incorporate live electronics and process cymbal sounds etc. or even using really sensitive mics to pick up the sounds of other performers I’m working with and then instead of running them through nice, hi-fi speakers, I’ll opt to play them through these low grade speaker cones driven by a class D amplifier. This opens up a whole second and third layer to the sound that I find complements the natural drum sound quite well. I’ve had fantastic results with this set up when playing with others so I just keep using it! The new RedGreenBlue record has only minimal use of this kind of electronics on it, but perhaps the next one will be more involved.

When it comes to dealing with obstacles during a collaboration (sometimes obstacles are quite nice!), I think it’s on every musician or artist to take the time to check out what that other person is into, what they make and just be mindful of their being and how they express themselves. Always bring yourself to the table BUT let them be themselves as well.

You can’t always know what you’re getting yourself in to, and that can be the point or the fun of it—and we don’t always have to “compliment” the other person's sound world, as the differences can be quite exciting. But intention, focused listening and understanding of the other goes a long way in forming trust.

Can you talk about one particular collaboration that was important for you? Why did 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’ve been working with the visual artist, Nelly Agassi, since 2017 and she has become a dear friend and mentor to me through the years. In 2017-2018 we made two versions of this performance and installation work titled “Wall—to—Wall.” One version was created for the Hyde Park Arts Center in Chicago (that creation included the incredible guitarist Peter Maunu) and another version for Galeria Labirynt in Lublin, Poland. This was a formative experience learning how to really focus in and strip away the unnecessary to get to the heart of the concept.

While Nelly is extremely open to changing ideas and continued exploration, she really shines when we are choosing and solidifying material that supports the concept for us the best. The version of this installation in Lublin dealt with the complex history of the gallery’s location where the work was being presented.

Before this gallery and shopping area existed, it was an SS labour camp in 1939 for both civilian and military prisoners, which operated until the autumn of 1943. It was the longest functioning labour camp in the Lublin region; it also served as a penal and transit camp where prisoners were sifted to select those able to work. In 1941, it was taken over by the German Equipment Works (DAW), which extended the entire complex – a manufacturing part was separated as well as prisoner quarters in parallelly situated barracks. The function of the place has changed several times but it eventually became a shopping center with a contemporary art gallery attached.

To address the violence, pain and loss associated with this space was difficult and an emotional experience for both Nelly and I.

For most of the work, we focused on a single element, a 40 foot amplified wire that was paired with subwoofers, speakers and transducers on a snare drum. It was installed to cut through the center of the space. It visually marked something barely perceptible but its presence, especially sonically, was overwhelmingly felt. Using our hair, hands and a bass bow, we performed with the wire to activate a type of sonic memory of the space. Nelly is a stunning performer. She knows how to hold space and be with a space. I’m humbled by her patience and sincerity with each and every motion or gesture she makes.

What are some of the things you learned from your collaborations over the years?

It’s important to find that balance between assertiveness---what you want to bring or with what someone else wants to bring while also letting mutual respect for space and contemplation and uncertainty to be omnipresent.

Enjoy the failures as much as the successes. They are both pretty special.

Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?

I’m certainly not the first to say this but solo playing is never solo. We’re always at least in a duet, if not more, with something else.

I will definitely say that any time I can express something with another person, I’m gaining just a little bit more insight into how relationships and mutual expression form, sustain and/or dissipate.

Do you need to have a good relationship with your collaborator? Or can there be a benefit to working with someone you may not get along with on a personal level?

Most people I collaborate with are usually already friends or we become friends. Sharing something so intimate like making music or art with others fosters friendship. They go hand in hand.

However, I’ve learned a lot from people that I do not necessarily get along with on a personal level. Part of the collaborative process and by extension, the human condition, is to accept people for who they are, learn about how to nurture your relationships but also know that you can’t be best buds with everyone! It can be quite thrilling to have a difficult collaboration sometimes. You learn a lot about yourself pretty quickly and why you fixate on certain qualities in the art you’re making. You learn what you don’t want.

While it’s important to be open, you should definitely produce what you WANT to make and share with the world. I would say that I’m pretty easy to collaborate with but we all have complex dispositions, moods … just learning to be sensitive and work with care and compassion goes a long way.

In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?

It’s one of my favorite things about improvising. The fact that you feel something out together is what keeps me coming back for more.

I love the way RedGreenBlue communicates. I’ve played with Paul, Ben and Charlie in other contexts and it’s amazing to compare and contrast how we interact in other bands vs this one. Of course when you play with someone over and over you start to see inclinations on how they may choose to articulate or develop an idea but I’m constantly being surprised by the micro-variations within interactions.

Obviously there are macro-variations too! We’re all fluctuating all the time! But it’s that trust you form with someone where if they take the lead on an idea, they know you’re right there with them and won’t bail on it. Really committing to ideas together, I really appreciate this particular aspect that can be pursued in improvisation.

I like to imagine each one of us observing the sound of the group from above and inside simultaneously . Maybe you're becoming the hands of another musician and they are becoming your breath. It’s like you are floating above, thinking about the composite sound of the group, entering into another person’s sound while also being inside your own sound at same time all while everything is constantly moving.

Playing solo is tricky to describe. If I’m improvising, I’m improvising  as a duet with the space around me and also observing myself and the sound from above and within. I try not to get in the way of myself BUT I am also completely fine with planning and really seeing an idea through with as much detail as possible. I’ve created a series of loosely composed works titled “Garden Variety” for pairings of highly amplified percussion instruments that lets me really sit with the details of the sounds.

I keep bringing up commitment but essentially, these works allow for me to commit and zone into the world of two sympathetically resonant objects that form a symbiotic relationship. In the work for triangles and snare drum, there is this hovering third line that is formed due to the physical movement of the triangle bouncing on the snare drum and the resonance of the drum itself that is sort of improvising on its own. The sound is living on a continuum and oscillating between me, the space and the instruments themselves.