Name: Silke Eberhard
Occupation: Saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, improviser
Current release: Silke Eberhard's Potsa Lotsa XL & Youjin Sung's Gaya is out via Trouble in the East. Also, Silke Eberhard & Takatsuki Trio Quartett's debut album At Kühlspot is out via 577 Records.
If these thoughts by Silke Eberhard piqued your interest, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, twitter, and Soundcloud. Silke is deeply invested in Potsa Lotsa and has dedicated an entire website to it.
[Read our Takatsuki Trio Quartett 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?
I play alto saxophone and clarinet. The clarinet was my first instrument, I started out playing in a Bavarian folk brass band, the saxophone came a little later. I play an old Selmer alto saxophone from the 30s, it has a very distinct and special character that inspires me, I try to explore its sound every day and find new aspects in it.
I also look for sounds and inspiration in other instruments and try to transfer them to my instrument. When I compose it happens on all instruments, often an idea comes while improvising and I develop it later on the piano, first I always write it by hand before typing it into the computer.
I have also been studying the Korean gayageum for several years. One of the unique features, the pitch bendings, cannot be produced on the saxophone in this particular way. These sounds, called "Nonghyeon," have grabbed me, and I want to incorporate these moods into my sound repertoire.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
Improvisation to me is creation just in the moment, it is the most direct art and collaborative art form. Some improvisational choices take you to things that you could never get in composition.
Composition, on the other hand, gives the opportunity to think about something for a long time. Especially with bigger ensembles, I think it's nice to create a compositions or structures for improvisation.
I need both, composed music and free improvisation, and wouldn't want to miss either.
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?
Basically, for me, any material is initially interesting and transformable, through rhythms, intonation, timbre, and the context in which you place the material. I also find it very interesting to look for material that seems unremarkable at first and start from there.
I got a lot of influence from the free jazz artists of the 60s who always inspire me, like for instance Cecil Taylor. I'm also looking for sounds that I can't play on my instrument. Again here the Gayageum is a big inspiration for me right now.
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?
Yes, it's better to hear the other musicians and contribute something that makes sense and makes the music sound good.
But these rules are a bit strict, I think improvisation can do more and should be open to any ideas. So if someone has an idea that is loud and offers a good contrast, that could be a cool statement.
The solo situation is completely different, you don't communicate with other musicians you react to yourself, the space and the audience.
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?
For me, it's incredibly important to be close to my instrument as much as possible and I try to stay in the practicing routine. This is hard enough to do, because daily life can sometimes be distracting.
I enjoy being alone in my rehearsal space, sometimes in the evening when it's really quiet and then I like to just improvise without any goal. I do that on the piano as well. I often get stuck in single sequences and repeat them over and over again, often resulting in new compositions. Often I completely forget space and time.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
It works very intuitively. I try to connect with the other musicians and I try not to think too much about what to play, the decisions have to happen naturally.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
Since I prefer to play acoustically most of the time, I depend on the conditions of the room. A good room sound is half the battle and makes things more effortless.
I always try to get a feel for the room when I arrive at a space. Then I have ways to deal with it, if it´s superdry or with big reverb I have to adjust to it.
It's always a wonderful feeling, especially when the audience is there then, to fill space with vibration. It's like the space changes, it can expand and pulsate.
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
I enjoy the live situation, when there is tension in the space of audience and musician, and also you´ll perform a piece only once.
In the studio I also don´t like to do too many takes, and I also try to go into “performance mood” and to just be in the moment together with the other musicians.
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 don't know if I can pin it down to a single event .... when i arrived in Berlin in the mid-90s, a few years after the fall of the wall, the atmosphere was very open and curious. I felt I was in the right place, found musicians I still play with today and started writing my first pieces for trio.
I think for me it's more of a continuous process, interacting with the many great musicians I've met and been fortunate enough to work with over the years. So it's more like a lot of smaller or bigger events, but sometimes I wouldn't call them breakthroughs at all – but in retrospect I realize sometimes that something has started to happen that keeps me going.
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 we are only on this planet for a short time, we only know that we will all go sometime, but we don't know the date. There are the short moments of happiness, which are an intense feeling, and which you can't force and hold on to. It's the same in music.
Dolphy put it so well in words back then: “When music is over, it's gone in the air, you can never capture it again.”