1. What led you to improvised music?
It just always seemed like as much fun as writing music. Liking music that had improvised elements like early industrial music and jazz. Then, yeah, just enjoying improvising with people.
2. What instrument or equipment do you use to improvise, and what is your relationship with this equipment/instrument?
I used to use electronics, bass, drums and various other things, but have solely focused on voice for just over a three years. I got a bit obsessed with Tuvan and Mongolian overtone singing and the Inuit throat singing of Tanya Tagaq.
I had asthma for years, and started transitioning gender ~a year ago, and for most of my life have felt really, really disassociated from my body. Apart from just loving the sounds of these artists and exploring them myself, singing also became a way of connecting to my body, getting ‘out of my head’ and integrating things like meditation and chaos ritual magick in a way that seemed fun, creative and open-ended.
3. What keeps you improvising? What do you think makes this music important, either personally, socially, politically, etc.
It still feels fun, challenging and exciting. I haven’t gotten bored yet? (Or at least, when I have, I have found interest in exploring this boredom. But my practice feels heavily influenced by Buddhist insight meditation, a large part of which has to do with accepting the reality of the present moment and striving for a quality of attention independent of the phenomena one experiences and I think this has influenced my improvising practice.)
I feel profoundly confused about words like ‘importance’. On one hand, anything one loves has a profound importance, and following one’s ‘calling’ to art seems like the most ‘important’ thing anyone could do. And I sometimes believe that art has—or should have—a really important place in our society. On another hand, I sometimes wonder if I put all of my energy from singing into some kind of activism I would make a more tangible difference to making the world a better place. I have similar confusion around meditation, except that meditation has, I think, a clear benefit to the kind of person one becomes, which feels like a much better place to engage with the problems of the world from—I feel like a much kinder, compassionate and nicer person than before I started meditating, but it also feels complicated to try and tease out cause and effect in such things. My singing practice feels very tied in to my magick and meditation work and that has often felt ‘important’ in these ways, but I do feel confused about it.
4. What are your feelings on the relationship between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?
I fall very heavily on ‘spontaneity’ in my practice—in some sense my project of recording daily and the other improvisation work that I have done has had a strong focus on responding to whatever I experience in the moment. And embracing a more spontaneous approach to ritual magick felt really important for me as a way of getting ‘out of my head’—I felt pretty unbalanced for most of my life. But of late I have become interested in integrating more ‘intellectual’ aspects of my self in improvisation, and found myself interested in revisiting ‘writing’ music. And I’ve never felt ‘anti’ planning—I’ve just focused on other things; I really like other, more planned things that other performers have done. I think I find the idea of ‘planning’ a bit challenging now, and I feel curious about engaging with that challenge. I also wonder if recording everything, and improvising every day functions a bit like a crutch in a way as I don’t ever work on something until I ‘finish’ it—I just do lots of things, lots of sketches that feel part of a larger project.
5. How do you evaluate or reflect upon improvisations you’ve played? How does the evaluation of a recording differ from the evaluation of a performance?
I usually enter trance, or meditative states while performing and don’t really use my ‘rational’ mind, so my ‘evaluation’ of a performance at the time probably leans towards how it felt rather than some kind of ‘objective’ analysis of how it sounded. I find listening back afterwards really important and do so fairly often, and at different times as well. Generally I feel better about more recent pieces, but that has to do with my improvement in singing as much as anything else, I think. Writing about performances or recordings feels really important to and something I need to do more.
6. Do you think there is room for discursive (as opposed to non-discursive/pre-lingual?) thought in improvisation? Can discursive thoughts whilst playing be productive rather than distracting, and if so, do you have an idea as to when this might be the case?
I would think so! But not really what I have focused on (yet?) in my practice. I really think that “improvisation” functions as part of a spectrum in most, if not all cases, whether you think about a spectrum of ‘pre-considered to not’ or ‘composed to improvised’ or ‘discursive to non-discursive’. And great music happens all along the spectrums. It feels weird that ‘improvisation’ has become a genre rather than one of many techniques.
7. Can you name three albums/pieces/experiences that inspired you to start improvising, and three that are currently inspiring you?
Way back in the day (like, the 90s, when I started making music. Meep!) I probably took influence from music that had improvised elements like some industrial music and the Dirty Three’s messy realizations of their songs. I feel that non-improvised music has as much influence—if not more (?)—than improvised music.
Throbbing Gristle (1979). Twenty Jazz Funk Greats
Einstürzende Neubauten (1985). Halber Mensch
Dirty Three (1994). Sad & Dangerous
I remembering hearing a track by the Dirty Three on Triple J when it came out and feeling pretty blown away by it and finding the album in House of Wax records soon after and just loving it.
But I feel compelled to give yous an extra list of more recent influences on my vocal improvisation:
Sainkho Namtchylak (1991). Lost Rivers
Tanya Tagak (2005). Sinaa
Demetrio Stratos (1978). Cantare la Voce
And recently I feel really into:
Huun-Huur-Tu & Angelite, The Bulgarian Voices (1998). Mountain Tale
Lo Ka Ping (2003). Lost Sounds of the Tao
O wait, you said experience too, huh? I think ‘the Perth improv scene’ would count as a real big influence and inspiration on me of late. As well as Antoine Beuger & the Wandelweiser collective as channeled through Josten Myburgh. Or maybe just Josten Myburgh?
8. What do you feel should happen next to see further growth in exploratory music practice in Western Australia?
I don’t know if that feels like the right way to go about things, actually. I’d rather focus on doing things I love, with people I care about and in a way that feels nourishing or nurturing. But because I find that nourishing for myself. And if other people get involved, great. And if no one else gets involved, maybe I’ll feel sad, but...
That said, I think the “genre” crossover that happens sometimes feels really exciting, and we could do more of that; and continuing to strive to create an environment/scene that feels welcoming to people (which I think the Perth improv scene does pretty well, but we can always