interviews

#68 - Interview with Eduardo Cossio & Djuna Lee (Knots)

Josten Myburgh sits down with Djuna Lee and Eduardo Cossio ahead of their record launch concert to discuss their new project Knots and their debut Tone List release 'Sing, Shattering, A Poem in Reverse'. We analyse the record a little, discuss what it was like to record, and speak about broader concepts that inform the music including South American ritual practices.

#64 - Andy Butler 'Now and Then'

 
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Audible Edge 2019 composer-in-residence Andy Butler shares thoughts on his work for the festival, Now and Then. The piece will be performed by Butler along with Annika Moses, Djuna Lee, Josten Myburgh and Jameson Feakes on January 28 at the Old Customs House.

When I started to write Now and Then, I had in mind something quite personal — a slow song reflecting thoughts and anxieties about different kinds of uncertainty. After writing lyrics and beginning work on an accompaniment, I quickly became attached to the piece’s musical forms at the expense of its lyrical-melodic content, which I decided to erase. From that point onward, I developed the work as an instrumental piece removed from the themes that motivated its conception. The only thing leftover from the early compositional period is the title, which I kept as a nod to what I removed. It felt appropriate to do that, because the erased material did nevertheless do something important: it inspired and guided the structure and nature of the music, and so it maintains a shadow existence in the bones of the piece.

So far as the music is concerned, I think it is best conceived of as a reflection of my practice as a solo-improviser; as an application of similar processes and contents to a notated, ensemble setting. Described simply, this approach involves the selection of a fairly small number of ideas, which are then repeated and reordered throughout a performance, usually with very limited variation of the ideas themselves. In Now and Then, I employ this approach by limiting the musical raw materials to eight ideas, which are articulated and rearticulated throughout the work in an uneven, disorderly sequence. The ideas themselves began as transcriptions of improvisations, which I fine-tuned and orchestrated for harmonium, guitar, voice, electronics, saxophone, and bass. This instrumentation struck me as a good combination to express what I’d transcribed — a sound-world of soft, layered long-tones. 

Because my creative work is mostly undertaken in an improvised setting, my capacity for musical expression is usually constrained by my limitations as a spontaneous creator and keyboardist. Reimagining my work in a notated, ensemble setting is appealing because it allows me to surpass these limitations. New timbrel possibilities emerge, so does the possibility to express my ideas in a way that is communal, rather than individual. I find this communal element especially appealing, partly because I enjoy working with other musicians, and partly because performers’ interpretations of my ideas often lead to interesting reworkings of that content, shedding new light on what is, to me, very familiar material. This latter point motivated many of my compositional decisions in Now and Then. For example, I have generally afforded a lot of rhythmic latitude to the performers, there are passages of improvisation, and certain melodic phrases are expressed as vague outlines, leaving many consequential decisions to the performer.

My aspiration is for Now and Then to provide an opening to a particular sort of consciousness. I associate this kind of consciousness with my most memorable experiences playing improvised music, times where it felt as though the music was playing itself. During experiences like these, no forethought underlay any of my decisions and there was the sense that I was simply executing ideas that were being relayed to me from some other place. As a process it is deeply intuitive, almost sensory. It is a state of mind that I have also experienced as a listener, albeit in a more passive way. In these cases, the feeling is one that is strongly opposed to any analytical or intellectual impulse; it is something I associate with a feeling of immersion, a relieving sense of switching-off. I hope Now and Then manages to take people to similar places.

TLQ#8 - Michael Caratti

The same questions, asked to different improvisers in Perth. Credit for the idea, and some of the questions, goes to the Addlimb archive.

Photo by Josh Wells Photography.

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Michael Caratti

What led you to improvised music?

Mr Bungle. I discovered Bungle in the early 1990’s, up to this point I was listening to mainly rock and metal music.  From here I started investigating 1980’s Downtown music and then worked my way backwards into jazz.

 What instrument or equipment do you use to improvise, and what is your relationship with this equipment?

 I play a standard drum set and an assortment of percussive instruments including cymbals, chimes, bells, gongs, kitchen utensils, tin cans, sheet metal, chains etc. I also improvise with digital electronics on a laptop. I have played the drums since I was 12 years old and naturally enjoy a deep connection with my instrument. There have been moments along the journey where the drums have ruled me and those where I have sought to assert myself over them. Today we share a healthy working relationship! I have no real connection to equipment as such. I am not a drum-nerd. My interest and enjoyment comes from getting the best and most interesting sound from the equipment I happen to be playing at any given time within the context of a given performance.

 What keeps you improvising? What do you think makes this music important, either personally, socially, politically, etc.

The sheer excitement of creating something new with each performance. The unpredictable nature of improvised music keeps things fun and interesting, when done right. It is the challenge of doing it right, the joy of getting it right and the people I meet in the process that keeps me going.

What are your feelings on the relationship between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

Everything is planned to the extent that ones playing will inevitably be shaped by ones own life/musical experience. My main area of interest over the past few years has been in composing for improvisers. I am always looking for ways to provide compositional frameworks that give performers scope to improvise while blurring the discernable line between pre-composed and spontaneously composed/performed music.

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 try not to be overly critical of my own performances. The days of oppressively grilling myself are, thankfully, long gone. I tend to reflect on the over-arching nature of a performance - vibe, momentum, colour, shape, energy, purpose.

A recording can obviously be played back and allows you analyse every aspect of a performance in fine detail. Critical analysis of recordings is a very effective way to improve - provided it is done positively and constructively. Celebrate the good bits, work on improving the not-so-good bits and always strive to be a better musician.

Do you think there is room for discursive thoughts in improvisation? Can these 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 am not certain I understand this question. Discursiveness negatively connotes aimlessness, so in this respect discursive thought is generally unproductive and distracting in the context of making music.  The best music to my mind, whether it be spontaneously composed/performed or otherwise, moves with purposeful direction.  

Can you name three albums/pieces/experiences that inspired you to start improvising, and three that are currently inspiring you?

It is very difficult to restrict each list to three, so I will stretch this answer out.

Past

The music of Ornette Coleman. I discovered Ornette’s music in the mid 1990’s. ‘New York Is Now’ was a highlight - so raw and intense, Elvin absolutely kills it! About fifteen years later in 2009, I saw Ornette perform live at the Meltdown Festival in London. I was lucky enough to study at the School of Harmolodics program that formed part of the festival during which I met and performed with a host of incredible artists including Fred Frith, Patti Smith and David S Ware. Needless to say, this was an inspiring week.

‘Funny Valentine’ by Massacre (Fred Frith / Bill Laswell / Charles Harward). Still my favourite improvising noise rockers. These guys play with an unnerving focus. Loud and direct.  

‘Topography of the Lungs’ by Evan Parker / Derek Bailey / Han Bennink. This is a seminal work in ‘freely improvised’ music. I would see Evan Parker as often as I could during my time living in London. He is a true master and a constant source of inspiration to countless people. His live performances are often spellbinding.

Present

‘The Compass’ by Álvaro Domene. I am constantly inspired by my good friend Álvaro Domene. His latest solo recording is phenomenal. He is a guitarist based in New York who has developed into an extraordinary musician through sheer determination and hard work. Together we run a record label and have performed on a few albums over the past years. I am always checking out his latest performances and recordings and am inspired by them all.  

‘Hotel Grief’ by the Tom Rainey Trio. Tom Rainey (drums), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor) and Mary Halvorsen (guitar) are each inspiring musicians, their individual output is always worth checking out. This and their other trio recordings are a few years old now, to my ears they reach a virtuosic pinnacle of spontaneously composed/improvised music.

‘Volition (Live at Café Oto)’ by Alex Ward Item 10. Alex is a guitarist and clarinet player based in London. He studied with Derek Bailey and is a total bad-ass improviser and composer. He leads his own big and small ensembles of improvisers, his music is always exciting and hugely inspiring to me. This album is bursting with energy, truly breathtaking stuff.

What do you feel should happen next to see further growth in exploratory music practice in Western Australia?

Those involved should just keep at it. Perform, practice, collaborate and listen, listen, listen. We have a very healthy scene despite our geographical constraints. It would be good to see more local performances by master improvisers from around the world. Albums and video footage are great but nothing comes close to seeing a master improviser perform live. It is life changing.

Original Past Life - Inference/Interference on Tone List: https://tonelist.bandcamp.com/album/inference-interference

Michael Caratti and Álvaro Domene’s label Iluso, featuring many of his own recordings: http://ilusorecords.com/

TLQ#5 - Behn Greene

The same questions, asked to different improvisers in Perth. Credit for the idea, and some of the questions, goes to the amazing Addlimb archive.
Photos by Josh Wells Photography.

What led you to improvised music?
When I first started playing drums, I would learn songs note-for-note and try to nail all the beats and fills – I wanted to know all of the cool tricks. When it came to playing in bands though, I had to make up my own parts. I spent a few years throwing out whacky fills and flipping beats around and eventually I developed enough control over what I was doing that I could make parts up as I went along. Over time, I was fortunate enough to find other musicians who also liked to “make up” parts as they went along and through these experiences I started to develop an instinct for playing with other people, in an improvised setting.
At some point I saw the film Naked Lunch and this introduced me to the written works of William S. Burroughs. I was immediately drawn to his ‘stream-of-consciousness’ approach and started seeing parallels between this style of writing and the style of playing that I seemed to be developing. As it turns out, Ornette Coleman also contributed to the soundtrack of the film and I took my first few steps into the world of free jazz. I didn’t know anything about how to play jazz and so I decided to go and study it for a while. As influential and instrumental to my development as this experience was, I began to feel like there was something else that I was going for, creatively, and decided to pursue that instead. I took much inspiration from drummers like Zach Hill, Chris Corsano and Frank Rosaly and started working on extended techniques and incorporating some contact mics and effects into my setup. I was playing in bands and improvising quite a bit, but I felt like I needed an outlet specifically for my own explorations on the drums and that’s when I started my solo project.

What instrument or equipment do you use to improvise, and what is your relationship with this equipment?
I have two kits that I choose from, depending on the gig. One has a 14” rack tom, 16” floor tom and 20” bass drum and is better for heavier settings. The other is more of a jazz kit with 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom and 18” bass drum and is better for smaller, acoustic vibes. I then have my trusty old 14”x8” Tama Artwood snare drum – it has a wide tuning range, making it a good fit with both kits and it is the most expressive drum I’ve ever owned.
I like big, thin, dark cymbals – they don’t need to be hit very hard to produce a nice wide sound, but they also explode when you ‘dig in’ to them. I’ve had a bad habit of breaking cymbals lately, so have had a few changes, but I usually go for 15” hats, 22” ride and crash/china cymbals that are 18” or bigger.
I have other assorted objects and implements that make an appearance from time to time. I use a cello bow on cymbals and bells and sometimes on strings that I set up across my snare or floor tom. I keep a piece of dowel prepared with cello rosin which I can run my fingers down while resting it perpendicular on the floor tom head – this produces deep droning tones that resonate through the whole drum and almost have a bowed-string or even synth-like quality. I have an assortment of bells, cups and small cymbals that I use to mute and distort drum heads and create new metallic textures and playing surfaces. I also have a modified electric toothbrush and a mini vibrator which are useful for creating sharp, jittery sounds when let loose on any surface or long, droning sounds when pressed into a cymbal or drum head.
If the gig calls for it, I like to expand upon these sounds by attaching contact mics to the drum shells and clip-on contact mics to the cymbal stands, just under the cymbals. I then run all of these into a mixer, through a pre-amp, then into a volume pedal and straight through a couple of guitar effects pedals - usually a distortion, delay, looper and reverb, but sometimes I add my ‘Super-Ego’ pedal with a tremolo in the effects loop. I run all of this through a guitar amp and let the noise fly. The raw, unaffected sound from the contact mics is thinner and harsher than regular drum sounds, but I actually really like this. The result is somewhat of a carbon copy of the original sound and when you capture a loop it sounds more like a memory or a dream. If you affect this enough, you can also create sounds that don’t seem like they could have come from a drum kit and this can be a lot of fun to interact with during a performance.

What are your feelings on the relationship between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?
Sometimes, spontaneity is the best – things happen that no-one was expecting and it sends you down some crazy and unusual paths. Other times, it never quite gets out of the gate and this is where some planning would have helped…
In a small group setting, the amount of experience that you have playing together can be an important factor to consider. When you’re familiar with everyone’s playing, it’s much easier to latch onto ideas and anticipate the next move. This eliminates some of the second-guessing that can leave you all loitering in a creative cul-de-sac and usually makes it easier to deliver a tighter performance. In situations where you are playing together for the first time, a loose plan of at least a starting point and a central event is probably a good idea, but I feel like it is still important to remain open to spontaneity, just in case you manage to open a portal to another dimension. I’ve definitely had some great sets where the plan was abandoned early on.
In a larger group setting, the margin for error is much smaller and spontaneity can quickly lead to a performance that resembles a thick, brown soup. This is amazing to be a part of, sometimes – the lines between everybody are blurred and you all become a single, gurgling entity. The strength of the performance then becomes more about the density or the internal chaos of it all. If you’re aiming for something a little more nuanced than this though, a plan involving a starting point and a few other specific events can give everyone a sturdy enough scaffolding to swing from. When this starts opening up, it’s important to leave enough room for each other, or the dreaded soup awaits. 
In a solo setting, I’ve never been too fussed on having an exact plan - I feel like the most important thing for me to do is to get acquainted with the space that I am in. There is no one else to play ‘off’ of and so I need to get to know the room. If I can spend some time while setting up, I’ll tune drums and set gain levels so that when I hit something, the right sound comes back at me. Then, I’ll try to get a feel for the space as an audience member – what kinds of things would translate well, acoustically/emotively? My general vibe from this, combined with my current mental and physical state, will help me to formulate some available options in terms of sounds and themes that I might be able to use. I then select one of these as a starting point and might arrange my effects chain and/or placement of certain implements to prepare for some of the others. I then try to relax my breathing, quiet my mind and I’m ready to go.

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 go straight to packing my gear up after a set – I’ve always done this and I think it’s because it gives me an opportunity to linger in the headspace of the performance on my own for a bit. While I’m packing up, I might also reflect on the sections or ideas that are still resonating in my mind and make note of what worked and what needs more work. To be honest though, I find that I usually can’t remember it all in enough detail to thoroughly evaluate it. I much prefer to record a set and listen back to it a few days later. That way I can hear it as a whole piece and with a more objective ear. 

Do you think there is room for discursive (as opposed to non-discursive) 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?
Anything which has the potential to skew your focus can be risky in an improvised setting, but I think that discursive thoughts are part of the catharsis of improvised music. Just like in a meditative or psychedelic state, the unprovoked thoughts that emerge can become a direct line to something that you need to reckon with in some way. If it is something that you can use to drive your performance or propel a new idea, then it’s worth letting that in, you just have to keep any self-indulgence in check. Just because you’ve suddenly been swamped with an existential dread doesn’t mean that everyone in the place wants to cop a 15-minute screamed-expletive/harsh-noise-wall finale. 

Can you name three albums/pieces/experiences that inspired you to start improvising, and three that are currently inspiring you?
Three albums that inspired me to get started:
Ornette Coleman – “Free Jazz” (double-quartet, free jazz masterpiece - possibly what started it all for me)
Chris Corsano – “Cut” (amazing acoustic solo drumming)
Frank Rosaly – “Centering and Displacement” (an interesting blend of solo drumming with electronics)

Three albums that have inspired me recently:
Tristan Perich – “Noise Patterns” (not really improvised, but amazing 1-bit, electronic sound art)
Sumac – “What One Becomes” (long-form post-metal/noise with some great improvised passages)
Flaherty/Corsano Duo – “The Hated Music” (furious free jazz for sax and drums)

What do you feel should happen next to see further growth in exploratory music practice in Western Australia?
I think a good thing would be to integrate experimental/improvised music into the broader scene of original music. There is definitely a trend towards more experimental sounds in Perth and I think there is more common ground there than people might realise. Collaborations between the two could make for some really interesting results, either as one-off performances or as a means of establishing new groups/bands.

orphans - the consequence of following (TL002)
orphans of Noise (RTR Feature)
Tangled Thoughts of Leaving

TLQ#4 - James Bradbury

The same questions, asked to different improvisers in Perth. Credit for the idea, and some of the questions, goes to the amazing Addlimb archive.

1. What led you to improvised music?

When I was young I found it hard to get involved with improvised music as it seemed reserved for people with impeccable aural skills and jazz training. I learned music predominantly through orchestral viola where improvisation was neither taught nor encouraged and this created a divide between what I thought were two very distinct practices. I also never had those particular jazz skills, so for a long time I was steered away from improvising. It was only when I started my undergraduate that I started to improvise with others more freely. I have a pretty fond memory of doing some ‘improvised operas’ with Drew Woolley and Agamous Betty, which were total nonsense, but at the same time there would always be a brief moment where we might listen back and go ‘Is this good?’. Long answer short, it wasn’t, but finding the right people to develop confidence with was essential in breaking down any stigmas that I had been wrongfully forming. I think that in composition we’re always improvising with ideas mentally and physically, and this is something that I had been doing anyway, so all the cognition was there just no feeling that it was worthwhile for other people to be involved with my limited skill set. Now, the idea of play and exploration is essential in my own music and improvisation to me isn’t polarised against formalised ideas with strict representations in musical performance. Conceptually, the two intertwine in how they elicit performers to behave and often fixed material is full of improvised behaviours anyway, so the divide has become much closer.

2. What instrument or equipment do you use to improvise, and what is your relationship with this equipment?

I’ve sometimes used my viola to improvise but after years of not practicing my technique is pretty bad. Since becoming more involved with electronics I’ve turned to the computer as my main improvisatory tool, instrument or whatever you want to call it. I have a lot of problems though with electronics in the way that they present themselves amongst other acoustic instruments. It’s not that they are so different in their origination, materials and behaviour but that collectively, musicians have often approached electronics as prosthesis for the user. This approach really disinterests me, and I’m more inclined to explore the idiosyncratic behaviours that machines, devices and electronics have baked into their synthetic bodies. As a result, I want to see what I take from the machine and what it takes from me, rather than controlling one like a physical instrument.

3. What keeps you improvising? What do you think makes this music important, either personally, socially, politically, etc.

I honestly don’t improvise that much right now but I would like to do more once I’ve completed my masters. What keeps me improvising though? I would say it’s those moments when it all seems to click either in the moment or reflectively. I recently spent some time with a composer Felipe Waller, who was in possession of some hand made analog circuits similar to the STEIM cracklebox. Even he had no idea what they were fully capable of, so using them cultivated a sense of exploration together and it was great for those moments to emerge where our tinkering coalesced. I don’t think it needs to be said either, but improvisation provides opportunities to form genuine bonds with people and I really enjoy that aspect too. Creating these bonds with other people is incredibly important to me, particularly in today’s cultural climate and obsession with consumption of material goods. It irks me that people are happy to see the amount of waste we’re creating in order to satisfy an economic system that inevitably makes us unhappier. It’s so important now to find how you can cut through all that bullshit and start doing things that matter. So for me, music/art/improvisation and creating genuine connections to others is paramount in this endeavour to live a deliberate life.

4. What are your feelings on the relationship between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

Planning can produce spontaneous but spontaneity can’t be planned. I think that in many great fixed instrumental works the scored instructions are less of a command and more an elicitation. Even something simple like a violin glissando can be improvisatory when you compound that instruction with for example, vibrato or sul ponticello. Performers immediately internalise these instructions and imprint microscopic features onto them that are usually unconscious and untraceable. Each person will take a different approach to an instruction and this reflects the kind of player and musician they are. So planning and spontaneity aren’t extremes to me, rather, spontaneity can emerge at any point in a musical experience, especially when someone's sensibility is juxtaposed and foregrounded against other’s. Planning sometimes just helps to structure an event or perhaps to give a dialogue some boundaries in which these unexpected moments can occur.

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 always find listening back to recordings of improvisations really interesting. Often, you hear things that you weren’t totally aware of either because you weren’t listening or perceptually it just wasn’t available to you at the time. A friend and I recently decided to impromptu improvise and record one day. I wasn’t all that chuffed with it at the time, but reflecting on the recording of that improvisation revealed to me some really interesting facets of my own musicality. It was as if I was listening to someone I would like to hear improvise which was incredibly satisfying. That entire process can be reversed too and a great improvisation can be really dissatisfying at the reflection stage. I guess it just highlights the ephemeral and shifting nature of these things.

6. Do you think there is room for discursive (as opposed to non-discursive) 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 think that both kinds of thinking are fine. Why wouldn’t they be? There are plenty of different types of improvisors: discursive/non-discursive, quiet/loud, fast/slow, erratic/controlled and I don’t think that any specific combination of these is productive or unproductive. I think it's interesting that improvisation now has specific delineations about the types of improvisors and behaviours and even more so how certain ones are disallowed. I’d be keen to be exposed to an improvisation that is entirely based on being non-discursive but still holds some sort of coherency in its underlying material or structure.

7. Can you name three albums/pieces/experiences that inspired you to start improvising, and three that are currently inspiring you?

Dan O’Connor - IN/EX
St epreo - autechre
Je ne vois qu’infini par toutes les fenetres - Marielle Groven
s/d - Kerry Hagan
He died in St Petersburg - Agamous Betty
Mooncoin - Jeff Lang

8. What do you feel should happen next to see further growth in exploratory music practice in Western Australia?

I’d love to see more experimental music being decentralised from ‘significant’ performance spaces. It’s great that on some nights each week now you can go into bars and see interesting people playing interesting music, rather than waiting for the token experimental music concert once a year from the most well funded organisations. Something I’d personally love to see more of is small performances in people’s homes or in community spaces. Perth has lots of great spaces like this and one venue I particularly like is Satchmo Cafe. I’m not trying to be a shill or anything but any place that can provide me experimental music and food is going to get my approval. More importantly though, there is such a lacking in depth of educational experience provided at the primary and secondary level. I was never exposed to many of the important composers of the 20th century, or exposed to so many musical fields out there that aren’t well represented. I wish I knew about it earlier, and reflecting on it now, I see that the becoming a music teacher is often considered something you do when you don’t make it as a performer/composer. This really toxic attitude curbs the potential for fostering a generally accepted approach to experimental and improvised music as some of the most intelligent and mindful musicians are steered away from sharing their practice to knowledge hungry students.

jamesbradbury.xyz
James Bradbury - 'Biomimicry'

TLQ#3 - Shoshana Rosenberg

The same questions, asked to different improvisers in Perth. Credit for the idea, and some of the questions, goes to the amazing Addlimb archive.
Photos by Shelley Horan.

What led you to improvised music?   I was in the extremely fortunate position of finding myself in a band (Pahlemik) with some older and more established musicians when I was 17. At that point I was already into some experimental /noise stuff, but all those guys helped me take things to a new level. They introduced me to a bunch of new music and totally supported me in developing a personal relationship with improvisation, noise etc. that went beyond grindcore and other more structured forms of noise-making. I was also briefly drafted into one of the early lineups for Cat Hope’s Abe Sada project, and from that point onwards found myself engaged with experimental and improvised music, in a fairly peripheral but nonetheless consistent way.    What instrument or equipment do you use to improvise, and what is your relationship with this equipment?   It varies widely. Although I am a bass player by background, that instrument has not played a large role in my improvisation work. I would say that the last two years have been my most consistent in terms of engagement with the improvised music scene, and this has been as a direct result of my decision to learn bass clarinet and force myself to create outside the usual punk/hardcore/metal circles in which I’ve done most of my work for the previous decade or so. Having said that, I have also erratically produced recordings and performances heavily leaning into power electronics territory, and that material relies primarily on my trusty Trogotronic 666, which I’ve more recently paired with its baby sister the 555 (as well as my rotating roster of effects pedals). I’m about to start working on a release which will hopefully delineate a nice balance between the two modes of play/mindsets*.  * I did put some bass clarinet on my sole noise release as Tsvoim, but that was hardly improvised or particularly fantastic.   What keeps you improvising? What do you think makes this music important, either personally, socially, politically, etc.   I find it difficult to view improvisation as a type of music in and of itself; I think it’s one of the pillars of most if not all creative practices, especially in terms of visceral/immersive/engaging performances. I think music-making that is audibly, and maybe more importantly visibly, responsive to the space, audience, and collaborators which are involved makes for a bonding experience that could have lasting effect. I always joke that I improvise because I’m too terrible a player to actually play other people’s music, and while there’s definitely truth in that due to the fact that I’m mostly self-taught, I also actually do feel that improvisation brings with it a particular spirit.   I would say that, from a personal standpoint, I take a Ground Theory approach to my playing; I’m not completely familiar with my instrument, I have at most some shadowy understanding of what various things do and how it all works. I’m using 20 pieces to try and complete a 1000-piece puzzle, so sometimes it’s an abject failure and sometimes it’s Picasso (and often it’s both). I would argue that witnessing this process take place has as much importance as watching someone blaze through classical passages or perform traditional folk tunes precisely how they were originally intended to be played.   In some ways this is classic alchemy: trying to turn shit into gold. It’s just another manifestation of everything I learned coming up through punk. That is to say, that remaining untrained, deinstitutionalised, scummy, sloppy, visibly struggling, and all-around unprofessional has a certain level of power and presence. It shows that creativity does not equal some lofty notion of capacity, and vise versa. My instrument of choice is one that is normally reserved for the institutions and the orchestras, and the mere sight of someone like me (working class, modified, transgender, queer) touching it is probably enough to send a shiver down most classical career musicians’ spines. I’m using my body, my history, and my musicality to explore that gap between humanity, tradition, and the stratified expectations our society has developed of who has a right to what music.   What are your feelings on the relationship between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?   I think that there is no such thing as pure improvisation, particularly for people who have undergone institutional training. We all have schemas we draw from throughout our lives, whether it’s in terms of what we think politically or how we treat our loved ones, and music is no different. We have fondness for particular sounds, styles, keys… Those things are bound to come to the top. It’s a musical Brazil Nut Effect, the biggest and most salient things are always most likely to end up at the surface. I guess for me, all improvisation is planning, on some level. You have set yourself up; you’ve either learned scales or you haven’t, cleaned your instrument or not, brought the “right” equipment or neglected to do so. How conscious that process was is another matter, and that’s where I believe that remaining somewhat ignorant to the ins-and-outs of your instrument has some major benefits.   I feel like my equal-parts favourite and most frustrating moments in improvisation are ones where whatever it is I did back there, no one will ever hear again, myself included. That to me is the closest a person can get to true improvisation; utilising whatever pre-existing knowledge (or absence thereof) to create something so ephemeral that it is completely untraceable outside the moment. I love this, because I think that fleeting memories which embed themselves in the body can be so powerful. But I’m also human, and I therefore find it infinitely exasperating to have done something incredible which I am incapable of replicating. It’s one of those moments, like your parents looking away during the one handstand you’ll ever do in your life, that’s going to sting forever. But it’s also so beautiful, and if it’s something that happens around other people, it will live in their minds on some subatomic level.   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 mainly reflect depending on what state I managed to enter during a performance. Feedback from other people is good, and part of my practice is about trying to induce particular moods or states in my audience, so knowing whether I had an effect or not can be satisfying. But ultimately if a performance puts me in a negative state, or even worse moves me none, then that will be my take-home message. I feel my music very viscerally, and as a result different projects put me in different headspaces. I am consistently inconsolable, sometimes for hours, after performing under BILES. In contrast, when I perform with my bass clarinet, I often enter very sublime and meditative states, where I lose time and find myself intensely focused on touch and timbre. These variations impact my evaluations, and at this point I have resigned myself to accepting that the margin for movement within each mindset is minimal.   When it comes to recordings, I am an obsessive. I will listen back to tracks for hours, even after the record has been released. I always want to find moments that surprise me, and I often do. Most recently, I found myself listening to my upcoming bass clarinet release very loudly with headphones for the first time, and realised I could hear birdsong consistently throughout the recording. It was this beautiful thing, it added space, it created a more complex mood, it eked out the room the recording was made in as part of a bigger world. I suppose that is a significant part of recordings that doesn’t always get discussed as something improvisational; all the coughs, power noise, terrible finger placements, shuffles, traffic sounds… You can either try to block them out, or you assimilate them into your perspective on the record, for better or worse (there is definitely a little too much Baby Talking in one of my live recordings).    Do you think there is room for discursive (as opposed to non-discursive) 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 think ultimately all thoughts are discursive; even someone improvising and just thinking “I am shredding so hard” carries a discursive slant, and a particular perspective on music, performance, audience etc. I think there is a major difference between music which relates to a discourse or a set of discourses and music that works solely towards portraying one discursive narrative or other. One way to tell them apart would be to ask whether whatever it is that you are creating has an Intention or a Goal. This might be semantics, but I feel like intending to do something still leaves room for movement, creativity, spontaneity, and most importantly revision. Whereas having a very specific goal can really only go one of two ways: success or failure; providing the audience with a well-constructed revelation or a boring, obvious piece of propaganda.   I would view my bass clarinet practice as having some intentions, namely to create meditative states of quietude within myself and the audience. I have a desire to create this, for a variety of reasons, however I also recognise that for each person whatever response they have to my performance carries unique, and often hard to describe, narratives. I don’t think meditation is a tool to yield a particular outcome, in the same way that I don’t view other pleasurable and arguably creative practices (i.e. sex, cooking, telling jokes) as being rigidly outcomes-based. If I tell you a joke and my intention is to make you laugh, making you cry isn’t necessarily a failure, just an unexpected but equally important result. It might even benefit you more than had I just got a laugh out of you; there’s deep truths in atypical responses.   Can you name three albums/pieces/experiences that inspired you to start improvising, and three that are currently inspiring you?   If I’m going all the way back to my teenage years, I would say first and foremost that John Zorn, and in particular Torture Garden and other Naked City output, was absolutely pivotal for me in terms of thinking beyond traditional song structures and understandings of what makes a song or what constitutes as music at all (“Gob of Spit” is a perfect track). Cat Hope wrangling me in early on in the piece was also crucial to my development as an improviser, and I would say my time with her continues to shape me as a musician today. And finally, I have to mention that Anal Cunt, and practically everything else Seth Putnam put out in his short and relatively horrible life, played a significant role in shifting my love for heaviness away from predictability, catchiness, melody etc. and towards just plain unpleasant noise. Rest in piss Seth.   These days, the people who keep me moving, thinking and diving deep are a little less abrasive. My Alice Coltrane collection continues to expand, and with every release I absorb I become a little more connected to truths beyond our material plane. Her musicality is matched-and-then-some by her spirituality, and I find her connection between melody and Creation utterly immersive. A close second is Rahsaan Roland Kirk; his approach to freedom within time, melody and musical interaction is amazing, you can feel his band move around with him, but also in his solo work you can literally feel how everything he does is not uniform, and every limb has a mind of its own. Finally, as far as trying to fit instruments like mine into heavier contexts, I’ve really enjoyed Wolves in the Throne Room’s “Celestite”, and all the incredibly deep horn work on it. There’s a level of majesty that I would really love to explore further; bass frequencies as the chariot of fire, and the clarinet’s mournful tones like Gabriel’s empathetic trumpet.    What do you feel should happen next to see further growth in exploratory music practice in Western Australia?   I would have to say that Tura is definitely going down the right track, particularly with its intentional inclusion of women, trans folx, queers and people who would not normally have access to New Music, which mostly remains nestled within the academy. As far as what should happen next, I would argue that finding more venues which are willing to not only host these events, but become champions of experimental music, would be a step in the right direction. This is all idealism though, I did my time as a promoter and I know that ultimately venues these days want revenue, not character. In which case, the only thing left is to further galvanise the place of experimental music, in all its iterations. As has been the case in the past, reaching out and mixing with other scenes, and making intentional connections between musics which most people may consider oil and water, would be a fantastic way for WA to continue evolving. Having said all this, I also have to state that WA is arguably one of the healthiest and most diverse experimental scenes in the country, and its come a long way in the last two years, particularly in terms of the level of support provided for novice and emerging musicians to be seen, heard and understood. Amplifying previously-unheard voices, whether they are quiet by nature or systematically silenced, allows us all to privilege the beauties and strengths they carry, and to cement their language in the growing lexicon of experimental music. 

What led you to improvised music?

I was in the extremely fortunate position of finding myself in a band (Pahlemik) with some older and more established musicians when I was 17. At that point I was already into some experimental /noise stuff, but all those guys helped me take things to a new level. They introduced me to a bunch of new music and totally supported me in developing a personal relationship with improvisation, noise etc. that went beyond grindcore and other more structured forms of noise-making. I was also briefly drafted into one of the early lineups for Cat Hope’s Abe Sada project, and from that point onwards found myself engaged with experimental and improvised music, in a fairly peripheral but nonetheless consistent way. 

What instrument or equipment do you use to improvise, and what is your relationship with this equipment?

It varies widely. Although I am a bass player by background, that instrument has not played a large role in my improvisation work. I would say that the last two years have been my most consistent in terms of engagement with the improvised music scene, and this has been as a direct result of my decision to learn bass clarinet and force myself to create outside the usual punk/hardcore/metal circles in which I’ve done most of my work for the previous decade or so. Having said that, I have also erratically produced recordings and performances heavily leaning into power electronics territory, and that material relies primarily on my trusty Trogotronic 666, which I’ve more recently paired with its baby sister the 555 (as well as my rotating roster of effects pedals). I’m about to start working on a release which will hopefully delineate a nice balance between the two modes of play/mindsets*.

* I did put some bass clarinet on my sole noise release as Tsvoim, but that was hardly improvised or particularly fantastic.

What keeps you improvising? What do you think makes this music important, either personally, socially, politically, etc.

I find it difficult to view improvisation as a type of music in and of itself; I think it’s one of the pillars of most if not all creative practices, especially in terms of visceral/immersive/engaging performances. I think music-making that is audibly, and maybe more importantly visibly, responsive to the space, audience, and collaborators which are involved makes for a bonding experience that could have lasting effect. I always joke that I improvise because I’m too terrible a player to actually play other people’s music, and while there’s definitely truth in that due to the fact that I’m mostly self-taught, I also actually do feel that improvisation brings with it a particular spirit. 

I would say that, from a personal standpoint, I take a Ground Theory approach to my playing; I’m not completely familiar with my instrument, I have at most some shadowy understanding of what various things do and how it all works. I’m using 20 pieces to try and complete a 1000-piece puzzle, so sometimes it’s an abject failure and sometimes it’s Picasso (and often it’s both). I would argue that witnessing this process take place has as much importance as watching someone blaze through classical passages or perform traditional folk tunes precisely how they were originally intended to be played. 

In some ways this is classic alchemy: trying to turn shit into gold. It’s just another manifestation of everything I learned coming up through punk. That is to say, that remaining untrained, deinstitutionalised, scummy, sloppy, visibly struggling, and all-around unprofessional has a certain level of power and presence. It shows that creativity does not equal some lofty notion of capacity, and vise versa. My instrument of choice is one that is normally reserved for the institutions and the orchestras, and the mere sight of someone like me (working class, modified, transgender, queer) touching it is probably enough to send a shiver down most classical career musicians’ spines. I’m using my body, my history, and my musicality to explore that gap between humanity, tradition, and the stratified expectations our society has developed of who has a right to what music.

What are your feelings on the relationship between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

I think that there is no such thing as pure improvisation, particularly for people who have undergone institutional training. We all have schemas we draw from throughout our lives, whether it’s in terms of what we think politically or how we treat our loved ones, and music is no different. We have fondness for particular sounds, styles, keys… Those things are bound to come to the top. It’s a musical Brazil Nut Effect, the biggest and most salient things are always most likely to end up at the surface. I guess for me, all improvisation is planning, on some level. You have set yourself up; you’ve either learned scales or you haven’t, cleaned your instrument or not, brought the “right” equipment or neglected to do so. How conscious that process was is another matter, and that’s where I believe that remaining somewhat ignorant to the ins-and-outs of your instrument has some major benefits. 

I feel like my equal-parts favourite and most frustrating moments in improvisation are ones where whatever it is I did back there, no one will ever hear again, myself included. That to me is the closest a person can get to true improvisation; utilising whatever pre-existing knowledge (or absence thereof) to create something so ephemeral that it is completely untraceable outside the moment. I love this, because I think that fleeting memories which embed themselves in the body can be so powerful. But I’m also human, and I therefore find it infinitely exasperating to have done something incredible which I am incapable of replicating. It’s one of those moments, like your parents looking away during the one handstand you’ll ever do in your life, that’s going to sting forever. But it’s also so beautiful, and if it’s something that happens around other people, it will live in their minds on some subatomic level.

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 mainly reflect depending on what state I managed to enter during a performance. Feedback from other people is good, and part of my practice is about trying to induce particular moods or states in my audience, so knowing whether I had an effect or not can be satisfying. But ultimately if a performance puts me in a negative state, or even worse moves me none, then that will be my take-home message. I feel my music very viscerally, and as a result different projects put me in different headspaces. I am consistently inconsolable, sometimes for hours, after performing under BILES. In contrast, when I perform with my bass clarinet, I often enter very sublime and meditative states, where I lose time and find myself intensely focused on touch and timbre. These variations impact my evaluations, and at this point I have resigned myself to accepting that the margin for movement within each mindset is minimal. 

When it comes to recordings, I am an obsessive. I will listen back to tracks for hours, even after the record has been released. I always want to find moments that surprise me, and I often do. Most recently, I found myself listening to my upcoming bass clarinet release very loudly with headphones for the first time, and realised I could hear birdsong consistently throughout the recording. It was this beautiful thing, it added space, it created a more complex mood, it eked out the room the recording was made in as part of a bigger world. I suppose that is a significant part of recordings that doesn’t always get discussed as something improvisational; all the coughs, power noise, terrible finger placements, shuffles, traffic sounds… You can either try to block them out, or you assimilate them into your perspective on the record, for better or worse (there is definitely a little too much Baby Talking in one of my live recordings). 

Do you think there is room for discursive (as opposed to non-discursive) 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 think ultimately all thoughts are discursive; even someone improvising and just thinking “I am shredding so hard” carries a discursive slant, and a particular perspective on music, performance, audience etc. I think there is a major difference between music which relates to a discourse or a set of discourses and music that works solely towards portraying one discursive narrative or other. One way to tell them apart would be to ask whether whatever it is that you are creating has an Intention or a Goal. This might be semantics, but I feel like intending to do something still leaves room for movement, creativity, spontaneity, and most importantly revision. Whereas having a very specific goal can really only go one of two ways: success or failure; providing the audience with a well-constructed revelation or a boring, obvious piece of propaganda. 

I would view my bass clarinet practice as having some intentions, namely to create meditative states of quietude within myself and the audience. I have a desire to create this, for a variety of reasons, however I also recognise that for each person whatever response they have to my performance carries unique, and often hard to describe, narratives. I don’t think meditation is a tool to yield a particular outcome, in the same way that I don’t view other pleasurable and arguably creative practices (i.e. sex, cooking, telling jokes) as being rigidly outcomes-based. If I tell you a joke and my intention is to make you laugh, making you cry isn’t necessarily a failure, just an unexpected but equally important result. It might even benefit you more than had I just got a laugh out of you; there’s deep truths in atypical responses.

Can you name three albums/pieces/experiences that inspired you to start improvising, and three that are currently inspiring you?

If I’m going all the way back to my teenage years, I would say first and foremost that John Zorn, and in particular Torture Garden and other Naked City output, was absolutely pivotal for me in terms of thinking beyond traditional song structures and understandings of what makes a song or what constitutes as music at all (“Gob of Spit” is a perfect track). Cat Hope wrangling me in early on in the piece was also crucial to my development as an improviser, and I would say my time with her continues to shape me as a musician today. And finally, I have to mention that Anal Cunt, and practically everything else Seth Putnam put out in his short and relatively horrible life, played a significant role in shifting my love for heaviness away from predictability, catchiness, melody etc. and towards just plain unpleasant noise. Rest in piss Seth. 

These days, the people who keep me moving, thinking and diving deep are a little less abrasive. My Alice Coltrane collection continues to expand, and with every release I absorb I become a little more connected to truths beyond our material plane. Her musicality is matched-and-then-some by her spirituality, and I find her connection between melody and Creation utterly immersive. A close second is Rahsaan Roland Kirk; his approach to freedom within time, melody and musical interaction is amazing, you can feel his band move around with him, but also in his solo work you can literally feel how everything he does is not uniform, and every limb has a mind of its own. Finally, as far as trying to fit instruments like mine into heavier contexts, I’ve really enjoyed Wolves in the Throne Room’s “Celestite”, and all the incredibly deep horn work on it. There’s a level of majesty that I would really love to explore further; bass frequencies as the chariot of fire, and the clarinet’s mournful tones like Gabriel’s empathetic trumpet. 

What do you feel should happen next to see further growth in exploratory music practice in Western Australia?

I would have to say that Tura is definitely going down the right track, particularly with its intentional inclusion of women, trans folx, queers and people who would not normally have access to New Music, which mostly remains nestled within the academy. As far as what should happen next, I would argue that finding more venues which are willing to not only host these events, but become champions of experimental music, would be a step in the right direction. This is all idealism though, I did my time as a promoter and I know that ultimately venues these days want revenue, not character. In which case, the only thing left is to further galvanise the place of experimental music, in all its iterations. As has been the case in the past, reaching out and mixing with other scenes, and making intentional connections between musics which most people may consider oil and water, would be a fantastic way for WA to continue evolving. Having said all this, I also have to state that WA is arguably one of the healthiest and most diverse experimental scenes in the country, and its come a long way in the last two years, particularly in terms of the level of support provided for novice and emerging musicians to be seen, heard and understood. Amplifying previously-unheard voices, whether they are quiet by nature or systematically silenced, allows us all to privilege the beauties and strengths they carry, and to cement their language in the growing lexicon of experimental music. 

TLQ#2 - Djuna Lee

The same questions, asked to different improvisers in Perth. Credit for the idea, and some of the questions, goes to the amazing Addlimb archive.
Photo by Josh Wells Photography.

_DSC3756.jpg

1. What instrument or equipment do you use to improvise, and what is your relationship with this equipment/instrument?

From a very young age, before I was even tall enough to play it, I was drawn to the double bass. There was something about the tone and depth of sound that I really loved. I was very lucky to be surrounded by music as a child. My parents would take me to all sorts of concerts from ACO to Perth Jazz Society. I started playing violin from the age of 3 and it seemed very natural to progress to the bass as I grew.

Today, I’m still discovering so much about the instrument and really love exploring the vast number of sounds and range of techniques that are possible on such a large stringed instrument.

2. What led you to improvised music?

After learning classically for a number of years I found myself wanting to explore new styles of music and became interested in jazz. Discovering how to improvise over chords and playing jazz tunes in small ensembles was new and exciting. While many of my early influences stemmed from developing an understanding of the history of jazz I started to become more and more interested in the distinct sound coming out of Australia’s jazz community and really wanted to contribute in some way to this sound. Moving to Melbourne was a great experience, being in a new city and surrounded by a new group of musicians made me feel free enough to experiment and try new things. Playing more freely and openly and collaborating with artists of other disciplines became the new exciting thing. It was a similar experience coming back to Perth and meeting a whole new community of musicians interested in improvised music and it’s exciting to be a part of such an open and welcoming group of people.

3. What keeps you improvising? What do you think makes this music important, either personally, socially, politically, etc.

I see improvised music as an opportunity to interact and communicate with people and create something out of this interaction. I enjoy the spontaneity and sense of playfulness of this and try to not think too much into it but feel that music as with art has purpose if it can make someone question or think of things a little differently.

4. What are your feelings on the relationship between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

I’m not too opinionated on this. I would say that my views differ depending on the situation and who I’m playing with. In Lee/Jacobs/O’Connor we sometimes base our improvisations on an abstract narrative that gives some sort of direction and sets a general mood to start our improvisations. Sometimes I approach a solo performance by focusing on a particular technique or concept to develop and explore, I find this helps to create cohesion.

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?

This is difficult. Often, I find that the way I perceive a performance ends up being completely different to how I find it upon listening back to it. I try to not dwell on a performance too much. I find it much more constructive to talk through ideas with everyone in a rehearsal setting and work through ways to improve the music there.

6. Do you think there is room for discursive (as opposed to non-discursive) 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’d be interested to hear what other improvisers think about this. I find it extremely difficult to go through a performance without thinking at all but do aspire to minimize this as much as possible. There is a danger in over thinking whilst playing as I find that it really limits my playing. I do think that there is room for discursive thought in some instances though, especially when thinking about the overall architecture or structure of an improvisation.

7. Can you name three albums/pieces/experiences that inspired you to start improvising, and three that are currently inspiring you?

- Ornette Coleman. Ornette’s music was probably the first freer sounding music that I heard. Charlie Haden’s playing always resonated with me and has had a very strong influence on my sound and approach to playing.

- Miles Davis, Plugged Nickel Concert. I started to be drawn to more open playing in a jazz context and was particularly inspired by the level of interaction and freedom that Miles’ 60s quintet had whilst playing over jazz standards.

- Many, many Australian musicians. Dave Ades, Allan Browne and Zac Hurren to name a few.

 

- I have been getting more into solo playing lately and am focusing on exploring more extended techniques and sounds on the bass. Two players who I’ve been really getting into are Mark Dresser and Mike Majkowski.

- I think musically, I draw just as much inspiration from the people I’m surrounded by and playing with as I do from listening to recordings. The Perth improvising community has been doing lots of great things and there are constantly interesting gigs, workshops and events to be involved in.

- I am also inspired by more and more wide ranging things these days. I often find visual experiences to be just as inspiring as musical ones.

Lee/Jacobs/O'Connor at Success Sounds.
Song for Charlie (Charlie Haden) by Djuna Lee
Question Time
Blind Spot