AMN Interviews: Carl Testa

carlaboutCarl Testa is a composer and instrumentalist originally from Chicago, who now lives in New Haven, Connecticut and performs in New Haven and New York City. Carl has studied with Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier, and has performed with Anthony Braxton, Aaron Siegel, Anne Rhodes, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Mwata Bowden, Avreeyal Ra, Ernest Dawkins, and many others.

Tell us about your history with music. How did it all start and what led you down the strange path to adventurous sounds?

I grew up in Chicago, IL. My mother played guitar when she young, my dad played keyboard and electric bass. My sisters both played instruments (flute and guitar). I didn’t really become interested in music until 8th grade or so. At that point I had found my dad’s electric bass in the attic and started to mess around with that. In high school I took up the upright bass and became more involved in jazz and improvised music. The turning point for me was seeing a performance by Mwata Bowden’s Jazz X-Tet at the University of Chicago. That music was so new and exciting, yet familiar in some ways. I promptly decided that I had to learn more about that music. That led to conversations with Mwata and seeing numerous performances by Mwata Bowden, Tatsu Aoki, Fred Anderson, Douglas Ewart, Ernest Dawkins, Steve Berry, Nicole Mitchell, and David Boykin. I eventually enrolled in the AACM School of Music during my final year of high school and became deeply involved with music. It was at Mwata Bowden’s suggestion that I look into Wesleyan University to study with Anthony Braxton. It just so happened that my dad had gone to Wesleyan and was already pushing me in that direction.

You’re both a composer and an improvising instrumentalist. When you write or play, do you find that there’s a great deal of mutual influence between these two sides of your work, or do they generally stay within their own domains?

There has always been a lot of mutual influence between improvisation and composition for me. In a way, my identity has struggled with trying to figure out whether I am a composer or improviser or both. I don’t tend to write for other musicians where I’m not involved in the performance. At this stage, I much prefer to be involved in performances of my music (so more the composer/improviser) as opposed to writing pieces and sending them off to be performed. I feel the need to be actively involved in the execution of music whether that is in the organizing of performances, composition, or performance. A composition can come out of an improvisation, or an improvisation can come out of a conceptually organized composition that provides a context for it. For the most part I suppose I think about unknown elements and most of my compositions and improvisations have these unknown elements. It is those elements that I feel help me get to the next piece or the next performance.

Among your recent projects is a collaboration with dancer Rachel Bernsen. How do approach the integration of the music with the movement? Do you rely on composition and arrangement, improvisation, or some combination of the two?

Rachel Bernsen is a choreographer and dancer. My wife Anne Rhodes and I have worked with Rachel for five years now on a few different projects. For each project, Rachel has a different approach to creating movement and music that work together. For one of her pieces User, Rachel, Anne, and I improvised over and over with no set idea. We gradually began to focus on a set of ideas that gradually morphed into the piece. Once Rachel felt like the music and the movement had enough of the material she wanted, she began to structure that material into a piece that was fixed in structure but had improvised elements. Rachel worked on a piece called Waver with me a few years ago. This piece incorporated electronic music and computer-controlled lighting as an accompaniment to the dancer. I tried to think of this piece as having all of the elements interacting as if the dance was music and the lighting was music. I designed the music and lighting to complement each other, not by mimicking or syncing up with each other but by offering contrasting elements that create a whole when considered in context. I wanted the dance to work the same way, so I gave Rachel a set of concepts to improvise upon for the different sections of the piece. I had some general ideas of where to be and when and what kind of states I wanted her to evoke, but for the most part the choreography was Rachel interpreting my musical language into a movement-based language and at the same time interacting with the electronic sound and lighting backdrop.

Your most recent solo release, Iris, is a set of pieces for double bass and interactive electronics. How does playing with real-time electronic manipulation change your relationship to the bass—or doesn’t it?

The music on Iris was developed over a period of two years or so. It started with experiments in granular synthesis that date back to my piece Pull from 2007. The idea for the music was that I wanted to create an electronic framework that I could use to input (record) sound into and then generate lots of music from that sound within a live performance. The music is generative in a sense because I don’t know exactly how the electronics are going to process the sound, so it purposefully creates some unknown elements within the composition. This is a strange place to put yourself as a composer and improviser because you are aware of the compositional framework but not necessarily how it is going to play out in performance. So the relationship with the instrument does change because it starts to feel like you are playing two instruments. The choices I make on the bass effect the electronics and the choices I make with the electronics effect what I do with the bass. Depending on what the electronics are doing at any particular moment changes the role I should take on at that moment. If the electronics are processing textural sounds, then I can either blend in, or contrast with it by playing a melodic line. If the electronics are playing a melodic line, then I can step back and function in a traditional bass role. I really think of it as playing within a freely improvising ensemble with a catch. I can interact with the electronics in the same way I would with an ensemble. The catch is that there is this feedback loop where what I play directly effects the electronic sound. So it is similar to an ensemble but obviously a different context.

A two part question here. What inspired you to organize the Uncertainty music series in New Haven? And how do you find New Haven as a place in which to pursue adventurous music and related arts?

The Uncertainty Music Series is inspired by musician-run spaces for experimental music and the AACM in particular. When I lived in Chicago, I would organize shows for my groups at various venues. The Candlestick Maker (Michael Zerang’s performance space) was one of them that was open to me as a young guy that knew nothing about anything. The AACM’s example of organizing your own performances was also very important to me. So when I moved to New Haven, I was looking for opportunities to perform and possibly set up some kind of regular performance. Bob Gorry’s New Haven Improvisers’ Collective held their workshops at Never Ending Books (a donation-run bookstore and community center). I asked Bob to ask the owner of Never Ending Books (Roger) about starting a monthly series there. Roger agreed to an initial run of 3 shows in early 2007 and then agreed to do a monthly series starting in September of that year. Initially it was just a chance for me to have a performance of original music every month, but it soon became more open to the larger community and started to serve as a way to connect the creative musicians in New Haven to the larger community in the region.

I find New Haven to be a great place to pursue my music. I think as with any place you live, there are certainly pros and cons. The music community is very supportive overall and New Haven is strategically placed as far as being in close proximity to large Metropolitan centers like New York, Boston, and Philly. The fact is though, that New Haven is still pretty small (pop. 120,000) so the number of people interested in niche music is limited in the immediate area. Nevertheless, I feel that through the support of the community that is here, the Uncertainty Series has been able to sustain a small, but dedicated group of listeners. I still feel that a lot can be done to generate more interest in experimental, improvised, and electronic music in the area. The Uncertainty Series will have it’s 7th anniversary this September and move into it’s 8th year. As we approach the 10 year mark I need to either have the series end gracefully or morph into a new venture. We will have to see what happens.

Your wife, Anne Rhodes, is also an accomplished experimental musician. Do the two of you collaborate often, or mostly work independently?

We do collaborate often, most notably with Anthony Braxton and his Tri-Centric Foundation. We also have a long-standing duo project called Bruxism that does performances occasionally. We have also collaborated on a short theatre piece called Spectra that I wrote in 2011 that features her in the sole role. I do think it is important to have independant projects because we spend so much time together that musically it is also good to have individual outlets for creative work. I am grateful that I have her to bounce ideas off of and to get her feedback on vocal writing. She has worked a lot with composers on new pieces and she understands what works for vocalists and what doesn’t work. So when writing new pieces that involve voice I always run the music by her. And most the time I am also lucky enough that she agrees to sing my pieces ! :)

What have you got coming up in terms of releases, performances, and other things?

My wife just gave birth to our son Florian Nicholas Testa, so we both have taken a break from performances. But I do have some performances and new projects coming up soon. The first is this Thursday, May 1st in Cambridge, MA as part of the WMBR Ampersand Series. I will be playing the music from IRIS opening for the The Outnumbered featuring Charlie Kohlhase, Jason Robinson, Josh Rosen, Bruno Råberg, and Curt Newton.

This summer I will be performing on a number of shows with bassist Mario Pavone and his new Street Songs project. That album will be released on May 6th and we will be playing a bunch of shows to support it. It has been wonderful working with Mario and Dave Ballou. I just try and soak up every opportunity and learn as much as I can.

I also have a duo project with the guitarist Christopher Riggs that has been in the works for a while. We play as a duo with guitar and bass and guitar and various electronics. Chris lives in Chicago so we don’t get the chance to work on this project very often. But I am hopeful that we will find some time this Summer or this Fall to come together and record a release.

Advertisements

May at Roulette

Frederic Rzewski
Cover of Frederic Rzewski

From New York’s Roulette:

TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2014 @ 8:00 PM
[EAR HEART MUSIC] Mivos Quartet & Concert Black, with members of ETHEL, Dal Niente, & Color Field Ensemble – Opposites Attract Ear Heart Music presents Opposites Attract with the Mivos Quartet, Concert Black, and members of ETHEL, Newspeak, & Color Field Ensemble featuring Sam Pluta’s Chain Reactions/Five Events and the world premiere of Robert Honstein’s RE: you…

MONDAY, MAY 12, 2014 @ 8:00 PM BUY TICKETS
G Lucas Crane – Trance/Door/Trap/Door Live Acceptance Speech/Confession/Interview and Tape manipulated music performance dredging the underbelly of New York City’s sonic landscape via G Lucas Crane’s massive cassette archive of broken field recordings. …

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014 @ 8:00 PM COMMUNITY EVENT
Talea Ensemble and Steve Coleman

WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 2014 @ 8:00 PM BUY TICKETS
Guy Barash: Facts About Water A concert celebrating the release of composer Guy Barash’s Facts about Water.

FRIDAY, MAY 23, 2014 @ 8:00 PM BUY TICKETS
Angie Eng’s premiers: ‘Formfields’ with Cheryl Leonard and ‘Chasers’ with Akio Mokuno/Maria Chavez For the 24th of May at Roulette, Angie Eng returns from Paris to premier two very distinct video performances.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014 @ 8:00 PM BUY TICKETS
Jen Shyu’s “Solo Rites: Seven Breaths” directed by Garin Nugroho Sonic, visual, and visceral rites and reflections upon pilgrimage throughout Taiwan, East Timor, Indonesia (Java, Bali, Bandung, Kalimantan), Vietnam, and South Korea. …

THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2014 @ 8:00 PM BUY TICKETS
Frederic Rzewski

All About Jazz Reviews

Joëlle Léandre
Cover of Joëlle Léandre

From All About Jazz:

Daunik Lazro / Joëlle Léandre
Hasparren (NoBusiness Records)

Ivo Perelman multiple reviews
Rejoice – Three New Ivo Perelman Discs

Mats Gustafsson/dieb13/Martin Siewert: Fake The Facts
Soundtrack (Trost Records)

The Nels Cline Singers
Macroscope (Mack Avenue Records)

Dave Rempis / Lasse Marhaug
Naancore (Aerophonic Records)

Rich Halley 4
The Wisdom of Rocks (Pine Eagle Records)

Matthew Shipp Trio
Root Of Things (Relative Pitch Records)

Eric Revis Quartet track review
In Memory Of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed Records)

Dewa Budjana (with Jimmy Johnson & Vinnie Colaiuta)
Surya Namaskar (Moonjune Records)

Natsuki Tamura extended analysis
Natsuki Tamura: Dragon Nat (Libra Records)

Billy Bottle & The Multiple
Unrecorded Beam (Leo Records)

The Bad Plus extended analysis
The Bad Plus: The Rite Of Spring (Sony Masterworks)

Rempis – Johnston – Ochs track review
Spectral (Aerophonic Records)

May at Cafe OTO

R. Stevie Moore
Cover of R. Stevie Moore

From London’s Cafe OTO:

RICHARD DAWSON + ISLAJA + PICASTRO
THU 1 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £8 adv / £10 on the door

IMAGO (GYDA VALTÝSDÓTTIR + SHAHZAD ISMAILY)
FRI 2 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £7 adv / £8 on the door

ELECTRA & OTO PROJECTS PRESENTS: WHICH SEVEN?
WITH MV CARBON + HEATHER LEIGH + MARIA CHAVEZ & AUDREY CHEN + KAFFE MATTHEWS + LIA MAZZARI + WHICH SEVEN? ENSEMBLE + DJ ANDREA ZARZA
SAT 3 MAY ’14 • 8PM • £5 adv / £6 on the door / £8 2-day pass
MV Carbon + Heather Leigh + Maria Chavez & Audrey Chen + DJ Andrea Zarza
SUN 4 MAY ’14 • 8PM • £5 adv / £6 on the door / £8 2-day pass
Kaffe Matthews + Lia Mazzari + Which Seven? Ensemble + DJ Andrea Zarza

OTO PROJECT SPACE // ELECTRA & OTO PROJECTS PRESENTS: WHICH SEVEN? WITH LIA MAZZARI + KAFFE MATTHEWS
SUNDAY 4 MAY ’14 • 12:00PM • OTO PROJECT SPACE • FREE

ANOTHER TIMBRE PRESENTS: BRYN HARRISON’S VESSELS PLAYED BY PHILIP THOMAS + TIM BLECHMANN’S SINE TEMPORE 3 FOR 256 OSCILLATORS
MON 5 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £6 adv / £8 on the door

GAFFER RECORDS PRESENTS: LOUP + COLIN WEBSTER / ALEX WARD / STEVE NOBLE + ANDRÉ VIDA
TUES 6 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £7 adv / £8 on the door

WILLIAM PARKER / HAMID DRAKE / JOHN DIKEMAN
WED 7 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £10 adv / £12 on the door

BLEED & NO PAIN IN POP PRESENT: TORN HAWK + THROWING SHADE
THU 8 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £8 adv / £10 on the door

ALIEN JAMS AND GH PRESENT: EKOPLEKZ + BROOD MA
FRI 9 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £8 adv / £10 on the door

TRZASKA MOVING MOVIES: RIVERLOAM TRIO (MIKOLAJ TRZASKA / OLIE BRICE / MARK SANDERS)
SAT 10 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £10 adv / £12 on the door

AWK WAH + ROBERTO CRIPPA
SUN 11 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £7 adv / £8 on the door

LOUIS MOHOLO MOHOLO QUARTET
MON 12 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £8 adv / £10 on the door

SHARPEN YOUR NEEDLES: DAVID TOOP AND EVAN PARKER
TUES 13 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £4 on the door

BIRD ON THE WIRE PRESENTS: CIRCUIT DES YEUX + DAN HAYWOOD
WED 14 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £7.50 adv / £9 on the door

UPSET THE RHYTHM PRESENTS: R. STEVIE MOORE
THU 15 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £10 adv / £12 on the door

JOHN EDWARDS/MARK SANDERS/JOHN WALL + THEO BURT (AUTOMATICS GROUP) + MARK DURGAN + SHELLEY PARKER + LEE GAMBLE (DJ)
FRI 16 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £8 adv / £10 on the door

RESCHEDULED: DAWN OF MIDI
SAT 17 MAY ’14 • EARLY SHOW – 5:00PM • £8.50 adv / £TBA on the door
SAT 17 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • SOLD OUT

DAMON & NAOMI
SUN 18 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £8 adv / £10 on the door

DIATRIBES + SARAH HUGHES/KOSTIS KILYMIS/SAMUEL RODGERS TRIO
MON 19 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £7 adv / £8 on the door

BARRY GUY NEW ORCHESTRA: THREE DAY RESIDENCY (BARRY GUY / AGUSTI FERNANDEZ / EVAN PARKER / HANS KOCH / PER TEXAS JOHANSSON / HERB ROBERTSON / JOHANNES BAUER / PER ÅKE HOLMLANDER / PAUL LYTTON / RAYMOND STRID / TREVOR WATTS / MAYA HOMBURGER)
TUES 20 MAY ’14 • 8PM • £15 adv / £18 on the door / £35 3-day pass
WED 21 MAY ’14 • 8PM • £15 adv / £18 on the door / £35 3-day pass
THU 22 MAY ’14 • 8PM • £15 adv / £18 on the door / £35 3-day pass

ALEX NEILSON / JOHN EDWARDS / THURSTON MOORE TRIO
FRI 23 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £10 adv / £12 on the door

REINES D’ANGLETERRE (TAZARTES/JO/ÈLG) + NICOLA RATTI + HUMAN HEADS
SAT 24 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £10 adv / £12 on the door

SO I BURIED AND GRIMM GRIMM PRESENTS: MYTHS OF THE FAR FUTURE – GRIMM GRIMM / TAPERS SPLIT ALBUM LAUNCH WITH GRIMM GRIMM + TAPERS + 5 SECONDS EXPOSURE
SUN 25 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £4 adv / £5 on the door

DALE CORNISH – XERIC ALBUM LAUNCH + PHIL JULIAN + VA AA LR (VASCO ALVES / ADAM ASNAN / LOUIE RICE) + PHILIP MARSHALL + ZEROCROP
MON 26 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £5 adv / £6 on the door

SUBLIME FREQUENCIES: ROBERT MILLIS – THIS WORLD IS UNREAL LIKE A SNAKE IN A ROPE + PHI TA KHON: GHOSTS OF ISAN
TUES 27 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £7 adv / £8 on the door

NADJA + CHICALOYOH + JAMES VELLA (READING) + AIDAN BAKER (READING)
WED 28 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £8 adv / £10 on the door

MARK FISHER: GHOSTS OF MY LIFE + RAIME (DJ) + MORE TBC
THU 29 MAY ’14 • 8:00PM • £4 on the door only

OTO PROJECT SPACE // THANOS CHRYSAKIS / CHRIS CUNDY / JERRY WIGENS / ARTUR VIDAL / JULIE KJÆR / JAMES O’SULLIVAN
SATURDAY 31 MAY ’14 • 6:00PM • OTO PROJECT SPACE • £5 door only

MATMOS – TWO DAY RESIDENCY
SAT 31 MAY ’14 • 8PM • £10 adv / £12 on the door / £18 3-day pass
SUN 1 JUNE ’14 • 8PM • £10 adv / £12 on the door / £18 3-day pass

May at the Spectrum

Chris Cutler
Cover of Chris Cutler

Selected shows coming to New York’s Spectrum:

Thursday 1 May
7 PM
Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic presents Spectral Interzone
7:30 Bomb X Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic, Loren Stillman, Art Hirahara, Nick Anderson
http://nicolasletmanb.com/
9:30 anna webber 4 tet- tenor/flute
jonathan goldberger – guitar
michael bates – bass
jeff davis – drums

Friday 2 May
10 PM
Levy Lorenzo in Dark Circuits: New Technology Presented by Hans Tammen

Saturday 3 May
10 PM
Allen Lowe album launch
A Musical Revival Meeting with:
Allen Lowe and his Field Recordings Orchestra: Mulatto Radio
With Special Guests:
Matthew Shipp, Hayes Greenfield and Bobby Zankel; Lewis Porter, Lou Grassi, Allen Lowe, Kevin Ray, Brian Simontacchi, Randy Sandke, Christopher Meeder, Ray Suhy

Sunday 4 May
7 PM
Cornelius Dufallo and Patrick Derivaz are very happy to have Shelley Burgon as a guest artist for the fifth installment of their Soundscapes Series at Spectrum.
Shelley Burgon, Harp and electronics
Loveher – solo harp and electronics
Loveher is Shelley Burgon’s ambient solo harp and electronics project which is best described in the reviews below.

Wednesday 7 May
8:15 PM
Acoustic Frontiers: Michael Lytle, Denman Maroney and Robert Dick, curators and at times performers. Free-improvisation series.
James Ilgenfritz, bass
Briggan Krauss, saxophone
Denman Maroney, piano

Thursday 8 May
7 PM
ensemble ni
Yoshiaki Onishi, conductor

Friday 9 May
10 PM
Paul Simon and Philip Glass pianist / collaborator Mick Rossi introduces his Outliers series featuring his Anti-Matter ensemble and special guest, Dr. Katherine Freese; sculpture by Gwen Tessier.

Sunday 11 May
5 PM
Brogan Sfirri Stuart (Meridian) perform Michael Pisaro

Monday 12 May
7 PM
Gio Janiashvili, composer; Maria Nemtsova, piano

Monday 12 May
9 PM
Kirsten Carey, et al.: The Ulysses Project

Tuesday 13 May
7:30 PM
Kathleen Supové and Mohammed Fairouz

Wednesday 14 May
9 PM
Hudson Trio

Thursday 15 May
8 PM
Guy Barash Presents: Eavesdropping
Yumi Hara Cawkwell and Chris Cutler

Friday 16 May
7 PM
Antisocial Music / Dark Ages/ Häßliche Luftmasken

Saturday 17 May
2 – 5 PM
Minor Music Marathon, hosted by Jesse Krakow
Music performances by musicians under 18 years of age; come see the promise of the rising generation.

Saturday 17 May
7:30 PM
Kris Becker, Piano

Saturday 17 May
9:30 PM
Halcyon Chamber Series

Monday 19 May
9 PM
Akvariet Trio

Thursday 22 May
8:30 PM
20-21 Ensemble

Tuesday 27 May
9 PM
Svjetlana Bukvich: ‘The Year of the Horse’ electro-acoustic set

Wednesday 28 May
6:30 PM
Erik Carlson, Violin

Wednesday 28 May
9 PM
An Evening of Exquisitely-Accomplished Female Musicians, hosted by Loneliness as Style and Ladies of Experimental Music

Thursday 29 May
7 PM
HEIDEMANN
Monika Heidemann, former lead vocalist for Xylos, performs solo work with voice and electric bass along with electronics.

Thursday 29 May
9:15 PM
ISLE of KLEZBOS: quartet special!
Debra Kreisberg, clarinet & alto saxophone
Melissa Fogarty, vocals (soprano)
Shoko Nagai, accordion & piano
Eve Sicular, drums | bandleader