AMN Interviews: Samuel Andreyev

Samuel Andreyev is a Canadian composer living in Strasbourg, France.  He was named a laureate of the 2012 Henri Dutilleux Prize and has received various other prestigious recognitions, such as the Casa de Velazquez Residency. Samuel Andreyev’s ‘meticulously framed moments feel like portals to alternate dimensions’ (Musicworks magazine). Andreyev travels extensively, maintaining an intensive composing, performing and lecturing schedule throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. Also a deeply unconventional singer-songwriter, he has released 8 albums of songs to date, including, most recently, The Tubular West (Torpor Vigil Records, 2013). 

You studied with New Complexity pioneer Brian Ferneyhough, and I was interested in how the laconic aspect of your music is largely absent in New Complexity.  Could you talk about how working with Ferneyhough influenced your compositional aesthetics?  

I should start by saying that I was never formally a student of Brian Ferneyhough.  I did follow his teaching on a number of occasions, and I was fairly regularly in touch with him at one point when I was a student. I found his work extremely intriguing when I was a composition student, not so much for its surface qualities or for the way that the notation looks, but more for the incredible wealth of different formal approaches that he invented in his work.  I also appreciated the sound of his music and the sense of humor. I think that’s something actually very few people have adequately appreciated in Ferneyhough’s music—just how funny it can be. It’s usually interpreted as this very hyper-serious thing. Having met him and worked with him, and having read his writings and his interviews, I’ve found that he’s an extremely funny person. The music is also often very funny in this completely off-the-wall way, and you don’t encounter that very much. 

So, there are a number of qualities in the music that I find very attractive. Ferneyhough also has an incredibly high degree of ambition, with which he’s willing to invent an entirely new approach, an entirely new language, entirely new technical procedures in his music, and a radically new sound world, basically from scratch. There certainly aren’t that many composers that are willing to do that or that are able to do it.  He’s somebody with great scope, incredible imagination. He’s absolutely brilliant.

That is, by the way, different from saying that I like everything he does or that I agree with every aspect of his approach. I’ve looked at his music and examined it from a critical perspective.  I’ve always tried to maintain a certain distance in that sense, where instead of merely accepting everything he has said in his writings at face value, I’ve tried to examine his claims and consider: “well, does this actually work? Does this actually make sense? Is this perceptible in the piece?”—these sorts of questions.  Even when I find a particular idea to be inadequate, there’s still something very stimulating about it. I accept his willingness to take risks and to fail. I think that’s also the mark of a great creator: being willing to take enormous risks and to fail quite spectacularly if that’s how it goes. I think part of the reason for that is that great creators tend to be enamored with the process of creation rather than the results of creation.  

I’m interested in the length of your pieces. Some of your pieces are about 10-minute single movement works, and your other pieces are very short, with many one or two minute movements in a piece in some cases. Could you talk about your motivations for writing pieces in that type of temporality, and also how you think your motivations for writing short pieces differ from those of Webern? 

In the history of Western music, the normal state of affairs was to write short pieces divided up into movements.  Western music generally follows this trend up until romanticism. Mahler’s idea of writing extremely long 30 minute movements, for example, and 90-minute-long symphonies, is an exception in the overall context of Western music. However, somehow, it became normal to write these long, single-movement works. There’s a lot of this in contemporary music, in which you have a piece that’s approximately 20 minutes long, usually written in one movement.  Morton Feldman actually used to make fun of composers who wrote those sorts of pieces, saying that one thing the world doesn’t need is another 20-minute-long piece for 16 instruments. 

And then he’d go and write a six-hour piece. 

That’s right. Yeah. I think Feldman’s statement is a very astute, but also a very funny point. And he’s quite right. There’s a kind of monotony in how formal strategies often work in different music. There just aren’t that many of them.  So, I try to base my music on, first of all, an appreciation of how people actually listen, and certainly how I listen.

And then the fact that musical forms that consist of a succession of panels that might be, let’s say, two or three minutes long, which are contrasted with one another, seem to be very satisfying. Also, you’ll notice that the length of a typical pop song is usually about three minutes.  That’s not an accident. It has to do with human perception and the amount of time that we can focus on something musical before we need some kind of a change. That’s not to say that that approach to listening is universal, because it’s absolutely not. If you listen to Indian music, for example, the timescale is much, much longer.  Some people find Mahler impossible to listen to it, because his music is too long, and they find it boring. However, other people will get swept along in the drama of it, and they’ll find it completely exhilarating. It’s hard to generalize about these things. For me, the design of things like the Bach B minor mass I find incredibly satisfying.  St. Matthew Passion, where you have a regular alternation of recitatives, and arias and chorales. In these pieces, you end up with an enormous textural variety in the scope of an extremely long piece, but nothing ever lasts for much more than about three or maybe four minutes.

The other thing is, the sound world of my pieces tends to be sort of jumpy, highly compacted, and boiled down to a small number of important elements.  There isn’t anything in the way of what you might call transitions or ornamentation in my pieces. They have a kind of skeletal quality a lot of the time. So, I don’t see how I could really or why I would need to draw that out into a much larger temporal frame.

Would you consider your pieces to be emotionally expressive, or more detached and atmospheric?

It’s probably not up to me to say—I hear very contradictory things from people who write things about my music, and comments that I’ve heard from listeners and critics are often incredibly diverse and divergent.  So, it’s hard for me to judge what the effect is of a particular piece, partly because primarily I’m dealing with my intuition. So, it’s not a question of setting out to create this or that type of world and then doing it.  Rather, the music emerges because of the way I hear and because of the way that I seem to conceive of music.

A number of people have commented that my pieces express a kind of fundamental loneliness, in the sense that they often use musical ideas that don’t really interact with each other, or are unable to interact with each other. So, they’re always separate somehow. One thing that does seem to come up quite frequently in my pieces is the concept of these little windows or slices of material where you’ll have a piece that’s going on and then all of a sudden, a door opens and then the door reveals another world for about two bars—just a very little flash until the door immediately closes again.  Then, the rest of the piece continues. It’s like you’re exposing the complete difference and incompatibility between materials, without them ever interacting. And that does seem to happen in a lot of my work. As to why that is, I couldn’t say and I’m not sure I’d want to say. 

So, do you intentionally try to instill this absence of interaction between different parts of your music?

No, it’s not intentional.  It’s the result of following an intuition and listening very carefully.  Artists obviously interact with their creative process to some extent. But on another level—not to be fatalistic about this—you don’t actually get to choose what it is that you were saying.  And part of that is because, well, obviously, you’re born into a particular culture. You have a particular form of subjectivity, a certain background. You’re going to be spontaneously interested in certain things and not interested in other things without always knowing why. You know, every composer has their three or four favorite instruments and nobody can tell you why that is. There are instruments I can’t stand and there are other instruments that crop up all the time in my pieces, and I absolutely have no idea why that is. There’s no reason for it, really, except for a sense of affinity.

Could you talk about how your pieces use patterns and unique sets of rules to create unique sonic environments?

Yeah, I wouldn’t call them rules. I would just say that there are patterns that emerge.  These patterns eventually will dissipate, transform into something else, or break off. Sometimes you do have very long-range patterns in my work. So, for example, I wrote a piece last year in 2019 called Sextet in two parts.  The first movement of that piece uses a single rhythmic pattern that lasts for twelve minutes, for the entire piece. Even though the first movement is made up of these panels of contrasting sound material, there is nevertheless a rhythmic process that ties the entire thing together from beginning to end.  Sometimes it’s extremely complicated how that actually functions in the piece. But, usually musical patterns are more local in nature; they don’t necessarily exist across the entire work. The reason for that is that they serve to temporarily orient your perception through their way of saying “pay attention to this for a while, and notice how it evolves.”

Could you talk about how your approach to writing poetry relates to your musical approach?  

Well, poetry and music are almost the same thing. They both have to do with rhythm. Certainly they both have to do with sound. They both have to do with with patterns and disruption of patterns. They both have to do with expectation and thwarting expectation.  And they both have to do with meaning also. But, the forms that these two things take on are obviously different. 

Poetry, in antique times, was performed aloud, and it was performed very rhythmically. The idea of sort of sitting down and reading a poem silently to yourself is a much more recent idea in broad historical terms.  So, poetry and music have an awful lot in common, and the two complement each other.

It’s always been extremely important for me to engage with both very deeply. And certainly, when I was a teenager, I was as involved with poetry, if not more than I was with music. And the two were really twin passions.

As it happens, I’m professionally known as a composer, but I’ve never stopped writing poetry. I’ve also published two books so far, and I’m working on a third.  I have many friends who are poets, and I read a lot of poetry and engage very deeply with that world. Very often, if I’ve been stuck with a particular compositional problem, I might turn to poetry and find an answer there, and vice versa.

Who are some poets you are most interested in?

Well, I just finished reading the collected poetry of Georg Trakl, an Austrian poet who was roughly contemporaneous with Wittgenstein, Webern and Freud–all of these people who were revolutionizing the Viennese world in the early 20th century.

Trakl wrote this incredibly unsettling, disturbing, but also weirdly beautiful expressionist poetry. Some of the images in Trakl are truly terrifying and haunting. It also has a strange quality of being completely shattered formerly; each line seems to be very separate from the others–the lines seem to push away from each other.  A Trakl poem doesn’t cohere into a straightforward narrative in your mind. It’s a very strange experience. It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope or a prism or something like this, where there’s different lines are pushing away from each other and there’s all these incompatible images and trajectories within the same poem. So Trackball had a very pronounced influence on many composers, including Webern.  I appreciate his poetry very much for its compression, its strangeness, its expressive power, and its linguistic invention. So I’m reading him at the moment.

I’ve heard you mention that you’re interested in visual artists like Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko, with whom Morton Feldman was a colleague.  Do you exclusively associate with these abstract expressionist painters or do you aesthetically appreciate works by painters who happened to be considered abstract expressionist?  

I am responsive to a particular type of artistic attitude that you might describe as overarchingly ambitious and intolerant of anything that isn’t transcendental and completely involved.  

Painters like Bryce Marden, whose language seems to owe a lot to Barnett Newman in the sense that he has these relatively flat fields of color with very sort of apparently very simple formal structures in them.  Unlike Newman, I feel that Marden’s paintings are without any particular emotional charge. It’s very interesting to investigate the reasons for why that is. When I go to a museum and stand in front of a painting, the emotional effect is often quite overpowering. I find it very, very intense and often actually quite unsettling.  It’s very hard to know exactly why that is. There’s a very large Newman in Basel, which is about an hour from where I live, in Switzerland. It has a very strong pull. I’m very drawn to that.

And I can spend quite a long time looking at it. There’s this kind of mysterious alchemy in those works that I don’t know how to define. I don’t know if I would want to define them.  There are many painters who have attempted to do things along those lines. I suppose that someone like Ellsworth Kelly exemplifies this. He’s a minimalist who makes these shaped canvases usually using only one color.  They’re very beautiful, playful, and fun, but they don’t have that strange depth of resonance that I get from a Newman. So, I don’t know how to qualify that. It’s a mysterious thing.

Could you talk about what new projects you are currently working on? I read that you have some orchestral projects and a violin concerto coming out soon.  

Yeah, I’m working on a few things simultaneously because currently I’m working on the second volume of my piano pieces, pieces five through seven.  Those are taking an amazingly long time to write actually. I think it’s partly because I’m aiming to make each piece be quite separate from the others. So, I really have to invent a whole world in each piano piece. And that takes a while–it takes it takes a long time to invent a piano texture that is really unique, partly because there’s just so much repertoire. And it’s an instrument that gets used so much.

But anyway, I’m working on those piano pieces.  I’m also currently completely rewriting my violin concerto. It was originally written for violin plus 16 instruments. I wasn’t happy with the first version for a number of reasons.  I’m still writing it for orchestra, but it’s not just a reorchestration. The first two movements are comprised of largely the same material. The third movement is going to be it’s going to be based on the same ideas, but will be almost completely recomposed. That project is taking a while.  I reworked the first two movements from September to December, and I’m hoping I can get the third movement done by March. The new version of that piece will be premiered in Kiev, Ukraine next September.

There is also a performance planned for the new version of The Flash of the Instant, which is a big orchestra piece that I wrote a few years ago and also completely rewrote. It’s something that I’ve often done, writing my pieces twice. So, I’m hoping that as time goes on, I will have less of a need to do that so that I can be more preoccupied with new projects.  Yet, for one reason or another, I haven’t been satisfied with the first version of many pieces I’ve written thus far and have had to extensively rework the piece afterwards.

After those pieces are finished, I’ll be writing a new piece for Ensemble Proton Bern in Switzerland.  That’s a group that I’ve been working with for 10 years. They’re very good friends of mine and I’ll be writing a big work for them for their 10th anniversary.  I have projects planned for at least the next three years, which is very exciting. So, there’s no shortage of things to be done around here.

Interview by Thomas McGee

AMN Interviews: Reid Karris

Reid Karris is a Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser, as well as an all-around nice guy. He recently took some time to answer a few of our questions.

How many albums did you release / perform on in 2017? I’m counting four…

2017 did feel like a really productive year but sometimes it’s hard for me to keep track because a lot of times the music was recorded the previous year. It was also an important year because some of the releases were physical, which is something that I hadn’t done in a long time. There were three cassette releases and I am really happy with them, both the music on them as well as the way they look. I also self-released some live recordings. For this I guess I’ll talk about them in order of their release.

Divinatio Exitium was released in March 2017 on Lurker Bias. Work on this started in April or May of 2016 and the start was me taking unused solo drum kit recordings and working with them on my computer. I originally thought I would do something more conventional with them but rather quickly I started working in a collage type of way and decided that I would try to do something that was outside of the norm for me and make sounds that were drones of noise. I took a lot of these tracks and smashed them together, first individually and then laid them over one another and creating loops out of the results. I ended up with two tracks about the same length and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with them. I knew they didn’t sound like a lot of other things that I had done before and at first it seemed like what I had was the finished product but the more I listened to them I knew there could be more. In the end I added prepared guitar as well as metal bowls, which I have been collecting for quite some time and have used on a lot of my recordings. It made a lot of sense for this album to be released on Lurker Bias, as I had been listening to a lot of other releases on the label and wanted to do something that was in the same vein. I first came into contact with them a few years earlier when I was looking for a label to release a tape of the free improv band I had at the time, Set Self on Fire. Oddly enough, Lurker Bias worked out mainly because of the quick turn around with getting the tape put together but after meeting Alexander Adams, who runs the label, we started playing shows with his free improv group Galaxxu. In them we found real kindred spirits and I really enjoy playing with all of them and Alexander and I have worked on a few other projects too.

Arbor Philosophica was released in June 2017 digitally on PYR and self-released physically. While this album was released in 2017 and for the most part recorded in 2016 the idea for it goes back a number of years. I had been aware of the Harmony of the Spheres for a while and really wanted to figure out a way to use it to record an album. The idea came together quickly that each track would represent a planet and be based on the musical note that planet represented. I was also aware of the alchemic idea that each planet represented a different metal and knew I wanted to incorporate that into it as well. I put together a graphic score of sorts that had all the information on it like the planet, the element, the pitch and so forth but at the time I was working on other things so the idea sat around for a while until I finished recording Divinatio Exitumin. I pretty much started recording Arbor Philosophica right away. The recording process turned out to be very similar to my improvised albums where I would record all the tracks for one instrument and then move to the next without really listening to what I had already done until I was playing the next instrument. Each track started with a drone, which was me playing a piano in the key of the planet for about a minute in a very stream of consciences way and using a sort of formula I came up with to play different intervals within each key based on each elements atomic number. I then took the recordings, which were about a minute each and turned them into a drone that was about five or so minutes long. I also used the drones as gaps between each song where it would change from one pitch to the next. For each instrument I tried to come up with different ways to stay within the context of each track. For the table top guitar I just played it in an open tuning for the particular key that was being used. For the standard guitar I knew what chords were needed for the key and stayed within those boundaries. For the drum kit it came down to what I used on the kit, particularly on the snare. I had a large 10” cymbal for the outer planets, the gas giants, them a smaller pot lid for the inside planets which are rock and a splash for the sun. I also have a large assortment of metal mixing bowls for which I have figured out their pitch. I was able to use just a few that fit in with the key of each track instead of using almost all of them which is my usual approach. What’s nice about the idea is that from the Pythagoran stand point the order isn’t the same as it is in reality. That way when I mixed each track in the actual order they are it wasn’t just a chromatic scale. Early on I knew I wanted it to be a physical release but at first I couldn’t figure out how to split it for cassette and really didn’t want to have it be a disc. The whole thing felt like a suite or something that had to be played all the way through. The way around this was actually quite simple and side B is literally side A in reverse. This ended up making a lot of sense to me since the album would then be a trip from outside of solar system, straight in to the sun and then back out again and the music was just the journey between planets. Part of the idea with making a physical release was that I came across a lot of old pictures in regards to alchemy. They all had no color and were basically outlines so I though they looked like coloring pages. There were enough that I really liked for me to assemble them in an order to make a coloring book. I originally wanted to find packaging that was much bigger than a traditional cassette case but I couldn’t so the booklet became pretty small, but in the end I think that the size makes me like it more.

Eponym by Sleight of Hand was released in September 2017 on Orb Tapes.  It used to be that any time I walked into a thrift store I was able to buy a metal mixing bowl that resonated well. For a while I was really adamant about it and ended up collecting quite a few. They were also really fun to incorporate them into my drum kit playing. After a while I started setting them all out on a table and using them as an instrument in my recording sessions while I was making studio albums. The idea of trying to base an acoustic improv band came from this and the idea had been there for a while when a show I was playing had the opener back out and I was offered to play two sets. It felt really natural that the other instruments would be clarinet and violin. Ethan had expressed interested in playing clarinet maybe a year or so prior when the thought first came to me. Hanna, his girlfriend, who plays violin was an obvious choice to be the third and I really love the interplay between them. At times I feel that my job is just to support the background while their two instruments intertwine with one another. At the gig it became really clear to me that we could get together and record an album of focused short track free improv. We ended up playing a weekday afternoon show at the Jefferson park library on the Chicago north side, then going to dinner and then recording the album. The live performance was completely different then what we recorded too, which I really liked. Although I sort of feel like the afternoon set was a warm up I do enjoy it a lot. It’s a really good example of more long form stream of consciences type of improv while the album is shorter takes that are more heavily involving us sort of feeding off one another and heading towards a common goal that we know isn’t more than five or so minutes away. An old friend who I used to be in bands with recorded it at the espresso machine repair shop that he works in so it was just a large garage-like room in an industrial part of town so it was really quiet except for us playing and a rainstorm outside, which actually comes through on the recording between songs. The afternoon set was also recorded and filmed. Sleight of Hand live.

Coffin Screws live sets (https://reidkarris.bandcamp.com/album/dec-7th-2016https://reidkarris.bandcamp.com/album/june-10th-2017https://reidkarris.bandcamp.com/album/dec-12th-2017). Towards the end of 2016 I started a new project called Coffin Screws. The idea was to have a group where myself on prepared guitars was the only constant member. At first I thought that each time it would be a different drummer and bassist and I did that a few times. In 2017 I started branching out with the project and putting together different kinds of groups. I did one that was a six piece (two drums, bass, keys, sax and myself) as well as one that was sort of a string quartet (drums, viola, cello and me) and then at the end of the year I formed a quartet (drums, keys, sax and me). Each time it was totally different but still very much the same idea. A lot of the same people were involved with each grouping and everyone came from a pool of friends that I know and have shared stages with. When I get a good recording from these shows I self-release them. In a way it feels really weird to have music that I made be available for people so soon after it was made, usually it takes at least a year when I record studio projects.

With efforts involving elaborate composition as well as free improv, how do you view that spectrum and your place(s) on it?

Improvisation is always the focus and the elaborate conceptual composition is usually a means to have some direction to the improv. Arbor Philosophica is a really good example of this. The composition was really a means to set boundaries for myself to work within. Once the backing foundational tracks were finished everything else was improv. I like the idea of setting up parameters to work within while recording in the studio. I find that it leads to recordings that have a very focused feel to them. Improv can be a strange thing to work with sometimes. When you are with other people you need to be willing to go in any direction that the music heads in and those situations are usually when I use the term free improv. But when you are with yourself it can be different and in a way I don’t think you can really play completely free improv when you are by yourself because there is less to feed off and less elements to drive the music in a certain direction. I also like setting limits for the improvisational playing I do by myself because it’s a good means of practice. I think that sometimes I get too caught up with all the various objects I have to use with prepared guitar and it’s healthy to back off and take a more minimalist approach. Also, a lot of times when I am recording there is a certain type of feeling that I am trying to convey and setting limits can ensure that I stay on course to get what I want.

Is any of the music you grew up listening to still influential in your own work?

While there is a lot of music that I grew up listening to that was influential to me but I am not sure much of it is still influencing my current work. I like to think of myself as a sound enthusiast and not limit myself to enjoying the sounds that come from what is commonly referred to as music. There is so much more sound out there to listen to and it really is all around us. During the summer there are birds and insects and those things but even in winter there are a lot of sounds. Just walk around your house and listen to the floor creak the heating system work or the ice making going in the freezer. The idea is to be mindful of what these sounds are. I am not sure when I really came to this realization but for some time now wherever I am it feels very second nature to be aware of the sounds around me.

Any formal training of note? Or are you self-taught, or some combination of both?

I am both, but I would say I am more in the realm of self-taught. My first experience with formal musical training was in fourth grade when I started playing trumpet, which I played until half way through senior year. In high school I really didn’t see eye to eye with the band director. He saw me as one of the kids in class that really didn’t take it seriously and I think he was right. It was the kind of thing where since that’s what was expected of me that’s what I did. At the time I really hadn’t gotten into jazz yet and didn’t feel like I had a real connection to the instrument. I started playing guitar in seventh grade and took lessons throughout high school. My teacher was a really talented player who could figure anything out by ear but I eventually realized that his own music didn’t have much taste to it. I think the most important lesson I learned was that there is a difference between taste and skill. You could have all the skill in the world but if the taste isn’t there it’s not going to be very interesting. I have always felt like I was very good at teaching myself things. Whether it was messing around with alternate guitar tunings and feedback or working to figure out how to play stuff on piano or teaching myself to play a drum kit. My life as a drummer I think predates everything. As a kid I was always banging on stuff, figuring out what rhythm was. Being an experimental musician isn’t something you can really have formal training for. I guess there is formal training you can have as an improvisor but I’ve never had any. To me it always seemed most important to know how to listen and even more importantly how to listen to everything that’s going on around you while you are playing. There is also an element of confidence that is needed and that can’t really be taught either. You have to believe that you know what you want in the end and work toward it. It’s not always a straight shot to the goal but I think that’s part of the fun.

Just about everything you’ve released is a “free” download. Obviously, this is great for us listeners, but do you think the online music world is beyond the point of no return when it comes to fairly compensating musicians?

It’s a really weird world that we live in and I think the idea of music as a commodity has really changed a lot in the last half century. The idea that music can be free or pay for shipping or whatever is a rather large step aside from the way in which recorded music has reached people. I think we’re starting to level out though cause it’s not like there isn’t still manufactured pop music for which the people involved are getting more than fairly compensated. I’ve released stuff on net labels where music is free or tape labels where the digital is free and cost of physical offsets the production and I like those worlds. The term “point of no return” is a little too much though I think. It’s more about how the concept of digital music taking its place with other media forms like tapes or records or whatever. Sometimes I think that there are not that many people who are interested in the music that I’m making so why not let anyone listen and hopefully find someone who wants to hear it. But music is not an income for me. In a lot of ways its always felt more like something I had to do more than I wanted to do. I have a family and a job and music is a side thing really. The question of how the culture of free music impacts those that make a living off music becomes somewhat different for people who do rely on music as income. I would like to think that the dust is settling and the concept of free music is starting to assimilate. In the end I like the idea that there are a lot of really great people out there making really great music and we have access to it. I recently blindly downloaded a new Lurker Bias record that turns out to be a free improv group from Italy that is amazing that I would otherwise never have known about. Those are still great moments, when you find new music that you enjoy and listening to it for the first time, that’s never going to go away.

Balancing work, a family, and your musical activities must be challenging – how do you manage to keep it all going?

Family comes first, work unfortunately comes second most of the time and then comes music. What’s worked well is that I’ve always been one to mull things over a lot so even though I don’t get to play music daily it’s usually what I’m always thinking about, so in reality when I say music comes in third that really only pertains to playing instruments. I like using the term sound enthusiast because I think it gets the point across, that it’s not just about music. Music is just the most widely used form of sound which we humans have found a way to work with, but for me it is about everything audible. I like to think of it in terms of being a musician that it is not always in the execution of making sound but in the way you think about sound. Playing instruments is just one way of making sound but I like that instruments can also be played in ways not intended and that instruments can be made and modified and invented. This way of thinking has worked out to blend nicely with a busy family and work life.

What do you have planned for 2018 in terms of releases, performances, personal goals?

The weird thing about studio recording is the lag time between finishing something up and having it released. With that in mind I am actually not sure if I am going to have a proper solo release in 2018. I have a project in mind that’s actually going to involve quite a lot of sound. Format for releasing music got me to thinking about possibilities and I really want to do something that is different. My first idea was to have an album released on a USB drive but then a friend of mine suggested mini sd cards what fit into a USB drive. That way each sd card could be its own album of sorts. This goes along well with what I am planning because I want it to be a few different things all released together. I have a bunch of tracks that are manipulations of voicemails that I have gotten and turning them into sample based pieces, most of them dealing with phasing. I am also working on some sample based long form drone pieces. I would like to record an improvised album utilizing a lot of found objects as well. In 2017 I started on expanding my solo performances to include an acoustic guitar and a small zither as well as my usual table top and on strap guitars and I would like to release some recordings of that set up. In all it’s probably going to amount to being way too much music but part of me really likes that. The idea is that I usually have different things going on in my head and I want to release them together instead of making each one their own independent release.

I have a couple of collaborative releases in the works too. Alexander Adams, who runs Lurker Bias and plays drums in Galaxxu, has become the most consistent drummer in Coffin Screws and this has led us to start working as a duo. We have played a few shows as a duo and also set up two recording sessions. From those sessions it looks like we’re going to have a solid 30 minute tape of duo music and we’re both really happy with what we got. This is going to be released on Personal Archives which is a label out of Dubuque, Iowa. There’s also a collaborative improv album that’s been in the works for a while now that more or less follows the same format as my past improv albums. The tracks started with me playing drums and then I sent them to Alexander to add more drums. I then added prepared guitars separately in different takes. After that I sent them out to a sax player in Rock Island, IL who does really compelling loud feedback effects stuff and he laid down tracks of saxophone feedback loops. It reminds me of the other things I’ve done that are similar but with the added bonus that it’s not just me and because of that the music has a different vibe to it. Even though Alexander plays drums on it I would say that it is more intense and heavier than our duo recordings. This one will come out on Lurker Bias and I’m thinking it will get released under the name Reid Karris Group or something like that as to differentiate it from my other Lurker Bias release which is just under my own name. These two albums are in the final stages so I am hoping they will come out by or before the middle of the year. As for the rest of the year I’m not really sure. I want to keep recording shows and have more Coffin Screws digital releases and maybe also digitally release some of the duo music performances and hopefully some more Sleight of Hand performances.

2017 also marked the beginning of me trying my hand at instrument building, particularly skatchboxes, which are cardboard boxes with a contact mic on the inside and things such as combs, washers, wooden dowel rods and other things glues to the top. They are played with combs that have been modified into different shapes that give different feels and sounds when you play. Skatchboxes were pioneered by a guy in San Francisco named Tom Nunn who makes other instruments as well and I’ve been aware of them for a long time but it was just recently that I started building and playing them. The sound is sort of like controlled white noise I guess. There are a good amount of instrument builders in Chicago and beyond as well. I am planning on putting together a show of instrument builders, probably from Chicago and Milwaukee, which has a great scene for experimental free improv. I would like to have at least five or six people involved and maybe to short duos and trios as well as all of us together.

In general I usually have this very antsy feeling when it comes to music and there is pretty much always something going on so it’s never been hard to keep myself busy.

AMN Interviews: Giacomo Bruzzo of Rare Noise Records

bruzzoThe releases from Rare Noise Records fit the label’s moniker in two ways – their noises are rare in terms of both being unusual in nature, as well as of uncommonly high quality. In existence for less than 10 years, they have put out efforts including Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson, Thurston Moore, Jamie Saft, Roswell Rudd, Trevor Dunn, Joe Morris, Balazs Pandi, Mike Pride, Wadada Leo Smith, Nils Petter Molvaer, and many others.

We have reviewed a number of Rare Noise Releases:

https://avantmusicnews.com/2015/03/22/amn-reviews-the-spanish-donkey-raoul-2015-rare-noise-records/

https://avantmusicnews.com/2015/03/08/amn-reviews-merzbow-mats-gustafsson-balazs-pandi-thurston-moore-cuts-of-guilt-cuts-deeper-2015-rare-noise-records/

https://avantmusicnews.com/2014/03/12/amn-reviews-colin-edwin-lorenzo-feliciati-twinscapes-rare-noise-records/

https://avantmusicnews.com/2013/10/22/amn-reviews-merzbow-mats-gustafsson-balazs-pandi-cuts-2013-rare-noise-records/

https://avantmusicnews.com/2016/07/01/amn-reviews-merzbow-keiji-haino-balazs-pandi-an-untroublesome-defencelessness-2016-rarenosierecords/

https://avantmusicnews.com/2015/10/12/amn-reviews-slobber-pup-pole-axe-2015-rarenoiserecords/

Rare Noise avoids dedication to any particular genre or style, and instead employs a multi-genre, multi-cultural vision for modern music in a modern era. Recently, label head Giacomo Bruzzo took some time to answer a few of our questions.

SD_RAOUL_15001500_300DPI copyHow did Rare Noise get started?

After spending the 90s studying economics and mathematics, I started this century working in finance. This career having proven financially but culturally not fulfilling I embarked on a path in 2005 to what I hoped would translate into a career in mathematics in academia and enrolled in a Ph.D programme in London.

I underestimated the pressure involved in pursuing this career, and set my aims too high by choosing a particularly hard topic of research: This lead to my having a breakdown two years into my research.

After several months of complete wipeout, and several unsuccessful attempts to restart my studies I sat at the bottom of a metaphorical well, unable to climb out, let alone see the horizon. These months proved essential though in allowing me to re-aligning my life priorities with my passions and inclinations. This prompted me to starting research on musicians I had long held a deep respect for (Bill Laswell, Otomo Yoshihide and Eraldo Bernocchi) with a view to writing and directing a documentary about their work, in order to shed light on crucial (but maybe not popularly known) actors on the stage of contemporary music of the last thirty years. I approached Eraldo Bernocchi in 2007 on MySpace of all places, bluntly asking for the opportunity to interview him, fully expecting him to decline. Surprisingly enough, Eraldo consented.

During successive meetings with him in Italy, we spent time confronting our views about the state of music across a whole spectrum of dimensions. These conversations lead to two live collaborations, a multimedia performance in Genoa featuring Eraldo, Nils Petter Molvaer and visual artist Petulia Mattioli (Liquid Light), followed by a live by Zu, Eraldo Bernocchi and Petulia Mattioli in Rome (Black Engine).

Eventually, in 2008 we decided that we should create a platform to fulfil our vision – thus RareNoise was born, with a view to detect and amplify the beauty and trends in contemporary progressive music, highlighting their relation to the history of the art-form, all the while not being bound and or clouded by pre-conceptions of genre.

CUTSOFGUILT_artworkWith the growing number of independent labels catering to all types of creative music, how does RareNoise attempt to set itself apart?

A very broad, internationalist vision, reaching out to listeners all
around the globe. Heavy continual investment in PR and communication. Absolute quality of recordings. Absolute quality of physical releases. Open-mindedness, and the desire to sense any change at the horizon.

Releases that consistently attempt to blow the listeners’ mind – emotional intensity being the key here. Deep relationships with the artists, which result in sincere and heartfelt collaborative work.

Also, we programme very, very far ahead (currently planning the first half of 2018).

710p-tjJEAL._SY450_While many of your releases are innovative, some of the works from Gustafsson, Merzbow, Pandi, Morris, Moore, Smith, and so on seem to be literally creating new genres. What has been your reaction to these releases in particular?

It’s all about the people. For example: the original Metallic Taste Of Blood by Eraldo Bernocchi, Colin Edwin Jamie Saft and Balazs Pandi generated two strands of multi-year collaborations, one with Jamie (leading the all Slobber Pups, The New Standard, Red Hill, Strength & Power, New Zion w. Cyro and many many more to come) the other Balazs Pandi, who was the ambassador of the first and second Cuts albums with Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore, and the trio with Haino and Merzbow, with more to follow in future. Our relationship with Colin Edwin and Lorenzo Feliciati (Naked Truth) lead to Twinscapes; Lorenzo E. Fornasari (Obake) and Feliciati created Berserk!, which itself lead us to co-produce a film called ‘The Nightless City’, which premiered in Taormina last year, whose soundtrack was the music of Berserk!.

So I guess we like to see our label as a book of stories, with the composers being the narrators, and the label hopefully one day being seen as a Canon or an Incubator.

unnamedThe market for music in general, and the creative music that you focus on in particular, is difficult at best. For instance, there are hundreds, if not thousands of releases per year, and it is easy for quality works to get buried in this deluge. How do you manage to keep the label alive and stay motivated in such a tough environment?

There certainly have been precedents in history for labels following a path not dissimilar from our own, off the top of my head Celluloid, early Rykodisc, Esp, Axiom; There certainly also are a number of contemporary independent labels pursuing similar lines of investigation to our own, again, off the top of my head and no pretension to highlight anything but my very own lack of knowledge, Rune Grammofon, Cuneiform, Clean Feed, Relative Pitch, Moonjune, Hubro, Tzadik. While the space is crowded, there is wide opportunity for novel curatorial approaches. Survival will be predicated on intensity of work, organically growing vision (e.g. not an excessively narrow one), quality of relationships developed with the musicians, quality and professionalism of relations with the customers. Never sloppy, never late.

We are indeed well funded, and the first years were tough, but things are turning around as the catalogue grows and churns (we will hit about 70 releases this year).

Nils Petter Molvaer at Moers Festival 2006, Ge...

As a label owner, how do you feel about the download and streaming markets? How does RareNoise coexist with these channels?

Streaming is a utility, like tap water. I buy bottled water, beer, wine, vodka … You get my meaning.

Merzbow, prominent Japanoise musician, in 2007

Where do you see the label going in the future? More of the same, or do you envision growing it or branching out in any way?

More of the same and therefore many more different unexpected releases.

What are the next few releases scheduled to come out?

September 2016 : Free Nelson MandoomJazz – The Organ Grinder
October 2016 – Obake – Draugr
November 2016 – Bobby Previte – Mass
November 2016 – Eraldo Bernocchi/Prakash Sontakke – Invisible Strings
January 2017 – Led Bib – Umbrella Weather
January 2017 – Reflections in Cosmo (Strønen, Møster, Ryan, Størlokken)
February 2017 – oRK (LEF, Edwin, Pipitone, Mastelotto)
March 2017 – The New Standard (II) (Saft, Swallow Previte)
March 2017 – JÜ – Summa
April 2017 – LEF – Hypersomniac (w. Kenneth Kapstad, Nils-Petter Molvaer, Eivind Aarset, Bill Laswell, Rebecca Sneddon)
May 2017 – Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor (Standards)
May 2017 – Mumpbeak II (Powell, Feliciati, Thorstein Lofthus)
June 2017 – GAUDI – Magnetic
September 2017 – MikroJazz (Gerschlauer, Fiuczynski, Garrison, Mikadze, DeJohnette)
September 2017 – Jamie Saft / Bill Brovold – Serenity Knolls
October 2017 – Lorenzo Feliciati – Elevator Man
November 2017 – Cuong Vu Trio w. Bill Frisell
November 2017 – Bernocchi / Quail / FM Einheit

We have seven releases in the works for 2018.

AMN Interviews: Jon Irabagon

jon_irabagon_06n4551Jon Irabagon was the winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, and is part of many recording and touring creative music groups. Aside from his work as a leader, he is a member of Mostly Other People Do The Killing, The Dave Douglas Quintet, Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys, The Mary Halvorson Quintet, and several others. Recently, Jon took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions.

What is your musical background. Were you musical from a young age, or did it evolve later?

I was into singing along with the radio and trying to figure out songs on the piano from a young age, but it wasn’t until high school that I was introduced to and became fascinated with improvised music. It started with Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Stitt but quickly expanded to John Coltrane and Steve Coleman, and from there, Evan Parker, John Zorn, etc. started informing my concept of improvising. I started listening to the music late but once I discovered it, I started expanding my listening palette quickly.

Your latest two releases on Irabbagast Records, Inaction is An Action and Behind the Sky explore two sides of your coin, so to speak. Were these recordings intended as companion pieces?

I had been wanting to do a solo record for over a decade, but it was a daunting idea, so I delayed it for a while. When we were putting the finishing touches on Behind the Sky, I realized that it was the right time to dedicate the rest of 2014 to
working on the solo record. They represent different polar aspects of music that I am interested in, but they can definitely be listened to and appreciated on their own individual terms. They are companions in that they both truly represent
areas of music and improvisation that I am interested in.

Irabagon_Inaction_Is_An_Action_COVER_ARTOn Inaction is An Action, you manage to traverse new ground in a territory (solo sax) that is well explored by big names such as Braxton, Parker, and Butcher. How did this recording come about and what was your approach with respect to evoking new sounds from your instruments? Were you influenced by the aforementioned individuals or any others?

As I said above, I’ve been wanting to do a solo record for a long time. I have a large collection of solo records, including ones from Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton and John Butcher but also solo records by Lee Konitz and Steve Coleman, and many more. I also started getting solo records by musicians on other instruments, including Nate Wooley, Albert Mengelsdorf and Axel Dorner.

Not only did checking all this music out give me an idea about the landscape of solo recording, but it also, more importantly, showed how many possibilities there are with doing a solo record. I wanted to take that expansive and “what-if” philosophy and work from that. I spent almost all of 2014 doing solo shows, trying out things in sessions and in rehearsal spaces. I was trying anything and everything to see what the sopranino would give back, and the record is the results of that experimentation. I’m looking forward to the next step with this format and this instrument.

You’re rapidly becoming a leader and side-man of choice in New York’s creative scene. Is it your goal to be so prolific, or is your recent productivity a natural result of being in the center of a rich music scene?

I’ve been lucky to meet so many great and innovative musicians since moving to NYC years ago. It’s been inspiring to hang and talk with them and see where they are taking their own music, and it helps feed my imagination and ideas for where I am heading. I’ve been fortunate to get to perform the kind of music that interests and challenges me and to have found musicians who can complement the areas I am going for.

Speaking of the New York scene and its richness, do you feel as if you are part of something special?

It is definitely a special time in creative music right now. There are so many musicians striving for new and interesting ideas, so it’s great to be in the middle of that. The musicians inspire each other, and over time, that inspiration yields unique and fascinating results. Many friends of mine are not only playing amazingly but also contributing something new and unique with their compositions, and it is a blessing to be around.

Can you discuss a few of the other bands you play with, such as those lead by Mary Halvorson, Dave Douglas, Moppa Elliott or Barry Altschul – for instance what are some of the similarities and differences in their respective approaches?

Part of the fun and the challenge for me has been to play with so many different bands and try to maintain my personality and voice in each. Each of the bandleaders you have mentioned have different musical goals and different ideas about what a band should be, how open or loose a composition or a set should be, etc, so it has been great to see so many different angles. It has definitely helped me as a bandleader to see these different takes on leading and picking and choosing which aspects I want to take from each.

I think the main differences come down to how each band leader wants to present their music and how tight / loose they are wanting the music to go and how much anarchy / democracy they want in their bands. The main thing that ties all of these bands together is that the bandleader has a strong idea of what their music says and represents, and I respect and love playing with all of them for that.

What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2015 and early 2016 in terms of performances and releases?

I’m currently on a lengthy U.S. / Europe / Australia tour with the Dave Douglas Quintet which will take up most of the rest of 2015. At the end of the year I’m recording on both Mary Halvorson Octet and Mostly Other People do the Killing Septet records which will come out in mid 2016. This month, in addition to Behind the Sky and Inaction is an Action, I’m on the new Dave Douglas record Brazen Heart, the new Mostly Other People do the Killing record Mauch Chunk and the new Barry Altschul record Tales of the Unforeseen. It’s been a busy time and I’m really proud of all these records.

I’ll be touring a lot in 2016, including a tour in Europe with my trio with Barry Altschul and Mark Helias and some dates in the U.S. with Barry’s trio. I’m also leading a new group with Matt Mitchell, Drew Gress and Tom Rainey, playing some of John Zorn’s new bagatelles, so we’re hoping to play several times over the year. I’m also currently writing a woodwind quintet and well as preparing the next Outright! record.

AMN Interviews: Brian Drye – Part 2

This is part 2 of Monique Avakian‘s extended interview with Brian Drye, founder of the Ibeam Brooklyn. Part 1 is published here.

Part Two: Networks of Support and Opportunity

by Monique Avakian

imagesBrian Drye, you’ve been running Ibeam since 2008. What’s challenging? What’s inspiring?

Challenging is the day to day boring stuff that no one would notice, like taking out the garbage, making sure the rent is paid and the lights stay on. It’s not that any one of the tasks is difficult, but when you put it all together, it can sometimes be overwhelming and other times pretty uneventful. It’s inspiring to see artists forming ensembles and working on their craft at Ibeam. It inspires me to keep working and search for my own voice as a composer, bandleader and instrumentalist.

What prompted you to start a creative music space in the first place?

I was looking for a place to teach lessons. It was as simple as that. I never intended to open a creative music space originally but that’s what it ended up becoming.

Have you achieved your original goals?

Yes – My original goal was to make the space functional for musicians and teachers as a place to work and create music comfortably and without distractions. It is a unique space, and I’ve worked hard to make it work and keep the bills paid and the space open with top level gear that is maintained. Beyond that I never had a grand plan, so now that the space is working and operational, I can look for the next goal and see what the space can achieve.

Would you describe Ibeam as a mirror, fuel, a magnet or unified field? (Please elaborate).

It’s all of those things in different capacities at different moments. There is no perfect space and Ibeam allows for a certain type of interaction between artists that is different than a club or a concert hall. It’s a mirror of the scene of creative musicians, but of course it’s not complete. But looking through the archives, it’s an amazing snapshot of artists, established and up and coming that are working in NYC. All of that fuels the scene and is a cog in the wheel of other DIY spaces and venues across the city. It’s a magnet for traveling groups who might find it difficult to book a gig in a venue without knowing the owner and hanging out all the time.

I’m particularly interested in how you are organized – is Ibeam a cooperative? A DIY group? A bee-hive? Some sort of syndicate? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your organizational model?

Ibeam is currently a for-profit business. Although the profit is tiny, it operates as such. It’s also a collective in that each member of Ibeam contributes to the space in exchange for using the space for rehearsals, concerts and teaching. The advantage of having one owner is that I get to make the decisions quickly when things need to happen. It’s helpful to not have to have a committee for every little decision that needs to be made. That being said, having a committee would be really helpful in creating a larger vision for the space. It’s too much for me to run it on my own and continue developing the vision. I would need to turn over the day to day operations to someone else and focus on the vision of the space. The members are really helpful, however, in bringing great work to Ibeam, great concerts and keeping a level of professionalism to the space that would only be possible with such a great pool of musicians. That is a unique structure made possible by the amazing pool of talent and unique artists in Brooklyn.

It seems really important for the larger culture to start to examine not only Ibeam, but other successful collaborative entrepreneurial models as well. What other groups/leaders on the scene should we be aware of, and how do you work together?

Ohad Talmor from Seeds is extremely dedicated to having an outlet for creative music. Occasionally we meet and discuss challenges and ideas for how to improve. He is currently partnering with the Jazz Gallery as they are mentoring him. I believe that there may be a future for Ibeam as well to partner with a larger organization that can help provide resources to keep it a vibrant space that lives on and grows in vision and scope.

P71358771-300x225Are there historical or international models of social/economic affiliation that influenced the founding/evolution of Ibeam?

Well, that’s funny – because one of my original thoughts when it came to having concerts was that I know how hard it is to get a gig in NY. At least it was really hard for me starting out, and I thought Ibeam would be a great place for young musicians to book a show. There are so few places to perform these days for creative music, and it seems that since I moved here in 1997 that the number of venues that would even allow this type of music are diminishing all the time. And the function of this music is often suited for a concert environment where the audience comes to listen without distraction. Certainly John Zorn’s club, The Stone, is a major influence on Ibeam as a space dedicated solely to music. Brooklyn has become, and will be for a long time I believe, the area most closely associated with cutting edge creative music. I’m not an expert on those trends, but I know that most nights of the week I’m performing in Brooklyn and very rarely in Manhattan.

In addition to high levels of independence and motivation, I observe that many musicians have a well-developed sense of empathy and firm sets of social skills. Do you think musicians have something special to offer the rest of society in terms of social and economic leadership?

I guess I can agree with that. All musicians have an amazing amount of grit and discipline that is required just to play an instrument, let alone be a bandleader or compose their own music. Jazz is an especially social music so musicians are forced to interact in order to learn about their craft, observe and communicate with artists. Music is still and always will be a social art since you need an audience to authenticate the work, and it has to happen in real time. I’m attracted to musicians who spend less time complaining and more time reaching for solutions to the issues of creating their art and producing it for an audience. iBeam is an answer to that in a way – instead of complaining about less venues, the musicians get together and just create one.

Some people are aware of these radically shifting times for musicians; others are clueless. How can the general public better care for and support musicians? How can we work together to raise an awareness that translates into concrete action?

Hmmm…that’s a great question. I think the simple answer to that for me is education. And it has to start at a young age and has to teach young people about the value of music in society and the value of musicians in society. This means putting working musicians in front of children and teachers all the time and turning students on at a young age to music that is dynamic, handmade, risky and challenging while still being entertaining and fun!

What’s the next step for Ibeam and/or the jazz scene as a whole? What developments do you see unfolding into the future?

The next step is to tap the resources of other great organizations that present creative challenging music such as Roulette and the Issue Project Room. I also see an opportunity for more engaging musician residencies where artists can present their work for several performances in a row.

AMN Interviews: Brian Drye – Part 1

imagesIn a follow up to our interview with Brian Drye last year, Monique Avakian digs into more detail with Brian, regarding his music, musical path, and viewpoints. Currently, Brian is the founder of the Ibeam Brooklyn.

Part One – Music and the Man

By Monique Avakian

I read in All About Jazz that you are a teaching artist for Carnegie Hall as well as a coach and mentor for music educators throughout the city. How do teaching and mentoring influence your artistic trajectory and vice-versa?

Yes, I have been a teaching artist with Carnegie Hall for about seven years, and currently I’m working with music educators in NYC giving them feedback and assistance with their strengths as educators and finding out where they can use some help. Teaching allows me to constantly explore new music and approaches to learning music that I would not be able to explore on my own. Being open as a teacher has helped me become more open as an artist. Additionally, Carnegie Hall employs amazing musicians and artists and it’s inspiring to be a part of the work they do there. I’ve had the opportunity to work in struggling communities, homeless shelters and with up and coming high school musicians. One of the most important residencies I participated in was the American Roots program which was focused on African American spirituals. I feel that working in that program ignited a passion for song and connecting to community that has been influential in my own work.

I read in Cisco Bradley’s, Jazz Right Now, that you moved to New York in 1997 – where were you before that and how did your earlier musical and personal experiences build a foundation for you to make that leap?

I grew up in Rhode Island with a musician father who didn’t push me too hard, but was extremely supportive of my efforts to become a musician. I made my way to Miami for music school and then immediately landed in NYC basically because I was obsessed with the music that was happening in NYC at that time in the “downtown” scene at the knitting factory. I grew up in a small town in Rhode Island and was always hungry for Jazz music. In Miami we played all the time but outside the school at that time there wasn’t much going on. I spent 3 months in the Lower East Side in 1997, and I knew there was absolutely no other place to be. I heard music every single night for 3 months, blew all of my savings, and I still to this day don’t regret it. It was my “backpack across Europe” moment.

Bizingas* new (and second) album, Eggs Up High, is coming out with a CD release show at Threes Brewing on November 3, 2015. Biziangas is a group with no bass player and a heavy infusion of electronic experimentation. How did that set-up come about, and musically what does that mean for the group?

I had just met Kirk and we started doing some sessions. I met Ches Smith and invited him to play with myself, Kirk and Jonathan Goldberger at an East Village rehearsal space, and I knew that was the right band. I’d been already playing with Jonathan and we had a chemistry, and I knew that this was the next version of the band. I had an original version of the Bizingas band with a different drummer and Jon as the guitarist. It was supposed to be a trio and then I realized with Kirk in the mix, it would possibly free me up to play keyboard which is something I’d been wanting to incorporate into a band for a long time.

Is Bizingas some sort of punk band?

We’re not a punk band. We are an art-rock, free-prog, jazz quartet.

The threading arc between Bizingas albums seems at once recursive and expansive – as leader and composer, do you spend a lot of time working on creating links between albums, or does long-term compositional threading happen more organically for you?

It’s more organic I guess. I know that there is definitely an element that makes a particular composition more of a Bizingas tune. I feel that this record actually comes the closest to that aesthetic. I purposely did not write a whole bunch of new music, but rather tried to focus on those Bizingas type tunes I already had and supplement with a couple new ones. The first track on this new Bizingas record is Hawaii and I wrote that in 1999. Probably one of my first compositions that I wrote in NY and it was never recorded.

What is poetic about sonic exploration? I see that you recently played live at The Stone with avant sonic composer Annie Gosfield

Annie is amazing BTW….

Do you ever feel that you might get trapped inside of the spectacle and gadgetry of electronics?

No, I love electronics and electronic sounds. I don’t always feel like it’s so easy to blend with electronics, but I like the challenge as a horn player to make it work.

You also play in several other configurations regularly: with your dad, Howard Drye in Drye & Drye, with Mike McGinnis and Sean Moran in The Four Bags, with Kirk Knuffke, and with fellow trombonists, Jacob Garchik and Curtis Hasselbring…How do these situations cross-pollinate and inform your musical development?

Jacob and Curtis are two of my favorite trombone players, and I am super lucky to be in their company. They are both my heroes on trombone and everything else. Mike and Sean I’ve been playing with since I moved to NY, and Kirk is a brother–we have a connection and sympatico that is very unique.

How does your work with Slavic Soul Party, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars and Banda de los Muertos influence your projects and artistic trajectory?

All of these bands you mention are first of all huge influences for me. Slavic Soul Party was an immense resource for meeting so many great musicians and cutting my teeth playing music for dancing. Plus getting to study music outside of jazz has been really helpful in opening me up to so much music from around the word. Frank London is a very special musician, a great showman and an inspiring leader to follow on the bandstand. And again, Banda is all about dancing, digging deep into cultures beyond my own, getting to experience that first hand through the music and playing with all my close friends. I am very lucky to be a part of all of those bands.

Technically, I’ve always been struck by your speed and accuracy on the trombone, especially when playing with other trombonists and horn players super rapidly in unison, with a stellar example being Track 4, “Along,” on Eggs Up High. What kind of techniques allow you to play at such an accomplished level? Is it a matter of practice hours or more of an overall mindset? And when you compose, do you push pieces to include room for such maneuvers?

Well – first of all – thank you. I don’t think of myself as a technically impressive player, but I do believe that anything is playable on the trombone. I don’t limit myself to what the trombone is supposed to do. In fact it took me a long time as a younger musician to accept all the great things a trombone can do so well naturally and the lineage of all the amazing trombonists. I do think it’s mostly a mindset in addition to some practice hours. I still put a couple hours a day into the horn, and I feel like I practice so much better these days than I ever did before. I still feel like I get a little better every day at the trombone. The trombone is a lifetime commitment just to improve slightly each day.

I notice that you also play piano and that you have a fondness for the organ. Do you think there’s enough funk in jazz these days?

I love the piano, and in my next life I’m pretty sure I come back as a jazz organist and that’s it. And no – I think jazz needs to still be more dirty, funky and gross. As Roswell Rudd says, it’s the “Fuzz” (the mystery) that makes it sound good!

As a musician and as a teacher, do you consider yourself a traditionalist or a radical?

Neither – I love traditional and radical and everything in between. There is a time and place for all of it–A time to rebel and a time to join. Without that balance it’s all pretty boring to me.

How do you encourage your students to develop a firm sense of fearlessness when improvising?

Well – I don’t prep them. We act first, and then we think later. I think that’s the first step. Later on you learn to think first and act and that’s much harder. I feel like I’m always struggling to act first more.

Is it important for rising young jazz musicians to gain command of complex meters in composition and improvisation? What do you advise in terms of study and approach here?

Yes, of course – learn all of it – but don’t worry if you can’t do everything that you want to be able to do. I’ve been playing this mixed meter flamenco tune for two years and even recorded it already with my chamber group, The Four Bags. And today I discovered that I could finally play it effortlessly. The struggle is great if we can appreciate that it will pay off in ways that we may not be able to quantify for many years.

How can a young person prepare for success in the jazz world today?

Move to NY, meet as many people as you can, play hard, work hard, practice well and don’t beat yourself up. Stay positive. That’s the hardest thing to do as a jazz musician.

And last, but not least: Can you speak about the evolution of beards in Brooklyn? You and Kirk Knuffke are really trend-setters in that regard, aren’t you? I’m not sure you guys get enough credit for that…

Hell, yes! I’ve had a solid beard since I was about 22, and when I met Kirk, I knew we were going to be friends based on his beard. I shaved it once since then, and it was traumatic for me – so I think it’s here to stay!

 {Part Two continues the discussion with a focus on Drye’s music venue, Ibeam Brooklyn}

Bizingas: Brian Drye – trombone / keys / compositions, Ches Smith – drums / electronics, Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Jonathan Goldberger – guitar

“Once” video, Bizingas: https://youtu.be/pkFo7ZDpEas

Eggs Up High: http://ncmeast.com/projects/eggs-up-high/

Bizingas 2010 album review by Troy Collins at All About Jazz: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/bizingas-brian-drye-ncm-east-review-by-troy-collins.php

 

AMN Interviews: Michael Zerang

DamageZerang41Michael Zerang is a Chicago-based musician, composer, and producer, who has been active in a wide variety of musical endeavors for over 40 years. While loosely associated with Chicago’s free-jazz circles, Zerang has participated in theater, dance, and other multidisciplinary forms, and appeared on over 80 recordings. He recently took some time to answer a few of our questions.

How did you get started with music? Was it something that appealed to you from early childhood or did it evolve later?

I had always been an avid music fan since childhood. When I was 16 years old, I hitchhiked across the country to California and up through Canada for 4 months. During the first week, I witnessed a concert by Rahsaan Roland Kirk at Keystone Corners in San Francisco. He blew my mind so thoroughly – actually altering my DNA – that I decided right then and there that I would pursue the musical arts for the rest of my life, especially the exploratory aspects. It was such a transformative experience for me that it has been driving me ever since.

You have been involved with the Chicago music scene for quite a while. How has it changed from, say, 1980 to today?

When I was coming up in Chicago in music in the late 70’s and through the 80’s, the art scene was much more holistic in that you’d have painters, poets, theater artists, performance artists and musicians all inhabiting the same spaces and scenes. In a way, it was a much richer environment to develop in because of all of this cross discipline. These days, each of these fields has their own spaces and audiences, and it’s harder for young artists to be exposed to the broader art practices. There are benefits to this, but I did gain a valuable insights from all of the cross fertilization of the arts.

With respect to free jazz and outside music, what are the differences between North America and Europe that you see as a performer? For instance, is the level of involvement and appreciation different?

The European scene has always been funded better, allowing for the possibility to actually make a living from exploratory arts practice. The audiences in Europe are great since they have had such a rich artistic heritage. That’s changing a bit these days due to economic considerations, but it’s still easier than in the USA. On the other hand, American artists, especially African American artists, have brought a music to the world that is awe inspiring and so vital, even through difficult economic and cultural situations. On balance, I’m glad I can straddle both worlds, as well as other regions of the world.

Aside from performing and recording, what other musical activities are you involved in?

From the beginning, I have been a composer, mostly in collaboration with other live art forms such as theater, dance, puppetry, etc. This has given me a completely different approach to music making and I have learned so much from working with these other disciples that I could not have by just working as a musician. I still am involved with these collaborations in my capacity as a composer to this day, and still gain insights that I couldn’t get otherwise.

coverYour two recent releases, Hash Eaters and Peacekeepers and Songs from the Big Book of Love seem to be companion pieces. How did these recordings come together?

Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights is a new project that came from my desire to compose music that dealt simply with rhythm and melody. I have been involved for over 25 years as an improviser, mostly dealing with extended forms and techniques. This band is much more straight ahead. Songs from the Big Book of Love contains eight original compositions that I fashioned for the players involved – Mars Williams, Dave Rempis, Josh Berman, Kent Kessler and myself – all frequent and longtime collaborators. Hash Eaters and Peacekeepers contains three additional original composition and three arrangements of Middle Eastern tunes that were favorites of mine since childhood.

Are there any musicians left that you would really like to perform or record with, but still have not?

The list is too long! But I am always looking to make new connections and collaboration. I’m not done yet!

Any advice for young, upcoming jazz / creative musicians?

DO. IT. YOURSELF!!!

Aside from your European tour with The Blue Lights, do you have any other upcoming events, performances, or releases that we should know about?

I am also touring with Survival Unit III, Joe McPhee, Fred Lonberg-Holm and me, in Europe this fall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band. I will be performing at the Music Unlimited Festival in November in Wels, Austria as well with Joe McPhee, Christoph Kurzmann, Isabella Duthoit, performing a tribute to Ornette Coleman, and I will end the year with the Winter Solstice duo Concerts with Hamid Drake that marks our 25th anniversary on December 21, 22, and 23.