AMN Interviews: Devin Gray

bio-page-picDevin Gray is a New York based drummer and composer who is carving out his own path through that city’s rich creative music scene. He has performed and recorded with innovative musicians of contrasting styles and backgrounds such as: Tony Malaby, Gary Thomas, Ingrid Jensen, Dave Burrell, Dave Ballou, Michael Formanek, Nate Wooley, Stephan Crump, George Garzone, Chris Speed, Drew Gress, Sam Rivers, Ralph Alessi, John O’Gallagher, Ellery Eskelin, Kris Davis, Ted Rosenthal, Uri Caine, Dave Liebman, Andrew D’Angelo, Vardan Ovsepian, Bill McHenry as well as many others.

In 2012 he released his first album as a leader, Dirigo Rataplan, and on June 9th, his second offering, RelativE ResonancE, hits the shelves.

Read our review of RelativE ResonancE.

What were your formative years like? How did they lead to your current endeavors?

I have been very fortunate to have somehow ended up in some really inspiring places and situations in the last ten years or so. When I was just starting high school I was exposed to great musicians (and New York City based) teachers at the Maine Jazz Camp. That inspiration lead to me going to undergraduate music school at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, where I was also very lucky to be around great musicians and teachers, and to create some strong lasting musical relationships. I then decided to continue to study in the masters program at Manhattan School of Music. Directly after that I moved to Brooklyn in search for the musical communities I’d been craving. Since then I’ve just kept working on playing, composing, and experiencing music as much as possible.

RelativE ResonancE is different in many ways from Dirigo Rataplan. Can you explain the different approaches undertaken for each of these recordings?

Dirigo Rataplan was like here is some music I wrote and spent some serious time working on, let me bring it to these amazing players, not say too much, and let’s just make music. Though I did have certain compositional ideas and events that I wanted to have happen. I also felt comfortable enough in knowing how to approach those guys in a way that I felt was responsible and honest to the integrity of the music. That idea plus some life experiences is Dirigo Rataplan to me. I am endlessly grateful to those guys and for that situation.

RelativE ResonancE is a slightly different zone for me although it’s coming from a similar space as Dirigo. This recording has more composition than Dirigo and even more structure to it. I’m always thinking about what will be fun for me, the music, and the players. What is it that I really like to do? I like studying combinations of music, compositions, styles, energies, attitudes, and personalities. I like thinking ahead about certain things with my music, and I like to dream of situations and reactions. It’s kind of like inspiration musical day dreaming for me.

Much of RelativE ResonancE has to do with me wanting to create situations for people, ideas, and platforms for expression. I’ve been writing music with this group in mind on and off for around four years now. I kept experimenting and finally came up with these concepts which I felt strongly about. It definitely took some time for me to be comfortable (musically speaking) with realizing what I had to throw myself into with this project. I’m always pushing myself to be a better player and bandleader, and some of the pieces on the record are more challenging for me as a drummer.

In my mind this record has more compositional “styles” going on then Dirigo. Three of the pieces are a little more “normal” functioning (City Nothing City, In the Cut, RealtivE ResonancE (for Tadd Dameron), and the other five pieces (Notester, Jungle Design (for Hannah Shaw), Transatlantic Transitions, Search it up, and Undo the Redo) are closer to the way I like to hear and try to express myself through music. The first of those five pieces (Search it up) was originally inspired by a piece of Iannis Xenakis, which the Dirigo band played on some gigs. I later adapted it for this group because there was something about it that was pulling me quite strongly in a direction that my ears and heart likes. The other pieces have numerous sources of inspiration within the compositions, and to me the results are kind of like free improvisation but somehow more centered.

Are there any unique aspects of being both a drummer and composer that have informed your works?

I’m always thinking about this…it really started when I took up playing / practicing and trying to perform on vibraphone years ago in college. Being in a group and getting to play melodies, and taking melodic solos? that was very different, exciting, and informative for me. But the most important thing I learned form that, or the thing that flipped my switch for the first time was hearing drums, and playing with different drummers but as another instrumentalist… That was kind of mind blowing for a while…really hearing what drummers would/could do from another position in the room/on stage…wow. It gave me and still does SO much more perspective on what drums can / could / “should” / maybe / sometimes sound or feel like. I learned much more about musical energies that way… Having that experience and carrying that information around with me changed the way I hear things as a drummer and composer very much still to this day.

That being said, I am more aware of what I do as a drummer that can fit or go against musical ideas, I feel comfortable knowing when I want to experiment in certain ways or not with out (hopefully) crashing something. But even as I write this I find me not agreeing with myself…its more like I still need much more experience doing all of this, and I do feel lucky that I hope to have MANY more chances and trying to be responsible with music.

Over the years the more I compose music, the faster at relating to it I’ve gotten. Certain parts of my process has sped up, and I view it like practicing and gaining more experiences and knowledge which in return pushes me into new spaces. I also feel slightly more informed when I’m improvising and composing what I like and dislike and want more or less of, I think in the end hopefully you get better at making decisions in music…

For RelativE ResonancE, I composed drum parts! Five out of the eight pieces have drum parts! This is kind of new to me, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it honesty. But it was fun, and a lot of them I composed on the kit, and edited later.

When (if?) you have any free time, what do you listen to?

I just bought Guerrilla Toss, and Karlheinz Stockhausen (studies I / studie II/ gersang der Junglinge / Zyklus Ffur zwei Schlagzeungernon on vinyl. I’ve only listened to one so far, and can’t wait for more time to investigate more deeply.

I like listening to recordings people give me when I’m traveling. It’s always fun and inspiring to come back and have a piles of people you got to meet and hang with and know first, and then get to check out more of what they’re up to.

Is there anyone in New York (or elsewhere) that you’d really like to play or record with?

In New York, Anthony Braxton
In Berlin, Alexander Von Schlippenbach
In Paris, Eve Risser
In Stockholm, Bobo Stenson

I’ve done some recent trio playing with Joachim Badenhorst and Kris Davis, Richard Bonnet and Tony Malaby, Andrea Parkins and Frank Gratkowski, Dave Ballou and John Dieker, Drew Gress and Kris Davis. Those were all different and really inspirational, and I’d love get those captured at some point.

Tell us about what you’ve got coming up in 2015 with respect to releases and performances, including but not limited to the CD release performances for RelativE ResonancE.

I am very excited to play at Greenwich House Music again on June 13th. It’s becoming a home for me and my music. I love what Bradley Bambarger is doing for the music community in New York with his Sound it Out series. This will be the series’ 100th show and I am honored to be apart of it! I’m hearing that the new CD will be basically free if you come to the concert. I am also very excited that it will be a double bill show with Matt Mitchells group with Speed, Tordini, and Dan Weiss!

As for 2015 and 2016 there are some exciting things in the works. There are some more TBA RelativE ResonancE gigs, some performances at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival this summer, some hopeful Dirigo Rataplan gigs in Europe, a gig with Dave Liebman, in NYC I’m playing at Jazz in Central Park and the Bluenote in July. More gigs in Berlin with many different groups and more TBA august Europe dates in August. Spring has another Europe tour with VAX, new trio gigs and tours in France, sideman gigs in Germany in the fall, and NYC projects and gigs with old and new friends. Things are moving forward and gaining traction and I’m feeling good about all of it. In the end, I’d say, please just connect with me and say hi!

AMN Interviews: John King

jk_new by Anna FinkeFresh off a residency at New York’s iconic Stone, versatile composer John King will be premiering a piece for six pianos in that city on Friday, May 22nd & Saturday, May 23rd, 8pm, at the Knockdown Center, 52-19 Flushing Avenue, Maspeth, NY 11378. He took some time to talk to AMN about his background and works.

Tell us about your history. How did you get interested in music originally, and how did it lead to your current output?

I always begin with my first live music concert which was the Muddy Waters Blues Band playing at the Guthrie Theater in my home town of Minneapolis. I was 14 or 15 at the time and can clearly remember the raw energy, the excitement, the power of the music. I had been playing electric guitar in some bands, but from then on I threw myself into Chicago blues, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and then some of the rock’n’rollers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was playing in 2-3 bands, had added Jimi Hendrix into my influences and with that came a whole new approach to improvisation, experimentation with sound, like that….At the same time, I was realizing there were other aspects to music which I hadn’t connected with, and very much wanted to, so a friend and I began studying 16th century counterpoint, I added violin and piano to instruments I was studying and I began to “compose” little pieces in those early styles – canons, fugues, chorales, even a short concerto for piccolo and orchestra! When I was a senior the school orchestra performed the concerto – my first big “concert” after playing many clubs and small venues around Minnesota. From there I studied composition more formally with a professor from the University of Minnesota, and he introduced me to the “classics” – Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, and even into the 20th Century with Debussy, Schönberg, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Cage, Boulez. And I was trying my hand at writing pieces with those composers as models. I did not go directly to college from high school but did those studies in the “gap year.” Then I applied to CalArts where I went for 3 years, graduating a year early and where I studied with Morton Subotnick, James Tenney and Leonard Stein. After graduating, I moved to New York where I settled in, writing more “uptown” music at the beginning, but then finding my way to the downtown improv scene, and also had the opportunity to meet John Cage after sending him a cassette tape of some of my music, and him writing back saying he wanted to hear more, after which he commissioned me to write my first piece for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1985. I owe a great deal to that long association with the artists, composers, musicians and dancers of the MCDC from 1985 to 2011 when the company ended. And along that way I was also working with various ensembles, string quartets, singers, other dance companies and at each stage exploring new ways of working, conceiving and imagining sound.

Your use of instrumentation is quite varied – do you start with an idea and then choose the instruments on which to express it, do you choose the instruments first, or is the process more complicated than that?

Of course, if the piece comes from a commission, then I’ll go with that instrumentation, and if it’s my choice for written music I often use the string quartet as my basic ensemble….which can be expanded to other colors as well. I’ve written pieces for string orchestra, percussion quartet and full mixed large orchestra for conceptual ideas that seemed to need realizations with those sonic colors. In about half my output I use live electronics which are like parallel compositions to the live acoustic music it is processing and transforming. When improvising or working in an open sonic ensemble I play electric guitar, electric viola, oud and recently ngoni.

Given the diversity of your compositions, your influences are hard to pin down. Are there any in particular that can be called out?

As I said before I think Jimi Hendrix as an explorer of sound, an experimental approach to the sonic moment – he was a big early influence. Then John Cage, who was doing more or less the same, but with different materials….also Mort Subotnick, David Behman and David Tudor for their approaches to electronics and live electronics as compositional systems.

How do you integrate indeterminacy into your composition, especially the operas?

For many years now I have been interested in time and its organization, so in the operas indeterminate aspects were used to organize time/duration/ordering of materials, as well as locations on the stage, orchestral parts, live video elements, choreographic uses of the same space shared with the singers. As a friend described it, I was constructing a massive “traffic cop” to say when/what/where singer A would sing “aria X” and then if that were happening, where/what/when/for how long dancers could share the stage with the singer, where would be the possible entrances/exits for the singer/dancers. It sounds very chaotic but when we did the opera “Dice Thrown” at CalArts, the collaborative team were very skeptical at first when I described the manner in which these parts came together, and came together differently for each performance. But then in the end, we did 3 performances, each different, with all these changing parts, arias, movements, choruses, video, stage design, live electronics, orchestral elements – all shifting for each show, yet everyone knew exactly what/where/when to perform and it all worked seamlessly and quite beautifully, without there needing to be any “director” besides a chance-determined “traffic cop.”

In 2015, do you think there still is a meaningful dichotomy between composer and performer?

My main teacher/mentor at CalArts, Mort Subotnick, used a metaphor about a composer having 3 “cycles” in the overall arc of working; first the “composer” has the ideas and concepts for the work; the “performer” realizes those ideas, whether by writing out the parts or playing the parts herself/himself; and then there is the “audience” or listener of the work who then determines how close to the original idea the realization and the performance of the work actually is. His idea was that then the “composer” re-evaluates the entire previous work’s cycle and that, then, informs the next work taken on. And this cycle continues. My reflection on this is that there really is NO separation between composer and performer, that there is a constant shifting back and forth between the 2 aspects of sonic imagination and creation.

John King Knockdown Image onlyTell us about your upcoming performances in New York. How did they come about and what should we expect?

The next concert I have is taking place at the fantastic Knockdown Center in Queens, a multi-disciplinary 50,000 sq. ft. space with amazing sightlines, acoustics and atmosphere. The work is titled “Piano Vectors for 6 pianos in a large space” – there will be 6 amazing pianists: Jenny Lin, Laura Barger, Taka Kigawa, Ning Yu, Tania Tachkova and Joseph Kubera performing on 6 Steinway 9-ft concert D grand pianos placed throughout the Knockdown Center space. The 6 pianists are each soloists in a way. They each play similar material but perform this material within what I call “time-vectors” – durations of time which are randomly determined and which cause the musical material to be compressed or expanded based on the individual decisions of each performer. So again, at each performance the materials will take on different shapes and be placed in time and space at varying points. The audience will be encouraged to move around the space, being close to or very distant from the pianos and therefore be active participants in how they experience the time/space/sound of this composition.

What other projects, live or recorded, do you having coming up?

I have a piece written for the wonderful soprano Ariadne Greif being performed at Pioneer Works May 30th, as part of the Ferus Festival 2015. It’s a new piece called “of all the stars the most beautiful” which is the entire text fragment of a poem by Sappho. This is one of many pieces Ariadne will be performing that evening as part of her “Dreams and Nightmares” project. I also have a premiere in November, for the Mannheim Ballet (Germany), for mixed women’s chorus and string quartet, using texts based on the themes of time found in T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” And sometime in the fall, a recording of my piece “ars imitatur naturam” for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus will be released on their “Black Mountain Songs” CD.

AMN Interviews: Guy Barash

barash_homeGuy Barash is a modern classical composer. His works include orchestral, chamber, vocal, and electroacoustic compositions, as well as music for theater. He has also incorporated text in various settings and arrangements. His recent release, Facts About Water, was a highlight of 2014. Recently he took some time to answer a few questions.

I understand that you developed an interest in music very early in life. How did this interest begin for you?

Since childhood, back in Israel, music has been a big part of my life. Neither of my parents is a professional musician. However, they both played an instrument, and there was always music playing at home. At the age of four I wanted to play the violin. So I did. For almost two years, my mother and I took weekly Suzuki violin sessions. Then I wanted to play piano, too, and started taking lessons. At the age of 11 I decided to add guitar to the mix, and then bass… I started my undergraduate studies in music composition right after high school. At the University of Haifa I met the composer Arik Shapira. He became my first composition teacher: harmony, counterpoint, aural skills, solfège, orchestration, what not. The Nadia Boulanger style. Through chorale dictations, and endless fugues and other exercises, that was the only way into the secret world of great composers! Oy.

I admit, though, it taught me discipline, which is a trait that can be very helpful for composers. More importantly, Shapira was the one who really introduced me to electronic music. After spending some time in studios, learning basic techniques, I became his assistant. In the few years prior to moving to New York I realized all of Shapira’s electronic scores. I learned so much from this process. I personally recommend that every young composer spend some time as an apprentice. This is the best way to learn.

My first piece was a tape piece. A dark, acerbic electronic miniature for the end of time as we know it. So much teen angst! But fixed media didn’t satisfy me. I discovered Max/MSP and whole new world of sound opened up. I began experimenting with the possibilities. And they were endless. Through these experiments I refined my sound world, my approach, and my style. Whether I’m writing for electronic media or for traditional instruments without any processing, “electronic thinking” informs both my palette and my perspective.

In 2008 I moved to New York for graduate studies at NYU Steinhardt. Among my most influential teachers were Joan La Barbara and Morton Subotnick. That experience liberated me and my writing in ways that I’m just starting to understand. You grow up learning invaluable skills, imitate your teachers, your idols, but then what? How does a young composer establish a unique voice? It was then when I found that small seed that could grow into my compositional language.

Were you immediately drawn to modern classical music, or was that passion developed over time?

At four I unfortunately hadn’t discovered modern music. The first time I remember hearing modern music was at around the age of 14. One day I arrived to a guitar lesson and when I entered there was a Stockhausen record playing. It immediately caught my attention, and we spent most of the lesson talking about what the hell this was! That was basically the only good thing I took from my guitar teacher. But hey, that’s big!

Your music seems primarily composed.  Do you incorporate elements of improvisation as well?  Can you discuss your compositional approach in general?

I am particularly interested in exploring the juxtaposition of improvised materials with composed ones. For example, in some of my works you can hear one instrument, or even a section improvising while another is playing composed materials. That provides the frame, or the limits for the improvised material. Sometimes, for instance in my piano piece Talkback IV for piano and computer, you hear one hand playing composed music while the other is playing freer gestures. This is the source for some of my favorite textures.

However, even my improvised sections have their rules and limitations within themselves. I am constantly looking for new ways to convey, and graphically represent improvised sections, and their limitations, in a way that will really encapsulate the type of improvisation and its characteristics. Basically to create a bank of improvised events. It helps me refine the process that I described above, to hear the improvised elements more clearly in order to anticipate what will work well with certain composed elements.

Your use of time is interesting – various foreground and background voices seem out of synch at times, but in a natural but disturbing way.  How did this style develop?

The perception of time in general interests me. And specifically in music, the way we feel time passing, the sense of pulse, synchronicity, and how all of these relate to each other. I play on these things, the expectations that make us believe we can measure time, or even feel when sequences or events are synchronized or not. It also relates to the subject of memory, which is something that I am now exploring further in my music. I think it started from searching for new ways to create the sense of polyphony. The juxtaposition of free and notated materials, and the interplay between foreground and background create the illusion of polyphony.

You have been curating performances at several New York venues of late.  How did that start and how is it going?

I have been curating the Eavesdropping concert series for over five years already. Originally, it started at The Tank and lasted there for three years. Then I moved it to Spectrum two years ago. I do it completely voluntarily. I believe there is a lot of value in having a place for more adventurous musical explorations within the new music scene. I try to trigger a conversation between composers, performers, and audience members. I choose settings like Spectrum, that are more intimate, in order to bring these, the components of a lively contemporary music community, closer together. It’s a healthy dynamic that we need to nurture.

The series, Eavesdropping, keeps evolving every season. Next year I am thinking to have more workshop-like installments where audience members could actually participate and learn something new.

893coverYour release, Facts About Water, is quite involved thematically.  Can you expound on its pieces and the meanings therein?

The album, Facts About Water, captures a small yet important fragment of my artistic journey. It is a snapshot of a cycle: inspiration, reflection, creation that started one day at the local bookstore as I was looking for text to set to music. I came across the poetry of Nick Flynn, which began a new cycle. After playing with his words for a while I had the idea that this exploration can evolve into a bigger project.

I reached out to Nick without knowing too much about who he was and what else he wrote aside from the poem Imagination) that moved me; it had a rhythm that immediately translated into music. After a quick chat on the phone we decided to meet. What I didn’t know was that this meeting in a Brooklyn café one evening in the Fall of 2008 would develop into the ongoing fruitful collaboration that it has.

At the time he was working on a new book. I had the fortune to see raw materials, to get a rare glimpse into Nick’s process. It inspired me deeply. We started working on Proteus, an evening-long multimedia oratorio that explored central themes in post-9/11 American life. The piece was premiered at Galapagos Art Space, and presented again at The Tank alongside video projections by Jared Handelsman and Brendan Byrne. Concurrently, the same raw texts grew into Nick Flynn’s second memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb, in which he includes many water references. This is something that resonates with my aesthetic. Water is the source, and I usually start composing a piece with a very simple thematic material that provides the source from which the larger structure evolves. A series of prose-poem like miniatures, fragmented chapters, assemble the memoir.

One of these fragments is Facts About Water that provided the title for the album. I find the title very ironic. Water is something that’s always changing, transforming, while facts are constant, fixed, dogmatic even. To me it is a metaphor to forcing rules on things that don’t want to follow them by nature.

In my first string quartet, Wrong Ocean (the title is also from The Ticking is the Bomb), you can hear multiple layers or sequences of sonic events, that at times may sound conflicting, but constantly want to synchronize. All within a microtonal environment that can feel very disorienting to both the performer and the listener. It reflects the state of mind that I was in while writing the piece. At the time I was going through a personal process that was somewhat confusing and disorienting. It redefined the way I see and perceive things, transformed me in a way. I think Wrong Ocean really captures the transformative quality of that moment in time.

Originally, Blind Huber was an audio-visual rendition of seven poems from Nick Flynn’s second book of poems. In his book, “Flynn invites us to consider the intricate geometry of the beehive. Our guide to this new world is Blind Huber, loosely based on the eponymous eighteenth-century beekeeper whose fifty-year obsession uncovered most of what we know today about the hive.” I derived my structural and textural palette for this piece from the geometry of the beehive and the sonic environment within and around it. For his video projections, Jared Handelsman had documented a yearlong cycle of honeybees around the Catskill Mountains.

The piece was commissioned by Electronic Music Foundation with support from Jerome Foundation, and premiered at Greenwich House. Seven Testimonies is based on early versions of Nick Flynn’s poems from The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands. The poems, as Flynn describes in his endnote, “are redacted versions of the testimonies of seven Abu Ghraib detainees.” In the original Proteus oratorio they were separated into seven ritornellos that served as the Greek chorus. Proteus is a monologue for male voice and electronic processing. In Greek mythology Proteus is an early sea-god. He can foretell the future, but will change his shape to avoid having to; he will answer only to someone who is capable of capturing him. In the piece, with compositional and electronic means, I am trying to portray the shapeshifting quality of Proteus, to capture him.

Facts About Water was produced by Elliott Sharp and released on Innova Recordings in May 2014.

Let’s talk influences.  I hear George Crumb and Fred Lerdahl.  Am I close?  Which composers have played the largest roles in the development of your approach?

György Ligeti, Luciano Berio, Iannis Xenakis, and Gérard Grisey had much deeper influence on my aesthetic. So did Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Pixies, and the Tiger Lillies, whom I used to listen to a lot as a teenager. And John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter as well. In my music I always try to achieve the rawness that they had in playing so naturally.

However, my biggest influences are extramusical: film, poetry, and visual art have had a significant role in defining my aesthetic. We artists are all trying to solve the same “problem”. It is more interesting to me to see how artists from other disciplines approach it. I feel like I can learn more from them.

What do you have coming up in terms of performances and releases that we should know about?

The next installment of Eavesdropping is Sunday, May 17th, 7:00pm at Spectrum. Kate Dillingham, an avid proponent of the music of living composers, will present a versatile program featuring works for cello and electronics, including my most recent Talkback, which I wrote for her. For those who can’t make it, here is the recording from the premiere:

In the past two years, as part of my fellowship in the American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice program, I have been developing a new opera, Alice Invents a Little Game and Alice Always Wins (Libretto: Nick Flynn). It is about homelessness, and I am now looking for a new home for it.

AMN Interviews: Nhung Nguyễn (Sound Awakener)

CAMANhung Nguyễn composes and performs experimental music that straddles the lines between ambient and electroacoustic. Based in her home country of Vietnam, she has recently released a series of recordings on her Bandcamp page. She recently took some time to answer a few questions.

How did you get started in music composition, in particular, the type of music that can be found on your Sound Awakener releases?

I started composing and improvising music in 2009, after discovering experimental music at the end of 2007. In 2011, I formed my solo project Sound Awakener and eventually released my stuff in 2014.

What are your influences? I hear some GRM and maybe Robert Scott Thompson as well. Am I close?

Honestly, I have to say I don’t really have a certain musical influence and I usually have no interest in finding out the answer for that. It may be confusing, but personally I tend to focus on creating music more than thinking about one.

What is the scene like for experimental music in Vietnam?

It is a small scene but pretty active one. In Hanoi, where I live, there are about 20 – 30 artists working on experimental music, ranging from electronic, noise to free improvisation (to see an almost complete list of experimental artists, festivals and venues for experimental art in Vietnam, click here).

I have just finished my energetic March with 2 live performances. One was part of World of Sounds tour, including both performance and workshop with two artists I really admire – Vũ Nhật Tân and Nguyễn Hồng Giang. The other was curated by The Onion Cellar/Moon Gramophone at CAMA ATK in Hanoi. I admire their energy and enthusiasm a lot to organize the show and bring an upright piano for me. It was really nice to share the stage with thisquietarmy and Glitter Troff.

From your Bandcamp page, it appears that you are releasing music every month or so. Some of this music is several years old. Are you working through a backlog of recordings, as well as new material?

Yeah I love to release tracks that I have done a while before. I am now listening to the material done in 2013 and 2014 and considering release some of them, as well as working on new tracks

Outside of experimental music, what do you listen to?

My taste is wide. I still listen to pop, rock, jazz etc as well as traditional Vietnamese music. It is always good to discover the hidden beauty inside every genre.

What projects do you have coming up in 2015?

In 19th April the new album of me and Linear Bells will be released by Soft recordings (digital and CD). The album is titled Belonging to the Infinity and the material is mainly ambient. I also have other collaboration going on, upcoming shows (including playing on the opening day of Hanoi Soundstuff 2015) and lots of experiments to be worked on.

Read our reviews of Ms. Nguyễn’s recordings:
September Traveler

AMN Interviews: Ted Zook

tumblr_inline_mllxrlDWH71rkbrrhTed Zook is primarily a nylon-string guitarist, but he also plays basscello through digital signal processors and a variety of digitally-processed, non-traditional analog instruments such as bowls, rainsticks, slidewhistle, whistle-flutes, oceanharp, etc. He began his study of the guitar in Chile and Uruguay (the latter under the guidance of Luis Acosta), and continued upon his return to the U.S. in the early 1960s under Sophocles Papas. Currently, Ted plays regularly plays experimental music in the Baltimore / Washington DC area.

Recently, Ted took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. In doing so, he has produced a fairly comprehensive overview of his local scene.

You have been studying and playing various types of improv and creative music for quite some time. Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be doing what you do today?

Early attempts at the piano in the mid-1950’s were fruitless, probably due to my lack of application (compounded by a lack of a “fire in the belly”). I was in second grade at the time and, truth be told, more interested in electric trains…

We relocated to Chile in 1957 (my dad was in the Foreign Service) and I began classroom guitar lessons around 1959 or so. Oddly, the first lesson was “Oh Susannah”! In 1961, he was reassigned to Uruguay, where I progressed to private lessons with Luis Acosta, whose business card is clipped to my music stand to this very day. Sr. Acosta got me started with reading music (something that I’ve never truly mastered) with more focus on classical technique. Clipped next to Sr. Acosta’s card is that of the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, who was a fellow-voyager on a 2-week Delta Line passenger-freighter voyage (the DEL NORTE) from Montevideo to New Orleans. Although the ship had a piano, it was in horrible shape, so Maestro Ginastera had a 2-week vacation from his drawing board as well. At the age of 66, it is sobering that Maestro Ginastera passed away at the age of 67 . . .

The major influence on my development as a guitarist was the late Sophocles Papas, whose students included Charlie Byrd, Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, Mama Cass Elliot and Sharon Isbin. I also studied jazz guitar under the late great Frank Mullen, who performed with Wes Montgomery, Charlie Byrd, Larry Elgart, Herb Ellis, John Hartman Dick Meldonian, Les Elgart, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eddie Fisher, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Sergio Franchi, Marvin Gaye, Bob Hope, Tom Jones, Horace Heidt, Carol Lawrence, Ed McMahan, Sandler and Young, Rip Taylor, Tony Martin, Julie Andrews, Steve Allen, Barbara McNair, Bobby Rydell, Bill Conti, and Skitch Henderson. Modest fellow that he was, Mr. Mullen never mentioned this to me — he was probably the least affected and coolest person I’ve ever met.

In later years, I came to the realization that a great teacher, even if no longer on this plane, is always at one’s elbow offering mute guidance to the sincere student.

Shortly after graduating from college (VA Tech; BA in Political Science), I began a project with Larry Buck, a phenomenal B-3 and piano player and vocalist. Although it was very satisfying from an artistic standpoint, we never got commercial traction and, after giving it our best shot, went our separate ways.

I then took an extended hiatus. Fatherhood and the attendant responsibilities, followed by an extended series of eldercare obligations, resulted in my guitar having long hibernations in its case, although I’d get it out once every blue moon or so.

In 1999, my daughter Rebecca, a cellist, got me interested in the Music for People improvisational association then led by David Darling I have attended somewhere between 60 and 70 MfP workshops (I’ve lost exact count) since then, and have been conferred the title of Honorary Graduate by that organization.

The Baltimore / DC scene is smaller than that of say, New York or Chicago, but still seems vibrant. How has it evolved over the last decade or so?

The local scene has been pretty much the same over the past decade, at least as far as I can tell. Music-wise, Baltimore/DC is a scene of incredible diversity and depth. There’s a tremendous classical presence, with the Kennedy Center’s Symphony Hall, Opera House and Eisenhower Theater; the concert series at the National Gallery of Art and the recitals at the Phillips Collection, not to speak of the cultural outreach programs by the many embassies located in DC .

The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage offers free performances every night of the year; I was privileged to perform there a few years ago in the Twenty-first Century Chamber Ensemble in the Sonic Circuits Festival of Experimental Music. In addition to its annual festival, Sonic Circuits also hosts performances throughout the year; the Lost Civilizations experimental music project, one of the projects in which I perform, is scheduled to perform in a Sonic Circuits event on January 24, 2015.

The following just scratches the surface; a comprehensive listing of performances in the DC area is posted at

There are also a number of locations that feature experimental music from time to time: Arlington’s Galaxy Hut, IOTA Club and Café and CD Cellar; in Alexandria there is St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub; in DC there are the Black Cat, Velvet Lounge, DC9, the Black Squirrel (where I’ve been curating a “Third Sunday” residency in the Indie Adams Morgan series), Green Island (where I’m curating a fifth Saturday residency in the Indie Adams Morgan series), Ebenezers Coffee House; in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, there’s the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, which generously lets the Sonic Circuits community use its gallery on a frequent basis.

In Baltimore, there is the High Zero Festival of Improvised Experimental Music, which also has performances spaced throughout the year at its Red Room venue, addition to its annual Festival at Baltimore’s Theater Project. The High Zero collective also hosts monthly improvisation sessions at its Red Room performance venue, usually on the first Sunday of each month. I’ve had the good fortune to perform at the Red Room with pedal steel virtuoso Susan Alcorn and Mike Sebastian, my collaborator in the Lost Civilizations experimental music project (here’s a link to a free download of that performance:

Baltimore’s An die Musik recital hall is a marvelous institution, which offers a comprehensive program that includes experimental music. The Lost Civilizations experimental music project has performed there three times so far — and we’re looking forward to a return engagement. Here are links to free downloads of our An die Musik performances:;;

Although I’ve been involved with both scenes to one degree or another over the past decade, there haven’t been any significant changes. Between the two, there is a steady offering of the best in improvisational and experimental music by artists from all over the world.

You spent quite a bit of time studying with David Darling. How has that influenced your playing?

David Darling has had a profound influence on my development as a musician, not so much in terms of cello technique (although I perform on a NS Design Basscello/Omni Bass, I’m not a cellist), but in terms of musicality and more fully opening my soul to the Muse. His encouragement has changed the course of my development and enabled me to leap into the arms of the Muse in ways I would have never envisioned prior to my path crossing his.

David Darling’s philosophical outlook has provided invaluable guiding principles for my journey:

-Music is the only source of energy that I have known in my life that gives humans a chance to be instantly transformed into spirit.

-The Spiritual Significance of Music: I believe that the the spiritual significance of music is an intelligence, and consciousness that we are all given by our life. Babies in the womb respond to music and as our ears our emptied of the water at birth sounds/music begin their profound influence on our life. Music is the highest spiritual entity that I know about in my life. Music transforms our daily life moment by moment. We walk, run, dance, sing, chant. whistle, hum, groove to music our entire life. We are moved to tears by music and of course it is the key element in all rituals of the human experience. We are born into musical sound, and we pass to the next dimension with music as our friend and guide. 

One of the sadness I feel about modern civilization is that the birth right to be musical has been taken away from many humans who have suffered from very narrow minded and uninformed teachers of music as well as society in general when there is criticism of any human of failing to sing or groove to some artificial standard. 

What we know about music is that it comes to each individual in a personal way and when our outpouring of singing or grooving is approved of and encouraged great things happen for each individual. All of us succeed when we are surrounded by love rather than negative action.

-Human beings need to express themselves daily in a way that invites physical and emotional release.

-Musical self-expression is a joyful and healthy means of communication available to absolutely everyone.

-There are as many different ways to make music as there are people.

-The human voice is the most natural and powerful vehicle for musical self-expression. The differences in our voices add richness and depth to music.

-Sincerely expressed emotion is at the root of meaningful musical expression.

-Your music is more authentically expressed when your body is involved in your musical expression.

-The European tradition of music is only one sound. All other cultures and traditions deserve equal attention.

-Any combination of people and instruments can make music together.

-There are no “unmusical” people, only those with no musical experience.

-Music improvisation is a unique and positive way to build skills for life-expression.

-In improvisation as in life, we must be responsible for the vibrations we send one another.

You seem to have embraced the digital era, releasing many of your performances digitally and for free rather than go through the formal process of an album release. Why have you chosen this approach? Do you think that this is how music will be distributed in the future?

I’ve witnessed the transition from shellac 78’s (which were still being manufactured in Uruguay when I lived there, because the country’s grid didn’t reach far into rural areas at the time and wind-up record players were still being used, along with Kerosene-fueled refrigerators) to 33-1/3 LPs & 45s (although both are “microgrooves”, they initially required incompatible playback equipment) to 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs to DVDs to mp3s to BluRays — I guess 1-bit/DSDs are next, and as matters seem to be evolving, back to vinyl!

I’m very fortunate in that digital technology enables me to record, with reasonable quality and a very little expense, all of the performances in which I’m involved and to share that which the Muse brings through me and my collaborators as widely as possible, free-of-charge. At this point in my trajectory, my view is that the gifts of the Muse are not “mine” to keep, much less monetize; rather, because they were shared with me I feel an implicit obligation to share them widely. Of course, were I to be approached about releasing this material commercially, well, I have a lot of bills to pay — and I’m eyeing a jazz guitar (and appropriate amp)!

My work with Emily Chimiak, an amazing vocalist and violinst (, is on a trajectory hopefully leading to a release sometime in the future. In this project, we are setting poetic musings of Emily’s French great-grandmother to song, in French, together with some more contemporaneous material, also original.

A serendipitous stroke of good fortune was Massimo Croce finding out about the Lost Civilizations experimental music project. His Italy-based Ozky e-sound netlabel has released three of our recordings to date. There’s an interesting backstory to this: Sig. Croce lived in Cairo for several years, drawn by the wonderful streetsound panorama there, which provided the sonic palette for his personal sounddesign work. Sig. Croce is a prominent scholar/musician in the field of experimental music and biographer of the trailblazing Luigi Russolo. Sig. Croce somehow found the Lost Civilizations experimental music project on the Internet, which led to him releasing Lost Civilizations VII @ Sig. Croce subsequently released The Lost Civilizations experimental music project with Angela Morrish — Live at Arlington’s CD Cellar, then, Live at Audiofest 2012, which was published on the prestigious Modisti website Sig. Croce has also released a solo work, T. A. Zook Basscello, which has been published on Modisti.

Your work with the Lost Civilizations experimental music project are unscored, unrehearsed and completely improvised. Is there a “bag of tricks” that you and your collaborators fall back on during these performances or is it more of a free-for-all?

Although my collaborator Mike Sebstian does introduce favorite themes from time to time, our performances are more of a free-for-all. By “free-for-all” I don’t mean chaotic; rather, we are attentive listeners to each other as an improvisation develops, carefully focusing on dynamics and freely giving the “gift of silence” when it seems right to do so.

If you had the ability to do any one thing of your choosing in music, what would it be (e.g., playing or recording with particular individuals, playing in a certain location, etc.)?

The predicate of this question, “any one thing”, makes it hard to answer. I by no means wish to imply that it’s an unfair question at all; rather, it’s one requiring considerable thought. I guess that the best response would be to record a release of one of the projects in which I’m involved, produced by David Darling, who has a studio in Goshen CT.

Wrapping things up, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to share a few more quotes.

My teacher’s teacher, the great Andrés Segovia, whose insight into the essence of music is revealed in the following:

… sonority and its infinite shadings are not the result of stubborn will power but spring from the innate excellence of the spirit.

Eduardo Falú, an Argentine who is my favorite singer/songwriter of all time:

Composing . . . there is nothing more beautiful and difficult … I wander and wander with the guitar until that moment I am waiting for arrives. One has to be ready to grasp inspiration from the air because it is very elusive and can slip away so easily.

Chilean artist Alberto Ludwig Urquieta:

El universo es tremendamente creativo, lo que nos obliga a abrirnos a lo desconocido… (The universe is tremendously creative, which obliges us to open ourselves to the unknown …)

A very thought-provoking observation shared by Renato Ciunfrini:

Life is more ancient than death.

LaDonna Smith:

Every human being should have a musical instrument.

From “The New Atlantis” by Sir Francis Bacon (written in 1624!) with thanks to Sound on Sound’s April 2008 issue and in tribute to the late Daphne Oram of BBC’s The Radiophonic Workshop:

We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds and their generation. We have harmony which you have not, of quarter-sounds and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep, likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which, set to the ear, do further the hearing greatly; we have also divers strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and, as it were, tossing it; and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice, differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.

An excerpt from an address to parents of the incoming freshman class at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division at Boston Conservatory (brought to my attention by the incomparable oboist, english horn player and singer-songwriter Marianne Oisel):

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us.

Yusef Lateef:

To me, it feels as though there’s a kind of aesthetic thread running through the improvisational musics of the world … if you’re alive and your heart is beating, you’ll find it, and that’s what makes the relationship between you and the world.

Sun Tzu:

Opportunities multiply as they are seized

— to which I add has been very true indeed in my experience!

Finally, here are a few of the thoughts that keep bubbling up when my mind wanders:

The less I think, the better I play; I play the best when I think the least.

The older I get, the less I understand and the more firmly I embrace that realization.

The older I get, the less time I have . . .

Thank you very much for affording me this opportunity to share my journey!

AMN Interviews: Eivind Opsvik – Part II: The Artist Beyond


Interview with Monique Avakian

Read Part I of this interview

Part II: More

The Artist Beyond

opsvik 2
Jacob Sacks, Tony Malaby, Brandon Seabrook, Kenny Wollesen, Eivind Opsvik.  Fresh off a European tour to Italy, France, and Slovenia (photo by Tiziano Ghidorsi)

Interaction with the natural world seems to be a big part of your being – can you speak of nature’s role in your life and work? You seem to be an oarsman of some kind…

Growing up in Norway, it is such a sparsely populated country with a lot of open nature that even without really trying it will somehow affect you. I can’t claim to be a big outdoorsy type, but I do enjoy nature, like everybody else. In my family, we have a wooden rowboat modeled after the old Viking rowboats. There’s something very calming about rowing this “historic” wooden boat, even when sometimes motorboats zip past. I think where one grows up definitely affects one’s creativity and artistic output.

Machines also play a big role in your creative life – you have a lot of interesting equipment, both new and old. Can you reveal for us your relationship with a few of these contraptions and what a particular machine or two might bring to your creative trajectory as a musician, and also as the head of Loyal Label Records and Greenwood Underground Music Studio?

To me having an instrument collection and various recording equipment is like having more colors available as a painter, especially for my duo, Opsvik & Jennings.

We record all instruments ourselves and are always looking for the right instrument / sound for any particular tune. [This kind of palette is also relevant] for the, ‘ A Thousand Ancestors’ box set. Even though it was centered around the bass, I still experimented with lots of different ways of recording the bass and overdubbing and also orchestrated the tracks with subtle use of other instruments.

Other and Current Projects

Your composition Twelve Days (Overseas I) was picked up and expanded upon in another context with Paul Motian, Mat Maneri and Jacob Sacks— a CD entitled, Two Miles A Day. How did this come about and what was it like for you to hear that song evolve?

That song I came up with on the bass right around the recording of the first Overseas album. That little song always was special to me so when it came time to do the ‘Two Miles A Day’ album a few years later. Jacob Sacks and I agreed on bringing in five tunes each, and I soon realized ‘Twelve Days’ would sound beautiful in this context, so I added a third harmony part to fill it out a bit, and brought it in to the recording. Motian, Maneri and Sacks knocked it out of the park. I’m very happy with that version and proud of that record as a whole.

Sound Cloud Taste: Twelve Days

I know you have an exciting project upcoming with photographer, Michelle Arcila

Yes, this is the project I’ve been working on for the past few years, and it is finally ready for release on December 2nd this year. The idea for the project goes pretty far back: I got asked to contribute to this Norwegian art and music festival at the now defunct Monkey Town in Williamsburg in 2008. That was a place that was really laid out for having visuals (big screens on all four walls for projections, etc.).

So, photographer Michelle Arcila (who is also my wife), and I decided to put something together. We’d always been mutually inspired by each other’s work, so doing something together was very natural. After that first show, we continued brewing on the idea, and we did some more shows with solo bass and photo projections, so we decided we wanted to release it in physical form. Quite a few years later, “A Thousand Ancestors” is finally here. The project is a limited edition box set (numbered edition of 500), designed by Espen Friberg. The set contains a ten-track vinyl LP (plus a CD and download card), ten photographic prints, each of which correspond to a track on the record, and a poster. “A Thousand Ancestors” is released by Brooklyn based record label, Loyal Label.

I first started recording the music in my basement studio in 2011. The starting point and framework [came from] my solo double bass performances, which, as I mentioned, sometimes had projections of Michelle’s photographs. But when it came time to record this music, I intentionally did not put any limits on myself. I decided to orchestrate the bass-centric pieces with subtle overdubbing and other studio techniques. [I also used] light touches of other instruments, like lap steel guitar, a 1950’s Hammond Solovox organ and some percussion and drum machine. The process sometimes included having specific photo prints with me in the studio, and sometimes I just let the general theme and mood of the project serve as a guideline and inspiration.

In this day and age where less and less value is put on a physical product (CDs in particular) and on music, it became a very gratifying experience to work on something that really takes the album experience to a different space entirely. I also like how it crosses and blends art genres (or maybe erases genres) and kind of exists in a space of it’s own. We are currently working on fine-tuning the live presentation of it.

Video Taste, A Thousand Ancestors:

A Strange Gratitude (from A Thousand Ancestors)

Sound Cloud Taste, A Thousand Ancestors:

Are there other current projects you’d like to share with us?

I am happy to say that Opsvik & Jennings, my instrumental odd pop collaboration with guitarist/ tunesmith Aaron Jennings is still going on. We are currently in the middle of releasing a new 10-track album called: Lune. One song is being released digitally on the first of every month. The first song was released on July 1st so there are still a few more to come. Check out to stream and download, where you can name your own price. This project is also recorded and produced by me in my basement studio–a fun process where anything is worth trying out.

Sound Cloud Taste, Opsvik & Jennings:

The Artist – History and Future

What do hope for at age 88?

I hope to still be sharp enough to be able to read some of the books I can’t seem to find the time to read now.

Are there other artists in your family, and, if so, how have they impacted your life’s work?

My father, Peter Opsvik, is a furniture designer, artist and musician and one of the most creative people I know. Obviously, he is a huge inspiration. And my wife, Michelle, is an amazing photographer and artist. She also has a very good sense when it comes to music and is my best and hardest critic.

Who are the people who have influenced your creative development the most and in what ways?

Like earlier mentioned, my father. Also, a very good friend and unique bassist in Norway, Bjørnar Andresen, who is a contemporary with Jan Garbarek and Jon Christensen on the Oslo scene. I got to know him well in the late 90’s. I learned so much about music and life just from hanging out with him–such a spirit. He sadly passed away ten years ago. Latley, my wife and daughter inspire and influence me. And I still learn a lot from my peers.


Upcoming Shows:

check @LoyalLabelNY

Overseas at the 2015 NYC Winter Jazz Festival – venue, date, time tba

A Thousand Ancestors

Event: December 13th

New Revolution Arts

7 Stanhope Street, Bushwick

Opsvik @ Nublu Jazz Fest, December, 2015 – tba

Selection of other fine writings about Eivind:

AMN Interviews: Eivind Opsvik – Part I: Overseas


                                                        An Interview with Monique Avakian


            * beginnings

            * relationships

            * music


            * the artist beyond

            * current and other projects

            * the artist — history and future






Youth Hopeth All Things, Believeth All Things (live at La Poisson Rouge)


OVERSEAS: Katmania Duskmann (live at Nublu)




opsvik 1Did you know that the Overseas series would continue when you released the first CD in 2003? What was going on in your life at that time, and when did you first start working on the songs?

            I did not know then that the Overseas name would be the name of the band or the series of records. It was early 2002 when I first decided I was ready. I wanted to make a record of my own, and I had been in NYC for about four years, finding my way and playing with a lot of different musicians. I had definitely found a group of musician friends I felt I was on the same page with. I had also been writing more music, so I started to work out the direction, the instrumentation, who plays on what tunes, etc., etc.

            The first record kind of had two different bands on it, one that was made with my buddies from the Manhattan School of Music (like Loren Stillman, Jeff Davis, etc.) and another band where I sought out some musicians I really dug, but didn’t really know that well, like Gerald Cleaver, Tony Malaby and Craig Taborn.  Jacob Sacks and Dan Weiss were also on those sessions.  The songs were mostly from the last few years leading up to this, plus a few older things that I reworked. 

            As far as the name, “Overseas,” it was the name of one of the songs. I also liked it as an album name. I really like the word, as it describes a place, but not a specific place…and, it is always another place than where one is at the moment. The term fits my reality: when in Norway, NYC becomes “overseas,” and then this goes other way around when I am in NYC.

            When I started doing shows after the first record came out, I also started to call the band, “Overseas.” When I was about to release the second record, I had trouble finding an album name I liked, so I decided to build on the brand name, (ha-ha), and just call it: “Overseas II.” I think in this age with such an unbelievable amount of music and information, it can sometimes be smart to keep it simple and build on something.

At this point, as you compose for the next in the series (Overseas V), do you go back and listen to the entire set and purposefully gather various musical ideas, sounds or concepts in order to connect motifs, concepts or themes? If so, can you give a specific example of this?

            No, I don’t really do that. I believe that connection and continuity come naturally since it’s all coming from my head. And by the time I’m done with a record, it is something I put behind me in some ways. Then it’s time to look for new ideas and inspiration, and in a way start fresh.

When you examine the parts in terms of the whole, are you ever surprised by what you discover? Do you ever come across sounds or musical thoughts that perhaps function as foreshadowing in some way?

            Yes, there are definitely elements in the compositions or orchestrations or whatever that I evolve and mature. I would say the first two records are coming out of similar concepts, while on Overseas III, and also Overseas IV, there is more of an abrupt change. You can tell it’s from the same aesthetic, but, for example, on the third record, I was kind of done with “jazz solos” and wanted to do more of a concept record where it was more about the mood and timbre of the music–a lot of more ambient and static stuff, but with color…. I was at the time deep into Brian Eno, Morton Feldman and stuff like that, but also into more basic rock stuff, like Neil Young and Pink Floyd.

Does it get easier or more difficult to avoid the traps of cliché and predictability as you continue on with this series? Overseas IV is quite fresh and surprising in many ways….

            Hmm, I can’t say I’ve met the wall yet, but I also allow my self time between records. I’m not stressing anything and can go and brood about it for a long time, and then one day I feel like I have it ready in my mind. For Overseas V I ‘m still not quite sure what direction to take. I have a few different options floating around in my head. We’ll see. I have been focusing on some other record projects recently…but #5 will definitely come one day, be it in two years or ten. I also want to play more with the band live and do some more touring–get the music out there. I feel like our last record still can be heard and enjoyed by more people. As I release on a label without much publicity, touring helps with that.


You have a lot of long term relationships living inside of this music. Jacob Sacks and Tony Malaby have been with you on each album, and you’ve been playing for years with Dan Weiss on Overseas and in other contexts (*) as well. How do these relationships impact your compositional and improvisational processes for Overseas?

            Jacob and I met in my second year at the Manhattan School of Music. We clicked musically right away, and we have kind of come up together. Jacob is an amazing musician on all levels: I’ve learned a lot playing and hanging out with him. The same goes for Tony Malaby–we’re all on the same page when it come to improvising. We love the unexpected and have an aversion for the formulaic and “perfect.” And I also know that they’re always playing for the music. It’s not about getting to play long solos on top of a rhythm section, it’s about the collective creation of sound and music. When it comes to composing, I have their sounds and approaches in my head. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. The same goes for Kenny Wollesen and Brandon Seabrook, such distinct and unique players: I know that they will bring the music to life.

Kenny Wollesen has brought in several of his constructed percussion inventions for the project — can you talk about how his Marching Machine and Spinning Contraption came about for Overseas IV?

            Kenny has been making his own instruments for a good while now–really creative and unique sounding inventions. The Marching Machine was Kenny’s idea to bring in. It was on this tune called, “Youth Hopeth All Things, Believeth All Things.” I had written on the drum chart: “play like a hundred timber men chopping wood,” so Kenny said his Marching Machine would be the perfect sound for that, and it was! As far as the spinning contraption, he calls it, The Angelic Grinder. I think I just told him to bring in a bunch of stuff to the recording session, and we decided to use it for the track, “Silkweavers’ Song.” It has a great ethereal and mysterious sound.

How do you collaborate with Jacob Sacks on the choice of instrumentation? What goes into the choice of a celeste, harpsichord, Farfisa organ, piano, Wurlitzer or Fender Rhodes for a particular song or album?

            It’s become a thing now — so much so that people ask, “What keyboard is the next record going to feature?” I admit it, I have a thing for keyboards, especially old, weird ones, and I have a growing collection in my studio. 

            It has kind of just worked out so that a specific keyboard has been the sound for each album. The first one had Hammond Organ and Fender Rhodes, the second one, a celeste. Overseas III had the Farfisa Organ (which I had bought just a couple of months before the recording session). And, for #4, I rented a harpsichord. 

            I have to give Jacob credit for turning me onto the idea of the harpsichord. He had been talking about it for a few years–that it would be cool to record on that instrument. I was brewing on it for a while and then started to realize how a lot of the material I was writing was perfect for it. The harpsichord definitely dictated much of the direction for the last album, much more so than any of the other keys, which in some ways worked more as coloring.  

            The harpsichord also fit right in with other things that had inspired me for Overseas IV, like the Marie Antoinette movie by Sofia Coppola. I loved the way the visuals and the music came together in that. I had also been [getting deeper] into 18th century European history, so it all created a nice framework and mood for the album and the music: a concept album of sorts. 

            For the next record I might go back to having Jacob play only piano, ha-ha.

And what’s it like working with Tony Malaby?

            Tony is amazing. He’s one of those musicians who always gives one hundred percent and is emotionally involved in the music, no matter if he’s just warming up or playing a small club gig or a big festival.

How does the recent addition of Brandon Seabrook affect the trajectory and scope of the project? How did this alliance come about?

            It happened very naturally.  Malaby was out on the road a lot, and we were playing Nublu in the East Village frequently…this was in 2009 – 2010. I couldn’t really picture any other saxophonists, so I asked Brandon, and it was amazing. He’s so free with the music, and I never know what to expect, which I love. It took a while before I had both Tony and Brandon on a gig, but that was fireworks, too. Now we can do a full band or a four-man version with either Malaby or Seabrook–it’s all swell! Brandon is my favorite guitar player now, no question, and I’m really happy he’s in the band—he’s a busy man.

Overseas and the Music…

You have a lot of in-the-pocket, embedded, overt and subliminal funk in Overseas: Quickstep (Overseas I), Tilt of Timber (Overseas II), Michelle Marie and Youth Hopeth (Overseas IV). How do funk and jazz connect for you?

            I’m not sure I would call it funk, but that being said, I love real funk, the old stuff. But I think lately some of the rhythmic inspiration has come from bands like Joy Division, Fugazi, the B-52’s…New Wave stuff. For the early records, I was deep into Miles’ late 60’s /70’s so-called “electric period.”

The Overseas series also has a hard rock sensibility, even before the addition of Brandon Seabrook. Yet, I would never use a term like “fusion” to describe your music. Can you elaborate on the rock facet in Overseas?

            Again, I guess it’s how I hear my music. I was never able to write a good “jazz” tune anyway, so I just went with what I was hearing. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the direction a lot of contemporary jazz composing has taken. I find a lot of it boring and unimaginative: formulaic.  There are, of course, exceptions but…I guess my point is: that’s not where my head is when I compose. I know some people call jazz, “creative music.”  I think that’s an insult to all other music–all music is creative, and I have to say, lately I find so much more creativity in other genres. But it’s all just good or bad music, I guess.

What is the relationship between jazz and classical music on Overseas?

            I love a lot of classical and contemporary-classical music. I studied classical bass for four years at the music academy in Norway, (the Norwegian State Academy of Music), and I got really into it then. I was never that good or comfortable playing the music, though — too many rules and no freedom, but I have so much respect and admiration for composers like Richard Strauss, Olivier Messiaen, Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg, Ligeti… and many more. But I’ve never really studied their compositional techniques in depth, I just let myself be inspired by the impact [that music has] on me. 

            I have a soft spot for orchestral music. There is nothing like the sound of a great symphony orchestra, or string section! Love that sound. I have a dream of writing for Overseas and strings–I really want to make it happen, but for that to happen I need to do some serious studying and focusing — it’s a whole different animal [and one] that I have a lot of respect for.

You also have a high degree of sound-play on these Overseas albums. Redford (Overseas I) carries sounds suggestive of the pop and crack of vinyl and on Jacob Plays Celeste (Overseas II) we hear the typewriter in accompaniment. And, of course, there’s Kenny Wollesen’s inventive sound work. Additionally, both you and Tony Malaby bring out the “non-note/beyond notes” from your respective instruments. How do you come up with these sound-based ideas? Are you engaged in a willful juxtaposition of opposites or is it more loose and organic?

            It’s mostly improvisational: whatever we hear at that particular point in time. To me, it’s all just sound. I don’t really differentiate between, let’s say, a beautifully played C# and the sound of the bow hairs hissing against the strings, for example. Whatever makes musical sense at that point in time–and I believe that goes for the whole band–without it being a topic of conversation. We all have experience with multiple directions: like, for example, noise improv, electronic music and contemporary classical, so it’s all part of our palette. To take this sound thing one step further–I think this is probably why I’ve always been so involved in the whole process: orchestration, producing, recording, mixing, mastering…to me the sound, the mix, the ambiance of a track can make it or break it. It is really fascinating to me, and I love that there are no rules: only one’s imagination and aesthetic sense lead the way.

Your work conjures such a high degree of imagery and narrative for me — I can’t help but think of film and film scores. I also notice a lot of movie references in your song titles and you mentioned the influence of the film, Marie Antoinette. Would you elaborate some more on how film inspires your music? And, are you actively involved with film-score composition at this point? Is Overseas, in essence, the basis for a film?

            I’m glad to hear that you get visual impulses from the music. A lot of people say that. It’s not something I’m conscious about when making this music, but I guess my thing just has that quality about it. I do like movies (who doesn’t) and can often be very touched by good film scoring–the same goes for cinematography. I haven’t actively pursued film scoring, but would be down to try should the opportunity present itself. I hear it can be a very long, drawn-out and particularly (at times) frustrating work, though.

I notice you had a lot of inventive promotional ideas with Overseas IV: you had a download card to pass on to a friend, a really cool poster insert and a crisp vinyl short as an insert. This was all very engaging. What inspired these treasure~chest elements?

            Just the realization that in this day and age the CD has become a disposable object of very low value. I put a lot of emphasis on packaging and design–I’ve always been interested in Graphic Design and art, so adding a poster to the CD and little things like that just adds to the experience and “value” somehow, at least to me…. Vinyl is more of a collector object, and it’s fun to do. For Overseas IV, I made a 7” (single) with two songs, but also [inserted] a download card for the complete album.

Based on the pattern of release dates so far (2003, 2005, 2008, 2012), can we expect 2017 to be the year of Overseas V? Any plans of playing the entire series of five albums in one or two long performances?

            No plans as of now to play all the records in a live setting like that, but it’s a cool idea, if the right occasion presents itself.  Yes, maybe 2017 is a realistic goal for the next one.

If the Eivind of the first Overseas met the Eivind of today, what would each recognize in the other and what might you make for dinner?

            [Both of us] would recognize a deep love of music of all kinds, an aversion to doing things the same way as everybody else, and for dinner I would maybe set off a day and make some real Mexican food. (I never tried—I believe it’s hard).



(*) Note: Eivind Opsvik plays with David Binney, Jacob Sacks and Dan Weiss every other Tuesday at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, 10:15pm

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 Part II — coming next!

AMN Interviews: Darius Jones

Darius_Jones_by_Peter_Gannushkin-1Darius Jones is a saxophonist and composer who defies genres and labels. His music incorporates jazz, soul, classical, avant-garde, and several other categories in a seamless fashion. His new album, The Oversoul Manual came out last week, and features The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit performing a purely a capella work.  Recently, he answered a few questions from AMN.

Five years ago, your name wasn’t popping up very often. Now, you’re all over the map. To what do you attribute your rise in notoriety?

I’d like to know what map you’re referring to. From my perspective, I’m just doing what I’ve always done, which is to work hard, be honest, and not compromise my artistic integrity. Notoriety is not my objective, but I appreciate that people are listening to the music and can only hope that continues.

Your latest album, The Oversoul Manual, is a departure from your jazz trio and quartet work. As an a cappella recording, on the surface it seems like a giant leap. How did the album come about, and why the emphasis of vocals?

I grew up in the church, and I was surrounded by vocalists from a very early age. I was a choir director and a vocal coach at one point in my life. So, for me, this is not a departure or a leap or anything. Vocal music and vocalizing has been a component of all of my music from the beginning. The Oversoul Manual came about through wanting to focus on the voice and ideas that I had for the instrument itself. I feel that the voice is one of the most fascinating instruments that we have. So in many ways The Oversoul Manual is my way of drawing attention to this thing I love. Plus give four vocalists, Amirtha Kidambi, Sarah Martin, Jean Carla Rodea, and Kristin Slipp an opportunity to develop their craft in a focused and open environment. This is the reason I originally created the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit 13 years ago.

How does The Oversoul Manual fit into your other recordings in the Man’ish Boy series?

The Oversoul Manual is the start of a new chapter in the Man’ish Boy series. From the mythological perspective of the series, it is the origin story of the character Man’ish Boy. The first three albums reflected more on the beginning of my life leading up until now. This new chapter is a reflection of my life in the present. The voice is something I am presently very focused on in my instrumental and compositional work. Also it was at the core of my ideas in the first three albums. The voice is where I was born.

The album was the focus of your Carnegie Hall debut on October 3rd. How did that show go? Did it meet your expectations?

The Carnegie Hall performance was other-worldly. The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit gave a performance that was powerful and humbling. They left everything on the stage. I feel so grateful to all those who were there to see it and hear it and witness my composition brought to life. I’m not sure my expectations could have been met in any greater fashion. All that I truly hope for is that this was just the beginning, and The Oversoul Manual has the opportunity to be performed again and again.

Isn’t there a mythology behind your music? Is it something of a Sun Ra thing?

I wouldn’t say what I’m doing is completely like a “Sun Ra thing.” I would say it is very much an African American thing. Sun Ra is a major influence on me. I connect with his idea of being disconnected from this world and this time. I feel that when we talk about the mythology of outer space and alienation, it speaks to the African American experience because what has happened and is happening can make you feel that you do not belong here. What inspired me to want to create a mythology of my own is the idea that there is power in a story, and we all have a story. My mythology straddles the line between reality and myth in that there are elements to the Man’ish Boy epic that are connected to my own life experience. Man’ish Boy is me.

Your saxophone phrasing is rather unique. Who are your influences and how did your personal style evolve?

My saxophone playing is very much influenced by my desire to vocalize through the instrument. Over the years I have worked to strip away the saxophonistic elements of my sound to get closer and closer to a pure vocal quality. When I think about the control, virtuosity, and power of a vocalist like Leontyne Price, or the timbral, imaginative phrasing and soulfulness of Betty Carter, I am awakened to the reality that saxophonistic linguistics is not enough to truly express all that I desire in a musical moment.

You music just cannot be pigeonholed…jazz, classical, soul…are you intentionally eclectic or did it evolve naturally?

I love good music and I want to create good music. For me, there is no style. There is no genre. There is no One Way. This is just a love thing, and the more organic the process, the better. It doesn’t matter what you want to call it, I just want to feel it in my soul.

What do you have coming up in the way of releases and performances?

In addition to The Oversoul Manual, I also have a record out right now on Aum Fidelity with Matthew Shipp entitled The Darkseid Recital. We are playing at UMass, Amherst on October 23rd. I just finished recording an album with my quartet and French vocalist, Emilie Lesbros, which will come out next year. We’ll be performing in France this November. Later this month, I’ll be heading to the West Coast with Eric Revis Quartet, and at the end of November I’ll be back in France with Nasheet Waits Quartet.

AMN Interviews: Keir Neuringer

tumblr_m9j3f7gYuS1rf6q6mo1_500Keir Neuringer has an intensely physical approach to saxophone improvisation, and plays analogue electronics and Farfisa organ as well. Although he was trained as a composer and jazz saxophonist in the US, he spent two years on a Fulbright research grant in Krakow. He then moved to The Hague, where he spent eight years, curating performative audiovisual art and earning a masters degree from the experimental ArtScience Institute. He currently lives in Philadelphia and continues to travel widely to present his work.

How did you get started in music?

“Musician” has been part of my identity since I was a child. Though they were not musicians themselves, my parents inspired my creativity. Listening to a lot of recorded music was part of the culture at home and whenever we were in the car. I was given violin lessons at age 3, started making up my own music on the piano at six years old, and began learning saxophone in public elementary school. There was a drum set in our house a few years later, and my parents gave me space and time to compose, experiment, and make a lot of noise. I was one of three friends in a tight-knit social circle during high school whose parents basically turned the basements of our houses over to us for rehearsal space. And the band director at my high school, Carl Strommen, was immensely supportive, encouraging me to take private lessons, to improvise, to write down my compositional ideas, to study music after high school. I wasn’t precocious, and I was never forced to practice any instrument. But I was raised with the privileges of access to instruments, lessons, and practice space, by people who thought highly of music and musicians. I’m deeply fortunate for all that!

Compare U.S. and European scenes for creative jazz – what are the pros and cons of each?

A generalization that I was able to make when I lived in Europe, from 1999 to 2008, was that there seemed to be higher quality gigs there, as I experienced it: better venues, better promotion, more eager and informed audiences, better remuneration for artists. I’m not sure that’s accurate anymore, for a number of reasons. I think the gap has narrowed between the US and Europe, not because things have improved here in the US, but because they have deteriorated in Europe. I’m thinking of what “austerity” means not only for artists, but for the socio-political culture’s attitude toward creative and life-affirming endeavors in general.

Whether we’re talking about cities in the US “rust belt” or in Poland or Holland (the countries where I lived), wherever there is a passive lack of support for (or an active antipathy towards) creative music, there are artists experimenting with great determination against heavy odds. One thing that always bothered me in Europe was that every so often I would encounter a lavishly funded project that had no audience and made no attempt to connect. I reject the idea that funded artists must “go after” the largest possible public and make work with the greatest mass appeal. On the other hand I dislike the idea of the artist living apart, coming up with ideas without any relevance to society, without any relationship to their neighbors.

How is the Philadelphia scene in particular? Are there enough opportunities for you to record and play?

I have been in Philadelphia for just over two years and I love it here. That doesn’t mean things are always great, but that I care about situations and want them to improve. Philly is a city with a deep and living history. We have the good fortune to still be able to go out several times a year to see Marshall Allen perform! Among some great local shows, in the last few months Ars Nova Workshop brought Ingrid Laubrock’s group to the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Fire Museum Presents brought Amir ElSaffar and Omar Dewachi playing Iraqi maqams in the garden of a tiny tea shop, and Girls Rock Philly and Bowerbird brought Techne (Bonnie Jones and Suzanne Thorpe) to present the results of an electronic instrument building workshop they led with young girls at The Rotunda.

And I’m still discovering new things about the scenes here, for better and for worse. With Philly, as at the national and international level, I am concerned about power and privilege with respect to who curates, who performs, who is welcomed as audience. How are women, people of color, and queer-identified people represented in creative music scenes? Do individual venues and festivals display singularity or conformity? Again, these are questions I ask about Philly, but also about anywhere else. There are certainly “enough opportunities” for me to play and record and curate as much as I want (within the extremely limited opportunities this culture allows for the avant garde). But I’m a white man. I’m not interested in being a member of a secret society. Who owns the clubs? Who books the shows? Who gets booked? Who feels safe and welcome at shows? Who runs the labels? Who decides on grant funding? If I could honestly answer each of these questions with a diversity of identities, I would be able to say that the scene is “good”. That goes for anywhere.

What led to your solo sax record, Ceremonies out of the Air?

The title comes from a passage in Cormac McCarthy‘s book The Road, about a parent and child navigating a post-apocalyptic landscape as the parent nears death: “Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.”

I have performed solo improvisations since 1999 and I had been invited by a label to release a recording documenting my solo saxophone work as far back as 2001, but I didn’t feel ready then. In early 2013 my mother died after a long illness – she had lung cancer. I was her primary caretaker during her transition and the experience impacted me deeply. I recorded Ceremonies several months later, as a memorial to her, for a small invited audience. Ed Ricart, who runs New Atlantis Records, was interested in a solo record from me, and for this album I wanted a situation in which I could have complete artistic control of all facets of production, which he was able to offer. After I selected the music from the recording session (we used 79 minutes of the 120 that I performed), I sent it to Erin Rice, an artist and friend in Brooklyn who lost her mother a few weeks before my mother died, and supported me through my mother’s final weeks. Her artwork, with the image of my mother as a young woman peering off into the abyss of her painting, is integral to the record. The liner note is the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s funeral. And the track titles also refer to the overall concept, in some cases more obliquely. I have a strong preference for work that is conceptually sound.

How did you develop your the techniques that you employ on Ceremonies out of the Air?

There are techniques that I use that come from my conventional studies of the instrument, in both the so-called classical and jazz domains. But after I completed those studies I spent many years attempting to forget them, or at least forge a personal understanding of and voice on the instrument. I got interested in circular breathing when I first heard Rahsaan Roland Kirk‘s “Old Rugged Cross” as a university student in the mid 90s, and hearing and meeting Evan Parker a few years later inspired me to work seriously on the technique. Over the years I developed other techniques through the influences of other groundbreaking saxophonists – Roscoe Mitchell, Pharaoh Sanders, Khadri Gopalnath, for example – as well as Joel Ryan, Marek Choloniewski, and Michel Waisvisz – mentors of mine who pioneered electronically transformed sound. All along, I have been inspired by my peers – composers and improvisers in Krakow and The Hague, especially – who were developing their approaches alongside me. Among the most influential of these have been Rafal Mazur, the bassist and philosopher in Krakow, and Takuro Mizuta Lippit, the turntablist and theorist now living in Hong Kong, though I could name many other comrades whose collaborations fostered my technical development!

Who are some of the people you’d like to perform or record with in the future?

Oh man! I don’t want to dodge this question, but it’s difficult to answer without feeling like a kid in a candy store. I’ll say this: I had the opportunity this past spring to lead a band that performed William Parker’s music, with him, the drummer Muhammad Ali, and a few of Philly’s elder greats: Odean Pope, Dave Burrell, Marshall Allen, and Bobby Zankel. That experience did something to my playing and thinking that I’m still reeling from. So I’m certainly interested in connecting to elders such as these when the circumstances permit. There is also a long list of my contemporaries – some who I know and have played with, some who I’ve never met – that I want to get together with. Lately I’ve been wondering what it would sound like to get them all together in one room…

What are your musical plans for the next few months?

I have a few performances this fall. The bassist Shayna Dulberger and the drummer Julius Masri are joining me for two concerts in Philadelphia, on October 16 (at First Banana) and November 8 (at House Gallery 1816), and we’re planning to go into the studio later this fall. I’m also performing a solo at Downtown Music Gallery in NYC on October 19. Other than that, I’m writing – I honestly haven’t felt such a flood of inspiration to compose notated music for several years. There are a few different projects I’m working on – one for saxophone and strings, one for a small group, and one for a large ensemble of improvising musicians. These are all things that will get heard, in performances and recordings, over the next two years. Meanwhile, I’m planning to get back on the road in the spring – I have tentative plans for Europe, Mexico, and the US West Coast. I’ll be sure to let you know where I’ll be when plans solidify!

AMN Interviews: Rodrigo Amado

Bio_01Rodrigo Amado is a Portuguese saxophonist who composes and plays free jazz and improv. In a country that is has become known for these types of music, and he is one of the movement’s leaders. In 2014, he has released three albums so far. Below he answers a few questions from AMN.

You came to music in an interesting way – taking up the sax after a car accident. What led you to do so?

I was always, since I can remember, pretty much fascinated about music. My family wasn’t directly related to music in any way, but music was always present in a lot of different occasions. My parents had frequently friends over at the house, and there were occasions when it was full of people, many of them musicians, with everybody playing music and dancing. That’s when I first held a saxophone in my hands.

When the revolution took place (April 25th, 1974) I was 10 years old. These were very vibrant and creative times. By that time my room was already filled with LPs, and a few years later, when I started doing Inter-rails (one ticket to go anywhere around Europe – I’ve done three, always traveling alone), all I cared was to do crate digging and carry as many records with me as possible.

At 17, when this accident happened (not a car one – I went through a glass door, suffering a complete cut of the sciatic nerve), I was immobilized for a long period and my mother asked me what I wanted to help me spend the time. I answered immediately: a saxophone. That’s when I started listening to jazz. I was already fascinated with the instrument, probably because I was listening a lot to Roxy Music, David Bowie or Van Der Graaf Generator, among many other rock bands that used saxophone.

Portugal in general, and Lisbon specifically, has experienced a very rich jazz scene over the last 15 years or so. Can you discuss how it started and how it has evolved?

The big turning point for the jazz scene was the appearance of Clean Feed, in 2001. Before that, there was mostly mainstream jazz that very rarely got an international exposure. The few exceptions were players like Carlos Zíngaro, Zé Eduardo, Carlos Barretto, or projects like Telectu. When we started the label (I left in 2006), the contact with international musicians, mostly north-Americans, got really intense. Since then, the scene kept evolving very strongly, with a lot of international collaborations, great new players and a lot of projects being recorded and released. Several new labels were founded – Creative Sources, Tone of a Pitch, Sintoma, Porta-jazz – and the opportunities to record and release got bigger.

However, this recent economic crisis has affected deeply most of the musicians, being more and more difficult to find (paid) work. Other factor that slows things down is the ever existing gap between the mainstream and avant-jazz communities. Ignorance and insecurities fuel a sense of intolerance between both sides.

You seem to have a deep relationship with the Clean Feed label – what is your history with them?

In 2001, Pedro and Carlos Costa invited me to join Trem Azul (the distribution company) and help them start a new label. They had already recorded and produced what would be the first album for the label – The Implicate Order “Live at Seixal” (a live recording where I also play) – and were looking for someone who had experience in marketing, design, management…and music, of course. I had just finished 3 years as general manager for one of the biggest music megastores in Lisbon, and had decided to focus on music and my own projects, trying to make a living out of that. Besides, we were already good friends, so the project made perfect sense to me. I came up with the name Clean Feed, meaning “to feed a pure signal into something”. That’s what we wanted to do, release unadulterated music. Our first office was a tiny space in a degraded shopping mall, but we grew very fast. Those were 5 years of constant challenge, adventure, lots of work and lots of fun. And we felt we were building something. Clean Feed also gave me the first opportunities to release my own music and to play with foreign musicians that we’re much better and experienced. This really changed my life.

In 2006, by the time I released “Spiritualized”, I was spending more and more time with my own music and photography. Both Pedro and I had the biggest share of the label (the same), but Pedro was much more focused than I on the label’s issues, so things got a little unbalanced. That’s when I left. A few months later, I started my own personal label, European Echoes, to give me independence, freedom and control over my own releases. “Teatro”, “Surface”, “The Abstract Truth” and “Motion Trio” were self released on that label. More recently, I started working with great international labels like Not Two, Ayler Records or No Business, and felt the time was right to return to Clean Feed with a new album. Pedro agreed, and that gave way to the “Wire Quartet” release.

On the last 3 or 4 years, the Clean Feed store (now closed) was also a very important spot for the avant-jazz community. We rehearsed there, meet, listen to music, etc. I would say it was decisive for the evolution of our music and the overall scene. Now we’re reorganizing everything.

Your U.S. based collaborators include some of the best and brightest from New York, Chicago, and other places. How have you met some of these individuals, and how do you choose whom to play with?

First there was this great strike of luck, by getting the chance to hang and play with such amazing players like Steve Swell, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi or Dennis Gonzalez. For me it was a whole different planet. I had never dreamed of playing with musicians of that level. But, for some reason, although I was a much weaker player, these guys kept supporting me and literally giving me their music. I suppose they felt my devotion for the music and probably some strength in the improvisation concepts I was working with. They were my mentors (in an informal way) and my direct inspiration. For me, a turning point was “The Space Between”, the trio I did with Filiano and Zíngaro. Suddenly I was recording with this amazing double-bassist and with the Portuguese musician I respected most. It was like a dream come true. The music showed me the strength of instinct, of trusting our own emotions and communicating them, through music.

Those following years I had the opportunity to play with Bobby Bradford, Joe Giardullo, Steve Adams, Herb Robertson, Paul Dunmall, Vinny Golia or Adam Lane, all of them much stronger musicians than I was. That was the most incredible way to learn and grow. There were occasions when I felt, after one of those gigs or recording sessions, that my playing had changed deeply. And those changes stayed with me and incorporated my playing. Over the years I started feeling more comfortable and confident, just enough to extend invitations to players like Paal Nilssen-Love, Kent Kessler, Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert, Gerald Cleaver, or more recently, Jeb Bishop, Peter Evans, Joe McPhee or Chris Corsano. These were all choices I did based on their music, and how I imagined it would fit within my own musical universe. Most of the times I had never met them before, and this made the musical encounters that more intense. It’s amazing for me to think that I never had a disappointment and sometimes, like on “Searching for Adam”, the music sounded almost exactly like I had imagined. I would say it’s a very intuitive process, with a lot that remains unexplained, even for me.

Two of your recent releases with Peter Evans, The Freedom Principle and Live in Lisbon, could be called hardcore improvisation – there is little effort made to capture a sense of normalcy in the rhythmic sense. Is this a goal you actively strive for, or a style that has naturally evolved?

This hardcore “feeling” that you are talking about comes from the fact that these recordings register the meeting of Motion Trio with one of the most unconventional improvisers in activity. We were aware of this and the kind of risk it represented, but we weren’t really prepared for what it followed. The concert at Teatro Maria Matos – we had just met Peter the day before – was like an open field battle. Every musical movement of ours was matched by a contrasting or antagonist movement from Peter. He never did what would be expected, or “normal”, from him. And kept a huge amount of pressure on the music. Of course, as an improv unit, we wouldn’t let go either. There were 5 or 6 different levels of communication going on at the same time. Gabriel and Miguel would take turns following Peter or me, or each one of them was following one of us, in very short fragments. Peter would come up with these split-second emulations of what one of us was doing, confusing what was coming from where. Huge turns in the music were always happening and surprising everyone. So, we were all improvising on a thin wire, in front of a huge audience, trying to transform this confrontation into consistent music. I would say – and Miguel and Gabriel say it too – it was the most intense and transforming musical meeting ever, for us. And it was something that happened naturally, not planned at all. Just the result of the meeting of four individual musical personalities, at a specific context and time.

Some of your work exhibits what could be called incidental noises or sound effects, all made by traditional jazz instruments. Are these qualities spur of the moment improv, or are they planned to some extent?

All my own projects are totally improvised and I never even talk to any of the musicians about what to play, in any way. So, no planning whatsoever. Just total and pure improv, and a deep sense of collective exploration.

What do you have coming up in terms of releases and live performances?

My next release will be the quartet with Joe McPhee, Kent Kessler and Chris Corsano. It will come out on Not Two, late this year. I’m also working on two other recordings; a Motion Trio + 2 with Steve Swell (trombone) and Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano) as guests; and the first album of Hurricane, a trio I share with DJ Ride (turntable, electronics) and Gabriel Ferrandini. A couple weeks ago, me and Chris Corsano recorded a duo that I’m now starting to listen. It sounds good! Planning to go back to Brazil for a second tour, return to the US with Humanization Quartet, for what will be our third East Coast tour, and spin more intensely on the European Festival circuit with Motion Trio.