Ddouglas 2002

Trumpeter composer Dave Douglas has been creating new worlds for listeners for the past decade. His ethereal writing style for unconventional configurations transports audiences into unfamiliar territory. These distinctive compositions combined with his astonishing technique and expressionist improvisations have brought him critical and public acclaim as a visionary of his generation. The diversity of his influences is marked by the breadth of his own projects as a leader: the lyrical musings of Charms of the Night Sky with accordionist Guy Klucevsek; the Eastern European sounds of the Tiny Bell Trio; his string ensemble Parallel Worlds; a jazz sextet; and the electric double quartet Sanctuary. Perhaps his best-known collaboration has been a long association with John Zorn’s Masada. He has also worked with Anthony Braxton, Don Byron, Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Fred Hersch, Cibo Matto, and most recently Misha Mengelberg. On his latest album, The Infinite, he writes arrangements of current pop music for jazz quintet.

At the turn of the century, Douglas created perhaps his most ambitious and controversial world, assembling a nine-piece ensemble he called Witness for a transcendental work that marked another step in a recent movement incorporating electronic elements into jazz and improvised music. Fueled by his anger over social injustices around the globe, Witness demands a high level of awareness from both the musicians and the listener.

Brian Carpenter spoke briefly with Dave in an interview conducted in January 2002 about the Witness project, composition and improvisation, and trumpet playing.

BC: When I first saw you play, one of the amazing things to witness for me – as a trumpet player – was how fluid your playing was between registers, and the sheer endurance required of playing with the sextet. I read that when you studied at NEC [New England Conservatory], the Carmine Caruso method was very effective for you. Can you describe what that is, why it was effective, and what suggestions you might have for trumpeters seeking to develop their own language?

DD: Yeah, the Carmine Caruso method was introduced to me by John McNeil, who is a great trumpeter and a teacher who still teaches at NEC. Really, it’s something that saved me. I was never a natural trumpet player. And the trumpet, in fact, kind of goes counter to my personality even…you know, trumpeters are supposed to be brash and crazy…I don’t really always feel that way. But I also feel that as a composer, the trumpet is something that I really like to integrate and is something that’s inspired me to think a lot of different ways compositionally. The Carmine Caruso method, to break it down quite simply, is really about teaching your body to perform musical notes in time and in pitch. And I know that probably doesn’t sound like much [laughs]…but that’s the basis of all music making, really. So his idea was that if you strip down all of the millions of movements that go into each note that you produce to the very basic few, you can really teach your body to do those movements very precisely, and with the least effort. Most of the exercises are really quite simple. But it’s the mental concentration that’s involved that really makes it quite complicated and extremely effective.

BC: So is it a way of breaking things down into primitives that you can use?

DD: Yeah, exactly, and subdividing each beat very, very carefully in your mind, learning to produce the tone with a minimum of fuss. He taught all kinds of instrumentalists, singers, and violinists, and saxophonists, and French horn players, and I think it’s a fairly universal concept that I’ve seen applied in a lot of other ways.

BC: The trumpet is a very demanding, physical instrument. One of the things that opened my mind was when I talked with [trumpeter] Steven Bernstein, who was in town on a gig. I was excited about an old Martin trumpet I had acquired, but told him, “The only thing I don’t like about it is that it doesn’t produce the range I want”. And he laughed and told me, “Well, that’s not the trumpet! You just need to figure out how to play it.” And that sort of changed my perspective on approaching the instrument as what I can do for it, not what it can do for me…

DD: It’s very true. Especially in brass playing, there’s a tendency to blame the instrument. This endless changing of mouthpieces and leadpipes and bore sizes…to tell you the truth…I really have never thought about that at all. And you mentioned Carmine Caruso…his whole thing was, “Let’s not even talk about the instrument. Let’s talk about you, and what you are going to do, and what you’re hearing, and what you would like it to feel like.” And I think that that’s a lesson that stuck with me. And I’ve basically been playing the same horn for over twenty years. And I still study with a woman named Laurie Frink, who was the top student of Carmine Caruso. He passed away in ’87, I think…he was 87 years old, and that’s right around the year that he passed. Laurie is an amazing woman who’s also an incredible trumpet player, both as a lead player and as a contemporary classical performer. She’s basically distilled a lot of his teachings and gone on to develop some thoughts of her own, and they’re extremely helpful. I recommend her to anyone who comes to ask me for advice about trumpet playing, because I feel what I have to say is minimal compared to her vision.

BC: Your work is so varied. Each group is so distinctly its own world. Yet when I listen to all of your ensembles, if there is a common thread, it’s that the pieces seem to float between composition / notation and improvisation, without having a strong, defined line. Is that one of the things you strive for in your writing – to sort of gray that line? How do you implement that and how do you communicate that as a goal to the musicians?

DD: Well, let’s put it this way: It’s an element that I like to play with – that boundary line between composition and improvisation – as a means to making beautiful music that is fun to play. And I feel that you have to approach it differently each time with each piece. There’s no one set answer to how composition and improvisation should interact. The first step in that is having the right players who understand the language and what the goals are. For me, it really is a new challenge in each composition of how am I going to play with this line, how am I going to make what’s notated sound like it was improvised, and what’s improvised sound like it was notated…or not! And I think that a large misunderstanding on the part of people hearing this music is that you would be able to break it down into percentages, that someone could ask, “How much is that improvised, and how much was written?” and you could answer, “Well 40% written and 60% improvised”. It doesn’t really work like that anymore for most composers involved in this language, which is a very American language, that perhaps emerges from the jazz tradition.

Now I think…even as I listen back to Gil Evans charts from the 50s or even earlier, Duke Ellington, John Kirby, or Fletcher Henderson, and then people like Charles Mingus, of course, and then people working now like Henry Threadgill, I always feel that what’s written is so colored by the players’ personalities, it would be hard to break it down into how much of it was improvised and how much is written. And within the improvisation, it’s so colored by the language of the composition, that it’s hard to say, again, what part of that is improvised and what part of that is the composition. If you have a set of chords that move along at a certain pace, and everyone in the band is playing music from a given set of instructions based on those chords, at what point do we decide which part of that is composed, or pre-decided? So I think what is interesting to me is how all of those elements can blend, and how specific players with really interesting personal languages can interact with that, with those kind of rules.

BC: There is something in the liner notes to Witness that you stated that struck me, which was that “everyone understands the overall arc of the piece”. It occurred to me that in other art forms, that awareness is almost implicit – the artists are even trained that way…theater in particular comes to mind…where artists know the context of the scene…

DD: …well, I think in good theater…absolutely…

BC: Right…to me, it’s kind of a line between spontaneity and context awareness. Spontaneity is always heralded in this music: “We need to be spontaneous!”

DD: [laughs] “Be Spontaneous Now!”

BC: Exactly…spontaneity is great, but there’s another virtue, which is understanding what the piece means and improvising with a global understanding of the context of what you’re playing in. Do you try to inspire the artists to think in this way?

DD: Well, it’s a huge question, and also because meaning is so elusive in music. And I think that if you’re going to include the performer in this collaborative process of composing and improvising, then you’re going to also ask them on some level to think about the meaning on their own and propose their own interpretations, which then you may or may not find an affinity with. So that’s a very interesting give-and-take. But quite simply, we’re dealing with players who have very broad playing vocabularies and are aware of all different kinds of music. So they are able to come to a specific musical moment with all of that background and knowledge, and bring hopefully original ideas that transcend all of that and add to the piece itself. And those are the kinds of players I’m talking about when I say that this is a large group…but there’s no conductor. And that means that everyone really has to understand the larger shape of the piece and the language in which it’s written, and what the goals – dynamically, rhythmically, and texturally – are at any given moment.

BC: This new group Witness, a nine-piece ensemble, is your largest ensemble recording to date. How do you translate such a large recording project to live performances?

DD: Well, it’s been interesting for me to move from having this enormous recording project – there are actually twelve musicians over the breadth of the CD – to performing the music live. When I began live performances, I felt that we were trying to recreate what was on the record…and I’ve never really been about re-creation….I like recreation [laughs]. But trying to make the music that was on the record from night to night was really difficult and also not that much fun for the players. So I have kind of retooled it and rearranged things to open up some of the possibilities that are suggested by the music on the record. The ensemble that has been touring this music is kind of another way of looking at the music on the record. It’s really been an interesting process for me. Of course, Ikue Mori, the wonderful laptop player, is touring with the group, and she’s featured on the record. Michael Sarin is the drummer. Brad Jones has been playing Ampeg baby bass, which is a fantastic sound that I had never worked with before. And I have two electric keyboard players: one of them, Craig Taborn, primarily playing straight Fender Rhodes, and the other, Jamie Saft, is playing primarily Wurlitzer through electronic modifications. And then I’ll be playing trumpet with the amazing Chris Potter on reeds.

BC: Witness, to me, stands apart from your other music in that it sounds more textural or vertical; for example, when I listen to the sextet, a lot of it sounds melody-intensive, using horizontal threads. Witness just sounds so different right out of the gate. When I listened to the first track, my first reaction was “Wow…what is this?”

DD: [laughs] Well, good!

BC: Yeah, those opening bars are like the opening shots of Blade Runner…just very effective in immersing you into a completely different world. The inclusion of Ikue Mori on this record adds so much to that feeling of otherworldliness. It seems to me that there has been very little recorded to date that merges jazz / improvised music with electronica. But there has recently been a movement in this direction, with the work on Thirsty Ear, for example. Are you interested in further experimenting with incorporating electronic music as a way of bringing out more textural, atmospheric qualities that you wouldn’t normally have access to?

DD: Absolutely. I feel that there is a lot of great work being done in this direction. It’s mostly under the surface of what we hear about. But there is a whole scene of electronic improvising that I think is quite vibrant and exciting. Ikue Mori, for those who aren’t familiar, moved to New York from Japan in probably ’75, and was a very influential drummer in the No Wave scene in New York. And then about ten years after that, began transferring all of her drum sounds into drum machines, and spent a large number of years performing only on drum machines…live drum machines. And then maybe about three or four years ago, transferred all of that into a laptop computer. So now she’s touring just with this laptop! It’s pretty amazing, and what impresses me the most is how unique and personal it is. I mean, I can hear one note and know right away that it’s Ikue playing. She is, to me, one of the top performers for that very reason – that she’s found such a personal and unique voice in music. So it’s a real pleasure for me to share the stage with someone of that stature.

Obviously, electronic music is a completely different discipline than learning to play the trumpet and learning to be a jazz player. And I find the juxtaposition of those two disciplines really interesting.

BC: What was the genesis of this ensemble? How long has this group been rehearsing with the inclusion of strings?

DD: Well, it was an interesting process for me. The early genesis was a piece that I wrote called “Thoughts Around Mahfouz”, based on my readings of Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian novelist, whose work suggested an atmosphere of music to me. And the original group was just a quartet with Ikue Mori and Jamie Saft on keyboards and Kenny Wollesen on drums. We did a few concerts around New York, and I realized that I was asking everyone to do four things at once, which I always try to do myself, but I felt like that was not really fair. So I then reconfigured it and it became this nine-piece ensemble, which premiered at the Donaueschingen New Music Festival in Germany. And that was when Mark Feldman, Erik Friedlander, and Drew Gress came in, and then Chris Speed, Joe Daley on tuba, and Bryan Carrott on mallets, Ikue Mori of course, and then Mike Sarin. So it became this three strings, three horns, three percussion group.

And I realized that in writing the new music, each piece was turning into this – I don’t want to say dedication – but an inspiration by people who I call artists and activists. And I see Mahfouz in the context of illuminating the problems of women in Egyptian society, of class distinctions…he’s somebody who’s had a lot of trouble over being involved in all of that. So in finishing this music, I was thinking about people like the Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer and people like Ken Saro-Wiwa from Nigeria. And the more I thought about it, and the more I read…the project just snowballed and I realized that this really was some kind of a protest project for me, and very much about expressing my empathy for these victims of senseless greed and misuse of power around the world.

The title track is dedicated to Edward Said, whose writings and thoughts about the intellectual and the artist in society were really quite influential to me. I know that these days, you mention his name, and there’s a lot of violent reaction for and against. But I hope that in reading his works people can come to their own conclusions about what he has to say.

BC: So this becomes a sort of exposure mechanism…

DD: Well, I hope so. I spent time thinking about how I could make this statement and make some people aware. I think awareness is the most important thing, so that people think about what’s going on in the world and participate on whatever level they can. So putting this record out and being able to expose a lot of information in the liner notes on this major label felt like the right thing to do.

BC: There has been a lot of exciting new work by trumpeters in the last year. Greg Kelley, here in Boston, for example…

DD: Yes! Glad to hear you mention him…fantastic musician…and also involved with electronic music….

BC: …and Axel Dorner and Steven Bernstein are also establishing new vocabularies…do you see a new language being developed on the trumpet?

DD: Oh, I absolutely do. No question about it. This is a great period for the trumpet. I think one of the most important figures on the scene is Wadada Leo Smith, who spent a few years not recording at all, and now seems to be everywhere…just an incredible presence and trumpet player and composer and theorist about music. Bakida Carrol is another one, who you may know from some of the Julius Hemphill records from the early 70s. I think that what’s happening is so broad musically that it’s just wonderful to hear it.

Jmorris 2002

 

Joe Morris has been slowly and steadily building a body of work that is as formidable and impressive as any guitarist who has come before him. His approach to the instrument is nothing short of revolutionary. The sheer velocity of his improvisations compares more easily to saxophonists in the tradition of Eric Dolphy than with any other guitarist in the history of the instrument’s existence. If that sounds exaggerated, go listen to his trio steamroll through vamps, grooves, and bluesy melodies and you will be one of the converted.

Since the re-emergence of his own label Riti Records in 2002, Joe has built up an impressive discography on the label, including new trios with pianist Steve Lantner, drummer Whit Dickey, and drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker.

Brian Carpenter spoke with Joe Morris in this interview about his approach to the instrument, his discography, and his working trio with bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Luther Gray.

On free bop

On environments

I don’t think I’ve ever changed direction

On Timo Shanko and Jim Hobbs

Hendrix and the big loud electric guitar trilogy

The guitar’s role in free jazz

BC: Since we just heard some of the new record, I wanted to talk about this new trio. We were just listening and sort of in awe of Timo Shanko and Luther Gray. Timo’s playing on the acoustic bass seems almost inhuman at times. It must be such a great well to draw from playing with these guys.

JM: It is. They’re phenomenal musicians and they’re a ball to play with. Every period in jazz has always been built off of the platform of the rhythm section. Charlie Parker had his rhythm section. If the rhythm section didn’t operate the way they operated, it wouldn’t sound like Charlie Parker. Ornette Coleman wouldn’t sound like Ornette Coleman playing with Charlie Parker’s rhythm section. He had to have his own rhythm section. And Timo and Luther. And also Timo and Django Carranza of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, sets up a rhythm section situation that no one else can do that I’ve heard. Anywhere. And it has every component of precision and dynamic excitement of the greatest bebop lineage. Compared to the sort of more expressionistic aspect of free jazz, this is…free bop.

BC: I see…

JM: And I’ve always played free bop. I always love free bop. I love the expressionistic area of free jazz too, and I’ve done as much of that as I could. But because I play the guitar and it sort of requires that you articulate, I like to be in an environment where I get to articulate rhythmically and melodically. And I want that to be as spectacular as I can get it. [laughing]

And I want it to be as expressionistic as I can get it. And without a doubt Timo is like the other side of my brain. I know anyone that plays with him and can keep up with him…obviously the main person that you’d associate with Timo is Jim Hobbs, who is also a genius. And anyone who’s ever played with him or heard him knows that. They’re just going to lean on Shanko and just try not to fall over. He gives you the cushiest platform to just let it go…and as long as you can hang there and keep up, it’s really like bouncing on a trampoline, it’s the easiest thing in the world. And with Luther there holding the whole thing up…it’s just a riot to play with them. We turn to each other in the middle of some incredibly fast swinging thing and just laugh. It’s just so much fun.

BC: Yes, I’ve seen that happen before [laughing]…

JM: You know, after all of the things that have happened in the last ten or twelve years in the music scene and the things I was associated with which were more expressionistic and more and more elaborate in the explanations of what it was, I really wanted to just get back to playing and trying to be spectacular…trying to make people in the audience just sort of pulled down by the tension and the release of playing. And really make it more like the kind of environment like the early Anthony Braxton ensemble, Jimmy Lyons, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette, and those kinds of musics, where things are just rhythmically bouncing along in a way that is just…superhuman.

BC: As a listener, I mean, going back and hearing Dolphy for instance, and then actually seeing the film footage of him playing with Mingus, it’s just overwhelming, you get carried away with it…

JM: Yeah, it’s just a different kind of experience. It’s almost more physical than it is psychological or mental or spiritual, in a way. But again, because Timo and Luther are so good, they have that depth in their playing and they have so much knowledge of what’s happened and so much respect for the aesthetic content of the music, and they’re such honest people….

So I think what we’re doing is not at all…I think it annoys some people. I know I’ve been trying to book things in Europe and I’ve heard back from a few people who didn’t like it. It’s too fast, or it swings too much. And I just think, good, good. Because if there’s any place that needs to hear some music that swings it’s the European new jazz scene. And eventually we’ll crack through (laughs)…we’ll break through that wall and then they’ll all get to have some joy and happiness too. In the meantime, we’ll just do what we’ve been doing, which has been playing wherever we can and kicking it.

BC: It is a different aesthetic, though. What I’m hearing in the group that is very unique is the fact that it is in fact very executed and precise but at the same time it’s still a very free music, and somehow it works in both worlds. And I can’t think of any other ensemble in new music now that is the juxtaposition of those two aesthetics that is as effective.

JM: Well, part of it is the way the tunes are written. My tunes are pretty thin. But they’re very specific. They describe the area that you go to play, and because of that I can have a wide variety in the kinds of pieces that we play without writing in a more elaborate manner. I keep it simple and I put it together the right way and edit out the parts that don’t need to be there. I edit out the parts that don’t drive us right to that spot that we’re trying to get to so that we can play differently. If we do it well and we’re on point when we play, then each piece has a different projection and each piece allows us to explore different kinds of things.

So because I’ve always worked as a free improviser and as a free jazz player, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, I know a lot about how to put things together to create environments to play in. And I’ve always had to do that because otherwise the guitar gets put into a sort of subservient role in the ensemble, it’s just the nature of the instrument and the way everyone plays. So anyone who’s played with me over the years can tell you that I’m really exact about what we’re going to use so that my instrument doesn’t get put into the rhythm guitar part. Part of my role in doing this is to put the guitar up front and let it articulate those ideas that I hear being expressed by the sort of alto voice lineage — Bird and Ornette and Braxton — which is the sort of high language in the music. The alto voice, to me, holds that better than any other, and as you follow through the theoretical aspects of the music, the alto voice leads that along. So I want the guitar to speak like the alto voice.

And if you listen to my discography, you’ll hear that each record brings that out in a different way intentionally. I can describe what each one of them is about, and each piece on each record has a specific role that it plays to bring out a part of the guitar that would otherwise be a bunch of notes. Some of them might be less distinguishable to people than others, but I think that they’re pretty clear. That’s really the nature of the body of my work is to give the guitar a very specific environment to articulate in. And to function like a string instrument! Almost like a violin or a fiddle…get up there and play the damn thing and don’t worry about comping for the horn players except sometimes, you know? And just let other people worry about that. I have the thing I wanted to do, I’ve been working on it since the early 70s, and…I survived the thinnest part of it so far.

BC: This free bop aesthetic…the guitar is a very discrete instrument in the sense that it perhaps is more difficult to be expressionistic than it would be on a saxophone. I’m wondering if this aesthetic was something you worked to, did you change direction at some point…?

JM: I don’t think I’ve ever changed direction. I think I’ve been doing the exact same thing since 1974, which is when I really started doing this. What I’ve tried to do is bring out as many characteristics of it as I can pertaining to what’s happened in the music before me, what’s happened in the music while I was doing it, things that I thought were interesting that I like to explore, things that pertain to completely free improvisation, things that pertain to structured free improvisation, to tunes, and to tunes that work in various ways within the realm of improvising. Certain tunes may suggest a harmony that I play over the top of, they might have ostinato patterns that I play over, that might be templates that carve out melodic statements, different rhythmic things…just as many things as I could think of that are distinctive from one another or a combination of something. So when the possibility was there for me to make modules of different components, I made recordings off of those. When I wanted to work on the idea of arranging my band so that certain subsets of the band were displayed in certain ways, I did that. When I wanted to play behind other instruments, I added other instruments.

So I’ve just sort of done that and ignored what anyone else said I was supposed to do. And I’m totally thrilled that I managed to accomplish what I’ve accomplished musically. I’m really happy about how it’s turned out and the people I’ve managed to play with. I’m sitting here and I know my band is incredible and they don’t even need me there. If I had a heart attack on stage they could cover for it. And there are just a whole bunch of things open for the future which are not dependent upon any kind of trend or conceptual clap-trap. I just have to try to play and when it’s time to stop, stop.

BC: How did you meet Timo, did you meet him through Hobbs, or…?

JM: Man, I saw them play on the street in 1989. Andrew Neumann and I saw Jim Hobbs with Ray Anthony and Timo playing on the street in Harvard Square. It looked like they were about eight years old and they were playing the hell out of Ornette Coleman tunes. And I remember Sebastian Steinberg, Andrew Neumann, and all saw them at the same time, and said, “Did you see those guys? Who are those guys? Those guys are unbelievable.”

And so I introduced myself to them and they started playing on gigs. I just always loved them, I always thought they were amazing. I talk about Jim Hobbs all the time because I think he’s as good as anyone who’s ever played that instrument. And he’s so good that he has to experience what everyone good has had to experience, which is that he doesn’t get anywhere near the attention he deserves, because the world of this music is all focused on silly tiny minutia and looking to find some summation of all these things that have happened, instead of saying “It just sounds good, let’s listen to it”. They’re so bogged down with the theoretical and the paper being delivered next week by some conceptualist that they forget that this is soul music. And if you want to hear some soul music, go and listen to Jim Hobbs and get that chill up your spine. I made a record with him called “Racket Club” in 1993 and there’s one piece on there called “Revolve” and he takes a solo on it and every time I hear it I get a chill up my spine, it’s blood-curdling. We did a quartet gig at the Vision Festival this year with him and I walked through the room and every musician I knew there said, “Who is that guy?” If anybody wonders what’s happened with the music go and listen to these guys, they’ve figured it out.

BC: Can you talk about the two electric ensembles you put together, Racket Club and Sweat Shop and what the concept was behind those records?

JM: Sweat Shop is 1989. Racket Club is ’93. Years ago I made a record called Human Rites and it was a really successful record. It was sold through the old new music distribution service and it got a lot of airplay and it made top ten lists all over the country. I produced it myself; it’s a double LP. And I got one review in Op Magazine (laughs)…one of the old places you could get a review…

BC: Never heard of it…

JM: It was a precursor to Option Magazine, kind of a newsprint thing. And they said the record was good but as a power trio it was weak. And I just thought, power trio? I wrote the guy a letter and I said there’s an acoustic bass on here. If I wanted to have a power trio, man, you’d hear a power trio. So I thought, okay, that’s another thing I’ve had to endure: I didn’t play like Derek Bailey like everyone told me. And I didn’t play like Blood Ulmer. Even though both of those guys are my friends and we all respect each other because we’re all different. So I said well, the hell with it. And with Sweat Shop I just did what I had been doing before I started the free jazz stuff, which was to play a kind of blues style in the open tonality.

And I thought about – you know, because I’m always thinking too much – let’s see, what’s Blood’s take on Hendrix. Because Hendrix, if you’re a guitar player, is like The Pyramids. Civilization goes up to a certain point and they built The Pyramids and that’s Hendrix. If you’re an electric guitar player, now there’s actually an icon that we can all view and it gives us reference to everything that preceded it. So you have to deal with Hendrix. But I don’t want to be one of those guys that (laughs) puts on my headband and does my fake Hendrix thing; I think that’s nonsense. It’s already been done, leave him alone. Let’s draw material out of it. Well obviously he’s a blues guitarist who put it in another environment by using different sounds, but he’s a blues guitarist. So Blood’s thing was to deal with Hendrix’s songs. Blood really comes out of Wes Montgomery. He’s an organ trio guitar player. He plays with his thumb, he plays in the same fingering position that Wes did and all of the organ trio guys did. He’s an organ trio Wes Montgomery guitar player through Hendrix through Ornette. He’s a genius, by the way…

I was always one of those guys who loved Band Of Gypsies. When everyone else was talking, “Oh, I hate Band Of Gypsies because Buddy Miles is on it…”, to me, that’s Hendrix playing the guitar like a real improviser. So I took my Band Of Gypsies knowledge and put it through my Prime Time knowledge and my open tonality knowledge and wrote some tunes and did Sweat Shop. I still think it’s one of the best records I ever made. It gets no credit in the sort of lineage of big loud electric guitar, which is fine with me, because when people finally figure out what’s happening on it, it will get its due. Sweat Shop was really about blues lines and playing the guitar almost like a blues musician. The bass is open on most of it, and the drums lay down a steady beat. So Sebastian Steinberg, Jerome Deupree and I worked that. Jerome had to stop because he got sick so Curt Newton and I and Sebastian continued.

So then I started writing all of these complicated vamps and the drums were basically free and the bass held down the vamps. So I wrote all of these complicated vamps with overlaid melodies, and I expanded it to a double group with Jim Hobbs playing alto, Steve Norton playing baritone, Curt and Jerome on drums, and Nate McBride on electric bass. And did Racket Club.

I consider that the big loud electric guitar lineage is made up of the blues, it’s made up of vamps, and it’s made up of sound. So the next part destined to be called Mess Hall is still in the works and it’s the scariest part because I actually have to deal with the sound aspect, the Hendrix pyramid of sound, I have to deal with that part. So I’m working on that now. That’s Mess Hall. And that’s going to be keyboards, drums, electric guitar, and possibly some other tape loops…I’m working on that.

So that’s my big loud electric guitar trilogy. Playing big loud electric guitar can either be a rip-off of someone else who did it or you can be very methodical about it and really think it out like you were doing if you were playing alto saxophone. You don’t want to sound like Ornette, you don’t want to sound like Julius Hemphill, you don’t want to sound like Charlie Parker. You have to really apply yourself. It’s harder now to enter the arena as an original alto voice…

BC: Sure! All of that history behind you…

JM: Because you have all that material you have to understand and you have to filter through to your own expression, for a very compound experience to present that and a platform – a rhythm section or some kind of environment where you get to use the alto differently. Dealing with the electric guitar and the big loud electric guitar is also complicated because there’s such a huge glut of stuff that you have to sift through and it’s inherently limited. It’s limited by its very nature so you have to go to the limitations and turn it into something. So that’s what I’ve chosen to do. So far it’s the longest, sort of most secret part of what I do. I have a bunch of things like that. I have trio records, I have quartets, and I have solo music that I’ve worked on. And I have extended technique things that I’ve added on a whole bunch of my records. I have a series of parallel activities that I do, I just don’t announce them all.

BC: Right. There seemed to be at least two paths in your work, there was the “big loud electric” path and this path you’re working on with the new trio…

JM: Really it’s all just about playing the guitar. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the guitar. I hate the damn thing because it’s so….sort of American old-class, it’s shiny, it has knobs on it, it’s like the pickup truck driven onto the polo field (laughing). The realm of jazz and free jazz has gotten to be so pretentious and so full of itself and so arty for the sake of itself, that if you show up with electric guitar and say “I can play this thing and I have fun really digging in”, they give you that like “Oh really? Is that right? Well isn’t that wonderful?”

BC: (laughs)

JM: So part of me is just a totally rude, punk, I’ll-show-you-get-the-hell-out-of-my-way guy and the guitar fits me perfectly like that because it’s just inherently rude. It will never be classy. And the other part of me says, well then damnit, let’s train it and bring it up a couple of notches so that once we get rid of all those people who don’t want to hear it, we can play to the audience that does want to hear it and bring something out that maybe they’re not prepared for. And I think that’s exactly what Wes Montgomery did and Bern Nix and Blood Ulmer does and Jimmy Rainey did and all those guys…

You get this thing, it’s like a box of strings plugged into a radio and you’re supposed to make it sound like music. So in that sense it’s the ultimate New World instrument. And I love it for that. And I hate it for that.

Wparker 1

You are listening to WZBC 90.3 FM and this is Test Pattern. Tonight we’ll be hearing music from one of the great minds of our time, the bassist / improvisor / composer / theorist / poet Mr. William Parker, the high priest of the free jazz community today…in New York, and worldwide. Test Pattern is a special program that occurs weekly here on WZBC and focuses on the work of a single artist for one hour.

And tonight is Part I of a multi-part program covering the music of bassist William Parker over a thirty-year retrospective. The Village Voice describes William Parker as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time”, and I doubt many would argue much over that. Considered one of the great improvisors of our time, he’s been through the so-called loft scene of the 70s through to becoming the doyen of the free jazz community, leading several of the most sophisticated and forward-looking ensembles in modern music.

What you just heard was a solo piece recorded in 1997 from his solo record entitled Lifting the Sanctions. William entitles that piece “Rainbow Escaping” and tells the story of a rainbow that fell to earth, is taken prisoner, and escapes back to the Tone World. Over the course of the program, you’ll be listening to William Parker in his words talk about all manner of topics, including discussions about the Tone World.

This record is the second of his solo recordings released in the 90s, and just one of a massive discography of hundreds of recordings as a leader and collaborator over the span of 30 years. Tonight is Part I, and we’ll focus on Mr. Parker’s early work in the 70s as a collaborator in collective ensembles. And Monday night is Part 2, when we’ll focus on the lion’s share of his work as a leader and composer, which will bring us to the 90s and up to the present.

“Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace”, 01/79 [9:43]

Some biographical background: William Parker is a native New Yorker…he was born in the Bronx on January 10th in 1952. At an early age, William was listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet and what Percy Heath was doing on the bass…that were placed differently than walking bass lines. And of course he was listening to John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman. Here are some of his reflections of his life during that timeframe:

“At an early age……and project onto the world.” [interview]

In the early 70s, William Parker was studying bass with a who’s-who of bassists: Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison, Milt Hinton, and Paul West, who was his first teacher and the bassist for Dizzy Gillespie. At age 20, he started playing at the Salt and Pepper Jazz Club in the South Bronx and began composing and playing jam sessions in local clubs in Harlem and Brooklyn.

It was in 1972 when he started performing in the so-called Loft Scene at Studio WE, the East, Ornette Coleman’s Artist House, and Sam Rivers’ place, Studio Rivbea, which is where he met and performed with many musicians he would go on to play with, including saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc. In 1974, William had done a session at WKCR radio, which was the initial session of a recording later released under the name Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace, which was inspired by a poem from Kenneth Patchen. The record was meant to contain a varied selection of different kinds of music that William was playing during this period. The 1974 session includes many of the musicians he played with regularly during this time — Jemeel Moondoc on alto, Charles Brackeen on tenor, Arthur Williams on trumpet, Henry Warner on clarinet, Billy Bang on violin, Roger Baird on percussion, and of course William on bass…it’s entitled “Rattles and Bells and the Light of the Sun”…

“Rattles and Bells and the Light of the Sun”, William Parker [12:12] or [6:16]
Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace, 02/74

We’re listening to early sessions of bassist William Parker on tonight’s Test Pattern. That was William Parker on bass performing his composition “Rattles and Bells and the Light of the Sun” with Jemeel Moondoc, Charles Brackeen, Arthur Williams, Henry Warner, Billy Bang, and Roger Baird in 1974…which was right around the time of the Loft Scene, in the early 70s. The period of the Loft Scene in the early 70s is when you had an influx of proficient, creative musicians coming into New York from St Louis, Chicago, and Detroit…and lofts were run by musicians and could stay open all night and never pay a dime of rent. So places like Studio Rivbea became a sort of incubator for new developments in free jazz and experimental music. William’s first known recording is on the powerhouse ESP Frank Lowe 1974 record Black Beings with Joseph Jarman, where all things would collide and magical moments would occur…an auspicious if not daunting beginning….

“…I had been going down to Studio Rivbea……Joseph Jarman and Frank Lowe.” [interview]

“Thulani” (excerpt), Frank Lowe’s Black Beings [4:00]
03/74

That’s William Parker on bass performing on Frank Lowe’s 1973 record Black Beings with Frank Lowe on tenor, Joseph Jarman on alto, Raymond Lee Cheng on violin, and Rashid Sinan on drums.

During this time, throughout the mid-70s, William was also regularly performing and recording with violinist Billy Bang, drummer Rashid Bakr (who he performs with to this day in Other Dimensions in Music), Gene Ashton (otherwise known as Cooper-Moore), who he would work with in the In Order to Survive quartet). He also did a week at the Five Spot with Don Cherry during his Brown Rice phase.

William was also performing around the East and West Village at small clubs in a collective ensemble known as The Music Ensemble, with Billy Bang on violin, Roger Baird on drums, Daniel Carter on reeds, and Malik Baraka on trumpet. The Music Ensemble was an alliance of musicians that shared similar approaches to alternative and creative music…Billy Bang called it his New York version of Chicago’s AACM, without the hierarchy. The collective would continue to perform for five years up until 1977, and form the seeds of such present-day ensembles as Other Dimensions in Music…

“Echoes Wind Transpire” (excerpt), The Music Ensemble [8:47]

“Music is like grass…may never happen again” [interview] [0:51]

“Calling it the 8th, (excerpt), Cecil Taylor: The Eighth.
Recorded at the Freiburger Jazztage in Freiburg, West Germany, 11/81

You’re listening to bassist William Parker on tonight’s Test Pattern. William joined the Cecil Taylor Unit as the regular bassist in 1980, and this performance you just heard was shortly after that, featuring Cecil Taylor on Bosendorfer piano, Jimmy Lyons on alto, Rashid Bakr on drums, and of course William Parker on bass. As I spoke to earlier, William started playing with Cecil in 1971 at 20 years old and played with him at Carnegie Hall in 1974, which is where he met a young saxophonist named David Ware, who he would befriend and form a very important relationship with from then on in the David S Ware Quartet. William Parker now stands today as one of the master musicians that young and old artists alike look to for inspiration, strength, and energy.

Also during this time, in the late 70s, William was regularly performing with violinist Billy Bang and his group The Survival Ensemble. In 1978 a recording at WKCR produced a record entitled New York Collage, with Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor, Henry Warner again on alto, Khuwana Fuller on congas, Rashid Bakr again on drums, and William Parker on the bass. Here’s a piece from that album, “Nobody Hear Music the Same Way”.

“Nobody Hear Music the Same Way”, Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble (excerpt) [3:00] Recorded at WKCR, 05/78

That’s Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble featuring bassist William Parker. As I said earlier, Jemeel Moondoc was an important early collaborator with William, and his New York Live performance at the Public Theater in October of 1980 included many of the musicians William would play with for over 20 years in Other Dimesions in Music, Roy Campbell on trumpet, Rashid Bakr on drums, plus Daniel Carter on reeds. We’ll be listening to Other Dimensions in Music in Part 2, along with William Parker’s work as a composer and leader of the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, In Order to Survive, and more recent releases in solo, duet, trio, and quartet settings. All of this will be aired on an extended Part 2 on Monday night’s Free Association program at 7PM EST.

Here’s Jemeel Moondoc’s New York Live record to take us out…with a Roy Campbell composition entitled “Thanks to the Creator”. Join me Monday at 7PM EST for Part 2 of our special on bassist William Parker…

Tom tom club

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth moved to New York City and started the Talking Heads in 1975 with David Byrne as a trio, joining with Jerry Harrison in ’77. A few years later came the Tom Tom Club, a popular fusion of hip-hop with funk and world music polyrhythms, catchy lyrics, and a strong sense of playfulness. One year prior to this interview the Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here they talk about their early collaborations and their latest adventures in the Tom Tom Club.

Conversation with Chris Frantz
Conversation with Tina Weymouth

BC : I’m not sure everyone is aware of the fact that Tom Tom Club did not actually spawn after Talking Heads dissipated. This is a band that started while Talking Heads was still in existence. Can you tell us how it formed and how were you able to make it work while touring with the Talking Heads?

CF : Well, Talking Heads was kind of like our first baby. We started Talking Heads in 1975. And we didn’t do our first performances…well actually our first real performance was in ’75, but we didn’t make our first record until ’77. Then that band really took off quickly, you know…not everywhere in the world but in the sort of cool places. Boston was one of the first places we played after New York City…at The Rat, if you remember that place…

BC : Sure, it was infamous…

CF : Yeah, so around about 1980 our lead singer David Byrne told us that he was going to be doing a solo project, an outside project, which was actually called The Catherine Wheel, a collaboration with Twyla Tharp, music for dance. And Jerry Harrison was a Harvard guy, well known in Boston, and he decided he was going to do a solo project too. So Tina and I looked at each other and said “What are we going to do?”

And we decided rather than separate solo projects (laughing) we would do something together along with friends and various members of our family. And a friend of ours who we had met when working down at Compass Point Studios, Chris Blackwell of Island Records suggested we come to Compass Point and cut a single. And he said if he liked the single, we could do a whole album. So we went down and we cut this song called “Wordy Rappinghood”, which incidentally was never released as a single in America because we were just on Island in the U.K. and Europe. So it was released immediately as a single in Europe and it did really well.
So Chris Blackwell said by all means, make a whole album. So we then went back into the studio and did the rest of the album including this track called “Genius Of Love” which was eventually released as a single in America in 1981, but only after Island Records had shipped and sold like 100,000 12” singles. Seymour Stein and the people at Warner Brothers sort of said “Oh, maybe Chris and Tina are on to something. We should release this album over here.” So they did and to date it’s still one of the biggest selling records we’ve ever had, either with Talking Heads or Tom Tom Club.

BC : Wow, I didn’t realize that. “Wordy Rappinghood” I play a lot on the show and it amazes me that almost every time I play that song I always get calls asking me what it is. And it surprises me that more people don’t recognize it but I’m wondering if it was because it was never released as a single here in the States so people don’t know it, but they’ll know “Genius of Love”.

CF : Right Well you know the song “Wordy Rappinghood” is making a huge comeback in Europe right now in the whole “Electroclash” scene, as they call it. Those new electronic kids really dig it and they’ve used that little keyboard riff, you know {singing the opening bars} over and over again in remixes and stuff. It’s even being used in France right now for a cookie commercial…a children-oriented commercial for a French cookie called Le Petit Ecolier (The Little Schoolboy). So over here it’s always been “Genius of Love” that’s the more well-known track, but in Europe and other parts of the world it’s “Wordy Rappinghood”. And we’re still trying to write songs that have that kind of impact. And it’s so hard to do.

BC : Those songs have a real catch to them. It’s funny you mention the Electroclash scene because my show is sort of an amalgam of electronic music and experimental music and “Wordy Rappinghood” just fits really well in that context. With the new juxtapositions of electronic music into pop music that song really gets people attention. Maybe ten years ago people would have said, “Oh that song sounds like a synth 80s thing”, but now it just sounds so topical.

CF : (laughing) It’s funny. What goes around comes around.

BC : So who are you performing with on this tour? You’ve had a rotating cast of characters on the records and previous tours, Steve Scales, Bernie Worrell from Parliament/Funkadelic. Is it the same people on the Clubhouse record?

CF : Well we don’t have Steve Scales on percussion. I think Steve moved to Atlanta or something. He called a few people and said he was moving to Atlanta from Brooklyn but I haven’t heard from him to know if that’s really true or not. Steve is big on the whole gospel thing right now. He’s playing with one of those huge gospel choirs and a full band.

Instead we have Kid Ginseng on turntables scratching. And he’s pretty cool, we’re really excited about what he offers. He’s younger than we are so it means he kind of brings some youth into the whole thing. And we also have a different guitarist this time, a guy by the name of Fuzz, who’s really great. He was formerly with a band called Deep Banana Blackout, one of the better sounding funk bands that I’ve heard.

BC : Yeah, they’re great.

CF : They did reunite for a performance at The Gathering of the Vibes just a couple nights ago opening for James Brown in upstate New York. So he’s really great.

The other people are Bruce Martin on keyboards and percussion. Bruce has been with us since the late 80s. And Victoria Clamp singing with us, and she’s been singing with us a long time. And a Jamaican by the name of Mystic Bowie also on vocals. Mystic is on the Live At The Clubhouse record. And who am I forgetting? Me and Tina on bass and drums.

BC : You mentioned Kid Ginseng…this guy was part of the whole DJ battle scene, right? I remember the movie Scratch came out and documented the whole scratch turntablist scene. Is he part of that circle?

CF : He was but he’s leaning now toward more electronic composing with keyboards and sequencers and things. While he’s still a fantastic scratch, he’s starting to broaden his spectrum.

BC : And Victoria and Bruce have been with you a long time. Can you talk about how you met Mystic Bowie?

CF : Mystic Bowie has been with us for several years. Mystic we met at a Mardi Gras party. A friend of ours in New York originally from Louisiana has this zydeco band called Blue Guru and they play this party in New York every year at Mardi Gras. He has his band plus this whole slew of special guests and at one time he invited us to play with him. We played along with this singer named Mystic Bowie and it turned out that he was living near us in Connecticut just outside of New York City, he was one of our neighbors.

We had a wonderful singer named Charles Pettigrew who had a band in Boston, actually, called Down Avenue. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, they were kind of like a new romantic band in the late 80s. Charles unfortunately got very sick and passed away from cancer so we needed a singer and Mystic Bowie was in the neighborhood. So we gave him a call to see if he’d be interested and he’s been singing with us ever since. He’s really very charismatic and has some great dance moves.

The Tom Tom Club is all about having a good time. There’s some spirituality involved also. But we like to make people dance or give them the opportunity to dance, so everybody in the band sort of works to that end.

BC : There seems to be a lot of different world music in there too, Jamaican, Nigerian, etc. Do you look for collaborations with people of different ethnicities to bring in different polyrhythms and things like that?

CF : Oh yeah, for many years we’ve been thrilled and excited by African music, the music of the Caribbean, reggae, calypso, salsa, and soka, and all those different styles. I mean…we don’t really think of ourselves as a reggae band or anything like that. And we’re not really a straight funk band either. But we have a lot of elements from those different styles that we like to sort of absorb by osmosis.

BC : I read somewhere that when Tom Tom Club was performing with Talking Heads on tour, it was used as a way to give David Byrne a break or for him to do a costume change…is that right?

CF : Yeah, yeah. In retrospect maybe we should have had him change his costume right on stage, right in front of the audience, instead of going backstage (laughing)….

BC : That would have been appropriate…

CF : Yeah, the whole Stop Making Sense thing is really great. Speaking of how great that band was, we were just in Asheville, North Carolina playing in a little club and we got into town the night before. And Bernie Worrell was playing with his band The Woo Warriors. They were playing the same little place we were, so we sat in with Bernie and it was really cool. And we played “Burning Down The House”.

BC : Who approached Bernie for that original collaboration?

CF : That was Jerry who made the call. And we’ve been friends with Bernie ever since.

BC : The P-Funk connection is definitely there.

CF : I think he was recommended by a guy named Busta “Cherry” Jones, a bass player we had met. He played on that first expanded band tour for Remain In Light. He is unfortunately also deceased. But he was the connection for Bernie, Steve Scales, and a singer named Dolette McDonald who worked with us back then.
BC : I remember when Stop Making Sense was re-released in the theaters. And you get, at least I got, a sort of sigh of relief when Tom Tom Club comes on. There was sort of a dichotomy between Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club because maybe Tom Tom is a little lighter and bouncier, even though Talking Heads is a funk band in many ways. Was that something you were looking for, to sort of escape and do something different?

CF : Well we thought it was a good idea to do something completely different because otherwise people would say “Well it’s just a pale imitation of their other band”…which is what they ended up saying about Jerry’s album, for example. Even though Jerry…I mean, poor Jerry, he’s a brilliant keyboardist but a lot of people thought that the stuff he did was either played by [Brian] Eno or by Bernie Worrell, when in fact neither of them did,
it was all Jerry. But that’s what happens and the press often, the guys who write about records, often don’t really know what they’re talking about.

BC : They almost never do.

CF : (laughing) Right. But yeah, I guess Tom Tom Club always had more bounce than the Talking Heads (laughing).

BC : Yeah, every time I see that film when Tom Tom comes on it’s sort of like “Aaahh”, it’s just a welcome change of pace.

CF : I’m glad to hear you say that.

BC : Can you talk about the new live record? It sounds very produced even though it’s a live record…

CF : Well Live At The Clubhouse is just a very faithful recording of how our band sounded one year ago. The engineer that did it was a guy named Jay Newland who won a Grammy this year for his work with Norah Jones. He’s a guy who’s recorded a lot of live albums and jazz musicians like Charlie Haden and Etta James. He understands the bass frequencies. He understands how the air moves in a room (laughing). And he did a great job.

BC : What is The Clubhouse exactly?

CF : The Clubhouse is a recording studio next door to our home. And we built it back in 1990. And it was a really good idea to do it I think because we’ve made a number of really good records there since, not just our own, but other people’s records also. It’s great that we don’t have to go to a record company with our hat in our hands. And with the advent of a lot of digital recording nobody really has to do that anymore but it’s nice when you have a room with a good board and a lot of old vintage gear, Neve EQs and things like that that make for a nice sounding record. We wanted to capture the whole set for posterity so that came out to being 2 CDs.

We invited in about 50 or 60 of our friends and neighbors. We had a bar, you know…made it like a night club. We played the set twice so we would have 2 takes.

BC : How do the songs come about? Is it a combination of you and Tina experimenting with different sounds and rhythms?

CF : Pretty much. We’re not really prolific writers. I wish we were more prolific. We work things out and rework them and rework them again, and then finally we decide we’re finished. We often end up taking away a lot of what we’ve done by the end. I think it’s kind of a process like painting where you try something and you decide you don’t like it so you just paint it out (laughs).

BC : Tina, I read that Chris introduced you to the bass…? Or convinced you to take it up? How did that work…

TW : Well let’s see. (pause) I think Paul McCartney actually introduced me to the bass (laughing). He was the first person who I became really aware of as a bass player. I just always liked all parts of the songs. I had played guitar since I was 14 and I’d never been in a rock band, had never thought about that. But Chris kept trying to get me to join his band. And I thought they were all weirdos…I really liked them, but I didn’t see myself in a rock band. And then he started getting really desperate and leaving all these Suzi Quatro records around…(laughs)

TW : And then I found out about Carol Kaye, who was the bass player on Pet Sounds, which is one of my favorite albums. And the boys kept saying, “Bass! Bass guitar, that’s what we need, that’s what we need!” Otherwise I had learned to play flute too but that didn’t fit in rock, and so I said okay, I’ll learn to do this. And I think David [Byrne] gave me a half-hour lesson where he showed me a 12-bar blues. He taught me Slippin’ and a Slidin’. And that was it!

And after that I just had to really listen. And I had no tape recorders, so we had no idea…I would write things down to try to remember how they went. I was
always asking David, “Show me where your fingers are, show me where your fingers are”, that sort of thing. And then trying to find the thing that fit in between his vocal and the drums and his guitar. Because his guitar was really like shards of glass. He liked this really brittle, bright, clangy kind of guitar sound.

BC : Right…

TW : You know, David’s a great rhythm guitarist. He loves that kind of TK Studios from Miami sound, and KC and the Sunshine Band, the southern funk bands. And we dug that too. So we came in with that kind of an attitude, but also at the same time trying to deny playing as much of possible in the kind of blues format. I mean it was hard because we would sometimes end up – of course – in the typical 1-5-4 recordings.

When we finally got to Remain In Light we had pared it down to just basically like two chords, so then you can do things like always trying to avoid the root note…that’s me, that’s what I was trying to do. But with Remain In Light we were recording songs before they were written and laying down textures. Everything was completely improvised in the studio. We had been writing that way for so long that it finally became our studio style. And it is to this day our way of writing. We don’t do the singer-songwriter thing because it’s become so predictable for us that we’re much more interested in pursuing things that stir the imagination by being different if possible.

BC : And they sound that way too. With Tom Tom Club the songs end up sounding more organic than coming from the approach of sitting down and writing a piece of music and lyrics for each instrument.

TW : Right, because we didn’t want to follow some kind of theory because it’s what deadens modern composition…all of the genres of music, from classical to jazz, they become kind of stuck. And so the best things that happen are well, like turntablism coming in as an instrument, you know, people spinning on their heads, the new dance. These things completely change the way a culture thinks or approaches how it creates what it likes to think, to work, and to move to. And music is so much like prayer, so essential, that people will always need it like food or air or water.

BC : Right, it becomes a necessity. It’s interesting because I’ve had this conversation before with others and the idea of composition becomes almost irrelevant if you start to really think about the end goal of what you’re actually trying to do. I mean, it becomes a book that’s just dead that you can read. And instead of trying to make music you end up trying to figure out what chord changes should go on or getting stuck in the composition. And there are scores of records where the artists are talking about their compositions in the liner notes that is just the most boring thing in the world, because it’s like “Who cares where it came from or what it’s about?” If you care that much about it then the music itself is deadened.

TW : Yeah, it becomes a sort of typist mentality. And it’s dry and brittle and loses all of its fresh vitality. Of course new kids who come along and play old-time music, they bring something fresh to it, you know. Like the kids who are playing punk now. They bring a fresh attitude, they bring their juicy testosterone, the teenagers do. And it’s very cool. But then you think, well wouldn’t it be great if they learned this but then broke out of this format or formula and started carving out some new turf.

BC : Yeah, I think there is a new movement in punk music but I think it’s under the surface of what most people hear about. I mean there are bands playing in the punk “style” if you want to call Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Robert Quine and the early CBGBs scene the origins of punk, but they have new approaches or a different approach. It takes maturity, I mean, these are twenty-somethings, not teenagers…

TW : I think there is an underground, there is a hardcore scene. There is a hip-hop underground we don’t hear about…

BC : Do you miss playing the intimate spaces like CBGBs?

TW : We are playing the intimate venues like CBGBs! I mean, we love to playing the large festivals because there’s nothing like playing to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s been a long time since we were in front of those numbers. I kind of like the small festivals too because I almost can’t stand it when they bring in the mainstream acts because all the color gets lost. So the clubs are where it’s at but all the mom & pop businesses are getting squeezed by the corporate giants, the deregulated monsters running around.

BC : It’s hard to stay alive…

TW : Well the strong will survive, you know? I mean, you have to trust the American people that the majority of them are going to be smarter than some people who would like to tell us what to think. But in music and art this is where we get our spunk. This is where people gather together and celebrate their differences. Which is so American…the melting pot of our society. So the music plays a vital role and all the music the young people are coming up with too. But there hasn’t been anything really breakthrough because there has not been support for the newer kinds of things. I mean, Star Search, oh my God…

BC : …it’s so depressing…

TW : It’s like they’re trying to find the next Vegas act, you know? (laughs) The next silly thing, the next money bag. It’s very boring, it doesn’t serve the culture. But it takes labels to break new young acts, with the marketing and the promotion. And then the stores have to cooperate as well.

BC : Well Live at the Clubhouse was released on your own label, right?

TW : Yes, Tip Top and we were working with Artists Direct, although they are now finito. As was the label previous, Rykodisc! It’s amazing, this is what’s happening with the deregulation and the FCC allowing these monsters to gobble the indies. We’re seeing a lot of labels closing down. I think Rykodisc will somehow survive as a name brand but it won’t be what it was because it’s not the mom-and-pop thing anymore. They ran like a little Singer sewing machine, no breakdown until they had their knees broken.

BC : This new record you’re in support of was recorded a year ago, is that right?

TW : Right, this is the album we’re promoting right now because it takes so long to promote anything these days. We make really good studio albums but then our live work takes it to the next level.

BC : Well the live shows are incredible. That’s why it was so great to see this one come out because it’s like, finally we have a live record!

TW : Well, it was going to come out. It was time to document it. We sell it on the road, this is what we do. Like all the little hardcore bands, we have our own little tiny share of the marketplace (laughing). But it’s the way to go. We’re the small rodents that survived when the dinosaurs were killed! (laughing)

That’s what we are. Art will survive. They say painting is dead, rock is dead. Well then we’ll survive in some new form and evolve.

Horror

This week airs a special program entitled “The Sound Of Horror”, a 4-hour study on sound design in modern psychological horror films. We will include clips, interviews, and examples of director / sound designer collaborations such as David Lynch / Alan Splet (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet), Alfred Hitchcock / Bernard Hermann (Psycho, The Birds), and Darren Aronofsky / Brian Emrich (Pi, Requiem For A Dream).

Hosted and produced by Brian Carpenter, Boston filmmaker and head of Beat Science Films, an independent film house in Boston specializing in experimental and documentary forums.Beat Science Films is currently in production on a film and video documentary of the life and legacy of underground avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler. He is also the conductor of the circus music ensemble The Beat Circus.

Co-hosted by Matthew Ryan, Boston filmmaker and student of Academy-Award winning sound designer Walter Murch.Matthew Ryan teaches at the New York Film Academy in Manhattan.

Special Guests:
Steven Jay Schneider, PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at NYU and philosophy at Harvard and editor of several books including “Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror” and “Fear Without Frontiers Steven is currently producing the forthcoming Bravo-TV documentary The Scariest Moments in Film

Stephen Barden, sound designer, Supervising Sound Editor of Sound Dogs. Stephen Barden worked on sound design for films such as “Cube”, “Dracula 2000”, and Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”. Stephen Barden and Sound Dogs Studios are based out of Toronto.

Craig Henighan, sound designer. Craig Henighan worked on sound design for films such as “Red Dragon” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”. Craig Henighan is based out of Los Angeles.

For $25 which covers cost and shipping within the US, you can obtain this program (3 CDs) directly by sending an email to Brian. Or send a PayPal payment of $25 to beatscience AT earthlink DOT net (remove the spaces) under Goods/Non-Auction. For purchases outside the US, please add 4 USD for a total of 29 USD.

William Friedkin and Ron Nagle interviews courtesy of Warner Studios.
Ren Klyce interview courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Home Video.
Darren Aronofsky interview courtesy of Artisan Entertainment.

Chion, Michel. The Voice in Cinema. Columbia University Press. March 1999.

Kelleghan, Fiona.Sound Effects in SF and Horror Films International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts 21 March 1996

Rebello, Stephen. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. St Martins Pr (Trade). 1999.

Kancynger, Ken.Mixing Genres, Technique of Film and Video Editing. Book News Inc. 1993.

For more information on sound design visit or join the Yahoo group sound-article-list.

Thanks to Matt Ryan, Steven Jay Schneider, and Stephen Barden & Craig Henighan at Sound Dogs for their valuable contributions.

Jazziz

Web surfers and Boston-area listeners can turn to WZBC-FM, Boston College’s radio station. For three hours each Monday night, “Free Association” features “the interrelationship between jazz and improvised music and the revolution-era soul music of the ’60s,” according to the program’s creator and host, Brian Carpenter.

“Free Association” lives up to its name, as Carpenter segues handily from turntablism and free jazz to techno and avant garde, blurring the distinctions along the way. Carpenter maintains there’s a method to his musical madness: “I have a clear strategy, a way of building a bridge from something generally accessible to something relatively inaccessible.”

Carpenter describes one set that began with a ’70s soul singer and eventually settled into a piece by a renowned improvisational artist: “One caller asked me, ‘What is this music? You were playing Al Green and all of a sudden I’m listening to music I’ve never heard before. I don’t remember how we got here but I like this.’ I was playing Albert Ayler. This listener would normally never listen to free music. If I had played Ayler right after Al Green, he would have shut off the radio.”

Slightly more than a year old, the program has already made a name for itself among members of Boston’s improv scene. According to Ed Hazell, co-founder of the Boston Creative Music Alliance, “Radio programs featuring creative music are increasingly rare. Brian not only has a good sense of what’s going on internationally, he knows the Boston scene intimately and gives the city’s music important exposure.”

Composer and saxophonist Ken Field, who has appeared on “Free Association,” agrees that the program makes a significant contribution to avant-garde and other fringe music. “A lot of jazz stations around the country have a tendency to stick with tried-and-true artists,” says Field, who’s also a member of the ensemble Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. “It’s important to have a show like Brian’s that really pushes the stylistic edges and presents things that don’t have the opportunity to be heard on mainstream shows.”

Carpenter sees to it that the program’s style of presentation is as much an experiment as the music he plays. About a quarter of the show features what Carpenter calls his “thematic layering approach.” Over a bed of electronica that’s familiar to his audience  e.g. To Rococo Rot or Spring Heel Jack  he’ll add a less familiar track. “I once had Sun Ra’s Cosmic Rays singing doo-wop over Dr. Octagon’s ‘Blue Flowers,'” Carpenter remembers. “Oh my God, that was beautiful.” Once he feels he’s hooked his audience, he’ll drop out the electronica underneath and let Sun Ra, Ornette, etc. stand on their own.

And what would “Free Association” be without a few free associating listeners? One of Carpenter’s fans is a caller who goes by the moniker, “The Naked Baboon.” “He’ll give me very terse and pointed assignments,” Carpenter says. “He’ll say something like, ‘Just play me a beat, man.’ Or, ‘Take me out to space, man.’ And then he’ll hang up. I do my best.”