Revue & Corrigée
Interviewed by Rui Eduardo Paes
Revue & Corrigée:
more the laptop than the drums now. Is it happening with you what happened,
for instance, with Kaffee Matthews, who gave up her violin to concentrate
exclusively on the electronics? We can still hear you playing percussion
on your most recent CDs, namely with Toshimaru Nakamura, and you continue
to do solo concerts with your metals, but to focus on a sampling work.
I dont feel that, as youve said here about
Kaffe Matthews who gave up her violin (and I dont know if thats
true, in fact) that I have given up the drums for working with the computerto
focus on sampling work, as you put it. For me, the computer is a means
of delving deeper into the nature of the drums: their sound. I dont
feel that I am using the laptop more than the drums; I see the laptop
more as an adjunct to the drums than as a replacementit extends
the sound of the drums, focusing in on and expanding the resonances of
the instrument. Which are precisely the qualities of the drums which have
always interested me most. If anything, I would call what I am doing extended
percussion, focusing on the sound of the instrument and extending
it with the computer. Incidentally, rhythm is also still an important
factor, though in recent years I would say the rhythm I am working with
occurs more on a micro-level: the shifting sonorities of resonanting drums
and metals. This approach to rhythm can also be heard on a solo CD of
mine entitled Drums and Metals, which has no electronic processing
In the last few years I have embraced a simpler approach to the playing
of the drums, concentrating more on their sound. The computer is a useful
tool for expanding on this way of playing and of dissecting and magnifying
the sound of the instrument.
Revue & Corrigée:
You started playing in punk bands
and I know that you love jazz since you were a teenager. Do punk and jazz,
each in its different way, of course, have any influence on the
music you play now?
Very early on I realised that the spirit of punk (and
by punk, I have to emphasize here the punk music I was listening to in
the mid to late 70sthe time when I first started to go out
to clubs and discover live music) and jazz (and by jazz I would mean the
very early years of be bop, the post-bop-into-free jazz of Ornette Coleman
and Eric Dolphys groups, to the even less structural approaches
of late-John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, etc;) were not so far apart. For
me, the best jazz existed on the edge of disaster, where the musicians
pushed the music into regions where they themselves didnt know where
they were going. They took risks. Punk, too, was for me about taking risks
and pushing the boundaries of the performative and musical aspects of
a concert. Of course, often in punk groups the musicians were less technically
accomplished on their instruments than jazz musicians (which isnt
so important for me, actually) but their spirit, the expression of their
music moved in the same realms as many creative jazz musicians.
So, to answer your question, yes, in a way punk and jazz still have an
impact, albeit indirectly, on my music todaywhich is to say, for
me risk is still very important. I want to push myself beyond what I can
play, beyond what I can imagine playing. Only in this blank space, where
one is faced with complete failure can new ground be discovered. And this
holds true not only for myself as a performing musician but also for the
audience: they are a part of this process; they are taking a risk and
discovering right along with the performing musician. It is this exchange
between audience and performer which makes live music so vital and which
was, of course, such a big part of the initial stages in punk music: to
reviatlize rock; get it out of the stadium dinosaur mode and bring it
back down to a level where the audience had an influence on the music,
where they could partake in the creative process right along with the
musicians on stage.
Revue & Corrigée:
And tell me, with that background,
what was the click that made you play experimental music?
Without getting into any broad-ranging semantic discussions
about what experimental music means, I would generally say
that people who are reaching for something lying just beyond their grasp
or existing only in their dreams will have to go through a process of
experimentation to reach their destination. This process of seeking to
discover new ideas can only be reached by taking risks, by being willing
to fail and to accept failure as the starting point for something new.
And I think with what I said above about punk music and risk that it should
be clear why I am interested in an approach to making music which has
no pre-conceived notions of right or wrong, success or failure: i.e.,
Revue & Corrigée:
In your electronic music, or the one
you play with other people, it seems to be present a great influence of
the 60s minimalism and drone music, namely the one composed and
played by La Monte Young and Tony Conrad. I know thats one of the
main characteristics of current electronica, but we certainly dont
expect that from a percussionist (even if theres others doing this,
like Stephan Mathieu), because of the nature of his instruments. Do you
chose to do that to run from percussive and rhythmic parameters (even
if asymetrical), to find other sound worlds?
As I mentioned before here, I dont find that
the music I am now doing is non-rhythmic, or in fact less rhythmic than
I used to playit is rhythmic in a different way. The reverberation
of sound waves spreading across a pool of water would be a better analogy
for my current approach to rhythm: you throw one stone in the water and
slowly waves of sound expand outwards from the impact point; throw another
stone nearby and the sound waves from this stone criss cross with the
waves of the firs stone, and so on.
I am interested in the juxtaposition of rhythmic events, gradually unfolding
and creating new rhythms in the autonomous mode of sound expanding and
contracting, interfering and arriving in unison. The approach is polyrhythmic,
but not in the sense of three-against-four, seven-against-five; but in
autonomous rhythmic events combining and splitting; and in this process
creating various rhythmic combinations, both symetrical and asymetrical.
As much as possible, I want to let the music form itself, let the various
rhythms permutate, cross, disappear. I am trying to get as close as possible
to a generative approach to music, while still being an active partcipant
in the process as the sound develops.
Incidentally, you mention here the music of Tony Conrad, LaMonte Young,
etc. and their use of drones as an implication of non-rhythmic music.
In fact, drones are also rhythmic as a drone is comprised of sound waves
pulsing at certain frequencies. These pulsing sound waves are by definition
rhythmic, as they occur at precise intervals.
When I played in Arnold Dreyblatts group The Orchestra of Excited
Strings, I used to spend a good deal of time before each concert or rehearsal
tuning the cimbalon I played. Each string had to be tuned to a certain
interval using a tone generator Dreyblatt had built specially for his
tuning system. When a string was out of tune with the tone generator there
would be an incredible beating between the two sounds; completely
in tune there was no beating whatsoever. Now, here we are taling about
beats, which might not be fat beats but are nonetheless
beats and rhythm, as such.
In strikes me as odd that this approach to rhythm should be, as you put
it here, unexpected from a percussionist. Like a string, the skin of a
drum also reverberates, also beats. It is precisely this kind
of beat that I am interested in now.
Revue & Corrigée:
You said in other interviews you gave
that you always tried to find a way towards simplicity, giving a special
attention to the snare drum or learning how to play the daf, a Middle
Eastern frame drum, or the tombak, an Iranian finger drum. What you didnt
explained is this fascination for simplicity, that we can find even in
your computer music the use of reduced sound materials and processes.
Explain me now, please.
For me, what is important in music is the expression
of an idea, of an atmoshphere of a certain time and place. Technical prowess
is not something to be avoided; rather, technical prowess in place of
what I want to express is to be avoided. For this reason, I try to find
simpler ways of expressing myself which is, in fact, a way of letting
sound express itself.
This approach naturally carried over into my work with the computerand
especially with the computer, as with no other instrument Ive played
have I been faced with such an unlimited technical potential.
The technique of using a computer exists on a meta levelwe are not
hampered by indadequate motoric skills, only by the limits of our imagination.
It is precisely for this reason that a lot of computer-based music, approaches
a complexity far outweighing its expression of ideas or emotions.
It took me several years of searching for a way to integrate the computer
with live percussion, to use the computer as an extension, and to have
the two work together on a level of balance. After much trial and error,
finding this equilbirium ultimately entailed the reduction of material
(the percussion) and the simplification of sound processes (the computer).
This does not add up to a simple music, rather to a music
which works on two levels, the electronic and acoustic; and where these
two levels coexist mutually.
Revue & Corrigée:
Most of what you do with other musicians
is totally improvised. In those occasions, do you consider yourself an
improviser, in the same way someone like Evan Parker or Cecil Taylor are
improvisers, players of improvised music, or you dont
give a shit to improvisation, considering this only a process to achieve
Very broadly speaking, I would say that in the grand
universe of improvising musicians, we are all approaching the making of
music in somewhat the same spirit. Clearly, what I am doing with my music
involves a different approach to the instrument than Evan Parker or Cecil
Taylor, who both are known for their physicality in playing, but nevertheless
improvisation is a vitally important for me.
Revue & Corrigée:
In solo gigs, do you use to improvise around your compositions or you only interpret them?
In my solo performances all music is improvisedwhich is to say,
I have no score, no road map. I might know how I will start, but this
is all. And, in fact, Id rather not know more than this. The real
question is: how much is really improvisation? Each of us has a repertoire
of ideas, of stragegies, of approaches. Even when we consciously try to
avoid the repetition of ideas, they are still there; and to conciously
avoid something would only lend an unnatural censor to the creative process.
I dont want to avoid anything (nor do I want to repeat myself).
More importantly, I want to remain open for the music as it unfolds. I
cant always control what I am doing. I work a lot with feedback
and the computer is far from predicatable in its processesmany things
can happen unexpectedly in a peformance. Disaster is never very far away.
Only by taking an improvisatory approach can I take advantage of all these
inherent factors, factors which can spur me on to discovering new creative
Revue & Corrigée:
Which one do you think is the most
important in your music: improvisation or composition? Or do you think
that improvisation is already a form of composition? If so, tell me why,
because its not a very peacefull idea.
As I stated before, improvisation is most important
for me, especially when playing live. When I am composingwhich is
to say, working on the computer, mixing sound, creating a new piece of
musicimprovisation is also important, as much of the sound I am
mixing started at one point or another as part of an improvisatory process.
And, in fact, the thought process behind the act of mixing, of placing
sounds together, is also for me a form of improvisation. I cannot, for
example, do a mix too many times. After a while, the process loses its
spontaneity. This is precisely the case with improvised musicit
exists in the moment. How can we capture the same feeling twice? We cant.
This moment is there and then it is gone. I like to take a similair approach
to non-live playing, to composition. I want to work within the moment
of creative impulse, be inspired by this and capture this inspiration
in organised sound: a composition.
Revue & Corrigée:
Youre an American living in
Europe (Zurich) and playing in European and Japanese contexts. At least
in my opinion, theres a difference between those geographical approaches,
even in the electroacoustic field, where we sense more a globalisation
of concepts and practices. Do you feel playing European or Japanese, or
this is a false idea? If so, does that mean that each ones cultural
background dont influence anymore the creation of music in todays
I grew up in America. I moved to Europe when I was
30. In a strange, de-contexualized way, I still feel very much American.
I mean, I still have a very strong sense of the atmoshpere of growing
up in that country. There are so many factors which comprise our cultural
orientation. It would be impossible for me to even approach discussing
this here, as the entire experiential process exists on so many levels,
many of them incomprehensible or not even known to us.
But, to answer your question: no, I dont feel that I am playing
european or japanese or american. I feel that I am playing myself. And
in that space and moment of playing with other musicans, regardless of
their cultural orientation, I only experience the sound as such. Now,
I am only speaking for my way of approaching music. Maybe for someone
playing in other more stylistically regimented contexts (ethnic musics,
for example) this might be different.
This is not to say, however, that I feel ones cultural background
has no impact on the music one plays. Weve all developed differently,
grown up in different environments, times, placesall these factors
naturally affect how we make music. To say exactly how would be another
discussion, and probably a discussion which would not be of much interest
One thing Ive learned from playing in many different countries,
is that sound is universal. This might sounds banal or esoteric, but I
dont mean it that way at all. What I want to say is, when we are
playing together, making sound together, in sound together, then our cultural
backgrounds pale in comparison to the sound we are creatingfor it
is this sound which is the unifying factor, which makes it possible for
us to communicate, although we might not even speak the same language.
Sound communicates so much more.
Revue & Corrigée:
Youre a traveller, always moving
around to play (like in Portugal and Greece, recently) and to know other
cultures and realities, and you already lived in several cities, around
the world. Your own life represent the present state of creative music
and specially improvised music, a nomad state. It even seems to me that
improvisation is reinventing geography, approaching musicians and publics
from different countries in new ways. What do you think about that?
One of my basic problems with live performance is this
concept of being a peformer. Which means, being on a stage,
playing for an audience. When we think in these
terms, the idea of approaching audiences from different countries in different
ways is a mute point. We are not approaching the audience, the audience
is approaching us. We are not playing for the audience, we
are playing to the audience. Of course, we can sense them,
and some audiences might be, culturally speaking, more quiet or loud than
others, but in the end we can not approach them because the nature of
conventional peformance practices excludes any real contact with the audience.
If I could, Id rather not play on a stage, not give a concert. The
ideal situation for me would be something between a sound installation
and a peformance, where the people could come and go, could walk up to
me, see what I was doing, walk away. Only in this context could I imagine
being able to approach audiences, as you ask here.
In terms of approaching the musicians one plays with around the world,
the answer is, as I stated before, on stage we are in the sound. Sound
is the unifying factor. This is especially significant these days in the
face of extreme travel: flying to Tokyo for a weekend to play; being in
Chicago a couple days later. Within the parameters of this extreme travel
and cultural de-contextualisation, the idea of sound as unifying factor
becomes even more important. We can carry our cultural baggage with us,
but what good will it do when we are moving around so much? We might not
even have the chance to assimilate the new culture we find ourselves in,
or to give the other musicians there the chance to experience our culture
through us. We have to rely on sound as the unifying element, transporting
us beyond cultural and geographical contexts.
Revue & Corrigée:
Youre a player of extreme
music, in the sense that you focus on extremes (noise, silence,
ecstatic structures or no structures at all). Does this radical approach
to music correspond to a radical philosophy running your day-to-day life?
In other words: do you think and live what (in the way) you play? Because,
you know, theres abstract, innovative visual artists that listen
to classical music while painting and vote Republican
This question brings to mind the title of Val Wilmers
famous book As Serious as Your Life, which was a collection
of portraits ofbroadly speaking60s free jazz musicians.
I cannot speak for, as you termed them innovative artists
who vote republican, etcmaybe this is for them nothing strange;
maybe this is them, as they are (or as they see themselvesnothing
strange in this).
As for myself, Id have to ask, what would be a radical philosophy
to everyday life? Maybe the most radical people are precisely the
ones who vote republican but produce the most extreme artworkwhat
could be more extreme?
In the context of Val Wilmers book title, Id have to say that I
approach my life exactly in this context: the music I make, the way I
live, involve the same energy, the same impulse. But I hope not too serious.
Revue & Corrigée:
Laptop music is being criticized as
a non-performative way of playing live. In the improvisation domain, which
is/was considered the most performative of all musics, because it lived
only in the place and at the moment of its playing, theres much
discussion about the stillness of musicians that only move to click in
the mouthpad, not making any physical effort or expressing any emotions.
The discussion covers also the current tendency to edit improvisation
recordings for CD releases, composing in studio what was played
spontaneously on stage (I dont know if its your case). What
do you think about all that?
First of all, in terms of laptop music being non-performative,
Id just like to say that I personally know several laptop musicians
who are anything but boring to watch or non-performativethey rock.
And Ive seen many conventional (piano, guitar, saxophone,
etc) musicians who showed less emotion than the coldest laptop musician
(and, by the way, an icy stage presence can sometimes conveigh more emotion
and presence than the archtypical rock god, flailing his guitar in the
Secondly, when youre sitting in the back of a huge auditorium what
do you see of the musicians on stage? You see ants. You see a person at
the piano. At the most you can see their head moving. But their hands?
You see nothing. What then is the difference between this and a laptop
Why does music have to be peformative? What about acousmatique music?
What about listening? In my opinion, music is about sound. Performance
is aboaut other things. One could argue then, Whats the point
of going out to a concert? Why not just stay at home and listen to a CD?
The point is, a concert exists in a certain space and time. And we partake
of this moment; our presence, whether we want to acknowledge this or not,
affects the musicans on stage. Otherwise, they too would stay at home.
And we are all in this together, even if there is nothing to see. The
space we hear the concert in is not our living room, and neither is it
for the musicians who play the music. All these factors make a live performance
experience what it is. I often close my eyes when I listen to live music.
I dont care if people want to jump around on stage, but this is
certainly not a prerequisite for me having a satisfying live musical experience.
In terms of editing improvisational recordings for CD releases, this has
always occurred, even before the advent of computers. The only difference
now is, with the hard disc we can edit more intricately than before. But
why does music have to be a certain way? There used to be a group in Los
Angeles, whose name I wont mention here, who on every album they
released made sure to print all improvised. So what? Is that
like some kind of excuse for the music not being good, if its not?
Or for you to stand in mouth gaping disbelief at this disclaimer that
these musicians could improvise? For me, totally irrelevent. Especially
in terms of improvised music, which to be truly experienced, must be heard
live. A recording might give you an indication of what transpired at the
particular moment the music was recorded, but it can never, as far as
Im concerned, approach the live experience. And taken in this context,
whats wrong with editing a recording? If people what to edit a live
recording and still write on the CD cover all improvised, then so what? For me, the music is what is important, not how it was made.
Revue & Corrigée:
Tell me what are your impressions
about your duo with Nakamura (four CDs already!) and about your cooperation
with Gunter Muller and the Japanese Utah Kawasaki and Tetuzi Akiyama.
Were those encounters the consequence of musical affinities with the musicians
in question? What other colaborative projects do you have for the near
future, or should we expect more solo projects, something that you seem
Playing with Toshimaru Nakamura was always a kind of
unspoken event between us. We never really discussed the music we playedwe
discussed a lot of other thingsbut in terms of our recordings, our
peformances we just basically played. We shared a common approach, and
this made it possible to work on such an intuitive level, which is perhaps
the best level to collaborate on.
In terms of Gunter Muller, Utah Kawasaki, Tetuzi Akiayama and all the
other musicians who Ive had good collaborations with, Id say
that the basis for the music I made with them was certainly in part a
musical affinity. Too much affinity could be non-stimulating; too many
differences prohibitive. More important, though, is perhaps how I get
along with other musicians on a personal level. Generally speaking, the
better this is, the better the music.
Right now I am working on a recording with Steve Roden. After this I will
finish a new solo CD for the Sirr label in Lisbon. In March I will be
on tour in the United States, playing solo and also together with John
Hudak, Greg Kelley, Bhob Rainey and Jason Lescalleet.