MODES OF MUSIC: ALEX FERRIS INTERVIEWED BY CLIO LANDOR-TOOMEY
The modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions.
So, what's with the Plato quote.
Well, that's the beginning of it, isn't it?
Of the westworld, of the culture of hierarchy. The republic he imagined was the intellectual root of fascism. He wanted everything to be ordered and calm so he and his fellow philosopher kings could sit around talking about the right kind of pederasty. That syllogism thing is the rationale of all exclusion. We need a better form of logic, one that's not so easy to abuse.
So you want to unsettle the most fundamental political and social conventions?
The concepts of power and hierarchy. The emphasis on competition that's implicit in them. I think that road's a dead end now.
And you want to disturb the modes of music?
Ayup. We won't get any new music with the same old way of approaching it.
And that's social and political, rather than theoretical?
Seems to me. Theoretical shifts are generated by changes in the relationship between music and life, between the individuals who make music and the type of society they live in. Music theory grew when it escaped from the dominance of the church and then again, in america, when it escaped from the dominance of the oligarchy, the patronage of the rich.
Not new technologies?
No, not to my ears. Y'know, we've been hearing for twenty odd years about how the computers and synthesizers were going to turn every wannabe into Beethoven and, maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention, but, I haven't noticed that happening. It's really more like it's become a lot easier to make really slick sounding boring music.
You don't like the synthesizers?
Not much. And I really don't like the drum machines.
First off, there's no personality in the beats, no fluctuations in the values. I came up playing jazz, listening to Bird and Sonny Rollins and Mingus, y'know? And that music's all about how people phrase, that's kind of the point. Before I was even playing it, one of the first things I learned about jazz was from Beneath the Underdog where Mingus is explaining the difference between jazz and classical music to a reporter and tells him about what he calls rotary perception.
What he said was that if you had four quarter notes in a bar, four even beats, that a jazz musician would draw a conceptual circle around each of them and still consider them evenly spaced even if they fell inexactly within the conceptual circle. So there's all this tension and release built into every bar and it expresses the personality of the player. Two musicians playing the same phrase'll end up sounding different because their quarter notes or eighths or whatever will be personalized by that perception. That's why you like playing with people, because there's the interaction of personality even at the beat level. Anyhow, no matter what you do to a drum machine, it can't do that, there's always a program that regulates fluctuation. So here's this music that goes on for hours and there isn't any physical personality in it. It kind of makes me feel lonely, y'know? There's nobody there. And everybody's got it, something in the way they play, it's not just a jazz thing, they just made a point of exploring it. Even the most mechanical person in the world playing something really demanding is going to express that some way, even in the most rigid serial music. And I think that's good.
So is this a Luddite thing?
No, I don't think so. It's just that, like anything else, technology has its good and bad points. I love digital recording. I like amplifiers, pickups. I couldn't get along without them in what I'm currently doing. It's more about what the machines do for us, which parts of the process we use them for. See, I think the drumming is fun, the physicality, the errors, the excitement that speeds you up and the weariness that slows you down. I like all that, the different sounds people get out of their instruments, the way bands get hot and even without actually changing the tempo change the intensity of the beats by the subtle ways they read them. When all the sounds or the structure that holds them all together are synthetic it's kind of like cloning or test tube babies, there's a life produced, but it wasn't much fun for anybody. Even if the musical ideas are good, they aren't expressive. Like hearing someone read poetry in deadpan.
Product without process?
Yeah, and that's what I don't like in our socio-political scheme of things.
The bottom line idea, that getting something is important in itself and how you get it doesn't really matter. It's like always reading the last two pages of a mystery story, you know what happened, but there isn't much of a why. Y'know that bumper sticker you see on SUVs, that kid with the most toys wins thing? That always just seems really stupid to me. I've known some deeply miserable kids who had all kinds of toys and happy ones who could play all afternoon with a couple of rocks or a stick.
And the drum machine?
You get all these savage beats, but nobody broke a sweat.
The dancers do.
Yeah, that sort of threw me at first, but the division between the dancers and the music rings false with me. That's socio-political too.
It's like a labor/management dichotomy. When you're dancing to the machine it's kind of managing your labor and the DJ's an executive, the CEO of dancing. So it ends up being a social expression of the corporate state, which makes sense I spoze when half of everybody seems to be a corporate employee. I guess it's efficient, but deep down it's demeaning to everyone involved, like working for a corporation. The musicians won't sweat for the dancers and the dancers won't accept personality from the musicians.
Another metaphor of modern living?
Ayup. Watch me push this button. To anyone who's ever had the thermonuclear sweat pushers of buttons aren't exactly what you'd like to see.
So you can't enjoy techno music?
Not even a little bit. The other kind of dancing, where the band is sweating right along with the people, that's a tribal thing and I dig that. I've always dug that high-life idea where the crowd would stick bills onto the musicians at a dance and they got to keep only what stuck, so if they weren't sweating, they weren't getting paid.
And that's an anarchist model.
Yeah. From each according to his enjoyment to each according to his sweat. I like us, y'know? humans. I like almost everybody I've ever met. I like when we respond to each other, even if it's only the way we co-operate when we cram ourselves into a subway at rush hour.
And the machine music belittles that?
It avoids the opportunity to do that, takes it out of the mix. It's like brave new world, y'know? Like we're working for the machines now. I don't think it's truly evil, but I do think it's deeply sad. Making noise, making music, is fun, dancing is fun. Having it antiseptic doesn't improve the experience. When you hear the news from nowhere, the clock-driven beats, you don't see anybody having fun. Psychologically it alienates the audience, they don't equate music with anything they'd be doing. Since recording has come along people have begun to think of music is something you get out of a box, y'know, like cereal. A lot of people can't listen to improvised music at all now. They've come to expect seamless packaging of ideas, which often means only a very limited number of ideas and absolutely nothing that contains any kind of contradiction or even paradox. They have no idea that music is really a human thing, they know humans do it, but it's the same way they know humans build cars. They know it but it doesn't resonate with them in any way. So, anyway, down at the rave, there's a group of people pre-disposed to having fun and one of the collateral elements of fun has been excluded, so even if they have a good time, they might have had an even better one. It's been pre-limited. It's unshared. So when the dancing isn't about receiving the human input of someone else's joy and effort it seems to me like it has to become more narcissistic than anything else.
So you think the machines are generators of narcissism?
Yeah, on both ends. The techno idea is sonic narcissism The essence of ambience is that it surrounds, comes completely from the undefined outside, sourceless, yeah? It puts the listener at the center of the universe. When the news is always from nowhere the only important place to be is exactly where you are. It makes you the god.
Isn't that sort of a nice thing.
Yeah, when you're alone in your reclinochair or in the bathtub, it's very soothing. If you're scared or really tired or stressed out. But that's not what I go out for, to see how isolated I can feel among other people. It's like fucking interchangeable people with bags over their heads, which is the ultimate narcissism. It's a contract of narcissism. It's narcissistic for an artist to make perfect sounds all the time, to control everything in the music, very ayn rand, very fascistic. And it's equally narcissistic to hear, to want to hear, perfect sounds, like having silent uniformed servants washing your dishes or mowing your lawn. Every uniform is the same uniform, man, even when it's worn by a beat or a chord. It's the same thing I see and don't like in our society, expressions and displays of power have been taken for signs of beauty, equated with it. The idea of sweat, the idea of struggle, they're seen to be undesirable, like they're messy, y'know. It reminds me of the Donna Reed show.
There's a human impulse toward that.
O yeah, but we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That Donna Reed world was built on DDT, racism, and all kinds of other pollutants.
And that translates sonically, artistically?
Seems like. The music is very safe sounding now, in it's pretty unstained apron, bringing out a plate of cookies
And what's getting killed off?
Besides the idea that there's anything human in it?
Yeah, what else?
There's a whole world of innovations, even theoretical ones, that come from someone playing and realizing something. It's sure happened to me. You can't really discover much when you're in an environment that's been constructed. You can discover something you didn't know, but not anything that somebody didn't already know. And that's narcissism again, it doesn't matter if it happens out of your domain, it's excluded before you even start. Sort of symworld.
But it does make some sense to have a selected number of elements at ones disposal. You can't do everything all the time, reinvent the wheel every time you need to get someplace.
Yeah, but it might not be a bad idea to try reinventing the wheel. It's a great thing, but all the creatures of the earth get around without them. My objection is the constant reinforcement of the idea that there isn't really a wheel to be reinvented. If we are going to limit ourselves, why limit ourselves to that, why get stuck with algorithms of sounds instead of sounds. We're told this drum machine can play any beat, this synthesizer can make any sound. It just isn't true. This drum machine can play any beat that conforms to this idea of rhythm, this synthesizer can make any sound that conforms to this concept of resonance. And the underlying concepts in both cases are extremely simplistic. You're empowered to explore a selection of previously heard and selected sounds. On top of that the sounds, to a great extent, have been selected by the technologies themselves.
Because some are easier to produce than others. Like a flute's quite simple, basically it makes a sine wave, if you're willing to ignore the sound of breath, the clicking of the pads, the differences in embouchures, things like that. When you get to low reeds and lower strings, it isn't that simple. That's how the universe of sound collapses.
But people like that clarity and you could say it makes the ideas they communicate more readily receivable. There isn't as much noise.
That's a backward way of looking at things now, it isn't the future, it's the idealized past. Chaos and that guy Wolfram have demonstrated that we can be more inclusive in what we think about. In fact it's fairly obvious that we have to be if we want to understand things. The newtonian oversimplifications got us to a point where we couldn't go any further with how we thought about things.
Not everybody has to think about everything all the time.
No, of course they don't. But think on it this way. All that time before the synthesis of sound people were quite able to deal with complexity, it didn't distract them that much. We're really not as stupid as we think we are, The simplicities arrived at by rejecting the inconveniences of reality is what fosters racism and sexism and all that. I hope we don't have to argue the merits of inclusion.
That's the point with me, that the art we make recapitulates the socio-political world we live in.
But we're not social and political all the time.
No, like I said, when you're home in the bathtub it doesn't matter. But once we involve other people we should involve them, with their histories and their complexities. I don't mean we have to spend all our time examining the minutiae of one another's characters, but neither should we treat them like they're shallow, it's enough to acknowledge and tolerate them. Same thing with the sounds of our lives. People, some people, would prefer that, to keep everything at a safe distance, to have everything conform to a norm. The same way people like gardens better than the woods or the swamp, But you can have both of them, it's about where you'd rather be.
Luxurious man, to put his vice in use, did after him the world seduce.
Marvellous, dude. I like gardens, don't get me wrong, but if I need something deep I'd go to the swamp or the woods or the ocean instead. I actually live in a swamp. I've planted a few things, but mostly I've left it alone. I feel like there's more to be gotten out of understanding our environment than imposing our wills upon it. I think it's proven obvious that our traditional approach to nature hasn't been either kind or intelligent.
Anyway, the techno thing has sort of taught people not to expect content from music, like a garden has taught people not expect surprizes from nature. Their assets are their absences, no noise, no weeds. They've been built on a principle of exclusion. Y'know, it's more efficient to get food from a garden and sometimes the flowers are more beautiful, and there's plants you'd never see anywhere else, but the same idea's ended up genetically modifying the corn, the wheat, all that, till after awhile it won't be able to feed us. Chances are it's already killing us.
Is that true in music? Are there things from techno world that you couldn't get anywhere else?
Of course, but they're of dubious value, like factory farmed food. They're obtained by reducing the essential complexities of organisms or sounds. A synthesizer can't make a sound as complex as a piano, the piano sounds they sample in are always missing a lot. But you don't have to tune it, it's easy to carry around. A drum machine is more efficient than a bad drummer, but a good drummer can do what they do and a lot more besides. It's the easiness that appeals to people. It's hard work to go out and find a good drummer and hard work to learn to hear what they're doing. So why not just order something from a catalogue? I do have one y'know?
A drum machine?
And that doesn't make you feel inconsistent?
No. It's a useful tool. I don't consider the things I do using it to be anything like good music. But for experiments it's a very handy thing. I don't have to waste somebody's time working out tonal ideas while they keep me on a beat. It becomes objectionable to me when I want to express something. It won't respond, it isn't any fun, but it's a good martinet of a taskmaster for practicing.
So why you do think people like machine music so much?
It's been foisted on them. A lot of people like McDonalds too. You know when you're in some store and some horrible James Taylor song plays on the muzac and for the rest of the day it sticks in your head? Even though you hate it?
Well I think that's the personal equivalent of what's happened to our entire culture. The monopolies that control the airwaves have beaten our poor little brains in and saturated them with what they want us to like, what they want us to buy, so after a while we end up liking it, it feels familiar, it reminds us of the time we were eating slices of pizza with someone we loved, things like that. And we begin to think that's what music is, this soundtrack of our lives.
Is that wrong?
Not really, it would just be cooler if we had a variety of music to correlate with our experiences. It tends to flatten life out to have everything sound and feel so similar. The human content is what's being excluded with each advance in production.
There's no breath in the horns now, no pick sound on the guitar, even really good voices are million miles away in the echo. It's like Mao's dictionary, where he edited out all the words for things he didn't want people to think about. I'd way rather live in the OED.
But we do in a way. So much is available to us now.
That's true, but we have to go look for it.
And most people don't.
Nope. Or they don't seem to look very far. But that may be changing. That's what's wonderful about digital recording, it's finally taken the means of production out of monopolist hands. The major labels are losing more listeners every year. Among younger musicians I've noticed an intense recorso, they listen to all eras as if they were contemporary. But that cuts both ways too.
I wonder if I would have felt as intensely about making music if I'd come up in a time like this.
Because there were so many ongoing possibilities at the time that it seemed obvious that one could make a life in music. Any life they wanted. The spectrum was so wide and the world seemed to value individuality, even the mainstream companies. They were out there looking for the Art Ensemble, the MC5, the master musicians of Joujouka, it was like they'd try anything. So it was a healthy environment.
They'd rather recycle old proven success. So someone coming up doesn't have the same sense that what they do will get picked up. The sell-out level imposed by record companies even on top sellers is enough to scare anybody off. I can't imagine having a committee make the set list. The collateral impact of it is the lack of live venues, so nobody gets to go out and play a lot unless they're recycling old music or imitating something. Imagination and innovation aren't being rewarded, so someone coming up with new ideas either has to suppress them or stay home.
But that's usually been the case, hasn't it?
Yeah. It was just swinging the other way when I was coming up, so I tend to think of that as the reality and this as an aberration.
But it isn't.
No, and when we end up looking back at now from some future time it may turn out that the current conformity and complacency will prove to be the breeding ground for a period of innovation. The way all that bad arena rock ended up creating the environment for punk. Right now, some clever capitalist may be walking into the office at sony and telling his boss: look, if we put out three hundred different records instead of a dozen somebody might actually like some of them, so instead of spending billions promoting eminem and britney we could spread it around, we could take the blinders off the radio stations and let them play whatever they want to, have them hire people who are actually interested in music and see what they play and what people end up liking. It would probably be good business anyway. They're pissing and moaning about duplication and there wouldn't be nearly as much of that if they didn't try so hard to concentrate popularity in a small number of artists. So it might even happen.
But it might not?
It'll have to eventually.
So you aren't without hope?
No, nay, never. Music will grow in spite of the music business. It always has. There've always been enough people who do it out of love to keep the capitalists from completely suppressing creativity.
Is that what they want to do?
Ayup. The analogue is the way the car makers and oil companies have suppressed alternatives to the internal combustion engine. It isn't out of really bad intent, just businessmen trying to speed up the buck by cutting some corners. They don't want to shut down and retool so they make a lot of things we don't need anymore.
What's the internal combustion engine of music?
The major-minor scale system, what's been called tonality. Like all tonality is that tonality. The new technologies haven't had much of an opening effect because they've built that idea into the new machines.
Old wine in new bottles.
Ayup. And it would be better if we washed our feet with it than drank it. We carry all these old ideas with us, churches, euro-white supremacy, male supremacy, nationalism, competitive economics, dominion over nature, long past the time when they're useful. Any old thing still works, but that doesn't mean it works as well as something else might. But the structures remain and coerce as much of the new as possible into seeming to be an outgrowth of the old, or into including less useful parts of the old in with them. It's Mao and his dictionary again. In music the names of things are still seventeenth century names, so ideas are sort of compelled to explain themselves in four-hundred year old terms. An idea that is actually very simple, like serialism, becomes extremely complicated when it's expressed in our inherited nomenclature.
Serialism is simple?
O yeah. Don't let em fool ya. A lot of it's difficult to play for the same reason it's difficult to explain.
And difficult to listen to.
Actually that's true, but only half-true.
Without some experience with it, we don't know what we're listening for. If we're expecting Mozart cuz the performers are wearing fancy clothes we're going to be really disoriented. Even if we're expecting Debussy. It's like with painting, if you're expecting Rembrandt you'll be disoriented by abstract-expressionists, or with novels if you're expecting Dickens and you get Beckett. Pollack and Beckett aren't complicated, but they would be if you tried to understand them only in the terms of their predecessors.
Do you like that stuff?
Modern concert music?
Some, not a whole lot.
Messiaen of course, but he doesn't really count. Boulez, some Xenackis, some Penderecki. I'm not greatly informed about it. I don't like what I've heard of Berio, it just doesn't get to me, or Elliott Carter either. Stockhausen usually seems silly to me. I'm sure it's valid, y'know? I like some of the ideas. And I try to understand. But I keep getting the feeling that they're desperately trying to save a tradition that's already dead. I think world war two buried that whole concept of civilization, the elitist model of art and society. They're sort of the dust cloud that rose from the collapse, and it's fascinating, often very beautiful, but it's still just a dust cloud.
Why doesn't Messiaen count?
He's just who he is, who he was, a nut making music, that's how he's become the darling that he has, besides that his music is beautiful. Those others were all on about their roles in the music world, particularly Boulez and Stockhausen. That's a different thing. I doubt anything outside of his own reality effected what Messiaen wrote. He wasn't trying to build a place in history for himself.
So the others are just scene guys?
Sort of. I don't really know. Boulez is a great musician. I wish everybody listened to that. I wouldn't be surprized if some of his music stayed around forever. I love that Le Soleil des Eaux, parts of it anyway, and Figures, Doubles, Prisms. I haven't gotten to hear them live, or any of the ones where he's placed the orchestra around the audience. I'd like to do that.
Penderecki's threnody. I still really like that. It's sound, a cool way of getting at it. It's almost more of an improvisor's idea than a composer's. It's about how they play their instruments, an exploration of possibilities. It has such vigor and physicality, like the Rite of Spring. It must have been such a shock. After the rigid control of the post-war serial composers it represented a letting go that was healthy.
So music without physicality is decadent to you?
Yes. Ideas are wonderful, but you can't land on a fraction. Euromusic always seems to want to do that, separate the mind from the body and float it in the ether. Sometimes it does it very well.
And what's the gist of that? Why?
I think symbolically it's the last gasp of their class system, the natural expression of elitism. In america it's corporate.
The idea that it's somehow better not to do anything. That's why we got minimalism.
I don't know what you mean.
The idea that power is expressed by having minions carry out ones instructions. That it's a good thing to think up work for someone else to do.
So do you reject the concept of composition?
Yes and no.
All human artifacts are worth examining. I've learned a lot about music from composers. Anyone who cares enough about music to go through the training and discipline it takes to do that has some sort of valuable insight, and it would be supremely stupid to say that's just crap and ignore it.
But, I still don't like the point of origin. I feel like it's what we're going to move away from as we evolve.
The thing that draws me to music, as opposed to like painting or literature is that it's done collectively and because of that it can't help expressing the archetypical. The composer idea negates that. I find us, humans, more interesting in how we relate to one another than in how we find ways to be superior. Music is about that to me, about inclusion, about co-operation. The composer idea is basically fascist. See, the history of western civilization, as expressed in its arts, couldn't help but produce the age of the dictators. The dogma at the root of right and wrong is dichotomy and the simplistic reduction of that inevitably has to produce hierarchies.
So it's a paradigm-shift thing.
Hopes what exactly?
That we shift away from the ways we've been doing things. It's more like evolving to a new pre-paradigm stage. Our current one has sort of swallowed up all the others, but it's not really succeeding with it. As long as we have composers and their analogues in the other arts and sciences we'll have them in our social-political lives as well. I've often wondered what would've happened if someone like Debussy or Boulez had had a band and involved others in the creative process rather than presenting works to them to carry out, if they'd come up as jazz musicians.
And Cage? He tried to do that.
He's the american response to the great dictators.
Do you like him, or his music?
His music doesn't really exist. It's art, it's ideas. The gleeful experimentalism of it is wonderful, and the idea that a composer is an organizer of sound, rather than notes, was brilliant. As a thinker, a clown amidst all those Stockhausens who were taking themselves too seriously, it's like he's the Malcolm McClaren of the concert hall. So all that's to the good.
And on the other hand?
The joy of it is more the joy of finishing a crossword puzzle than the joy of sex. I suspect it was a generational thing for them to repress any hint of sexuality in what they did. The musical ideas of that time, Cage's included, are somehow about defeating the instinct.
But Cage seems to want to liberate it.
No doubt. I shouldn't lump him in there. He's really very different, the founder of a long line now of art-musicians. Stockhausen tried to steal his ideas and make them more serious. But all of them, even when they acknowledge instinct, seem not to really trust it. It seems like they were trying not to think about some things more than that they were trying to free the instinct.
Because what they thought of as instinct seemed to have produced Hiroshima and Auschwitz.
Yeah. I think that's an aberration, a carry over from victorianisms and christian shit that was always trying to repress those base desires. I think we're basically kind. I believe that. And I think Cage wants to believe that, but he isn't really able to. So, he maintains the cult of his own personality, sort of hedging the anarchist bet.
Still the cult of the composer.
Ayup. It's like he's in the business of producing brilliance when brilliance should have been a by-product.
Of having fun, of working hard, of being scared, of being opened up in some way, of being compelled. But what he did is more interesting than it is anything else. It reminds me of that exchange in Doktor Faustus between Leverkuhn and the narrator where Leverkuhn defines interest as an emotion stronger than love and the narrator calls it a love that has been deprived of its animal warmth.
And that's what's lacking in all of them?
Yeah. And what was lacking in euroculture all along.
Not in Stendahl or Proust or Beethoven or Wagner.
No, I meant the postwar euroculture, the one that had lived through the shame of Hitler and fascism. And as a document of what life was like, it's very effective. I don't doubt its honesty, that's what I love about it.
I was thinking about Boulez. If you listen through the rigidity you reach the personality at the bottom of it.
The animal warmth.
It seems like a lot of work to go through to get to not very much. I wonder why you bother.
I'm a middle-class white boy from an intellectual family and they represent the culture I was raised in, that was handed down to me. The other things that became the foundations of my life I had to go looking for.
Ayup. And indian and middle eastern music. Those postwar composers are examples of dynamic responses to the same culture my parents grew up in. It was and still is important for me to see where they went with it, how they were trying to get out of the box they'd built themselves into. Their validity is more that they existed than that they did anything really useful.
Useful to me. The serialist's level of control represents the same latent fascism as techno-ambient and neither of them has, so far, a sound or sense that opened the door very far. They tried to expand the language and there are elements that have gone into my ears. The way you have to hear tonerows, serial music, is completely different from the way you hear traditional keyed music. You kind of have to approach it from the inside out instead from the surface inward and I think there's a reality in that that we as humans have been missing out on. I didn't like it for a long time, but I also knew there was something I was doing wrong. Eventually, basically out of boredom with what I was doing with keyed music, I began to get it.
Do you think it's too specialized for the average person?
But it took you a long time and you made an effort.
The difficulty is overcoming the habit, not actually hearing the music. There isn't any real carved in the stone of our unconscious reason we can't hear that way. It's the weight of our programming. And they didn't make it easy, they were groping in the dark and they incorporated a lot of silly ideas into their work.
The fanaticism of extending the rigor so far and thinking that was the answer.
When Schoenberg didn't float as well as they thought he should have it's like they blamed him for it and apotheosized Webern, because he was so much more austere and rigid. History has listened to Berg instead. He's the one who opened my ears to it. I still don't like Webern that much.
O, to me he's a great, great man. I don't love his music, but he's like Freud, y'know? He looked at the shit and did something courageous. I have no way of imagining the world without him. Stravinsky, whose music I do love, I can more easily imagine the world without. Schoenberg opened a door everybody'd been pretending didn't exist. He opened it and looked at what he saw and it's unfair to expect much more than that. He didn't grow up as a dilettante, he started out trying to write popsongs. See, with Cage and all them there's this feeling of goofing on your old professor, like with Varese and Vincent D'Indy, they're insiders and they're willing to challenge the accepted ideas, but not the idea that they're insiders. That's what they should have been challenging. It's like a palace coup instead of a revolution. Schoenberg was a real outsider in every way, he wasn't looking to take a step up the ladder, he was building his own ladder. And because he was self-taught he looked at it clearly and when he saw what he thought was wrong, he didn't try to alter it, he tried to replace it. And I think he was dead on about what the problem was.
As it was then academically construed. He heard the rows and their structures, but I don't think he figured out exactly what to do with them. He was put into such a defensive position that I'm not sure he wrote without anticipating the opposition he was going to have to endure. That's a tough way to have to do anything, y'know, like the world was always looking over his shoulder. The same thing affected Boulez early on. Stravinsky had an entourage of admirers and he didn't care whether or not he was making a theoretical point, so I think it was easier for him to just write.
Hearing the rows, what do you mean by that?
It's not really any harder, but it's different. Instead of hearing everything in relation to a tonic, you hear them in relation to each other, so it's about sequences of intervals instead of degrees of separation from a tonic. So in the row each note is the degree of the one before it and the tonic of the one that follows it. What Schoenberg realized was that the tonic keeps shifting that way and there's a coherence in that if every note gets to be the tonic. He called it tones which are related only with one another. The row gives a shape to the inclusive scale, without a row, a chromatic scale is just a glissando. Each row is shaped by the successive intervals and that shape makes a sort of key out of what would be keylessness. It's analogous to Monet creating form with color instead of lines. The sizes of the steps and the relationship between those sizes are what make the music instead of their vertical positions in relation to a tonic. Debussy had already done this, thought this way, but he hadn't made a formal theory or practice of it. Schoenberg saw a set of rules that could free the whole of music from having to continually adhere to the old set of rules which were largely followed by exception at that point. It wasn't that he thought the old way was false, but that its truth prevented other truths from coming to light. Debussy said, there is no theory, you have only to listen, and that was true with him, but other types of musicians need a sense of structure. Schoenberg was one of those types. He was pointing out a way to use the chromaticism that he'd learned from Wagner and what he called the non-functional harmonies of Debussy. His point was that there wasn't a dichotomy between consonance and dissonance, which is the philosophical basis of the diatonic scale, but that there are only varying degrees of consonance, that a sequence or chord isn't wrong, only harder to appreciate. By using all of the notes there's a coherence, a completeness that isn't rooted in the idea that there are consonances and dissonances. And that's proven true to me. It's like there's a different sort of consonance with its own logic and it's own sense of expectation. It's hard to understand at first because most of what we've heard is made the other way. He also said from the start that his wasn't the only way to make music, that twelve-tone and less than twelve-tone structures would probably end up working together at some point. The reaction was unfortunate. Because of the personalities involved and the entrenchedness of the academic power structure it turned into a battle between armed camps. And so far the academics have won the war just in getting to define the terminology.
The word atonal for one thing. It's still in use, still what most people use to describe twelve tone music, and it's a grave misnomer, akin to calling an integrated society raceless or a society that didn't discriminate by gender asexual, as if by allowing alternatives all identities were denied or negated because the traditional predominant one had lost its place on the pedestal, And they've retained the naming of the notes.
That internal combustion engine.
Ayup. The other upshot of all that was that the theory became the focal point, rather than how it sounded. That's what I think happened to the generation of Boulez and Stockhausen and Babbitt, the cult of Webern grew up because music had been fighting over theory for so long it sort of forgot about making music that was essentially sonic. Before it all erupted that had been where they were going. That's what Debussy, Stravinsky, and Bartok had done, and later Varese was moving toward, and really what had guided Schoenberg to theorize in the first place. I don't think he set out to have theoretical rigor become the defining aesthetic of music, it certainly isn't true of his own, or Berg's. Unfortunately, when theoretical ideas became the standards by which all art was judged, it was only a short step to ignoring the actual music altogether and rating everything as an idea, as a process. The upshot of that was the advent of Cage and a species of art-musicians who ended up making very little music after awhile because the actualizing of ideas was sort of an afterthought.
Do you separate art-musicians from musicians?
In cases like Cage's yes. His solution to the crisis was to put himself further into the picture than even a composer would. He's like a puppeteer. Boulez and early on Stockhausen at least wrote stuff to play. Cage wrote sets of instructions. So it's still the cult of the composer, but in his case there really isn't any music. So what's the point?
Do you think there isn't one?
To him, and like Earle Brown, Wolff and Cardew and LaMont Young I'm sure it was very bold and ground breaking.
They were trying to rationalize and intellectualize what jazz musicians had already been doing for a generation. And the jazz musicians did it better. By the time I was interested in any of them there was Ornette, the AACM musicians, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor. They were all doing shit those conceptual motherfuckers couldn't touch in their dreams. So from my point of view at the time it was like they were trying to get in touch with reality, but on their own unrealistic terms, Like when Nixon went out to talk to the protesters, or George Wallace would have a black man on the podium with him. The Art Ensemble of Chicago worked as a collective and did all kinds of things without the pretensions of thinking their thought process was more important than the actual sound they ended up making. So those indeterminacy guys were so busy trying to prove they were indeterminate, they didn't accomplish much of anything. It's like they wanted to believe in anarchy, but couldn't bring themselves to let go of their self-importance.
Cage calls himself and anarchist.
Yeah I know that and who am I to say he's not? What I mean is that you're making this free art, man, but there's still this boss, this puppeteer. And there's an arrogance about elevating the thinking over the work, like his daydreams are more interesting than someone else's sweat. It's the same train of thought that offends me in the techno-ambient approach. It presupposes adulation without doing anything to earn it. You end up swimming in their processpool. Meanwhile over on the down side of town, there were people living those ideas and making real music in the process.
Free Jazz musicians.
They were living those ideas?
Just because they were being ignored didn't mean they weren't paying attention. I suspect a lot of what made Cage and the indeterminists so popular was that it was a way of co-opting the ideas of jazz, a way of taking credit for the enormous innovations they'd made and keeping the party white. I think it was terrifying to the makers of taste that the strongest ideas of the time weren't coming from their academies.
Partly. But I've always thought it was more about class than anything else, that kind of more abstract racism was defensive bourgeois fear, unlike the KKK kind which is about competing for the same jobs and the same pieces of land. The academies were taking the lesser of two evils with Cage, keeping their halls hallowed. Music education by then had become sort of useless in terms of developing innovation. That had really been true since Schoenberg. So they were clutching at straws. It's the american response to the same bankruptcy the euros had confronted with Boulez and Stockhausen. There was a homegrown answer, which in fairness to the euros they didn't have, but they didn't want to acknowledge it.
Answer to what?
To where do we go from here? To how do we make music that isn't recapitulating our horrific past? Everyone was desperate to get on with it, to evolve away from Hitler and Hiroshima. Time needed to speed up just to build a cushion of historic distance between the present and the deathcamp-nuclear slaughter of the all-too-recent past.
And what was the answer?
A new methodology. One that de-emphasized the hierarchic and its tendency to fascism. I think people finally started listening to Schoenberg and Bartok then and anything else that was banned by Hitler, or even anything that they knew he wouldn't have liked. But, to absolve themselves of participation in the horror they had to think they were creating the new future themselves, not co-opting it from their own ugly truth.
Their own ugly truth?
American apartheid. If they'd accepted the jazz ideas as jazz ideas they'd also have had to confront the exclusionary nature of their society, which was a lot like Hitler's and Mussolini's anti-semitism. Americans got to pretend they had nothing to do with fascism and they didn't want to open up a can of worms that would make them have to admit they weren't all that different from the europeans, that the roots of their society contained the same kind of intolerance. They haven't really faced up to it yet. When they finally let jazz into Juilliard it was Wynton Marsalis.
Which to you is worse than keeping it out?
Pretty close. He's the one who lets them shut the door on the ones who belong there.
Who would they be?
Old guard, Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, Some of those AACM guys, like Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton, maybe even Ornette Coleman, that would be a fun class. I don't really know who'd be up for it, but I'm sure if they gave em some money they could land somebody pretty good. A lot of younger guys are scuffling and could really use a job. Daniel Carter, Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker, probably hundreds of qualified individuals.
He won't do anything good enough to threaten anybody's perceptions. Jazz stopped developing for him forty or fifty years ago. A whole lot of people have given their lives to expanding the methodologies and vocabularies of jazz. It's alive and growing, but you'd never guess that listening to Wynton Marsalis. At the time he stops looking at it it became something else. Since the late fifties, musicians like Cecil and Eric Dolphy and Mingus before them have understood the western music tradition and blended it with the elements and traditions of jazz in all kinds of interesting ways. They're american musicians who have absorbed everything they've heard and gone out and done something with it. With them jazz stopped being a style that could be reduced to mannerism, it became a methodology, an alternative paradigm, a whole other way to approach music even while using the same instruments and the same nomenclature. They were deconstructing western music and jazz and making music all at the same time. Had the Juilliard world let them in they might have come up with something truly extraordinary that unified the two traditions and a few others besides. They should've got on it when the innovations were in full stride, who knows what might have been. But I guess jazz did all right without Juilliard and maybe the music would have suffered. I know Bill Dixon teaches somewhere, I think Andrew Hill did too, but it wasn't at Juilliard. I don't know what they did, I haven't heard them since they went away.
Do you think school would kill it off?
Cecil taught at a few places and it didn't do him any harm. As I recall, he said it was good for him, gave him time to work shit out without having to go out playing all the time. He didn't make a career of it. I don't think school is the ideal place for improvisors.
Because school is about preparation more than anything else and improvisation doesn't separate composition from performance. A lot of what gives improvised music life is the chaotic element, the dependence on mutual stimulation, the positive response to challenge and surprize. School with its emphasis on individual preparation has a hard time taking that into account. A lot of jazz musicians figured their approaches out while they were playing, while they were hearing and responding. There isn't any way to theorize or teach that. Practicing is good, but it's only practicing, you can't practice what someone else is going to do. And what's likely to happen when there's such a strong emphasis on individual practice is a more rigid standard to which the accompanists have to adhere.
But jazz has it's preconceptions.
Marsalis jazz certainly does. But after 1960 the creative musicians within the jazz community were evolving out of that. Jazz had stopped being a style the same way euro-classical music stopped being a style when first Wagner, then Debussy, then Stravinsky and Bartok came along. And I'll bet Coltrane, after he was outside of the preconceived jazz style, sold more records than any of that shit Marsalis teaches, but that's ignored, it's considered a deviation.
And it wasn't?
In one sense it was, because it was his way, the whole point was that he followed his own path, as did Cecil Taylor, and Ornette, and Eric Dolphy, and Sun Ra, and Roscoe Mitchell, and hundreds or thousands of others. By the Marsalis approach they're all deviants, but in reality the health and growth of jazz, really of everything, has always been deviation.
Foucault is lurking behind all this isn't he?
And Juilliard is the clinic?
And the true contributors to jazz are the deviants.
And that's what Juilliard has tried to ignore, exactly what it should have been looking at. Just for instance, to take a commercially viable best seller, John Coltrane did more with minimalist ideas than Glass, Reich, Young, and Riley put together. To someone who has listened to him, those guys are banalities. So did Miles Davis, another top seller. You can't pretend they didn't exist. They aren't marginal, I'll bet Bitches Brew outsold Glen Gould. The Art Ensemble of Chicago did more with indeterminacy than any of Cage's followers. More people went to their shows than ever went to a Scratch Orchestra performance. They knew all about Cage, about Cardew, about Stockhausen. Non-Marsalis jazz never put itself in a vacuum, that's the whole point, that's why it grew prodigiously while the western concert tradition atrophied.
Is it still growing now?
O yeah. The environment isn't very healthy though, because of that uptown thing. And if the academy controls the definition of what jazz is, why would anyone want to call themselves a jazz musician. Artists need to eat, man, they have bills and children, and that Marsalis thing has taken the bread out of a lot of mouths that actually have something to contribute. Daniel Carter and them are playing great living music in the subways where it's kind of hard to hear while the public is being presented with lifeless artifacts from fifty or sixty years ago in a nice warm quiet concert hall. Maybe enough people leaving one of those concerts will catch their act as they take the subway home and say, we should've been hearing this up there, why is this recidivist crap being foisted on us?
You don't seem to think so.
No, I don't, but it's hope, and I'll always believe in that It just amazes me how long these things persist, these incredible stupidities. I thought coming up that by the time my generation was taking control of the institutions that kind of shit wouldn't be around anymore. But there it is. And to anyone who knows jazz it's such an obvious lie. But I guess my generation has learned the big lie now. You wouldn't have thought it.
What do you take from that?
That power will always corrupt. That changing the system from within is impossible. That the fear that eats the soul of the bourgeoisie is far more powerful than curiosity or even healthy self-preservation. That Samuel Johnson was dead on in Rasselas where over and over again people quit hope to be free of fear. That's what it really means, to have Wynton Marsalis.
That fear is the cornerstone of middle-class aesthetics. First it was fear of losing control and position that brought us the serialists, then it was fear of depth and responsibility that brought us Cage and them, fear of content that brought us the minimalists, fear of physicality and the unexpected that brought us electronica, fear of hope and class integration that brought us Juilliard jazz. And, in the words of an old muslim proverb, fear eats the soul.
And where do you go from there?
Where isn't important.
It's how you go. Where you go is always toward the future. Like it or not. If you don't want to go it'll drag you forward anyway, so you might as well keep walking. I always liked that motto from the Teachings of Don Juan: For me there is only the travelling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel, looking, looking, breathlessly.
What future do you see?
And for yourself, and for the world.
In all those cases it's what we choose to make it. So I'd have to say I don't know to all of those. I don't really want to know, I'd be horrified if I thought I did, paralyzed, y'know? I want the question instead of the answer, live the verb instead of the noun. In life and music I'm an improvisor, so I'm always responding to something and I don't often get to choose what.
What do you get to choose then?
How. How I respond. If I feel like it leads in a good direction I'll respond in going a similar direction, like when I heard musicians exploring all around me. If not, I'll set out on an opposite path like I'm doing now.
What is it? What do you respond to?
The culture, the prevailing wind. It's like sailing. Sometimes you run with the wind, sometimes you tack into it. Either way you have to keep moving. After a while you realize that that's what's important.
How do you determine which to do?
Instinct. If one makes choices by analysis it takes too long. I trust mine, that's what I've learned to do in my life. Thelonious Monk said there were two kinds of mistakes, the regular kind and the ones that don't sound so good.
And you've mostly been tacking.
Ayup, lately anyways.
So you decided to build instruments?
I don't remember deciding.
But you began to build instruments.
First of all, why?
Why do anything?
Why do this? What prompted you to make instruments?
I didn't have a band going.
So you built a band?
Yeah, sort of. A band in my mind. A real band is people, so I didn't build that. We're in the process of building that. Before we began playing it was all in my head, y'know? I was making a possibility.
Why? Why not just find some musicians and start a band?
This seemed like a better idea somehow. One of the first things that came to mind was to make things that people could play without having to know how, to get away from the specialization. I haven't been very inspired by what I've been hearing for the most part. The work of professionals seems, to me at least, to be wallowing in redundance.
Bored with the radio?
Yeah, and for the first time in my life. Bored with bands I heard too. To tell the truth it was depressing. I've investigated most of the music that already exists and I wasn't being surprized very often.
What's the last music that surprized you?
Crash Worship, the Dog Faced Hermans, the last time I heard Jemeel Moondoc. A few here and there, some names I don't remember, Lightning Bolt. But, all in all, too few and far between to make me feel like something wasn't rotten in the state of music.
So you began building a possibility?
Well, at first I was thinking that the problem was that music wasn't attracting the right kinds of people and if I built things anyone could play I could have a band without having to deal with the culture so much.
The professionals wallowing in redundancy.
Ayup. But people playing regular instruments who don't understand them can be wearing too. A lot of people coming up now into music don't have the kind of theoretical and instrumental background that they would have had when I was coming up and I've found it difficult to communicate sometimes. Like, I've ended up playing with people who didn't know the names of the notes, or of intervals, or really what a chord is. Some of them are really good, they have big ears and great time, a lot of freshness.
Which the pros don't have?
So I figured I could build instruments that weren't as demanding and then anyone with a sense of time could play them. I like the idea of drum circles, but they're also really boring to me. Sonically and in pitch relationships too. So the idea was to make drums that played chords or basslines, stuff like that, and round up some misfits who wanted to make music and let em rip. At the time I was still figuring that I'd play guitar and there'd be regular instruments involved with the homemades just for the wannabes who didn't know how to play anything.
But it didn't turn out like that.
Nope. It turns out that most people who really want to play music have learned how to play something at some point and everyone who's ended up in Anarchestra has worked in bands before.
Does that surprize you?
No, it just wasn't what I thought.
So it did surprize you.
Yeah, just not in hindsight.
So, you're all professionals, or at least you have been.
But you aren't wallowing in redundancy?
I hope not. I don't think so.
Why is that?
The circumstances won't allow us to.
Because of the instruments?
Yeah, they're not controllable or predictable in the way traditional instruments are. So we have to discover what they can do, find the sounds they make instead of implementing sounds we expect. And that frees us to get closer to why we began playing in the first place, like we're little kids again.
With veteran type knowledge.
Yeah, I guess that too. It's like we've discovered a folk music that isn't burdened by the sound of its past. So it's free of built-in nostalgia and free of needing to imitate itself. Since the advent of recording everyone with access to electricity has been exposed to any part of the human experience they want, you don't have to go to the delta to immerse yourself in blues, or romania to hear horos. So those of us who are curious and play end up taking on all sorts of influences from all over the spectrum. But with regular instruments we'd be having to make editorial decisions about them. I realized as I went along, that the instruments have been holding us back, good as they are, because they were built to make the sounds of a different world. And they were built to execute the theories of three hundred years ago.
Them too. The first big thing anyone did with a moog was Bach. It still had the same old keyboard.
They can do more than that.
There's still a diatonic prejudice. The beats on drum machines are subdivided as they'd be in notation. You can set them up for different intonations, but, hmm, the thing is that when physicality is removed from making sound everything is preconceived and predefined. When they make ones to sound like real instruments they don't really sound like real instruments. There's no personality. And when they're set up to create new sounds, they just aren't really complex enough to do very much. Again and again we've been shown that the natural world isn't anywhere near as simple as we've been led to believe and the parameters they've come up with as the roots of all sound are insufficient, they're kind of only good at achieving vast oversimplifications. Statistics aren't life. The number of factors that go into making the sound of a single piano note are so vast you'd need a computer the size of the pentagon to cope with all the variables and it would take you years to make all the decisions, but when you play a single piano note, it just is what it is, so you make instinctive musical decisions.
You don't accept the idea that there's something basic and rooted that has ended up expressing and re-expressing itself over time, that maybe people want a diatonic scale? Or a scale with no wolf tones.
O sure, but they want more than that too. I've lived on an island and I understand the way the limitations of choice determine the choices you make. It would be pointless and frustrating to choose something that wasn't there. But that's a practical reality, it's not about what you really want. And what you want when you can't have it is a purely impractical reality, so you can't want it without consequence as much as you're willing to. For centuries humans dreamed of the perfect beat, because they could never have it, but the achievement of the perfect beat made most of us realize that that isn't all we want. Same thing with intonation.
What do we want?
Always something else. Nothing is endlessly stimulating, is it? And the diatonic scale's just a tiny fragment of what people want, a practical reality. Whether they know it or not, people always want something new.
Why whether they know it or not?
Because the worshippers of Bach and Mozart would never admit to it, nor would the worshippers of Louis Armstrong or Jerry Garcia.
And they'd be wrong?
They'd be in denial. Wanting the jazz Marsalis wants or the baroque Bachites want, those are impractical realities.
Not wrong, but deluded.
So, the instruments have been limiting music.
Yeah, I wouldn't have thought it before I began doing this, but it seems to be true. If our same group had come together with standard instruments we'd likely be trying to play in some sort of style, but since that isn't available to us, we've had to listen, discover, and invent.
That's a style too.
Yeah, but it isn't a received idea of one, and that sort of disarms the preconceptions we'd bring to the music, even if they're only our habits. There are non-diatonic instruments, non-tempered scale instruments, so even if we were thinking in those terms there'd be a zone of mystery. There's an innate complexity to the sounds we have at our disposal, if only because the instruments are imprecise.
They haven't been built to reinforce the diatonic or even the tempered scale. Lots of wolf tones, sounds that would be errors in a traditional context. Each instrument is an experiment. Oftentimes they turn out sounding nothing like I imagined they would. They all have their quirks, things they want to do, just like traditional instruments, but these, having come from a simpler premise have a larger range of idiosyncracies. And we get to look for them. And that's fun.
Yeah, cuz even if you've been playing for years the reality that you don't know how to play this particular instrument, that you have no set of memories to tell you what it's spozed to sound like, demands a kind of humility from you that you haven't had since you started out, But, along with that innocence, you have a lot of experience to draw on which is about music in general, so you aren't stuck with expressing what your technique has always expressed. And the sounds that are around you are somewhat unfamiliar too, played by others who are in the same position as you are. Like a beat on a drum in four-four is still a beat on a drum, and a plucked bass note is still a plucked bass note, but the resonances are unfamiliar and in a lot of cases the techniques are different, so what you'd expect in a normal situation is not what you'd reasonably expect in this one. Some of the instruments have incomplete scales, some of them have infinite subdivisions, so you just don't know what you're going to get the way you would on tempered and diatonically biased instruments.
How does that affect the music, how is it different in theoretical terms?
There's far less tonic emphasis, sometimes there are several tonics co-existing. In that way serial theory has more bearing than diatonic does. The tempered instruments were constructed to produce strong, even exclusive, root tones and these weren't, so, because vibrations in metal have longer sustains and behave more randomly, a single sonic event can be very complex. So, even if we are playing music whose character is essentially diatonic, there are resonances, even in the individual notes, that suggest and support whole arrays of microtones and different divisions of the octave. So a simple little ditty can imply and encourage extensions of itself that are like Messiaen or Boulez, or at least Glenn Branca.
Or Harry Partch?
O yeah, old uncle Harry.
What do you think about him?
He's like a dad, y'know? The kind you disagree with, but inherit a lot from at the same time.
What and what?
His music sucks. I've always really wanted to like it, but it just sucks. The percussion sound are interesting, but there isn't much else going on. I guess that was innovative when he did it, but Bartok had done a lot with tuned percussion by then and Messiaen and Boulez wrote brilliantly for it. And Xenackis. The musical ideas just aren't that exciting. On the other hand he's my hero, more of a hero to me some ways than, like, Boulez, whose music doesn't suck.
Why do you think it doesn't live up to itself, to its own expectations?
It sort of has its feet in two worlds. He's doing this new thing with tunings and instruments and at the same time he's trying to be an old school composer. So I like the idea that we need new instruments, we've taken the old ones as far as the seventeenth century is gonna let us. The tunings he got into are dogma and I don't like the next guy's dogma any more than I like the last guy's.
How do you mean?
I'm well aware of microtones and the compromises of the tempered scale, I grew up on blues which is full of bends and slides. We play microtones on tempered instruments anyway, It's subconscious most of the time, musicians play things to sound good, so they'll inflect them to the tunings they really hear. Scientifically it may be necessary to divide the octave into nineteen, forty-three, or even ten million parts, but having all those notes places a huge burden of selection on the player or in his case the composer, it bogs the process of playing down with even more theory and baggage. In a practical sense we haven't learned to use a twelve-note division of the octave yet. See, it's like he takes the flawed idea of temperament and imposes a more complex system to replace it. The faith is still in the system and, listening to it, it doesn't sound all that good. I'd read Genesis of a Music before I'd heard anything he'd done and I expected more from it. With all those microtones you'd expect subtleties, strange and beautiful chords, haunting melodies. But there don't seem to be any, it's just a lot of xylophone glissandi and sour sounding strings. When he writes a simple melody, there's nothing about it that you wouldn't hear anywhere, that isn't sort of trivial. So the theory doesn't really take the music anywhere except into a rudimentary expression of itself. It's easy to see its appeal to him, it works as theory. Reading about it I was excited by the possibilities, but hearing the music didn't do much for me. And working alone as he did he wrote it without hearing it. It's the composer idea and I hate that most of all.
I dislike any idea that treats other people as tools. I have lots of tools and I know the difference between them and human beings, Also, the idea that a work is completed before it's been played seems crazy to me. I give Boulez a lot of credit for changing his pieces after they've been performed. For as arrogant a man as he seems to be to admit the incompleteness of his ideas must have been difficult. He started out as the mother of all control freaks. Anyway, I think Harry Partch should've known that and I think he should've let people play his instruments without having to play his ideas on his instruments. Adolphe Sax never dreamed of Bird or Sonny Rollins or Eric Dolphy. So uncle Harry probably never knew what his instruments could do. Nobody probably ever will because they're tied up with what he composed for them. At least Boulez and Stockhausen had people play their ideas on their own instruments, but with uncle Harry there's no reason at all to want to be involved with his music unless you think he's that much better than you. It seems even more authoritarian, y'know? It's funny how in the postwar period, after the glorious demonstration of the destructiveness of power and central control, that the new generation of composers all adopted authoritarian methodologies.
Are you calling Xenackis a fascist?
When he lost an eye fighting them? No. Just an architect.
And that's an insult?
Not really, but it is what Ayn Rand chose for her ubermensch. But what I'm getting at is that the deep methodological structure of authoritarianism was so seductive that the postwar composers reacted to the horrors they'd been witness to by creating authoritarian methodologies of their own. That was reactionary and I spoze it was to be expected, but you'd have thought they'd have looked a little deeper. Jazz musicians responded to the racism of the fifties by becoming more collective,
That was already part of their tradition.
Xenackis was a communist.
But they were as authoritarian as the fascists, the only difference is they were more successful in maintaining their power.
Maybe people were just stupider back then.
Why concern yourself? With them?
There's some cool ideas. Some of those sounds. Oo-ee-oo. Penderecki's threnody gives me goosebumps, it's the sound of the weight of stalinism being lifted off the shoulders of poland, like ice breaking up. Anyway that was the tide I had to swim against coming up, y'know? The composer paradigm. You kind of had to deal with it, at least know what was going on. The roots of my culture are white and middle class and the intellectual tradition is european, so even if I wanted to reject that, I felt bound to know about it. I tried being dismissive, because instinctively I felt it was bankrupt, but dismissing things you don't want to deal with isn't really the way, you only end up undermining yourself. Eventually I ended up even liking some of it.
Even though it's bankrupt?
Because they knew it was, but they went on working anyway, which is kind of what we all have to do, keep working. Stockhausen and Boulez both changed in response to it, Boulez very courageously, embracing the tradition, I think he even conducted Brahms, as his own work took him away from it.
I don't think he made it. The music isn't all that good y'know? It's impressive, as ideas, but it isn't good. Like Harry Partch, sort of. Boulez let go a lot more, in his own weird way, and he made sounds that are beautiful. Stockhausen still seems to want to control the world. Boulez stopped wanting that, stopped believing in system and accepted the idea that his job was to make sound.
By system you mean tonerows?
Yes, but also the idea of control. When Stockhausen realized he had to abdicate, he didn't give up on the control, he tried to refocus it so it seemed like he was letting go. At this time in our culture, it's about how we deconstruct, we've already had to accept the fact that it's necessary. We're up to our ears in the remnants, so we can't just wish them away, we have to take it apart and understand the components. It's like you could crush a car and melt it down for scrap at one point, but you can't do that now because there's all these non-metallic parts, so you'd have to get all the plastic out first. And the composer/orchestra idea was like that too. That generation was trying to deconstruct it, but they didn't know what to do with it because they were only deconstructing parts of it. They didn't want to reconstruct their roles.
Which is kind of understandable.
Yeah, but it's what most needed to be examined. The crisis in their tradition came about more from their roles than from their mechanics. They came up with some good mechanisms, and they desperately wanted to think the mechanisms could save their roles, but it was a rear guard type of thing, covering their retreat. It's like nuclear power it's a clever mechanism, but it's trying to save the role of energy as a scarcity and it isn't going to work. Still I'm sure a lot of the mechanisms that contribute to the function of nuclear power will end up contributing to the functions of whatever better solution we eventually get to.
How does that relate to music?
I think the tonerows will prove useful. They have to me already. I think we'll end up finding out that they're something we need. Their application, because of the paradigm, made them appear to be something other than what they are, but the notion that we have to escape from the diatonic was dead on. That scale is killing us.
It fosters this sense of inevitability. The endlessness of resolution. We've come to understand that life isn't about resolution, but until our music can reflect that we'll keep lapsing back into that idea. That sort of consonance is simplistic and in our real lives simplistic ideas are the most dangerous. When I hear that it depresses me the same way drum machines do. That inevitability. It's comforting to a lot of people and it's hard to escape from the simplicity of it, but as long as we accept it as the only viable path to take, we'll end up in the same place. We've held onto all these simplistic templates, out of laziness and fear, but they aren't helping us.
Ideas like god, like good and evil, like strength and weakness, like have and have not. They're artifacts of our ignorance and they belong in a museum.
And the major-minor system is like that?
Absolutely. Even within it's own structure it's exclusive. And we're not going to be able to get away with that. Over and over again, we, humans, try out these simplistic formulas: peace through progress, whatever, progress through strength, all these slogans, and our world keeps getting further out of whack, always disintegrating around the edges, like life in a Philip K Dick novel. There's always something falling apart and we're always rushing to hold it together instead of watching how it falls apart and learning from it. Before, when we were talking about the synthesizers, was a good example of that. The gizmo is most likely useful, I'm certain of that, but the instinct was to play Bach on it. For a century and a half we've been watching the major-minor system fall apart, but we still keep trying to save it.
The names of the notes, right from the start. The education we call music always leads to that.
You'd have third graders write tonerows?
O yeah, and I'd have them designated by pitch class numbers. No more every good boy deserves fudge. They'd understand that music had somewhere to go then. By the time they got to eighth grade they'd be writing like Xenackis and Messiaen would be the new Bach. The idea would be that sound is sound and pitch sound is describable. If they heard microtones they could designate them precisely, they'd be following their ears instead of training them to follow. The psychology of do-re-mi is as deep as any oppression we have in our culture. You know how the Mercator projection has distorted everyone's sense of the world?
Yeah, Greenland's as big as Africa,, everything in the northern hemisphere is too big, everything in the southern is too small?
Well it's led to all this non-understanding. Without even thinking about it we tend to think of the north as big and significant and the south as small and insignificant. Who knows what the colonial mentality would have been if they hadn't been understanding geography as a lie? The southern hemisphere only got a third of the map then. Europe was important to him, so he made it as big as he could.
The way our maps always have America in the middle and cut Asia instead of putting the break on the dateline.
Exactly. It's the most basic form of propaganda. It's hard not to think of the world in the way you grow up seeing it on a map.
The way we've named the notes and the chords promotes the same sort of prejudice. We know there are twelve notes, but we think there's only seven. It's like we know Africa's there, but it looks like Greenland. And music's important, just like geography is, it's the correlative to our life experience more than any other artform.
Because we do it as individuals working in groups. It's about co-operating. It's our most obvious socio-political metaphor. The others are done alone, they're products of individual will. Life is never like that, to think it is is crypto-fascist fantasy. Even when it's completely innocent. So that scale supports the composer paradigm, which in turn supports the recidivist fascist paradigm. They're really the same thing, or aspects of the same thing.
What thing is that?
What is the deep structural error of civilization?
I'd say it was monotheism. That's what creates the environment for every system that includes one group of people and excludes another.
And that's wrong?
It's an error. Wrong is a monotheistic concept, let's try not to use that.
To get back to music the idea that one note, say a B-flat, is the subset of another, in this case a B, is erroneous. It's not. It's its own note. The way we do it is like calling a pear a not-apple, and when it's A-sharp it's a not-peach. It's not so much that it's wrong, it's just stupid. But, like most of that kind of stupidity, it disguises an agenda.
Which is to reinforce the concept of hierarchy, that some animals are more equal than others. So a child, even an adult one, who wants to learn about music is pushed toward those white notes, just because they're easier to name. You can't even read the black notes without thinking of the white notes first, because they're inextricably tied to them by name. Even when you use sharps and flats, you're still pushed toward an eight note octave because that's how many lines and spaces there are. If you want to use nine notes you always have to switch back and forth between a sharp and a natural or a flat and a natural. Reading serial music with all the accidentals in it is needlessly laborious, so it seems esoteric when it really isn't. Now, if you use that eight note scale, what it's good at doing is pulling the ear toward resolutions. It was developed to do exactly that, it grew up in the church, and that's what it does, so all the early exercizes lead you to believe that's what music does. And, sure it can do that, nothing wrong with that, some of my favorite songs do that. But it excludes all music that doesn't do that and we hear in music of other cultures, and in our own more recent music, that music doesn't automatically resolve, it's not all there is. For a long time they explained that one away by calling people primitive or uncivilized, but the truth turned out to be that they were just different, that churches hadn't been telling them what they could or couldn't play for centuries. When western composers, like Wagner and Debussy, started writing music that didn't automatically resolve, started investigating musics like gamelan and raga, the churches weren't controlling everything anymore and eventually that primitive/uncivilized argument fell apart. But the names of the notes still persisted and only the greatly skilled and rigorously trained felt free to color outside the lines I think they enjoyed the level of difficulty so they didn't do much to change the system. Serialism only seems complicated because the language one has to use to express it is laden with exceptions. It's actually very basic. I think it's far easier to write like Xenackis or Babbit than to write like Debussy or even Beethoven or Thelonious Monk, it's just that the language makes it seem complicated. I'm not a great score reader and trying to study modern scores in traditional notation is really grief intensive.
Why aren't you a better score reader?
I've always thought notation was obsolete, besides the bad nomenclature. Before recording it was the only way to remember how something went, but now it's only occasionally useful. When I was 18 I lived in Boston and I was learning jazz and I'd go to the Berklee library and copy out of their fakebooks. Bird and Monk and Mingus, a lot of that. I realized after awhile how arbitrary and approximate the rhythmic notation was and a lot of the tonal information as well, I doubt I found a single piece that I actually agreed with. A lot of the stuff was just plain wrong, or subjective to whoever had written it down in the first place, It was actually sort of useless, more distracting than just learning the shit off the records which had the added benefit of being good ear training. Later on I learned that reading music uses a different part of the brain than hearing, that playing by ear, which is what I've always done, is an entirely different operation than playing from paper.
You never wanted to play from scores?
Not in a realistic sense. In my fantasies I wish I could sit down with Le Marteau sans maitre, or Chronochromie and whip them out on a piano, but in the same way I wish I could do a reverse slam-dunk, or drive a Nascar at Daytona. The work involved in doing those things is more than I want to do to be able to do them. I'd only make the effort if it were a lot easier than it is. I love looking at scores and I've used them to find sounds, like in Bartok or Stravinsky, that I couldn't figure out on my own. I'd follow along in the score listening to the record and circle the places I liked, then work through them on a piano, find the chord changes or the sets of intervals I liked. I learned quite a bit from that, but I never actually read the scores in real time.
But you were interested?
O yeah, I've always wanted to know as much as I could about anything that appealed to me. And when I was coming up there was still a lot of emphasis on the traditional skills. Readers were given a kind of legitimacy that non-readers couldn't have.
That's still true.
Yeah, but in smaller circles. It was universal then. I remember as a kid reading the back of a Donovan album and he was talking about not reading music as if it were something important or surprizing. No one would ask a folksinger about that now, it's just one method among many.
Do you think that's good?
Ayup. Just for my own self I would've had to spend years of drilling as a notator to do what I do now with tape recorder.
Is there a downside?
Yeah. It's so easy to make music without any skills or knowledge now that young musicians don't develop them, the same way recording made it possible for me to come up without having to read.
If you were coming up now would you be like that?
I like to think not, but how can you say? A lot of people never get to practice if they make any noise doing it. Parents or neighbors who'll endure the struggle with sounds that's involved in learning an instrument are pretty rare now, so the impetus is toward learning something you can practice with headphones. And if you are actually making any noise, you can't make any mistakes. So music, sound, has become an internal thing, rather than an expression, rather than a joyful noise. It isn't surprizing there's a loneliness at the core of music like that.
So you don't impugn it's validity as art?
No, not really. I think it's a genuine expression of the predicament they find themselves in. You can only do what you can do in a way. What I mean to impugn is the culture that validates it and the general acceptance of that culture. Like painters under Stalin and Hitler, they were painters, they made art, but you can't look at it without feeling the repressions that constrained them. And in hindsight it's hard to respect them for going along with regimes like that, plenty of people didn't.
How does that relate to now?
To me it seems obvious that making music is about making sound, not about imagining sound in silence.
Why do you think that seems obvious to you and not generally?
Sound was going in a different direction as I was learning about it.
Toward the raw. Jimi was blowing speakers and playing the feedback, free jazz was in full force, Penderecki was on KCR. It was all moving outward. Since the eighties sound seems to have shrunk, it's hardly ever messy anymore, it doesn't present questions about where it's going so much as answers about where it's come from. That's the socio-political environment of our time, it's not a coincidence that what we're listening to now is largely the product of Reagan Youth, it yearns for simplistic answers. I was a Kennedy youth, no really an Abbie Hoffman youth, and we yearned for complex questions. I know that's a massive oversimplification, but it isn't completely useless. In a larger sense it mirrors the relationship between man and nature and the way it's changed over time. The new sound machines have finally brought the industrial revolution into music.
And you're there like Blake bemoaning the dark satanic mills?
Yeah I guess. Maybe even the Unabomber churning out paranoid manifestos in a freezing shack. I have no idea how marginal I really am.
And you don't care?
No. I'd like for people to like what I do, but mostly because I see the value in it. I'd like others to see that too. But as a reflexion of myself, I haven't cared much about that since my thirties. The code of the graffiti artists, y'know, that whole anonymity thing. I like that.
The poem not the poet.
Yare, everything else is just gossip. I've spent a lot on my life in small towns and that can teach you hate gossip.
Because everyone traffics in it?
More because the people you end up liking best don't.
So this brings us to your name. That isn't your real name.
I just don't think it's important. The work is important. I think if people want to know about me, as a person, about my life, they can come and meet me face to face. I'm pretty friendly. Maybe we'll get along and become friends and then they can know all about my life. I don't see any point at all in having my private life be part of my public work. I feel like we give our work to the world and our lives to our friends and families. The work's enough, man. That's generous enough. If somebody's interested in my work that stands for itself. So what's the problem, y'know? The whole machinery of artists instead of art makes me sick. And it doesn't have any bearing on response to the work if it's good. Or bad. Olivier Messiaen was a devout catholic, Jackson Pollack was a drunk, Charlie Parker was a junkie, Ezra Pound was a fascist. I don't particularly like any of those things and they were all the first things I knew about them, things I had to push through my own prejudice against to like and understand their work. So I just decided after awhile that when something needed a name on it, I'd just make one up. I may never get to sit in the front row for a Knicks game, but I'm not expecting that anyway. I'd rather have my relationships with people be about who we are as friends or neighbors or family. Anybody who knows me knows what I do anyway. Anyone who comes to see us play knows what I look like, for whatever that matters.
You've done this with other work?
Yes, and that's part of the idea too, that just cuz I do one thing it shouldn't make another one interesting, each project, or whatever you want to call it, should stand on its own as work that's of interest because it has some merit. Ever since we got an actor for a president I've had a problem with the whole machine that drives our society. I have friends who are great poets that couldn't get published while crap like the poems of Jimmy Carter and Paul McCartney are down at the bookstore. So it's just little shit that I do, but it's my little shit and the least I can do is do it according to my own ethos, throw my handful of pebbles at the dark satanic mills.
So you're anti-fame?
Not really. I think Guernica should be famous instead of Picasso's girlfriends. Pop stars, that shit's fine for them, it's what they do, get famous, but those of us who want to rise or fall on the merit of our work, should stay away from that, just leave it to Mick Jagger or Britney Spears. I assume they do what they do because deep down they really want people to know who they are from a safe distance, that's what gets them off. So, fine, but everyone else shouldn't have to work within that structure. Given my druthers, I'd just as soon no one knew who I was unless they actually knew me. The great thing about the hardcore punk underground of the eighties was that it operated on a human level. That was in response to getting stuck with Reagan. A lot of people didn't use their own names, or stayed out of the famestream mainstream by not playing any commercial venues. It didn't really change anything, our society's still pretty much like it was, but those who participated have a kind of self-respect as they go about their unremarked lives that's valuable to them in a way celebrity would never be. The thought is, too, that if what you're going to take away from the work you've done is your sense that you did it well, the public image side of it will only make it confusing. A real worker doesn't want the distraction that comes with all that. Who'd want to end up being Johnny Rotten? It's embarrassing to anyone who ever liked the Sex Pistols to watch him grovelling around now for attention. Some people believed in the ethos of punk and others were just trying to get famous. Style doesn't actually mean anything, it comes into being from things that have meaning, but adopting the style of something doesn't prove you understand what it meant.
The hollow men?
Yeah, I guess. I'm really not trying to condemn anyone for doing anything. It's just that in my life I seek what things mean. How they seem isn't that important. That's a snare the world throws over people so it doesn't have to treat them as individuals. For instance, I've read almost everything Ezra Pound wrote and what I got from it strengthened me in my own anti-fascist point of view, but when his name comes up people who haven't read him at all, or just petals on a wet black bough, label him a fascist.
Was he a fascist?
I think he was Ezra Pound and his fame life ended up being about things that had nothing to do with him and really nothing to do with the work he did. Same for that commie Charlie Chaplin. Or Woody Guthrie. Everything I got from exposure to their work increased my sense of individuality. You get into trouble when you define things by their surfaces. You can't land on a fraction, man. You can't land on a fraction. The work is a whole thing in itself, my biography, until I'm dead, is just a fraction. So I'd just like my work to be about my work, y'know?
But you're doing this.
This is all about your opinions and so forth.
Isn't there a paradox here?
I don't think so. I'm talking about things that went in to my work, not who I met or partied with. I like for people to dig what I do, but I want them to like it for its own sake, not because they think I'm cool or something.
So you don't mind if it gets known?
Of course not. The difference is that I'm not doing it to make myself known, I'm doing it because I think it's worth doing. I wish everybody in the world could hear what I hear in this. I've learned amazing things in the process, things I never knew before.
What do you hear?
Nothing I could express in less than a few million words. That's why music is fun. You can hear experiences, you can hear sciences, you can hear ideas, you can hear convictions, anything that's in the human experience, maybe anything at all, maybe you can hear what steel thinks when it's being changed into another shape.
Can you hear that?
I think so.
Does steel think?
I believe it does. I believe everything does. Not the way we do, but still it does. It's holds itself together y'know? It exists. To me it has life, or lives, same as any creature does.
It's a creature?
No, not like a goat or a nuthatch. It doesn't have that same kind of isolation. But it does have something, it isn't just there.
To me, yes.
In individual pieces?
Yes, but collectively too, just like us. Steel has been recycled over and over again. Somebody who likely knows told me there's no such thing as new steel, that there hasn't been for decades. It's all been resmelted time and again. Like a new age person with all their past lives. When I worked on cars and banged my knuckles I wondered how much was exchanged between the steel and me. I wondered if that shock mount had been a bathtub or a tractor part. I spend a lot of time in the company of steel and it reacts and responds to my behaviors.
More than that. A determinist would disagree with me, but they're the ones who used to think the world was flat. You know that book, Botany of Desire?
Remember that thing about if you looked at it from a particular point of view, the grass, the apples, they've sort of cultivated us to take care of them?
On a different scale that would apply to steel.
Say, for the sake of fun, iron has a mind or a soul or whatever you want to call it.
Well maybe it likes carbon, just feels good when it's around, They dream well together, exchange information in some subatomic way, have conversations about the predicament they find themselves in, the meaning of inertness. But the iron's by itself, most of it has too much carbon or not enough and to achieve it's state of grace it needs to teach humans to get it into the proper balance. So over thousands of years, it shows us how, by being useful to us in various ways. In turn we make it happier.
Do you believe that?
I don't disbelieve it. Steel's been very friendly to me.
I was never a good carpenter. I'm still not. Things I make out of wood are never quite how I wanted them. It's not really for lack of trying, it's just something about me that isn't with it, that prevents me from having the knack. With steel I feel at home. Before I started welding I thought of myself as a bad craftsman and I didn't make anything I didn't have to make. I'd do OK, like the roof wouldn't leak and the door would stay shut or the table wouldn't wobble, but I didn't go beyond function. I didn't make anything for fun. But when I started welding I felt like I wasn't fighting the material like I was with wood, it just seemed more disposed to doing what I wanted it to. So it was fun and we've been friends ever since.
What got you into it?
I carved these totem pole things one summer. That was fun with wood, actually. I just used a hatchet and one or two chisels, so it wasn't like carpentry, it didn't matter how accurate anything was. Anyway, by the next year they were already beginning to rot, some bugs had got into em, and it made me sort of sad. So I decided to switch to rock and I started carving a face in one. I broke the edge on the chisel pretty soon and I figured I needed a better one so I went to a sculptor store and asked the guy what I should get. He told me if I was carving granite I'd always be breaking my chisels and I should make friends with a blacksmith and maybe learn how to fix them. That made sense to me, so I started hanging out with Robert Parker at Rivington Street. I was living in New York at the time and our band played down there a lot. Robert, besides just generally inspiring me as an artist, taught me how to weld and showed me how to use the forge. I ended up forgetting all about stone carving after that. Around the same time I was working on cars for my job with Bill Shay and picking up a knowledge of tools and mechanics from him. That was steel too of course and between the two of them I learned enough to get started. Eventually I bought a welder and started making things.
I made things for the band I was in, fetish objects, a statuette of my dog, some vaguely useful things, a spice rack, just stuff.
No, for some reason it didn't enter my mind then. We made some things at Rivington Street that were sort of instruments, but they were metal to bang on that looked like instruments more than being real instruments. We used to play a lot of scrap metal in those days.
So how long before you began making metal instruments?
About ten years.
How come not for so long?
I was putting all my music through the guitar, whenever I made music it was with a guitar, so I sort of kept that separate.
No, it just turned out that way. We had a band that practiced all the time, so when I was welding I wasn't thinking about playing, I sort of did it to balance myself, y'know. To have something else to do. I'd tried making some instruments in the NYC days, but none of them really came together. I didn't put a lot of continuous effort into it, it was more of an idea than a program. It seems like sort of a simple idea, y'know? I'll make this thing and make some noise with it, but it's a lot more complicated than that.
So you figured that out later.
Yeah, and I had the time then.
Nope. So all my thinking about music needed a place to go. I still didn't come to it on my own. Mike Rinaldi wanted make things and asked me to help him and we got into it with the kalimbas and xylophones. I'd been working as a sculptor and he knew me as a metal worker dude and as a musician. So I credit him with seeing the two things as a whole.
Instruments as sculptures?
Why do you seem offended when someone refers to your instruments as sculptures?
It doesn't offend me.
I think it offends sculptors and some of my best friends are sculptors. I make things that work, machines. I'm a mechanic.
But they look like sculptures.
So does a Buick Riviera from the seventies, or a toaster from the streamline age and I wouldn't call either of them sculptures even though I'd rather look at either of them than anything from Richard Serra or Donald Judd.
Anyway. A couple of months later I got out of Providence and back to my shop, I got a hold of Bart Hopkin's book and I just kept going. From there each instrument suggested a few more. I did some recording and I'd hear the absences in the overall sound and I'd make something to fill it. Like, oo, a bowed sting would sound good in the tenor register, or I need a thumpier drum, that kind of stuff.
That would be Rumor?
That would be Rumor. I was just trying to see how they behaved. My plan then was to use them with a regular band, sort of like a horn section or something, but the ADAT broke and that stopped there.
But you kept making them?
Yeah. My two favorite things came together. And I like Rumor, it was better than I'd have thought.
I don't like all-one-performer, non-simultaneous music, it isn't real to me, like a group of people in a room would be. I've always considered it an illusion, a conjuring trick. I always have fun when I'm doing it, but it's kind of ersatz to me. I think it's sad that we've stopped making the distinction. Even a lot of so-called concerts are lipsyncs now and nobody asks for their money back. Anyway, it didn't come out that badly and the instruments themselves sounded better than I ever expected them to. They stood up well on their own, which I hadn't expected. And they co-operated with the recorder fairly well. So making that sort of changed my perspective, I began to think of them as a single unit instead of an auxiliary to standard instruments. And that kicked me into making more.
Which hasn't stopped yet.
No reason it should.
I hope not. They're fun to think about, fun to make, and fun to play too. Now that we have a band, different things suggest themselves by the way different people approach them, ergonomically, y'know? Standard instruments are often very uncomfortable, very sensitive to the players' skill or lack of it. I'm trying to make things more natural so people can play intuitively, circumvent as much of the preconception as possible without having to fight through it. Besides that whole diatonic key prejudice thing. Just the way you have to hold a flute or a violin in order to get decent sound out of it can be really frustrating.
No, and with the expectation of pre-conceived sounds they can defeat you a little bit. But if you're one of the first people ever to play a particular instrument none of that happens, it's only about what you can do with it.
That's the idea.
Do you miss the neatness of regular instruments?
Not as much as I would've thought. The more I get used to the random and chaotic elements of these sounds the more traditional instruments seem limiting to me, they're like specialized tools, very good for what they were intended to do, but not very versatile. Y'know? That's really what happened to euro music, what killed it off, or at this point critically wounded it.
How do you mean?
It became mannered. Sonically and in terms of technique. So the question arose eventually, why get stuck with that old eurorchestra sound? By the sixties it was only one sound out of many even in the westworld. Before that the jazz musicians had taken their underutilized instruments and developed a whole new vocabulary with them. The euromusicians had become decadent by the time they couldn't figure out how to use the saxophone. They never even thought of the drumset, even though they had all the pieces of it. It was like they were sitting on a goldmine and they didn't have any idea. When first microphones and then pickups came along, the whole idea of massive duplication for volume became redundant. But they stuck with it and got left behind. I love Boulez, but I wouldn't trade his output for Cecil Taylor's or Mingus'. He even knew that. That's why they went after electronica, to reinvigorate their tradition.
Not as much as they'd hoped. As important as using smaller numbers of musicians was in terms of organization, the most obvious thing it did was free the actual musicians to improvise. When Stockhausen and Boulez tried to co-opt that, they couldn't really do it, they had to maintain their status as composers, so the improvisation in their work is sort of tokenism. I also think their electronicism was a tokenist attempt too.
They wanted to get back to the basis of sound, because their sound world, the eurorchestra, had become a closed system, embalmed in its own tradition. And they looked toward synthesis, which is really, despite all the rhetoric, an even more closed system.
Because it's automatically elitist, automatically exclusionary, especially then when the tools were big science. I don't think they identified the worst of their problems. They solved the difficulty of performing extremely abstract ideas, but they couldn't do anything about the dryness of what they'd become. The post-war westworld was completely infatuated with technology. Y'know, that whole Jetsons' future where everything was going to be clean and work-free. Instead we have hormone meat and polyester and music with no humans in it.
So you went more Flintstones?
I'd say more Gilligan's Island.
And you're the Professor.
Something like that.
Enough TV as metaphor?
They rushed into the synthetic future. That's what modernists do.
And you think they were wrong?
No. Not entirely. My instinct about the orchestra is the same as theirs. Boulez, Stockhausen, Penderecki, and all them were deconstructing it. Jazz musicians were sort of reconstructing it. And rock musicians were basically burying it. The difference is what's the more viable response to it. To bury it cut rock musicians off from expanding very much in terms of structure, harmony, and rhythm and so not much rock music ever developed complexities you could put much thought into. As a culture it's still in its infancy and most of its advancements are driven by new equipment. When rock musicians other than Frank Zappa, tried to import sophistications from the euro tradition the results were generally embarassing. The jazz musicians who tried to take it all on at once, during the fusion years, didn't end up much better. Miles made some good music. Weather Report was OK and maybe Mwandishi, I haven't listened to any of that since it was current. The euros didn't look back far enough for the place where the paths forked. Their vanity and probably their racism kept them from understanding the innovations of jazz and the lack of complexity in rock music didn't hold their attention, so they were too late to save their tradition. They ought to have rethought the validity of the orchestra, the composer, and the conductor in 1850 not 1950.
Why then? That was way before jazz and amplifiers.
Karl Marx rethinking the validity of the social contract, followed by Darwin rethinking the nature and god model. Even dragging their feet Nietzsche should've woke them up. Helmholtz asked a lot of questions that they didn't bother to answer. They were too entrenched and the patronage kept it going the way it was.
But there's good music after that.
Some of the best, but it was closing the book more than opening it. There's always going to be good music and good art generally from traditions that have pretty much ceased to be healthy. That dust cloud phenomenon. And none of was well received, it had to fight its way in. And they haven't yet dealt with the fundamental social problem, it's like they keep hoping it'll just go away. After Boulez left the Philharmonic, they went back to Mozart and Brahms.
They had to sell tickets.
And maintain the authoritarian basis of their aesthetic, but it became a museum, a curious graveyard of thinking, no body's looking for anything there anymore, it's just a social club for snots. Less than a hundred years before people went there to learn, to be astonished. If they cared about the health of their organism they should've been more honest.
And admitted what?
That sloppy multicultural america won their war and sloppy multicultural america had made a new musical language that actual spoke to the world.
Ayup. It mirrored the future social construction.
But jazz fossilized too.
Sonically, yes, but the methodology didn't. At the same time as Boulez and Stockhausen were doing their avant-garde thing Sun Ra and Cecil and Trane and Ornette were extending their thing too.
So the real future was Ascension?
And, sonically, Hendrix and Dark Star and Bitches Brew. Something with Eric Dolphy too. If he and Cecil had ever played together.
And you still think it's there?
Sort of. I don't think it's Philip Glass or Brian Eno or Augusta Thomas Read or Dr. Dre for that matter. I'm deeply ignorant about electronica and I wouldn't doubt there are geniuses doing amazing things with it. I just don't know about them. I haven't made the effort.
I've been living in the sticks. If I'd been living somewhere else the last few years, I'd've been out looking for it. Also, the medium doesn't appeal to me, so I don't spend hours listening to radio shows where there might be something. I look for collective work, I deeply believe the future of life on earth is about co-existence and co-evolution. There's an awful lot of us now, billions, and that makes individualist solutions seem nostalgic. I heard a great group of knob turners from Worcester a few years ago, some amazing noise, it had the flexibility of Demo-Moe., but not the suddenness. Anyway, I was surprized by how much I liked them.
So maybe there is a future there.
There are futures in every direction, some of them just don't look like they'll be very much fun.
What's preferable to you about your envisioned future?
That it's a folk thing. That it's basically simple, no matter how complex it gets. That it's necessarily collective. Anybody could do what I've done. Anybody could do what we're doing. Not that they'd want to. But they could.
Would you want them to?
In their own way? Yeah. In imitation, no. But I think it would be way totally way cool if you travelled around and all these different towns had their own weird orchestras. We could go visit each other, y'know? Now it's so general everywhere, another reason to dislike the machines. Like guitars had local sounds once upon a time, partly from culture and partly from climate.
I'll bet all that humidity in the delta made em play with the bottlenecks and butterknives. I'll bet the necks on those cheap guitars warped like motherfuckers and they couldn't have played them with their fingers if they'd wanted to.
Do you think they wanted to?
Nope. I don't think that music likes the tempered scale much. I think it needed to slide around on the thirds because of the way the singing went, and I think it needed to be able to go up a fourth and play approximately the same thing because of the call and response. Hillbilly music doesn't do that, you can play those cheap guitars in the first position, but once you go up the neck you'll be out of tune and the action'll kill your fingers. It changes the drum sounds too. Humidity makes the bass drum thump, like a bhodran. Where it's dry drums crack and ring like dumbeks. So you come up with different beats, depending on where you are.
But not in the global village.
No, everything's the same there. The universal bass drum and the universal guitar. So we get all these universal songs and sounds with regional spices added on to try and give them character.
Is that where you think we live now? The global village.
Ayup. For the most part.
And what's going to happen with it? Your envisioned future doesn't stand much of a chance there.
I hope we'll get tired of it, take the good from it and leave all the rest. There's a lot of resistance to it. It really is boring, the sameness.
Jihad vs, MacWorld?
So you're a jihad person?
Yeah. If I had to choose. Some of my favorite people live in macworld.
Who prevails? And why?
I think jihad that behaves like macworld.
Yeah, co-operates and gets along. But without surrendering all its individualities, without poisoning everything. The disordered version that works.
What does that mean?
A society that creates itself in response to the conditions it finds.
Is that what Anarchestra does?
And the conditions it finds are the instruments you've built?
Ayup. But more important are the conditions we create for each other to play. The instruments set up a context in which unexpected conditions arise. The responses are expressive of the musicians involved more than expressive of the instruments.
They're sort of hard to play.
Yes and no.
They're hard to be facile with, but they're easy to produce sound with.
Hard to be facile?
Yeah, at least that's part of the idea.
Facility cuts both ways.
Not always, but often, what's easy to play becomes easy to hear and easy to imagine. When I was like 17, the sounds of the instruments that existed were mysterious to me, exciting, y'know? But after a while they aren't mysterious anymore. I've listened to them, I know those sounds. Some talk about instrumental colors. These are different colors. If you can't easily play that blues lick or slam out that major triad, maybe your mind will look elsewhere and find a way to express something that possibly it wasn't aware of, or achieve the same feeling another way.
Outside the box.
I was hoping you wouldn't say that, but, yeah. Anyway, it occurred to me that a lot of our natural musicality gets flattened out by all the comparability, musicians get described in comparison to other musicians and, in spite of themselves, a lot of music people end up pursuing that. There's not a lot of incentive to invent.
Why reinvent the wheel when you can have a car?
Cars suck. They're killing us.
But you have one.
Sure, and I've got guitars, basses, a flute, a saxophone, a piano a clarinet. I even have a euphonium.
I began to feel like playing these things was always bringing me back to the familiar. I like them. I like playing them.
I want more. Familiar is nice, but it isn't everything. Before I started doing this I wanted somewhere else to go with music and I thought I'd get a bassoon and I shopped around a little. Well, a playable bassoon costs a couple grand and I couldn't do that. I'd like one, but I can't spend money like that. It's the same with dozens of other instruments, I wish I had them all. But for less money than a bassoon would've cost, I've ended up with a room full of instruments. And I like their strangeness. I like feeling wide-eared, without expectations. I'm not saying people shouldn't play guitars and pianos. I wish everybody did. But there's more to music than that and not very many ways to get with it, because in terms of timbres and tonal systems you're always in known territory.
And you want terra incognita?
I want both. I like Bob Dylan and Penderecki, Cecil Taylor and Stevie Wonder.
They're all in the known world.
They'd have to be. As soon as anything becomes historical, it's part of the known world. Cecil and Penderecki both went past what anyone thought was the known world. So, since I heard them, and a lot of others too, I've been skulking around the edges of the known world of musical experience. I like music that struggles to expand its vocabulary, that looks for ways to express aspects of the human experience that haven't been made into history yet. I prefer to feel that we're in the morning of our evolution, that we have a long road ahead of us. We only seem to use five percent of our brains. I'd like to find out what we're capable of with the other ninety-five, y'know? We know where we've already been and it's important to know that, but it seems to me that it's more important to know where we can go from here. So I listen for that.
The sound of struggle. It's not fashionable in our culture now, even where it exists the tendency is to mask it.
How do you mean?
The techno-ambient aesthetic and its lush production values. Nobody wants to hear mistakes.
Why should they?
To put it in a cultural metaphor, it's like the portrayal of women by advertizers. It's like we've been listening to Barbie music, like the sounds have been airbrushed and it's created an expectation of that. And that causes young musicians of all ages to hesitate, to reject their natural impulses, to feel like they have to sound blander than they really want to.
Cultural eating disorders.
Ayup. And bad nutrition along with it. A lot of sugar, white flour.
All carbs and no protein.
Yare. Saturated fat, man. I liked what Iggy Pop said once, that he stopped trusting rock n roll when it started to sound fat. The same thing was true for me even though I didn't realize why until I heard him say it.
What makes it fat?
Exclusive consonance, click tracks. That extreme evenness of beats, the layering of sine waves and square waves, that's what makes music sound big and full. I don't object to fullness if it's something sought and achieved, but when it's a precondition, the template of all other sounds, it's such a repression. Like raga music'll spend an hour working itself up to those kinds of strong consonances, play its way into that kind of rhythmic precision, and when it gets there and you've been witness to the process it went through to reach that, it can't help but be ecstatic. Like, do you want to climb the mountain and dig the view full of the high of the effort that got you there or do you just want to see a postcard of it? Music that just starts there and maintains itself doesn't give me the same feeling.
Objectors to that other kind of music would say they should warm up before they come on stage.
They do. But an audience has to warm up too. In any music built around collective improvisation the audience contributes a lot.
To play with others, to hear and feel where they're going, musicians have to open up their receptors and they can't shut them off at the edge of the stage, if there even is one. It's not just analytical, there's a lot of instinct involved and it's a mutual kind of instinct, like the kind that makes a flock of birds turn suddenly in the air as if they were a single creature. The beautiful shapes they make as they curve and redirect themselves are an excellent visual analogue to music.
And birds are nature's musicians.
That opened me up to randomness in sounds, to the idea that our notions of it were far too simple to accept as complete. I saw on a David Attenborough show a slowed down analysis of the squawky sound a cowbird makes at the beginning of its song. I'd had a lot of them around my house that week and wasn't impressed with them, because of that sound. I was hoping they'd leave and make room for some catbirds. But after I saw that I made an effort to hear what was going on in that little fart sound and I caught a glimpse of it, y'know? Humans may never be able to hear that fast, but it's worth some effort.
Do you like Messiaen's bird music?
Very much. Initially I was predisposed to dislike his religiosity and the bird music tuned me into what he was on about.
Does it sound like birds to you?
Not really, not like birds would sound outside, but like we would sound as birds. And that's even cooler That's what's so astounding about him, the way he arrived at his abstraction from such enormous humility. It's too bad his students weren't more moved by that.
Yeah. And Stockhausen and Xenackis. Their rhythmic abstractions are cerebral and sometimes you have to do a lot of thinking just to hear them, but his, even when they're way out there, have a naturalness at the bottom of them that invites you inside them. It's true of the tonal and timbral ideas as well. That's why I said he doesn't count before. He's not continuing the intellectual tradition of like Webern, he's turned away from that toward something else. He's never embarrassed by simplicities that crop in music of enormous complexity. And he was the one in the prison camp, the one who truly faced the horror of nazi europe. I think because of that he didn't have the fear, or in Stockhausen's case the shame, the others did. They're abstract out of desperation, they want to think themselves away from it, but he's abstract out of the wisdom gained by surviving it.
Maybe that religious faith?
I guess so. I suspect it was more about the banality of evil. Whatever it takes, y'know? I like the religious music, I never didn't like it, it just took me longer to try out, same's true with Coltrane. I kind of wish everybody would keep their god shit to themselves. When they harp on about it it seems like they need to be validated, and if they really believed it you'd think they wouldn't need that.
But it's part of who they are.
I don't object to that, I don't object to them saying that. It just takes me longer to like them.
So it's your prejudice as much as it's theirs?
I guess. It just seems to associate the music with something that I find repellent. People claiming to act with god on their side are the ones who abuse children, fly jets into buildings, dispossess the people of palestine, deny women the right to choose, all that stuff, inquisitions, stonings. I know Coltrane wasn't like that, or Messiaen either, but god can mean that too, so it doesn't really mean anything. It just seems like a convenient shortcut to expressing what you really mean.
Did you like Messiaen more after the David Attenborough show?
O yeah, but that could be true of many things. I like everything better after a David Attenborough show. He's had as much to do with my aesthetic and philosophical development as anybody.
He'd be your great man of the twentieth century?
One of them.
Too many to name, women too. And any list I made would be different on a different day. Like there's Foucault days, and Fela Kuti days, Anais Nin days, Emma Goldman days, Rilke days, Clint Eastwood days, Kate Millet days, James Gleick days, Jim Thompson days, Billie Hollidays, y'know? At any time anything could be the best to me, my favorite. I tried to make a list of my top ten movies and it has about a hundred and twenty on it. And y'know, I'd have liked Messiaen better even if I'd never seen the bird show.
That would've happened anyway.
O yeah. Someone like that you come back to again and again, you're never gonna hear all the way into it. That's another thing that's weak in these times.
The aesthetic of instant response. Most people don't go back to things. If they don't like something right away they won't usually re-expose themselves to it.
And it hasn't always been like that?
I don't know. It seems to me that when I was younger the hunger had a better rep, like people didn't mind the open questions as much. Less dismissiveness. That may have only been in my mind, but it seems true looking back at the artifacts. Pre-monoculture.
Yeah. Maybe not consumerist, but monopolist. The record companies were selling shit to us, but there were a lot more of them. As a species, or at least as a culture, we were embracing entropy then, we understood that consolidation was anti-life. We've forgotten that. We've lost faith in our complexity, our ability to exist without absolutes. We don't want to seek them as much now, we'd rather implement a convenient one and ignore all the discrepancies between it and reality. We're terrified by anything truly new.
Why is newness so important? Why do you consider it an essential component of validity? It seems like you dismiss music that doesn't contain newness.
In a way it's to demonstrate the degree to which the paradigm has broken down.
The examples of its failure?
Its incompleteness, its inapplicability. The enormous number of deviations it can't reconcile, that it has to treat as special cases.
But aren't they? Special cases?
No more than everything is a special case. The frame's just way too small. In the last hundred or so years the body of exceptions has grown larger than the body of the rules. Eventually accepted practice will look back at the twentieth century with a theoretical paradigm that doesn't have to make exceptions for almost all creative work.
Do you think one exists?
Of course. Debussy, Charlie Parker, Bartok, Cecil Taylor, Ravi Shankar, Messiaen, Rabih Abou Kahlil, Eric Dolphy, even Harry Partch, and James White, they all have an enormous amount in common with each other besides the fact that they aren't like Beethoven. Aside from what they did individually, they collectively contributed to a generality which from an unbiased vantage point is simply a twentieth century phase of music. And with whatever nomenclature we end up adopting, none of them will require exceptions. Now they're explained in terms of deviations from a norm that hasn't existed since Wagner and only existed as a norm in a particular place and time. The makers of music, the ones who've spoken to the ears and minds of our time have all ignored that norm. They've been beyond it all along.
The audience hasn't caught up?
It has. It's not like nobody listens to this stuff. Even something as commercial and ordinary as TV soundtrack music couldn't exist without jazz, Debussy, the blues, and Schoenberg. Only the most unimaginative new age musicians are still using the rules as we learn them in school. Before the crusades, european masons couldn't build domes because the math they were using was incapable of describing them accurately. When algebra came back with them from the middle east, with zero as a number instead of a vacuum, they could. Algebra isn't that hard, but for a few thousand years a whole continent of intelligent people couldn't think that way because they were using a number system that wouldn't let them. It's very simple, most eighth graders can do it. The music will be easy too.
But you can't say what it will be?
I'm not a systematizer. I'm really more occupied with actually making music than with studying it. Everything I know about has come from questions that have arisen in my playing. My view is vastly incomplete.
But you seem to be making a case.
I try to explain what I do.
What you did and why you did it?
Ayup. Why, what, how, they're all the same to me. It simplifies things to eliminate as many categories as possible. Holistic, y'know? I do know that about the nomenclature of the future.
That it won't make separate worlds out of sonority, rhythm, and pitch. That's what the serialism of Boulez, Babbitt, and Stockhausen was all about, really what Messiaen opened them up to.
That it's about the inter-relatedness of sounds. See, I think the nomenclature of the future will be about whole sounds and their qualities. That's the great lesson of rock music, one I take for granted since I grew up on it, but shouldn't be overlooked as enormously important.
What exactly about it?
That the tone, the attack, the sonic context are often more important than the tonal construct. Because of that we've learned to be looser within the constraints of meter. Kick ass, y'know? Of the western composers only Stravinsky and Bruckner even came close to that.
Is that all you can take from pop music?
There isn't much you can take from it now, it's been co-opted, absolutely. The limited vocabulary wasn't much of a problem when the message was strong, but as the message was co-opted into a validation of conformity the smallness of the vocabulary didn't have any way to express its distinction. Like it happened with hip-hop, the initial shock evolved into schlock. It lost its capacity to counter culture.
So what's the answer to that?
To co-opt right back at them. We tend to avoid doing that because we've been scarred by it, whether it's hearing lust for life as a cruise ship ad, or Hendrix for a car or whatever. Anyone old enough to have felt their individuality validated by some song like that feels demeaned and isolated when they turn up in commercials and we can't cling to those ideas anymore, we have to get around that.
The pet renegade image thang. The limited vocabulary that goes with that.
Those of use who want to be individuals have to reject the commodity paradigm, the image system, keep our information to a minimum.
But information is the material of communication.
Yes, but not the information about ourselves, that's the muffler that suppresses the meaning of our information, that reduces expression to signifiers. We should be able to understand that now. And it would behoove us to be rigorous about it.
Go underground and stay underground?
Yeah, pretty much.
Does that mean giving up on universality?
That was always an illusion anyway, and when you think about it it's a fascist concept. Pretending to be universal. What ends up expressing universality always begins in the personal and specific. Creating isn't reacting.
Violating the taboos?
Yeah, all that. It's difference at its most shallow. It looks new but it validates the received paradigm. Johnny Rotten or Damien Hirst, they start out begging to be co-opted, they're purely reactive, so when their vocabulary is absorbed it hasn't said anything.
So, what is to be done?
Jam econo, man. Y'know? Like the Sex Pistols are still sort of funny, but the Minutemen are still meaningful. They lived the difference instead of playing at it. We have to learn to be satisfied with what we have, live our lives instead of pursuing a fantasy. Speak for ourselves instead of trying to speak for everyone.
Yeah, our own and everyone else's. And get away from the whole soft sell.
How do you mean?
Sonically we should learn to accept more plainness. Harmonically we should learn to accept less resolution. Rhythmically we should lean to accept more ambiguity. Allow it to evolve. That's the difference between jazz and rock music, that jazz grew and deepened as music with each generation while rock only changed by shifting styles, changing its sonorities by using different equipment, but clinging to the same simple forms and ideas. There hasn't been any culture of innovation in rock, any real stretching of vpcabulary. The thing we should have learned about ideas in the last century is that they don't really resolve into simplicity, and we really don't benefit from seeking that. It isn't necessary to have complete definition to derive benefit, it's about tending toward instead of being. That's basic physics now that matter only tends to exist.
No more simplicity?
O yeah simplicity, but not the kind that pretends to represent completeness. As it stands our simplicities tend to advocate exclusion, we want to believe that we've condensed something into an essence.
But we haven't?
No. We've exposed a fragment. That's good in itself, we don't have to be ashamed of it, it doesn't have to deny the existence of other fragments to be valid.
A musical example?
A major triad that has a detuned doubling of the tonic or the fifth.
And what would that do?
It would be simple but it would suggest a world of complexities not included in it. It isn't necessary or possible to illuminate all the possibilities.
Just acknowledge that they exist?
And allow them to encroach wherever they will. As it stands in pop music or learned music they are routinely eliminated.
Yeah, the need to assume completeness. It's the same problem again.
The dichotomy problem. The assumption of one completeness assumes an opposite, but they're actually the same, just not complete. There aren't opposites.
The centered and the decentered don't occupy enough common space to make them opposites.
There isn't a frame that's inclusive enough?
When there is a frame it violates the concept of incompleteness. There isn't a logic that can accommodate both. If deconstruction is a frame nothing is meaningful and if it isn't it can't be argued in terms of a frame. That's why it seems to be complicated and confusing. It's the nomenclature thang all over again.
Can we have a nomenclature that works?
I don't think so. I think we have to let them all co-exist, let them be incomplete, each in their own way. It's more difficult in a sense, but it isn't if we accept decenteredness.
With centralities within it?
Temporary, consensual, relativistic ones.
In a way, yeah. It doesn't mean they're valueless, or even that they're meaningless, only that they're all special cases, y'know? Definitions are useful, but only when you need to use them. Like you keep a spare tire in your car but most of the time it's just extra weight.
Do you think pop music has a capacity to do that, to exist decenteredly?
Not in its current relationship to market. Popular has become alienated from populist. That's how it's been co-opted. Bu in its original aural methodology, yes.
It's more like physics. At least it was back in its day. I don't mean to dismiss pop music. The Minutemen, The Clash, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Black Uhuru, Defunkt and P-Funk, Fela, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy, early Swans, Celtic Frost, lots of others, they've all had an enormous impact on my aesthetics, on what I do. In my heart of hearts I'll probably always think of myself as sort of a punk rocker. It's just that there isn't a lot to talk about in their methodologies.
Does that make them less valuable?
No. Not at all. It's the same reason I'm not talking about Deleuze or Ursula K LeGuin, y'know? All those musicians I just mentioned changed my life, more than Cage or Cardew or Stockhausen.
So we're basically dwelling on cerebral aspects?
It's more that we're dealing in the how, the methodology, than the what and why, like if we we're talking about buying a truck we'd be examining the drivetrain and the leaf springs instead of what color it was. I think theoretical ideas have been neglected and dismissed by pop musicians and it's made their work easy to co-opt. In my high school music class someone referred to the Jefferson Airplane as a radical band and our teacher, the great Richard O'Connor, had us analyze their songs as musical structures to make the point that underpinning the radical verbal statements was a very unradical approach to harmony, melody, rhythm, and form. He wasn't condemning it, he just thought it was worth pointing out.
So what you mean is that complacency about the mechanincs of form undermines the content?
Yes, potentially anyway. Sound is sort of the last line of defence. And over the last decade pop music has gone away from making new sounds. When I was coming up it was challenging its audience to hear differently. Mass, density, velocity, it was about things like that, even in its nomenclature, the root idea was about sound, pure sound. And that might have led to some interesting harmonic ideas, but it sort of didn't. It ended up being the same chords all over again for the most part. Also, unlike jazz musicians and composer types, they all stuck to the same thing, there's hundreds of people who seemed like good musicians who never experimented after they made their first splash, bands who played together for years and never got anything but more efficient or more refined.
So you basically think it's dead?
Is there anything to inherit from it? Aside from things not to do?
O yeah. The sound idea died in rock music, but it found its outlet in noise bands, in the vast marginalia of current music. There's all kinds of people doing all kinds of interesting things, they just don't have any leverage.
But isn't that sort of what you want?
I think it's necessary. Anybody who's doing something innovative has to accept a lack of support, but it would be nice to have resources too. Everything costs some money, keeping bands going isn't the easiest thing in the world.
And that was a conceptual innovation to theorize music on that basis instead of these arcane sqiggles and dots modified by a few italian words, which had been the bottom line before then. They're so cute and naive and antique, but as tools they're pathetic and almost completely useless. The emphasis on that has curdled the cultural impact of everything they've done.
Is there anything to take from that?
The classical tradition?
Absolutely. I take that for granted too, but there's a lot there. It's the monolithic way it's presented and perceived that I object to, the fetish language. There's enormous richness in the music.
Counterpoint, the building of chords, the splendor of form. Those don't exist in any other musics. And they are magnificent accomplishments. I can't imagine my life without them. All other music has been enriched by what they did.
So it's really the notation that bothers you?
Ayup. Besides idealizing a museum of instruments. The staff and the names of the notes. The exclusionary principle embedded in them. That's a lot of what's made the tradition bankrupt itself. That's something I think those arty guys were onto.
The scores. Earle Brown, Cardew, Logothetis, Bussotti. I've never even heard the music that goes with it. But it looks more like music to me than the other stuff does.
But there wasn't anything systematic about it.
No, that's why they look like music. It was basically a trendy party trick. But they do look really cool. I'll bet we end with something like that from the readouts.
In the digital editors, the ones that show the waveforms and all that. Eventually they'll come up with a 3D-VR type thing to guide us, we'll end up getting used to looking at them that way.
And people will write music in those waveforms?
They already do, that's what Darmstadt and Ircam were for, what Xenackis was thinking about, but I think the future will be less about specifically writing, or writing specifically. The age of a single mind expressed directly through many bodies is going to wither away, so the score as such will be a suggestion, more a visual amplification of a sonic idea than a set of instructions.
Which is what those Cardew Scratch Orchestra folks were thinking about.
That's inevitable, like equality. We invented music in groups, that's what it's always going to be about. We can be stupid and hold it back, but even then it's going to come to that again, every Trent Lott gets his sooner or later. The more open minds always prevail in the end, whether it's Columbus, or Gallileo, or Einstein, or Schoenberg.
And Anarchists are the more open minds?
And they will prevail?
I don't think there's any doubt about it. There's only one rule: the king must die. I think everybody knows that, somewhere inside them, the same way they know that they themselves are going to die. There's no other way to account for the hysteria, the obsessive-compulsiveness, of those who try to hold back the time.
But they're the ones running the show now.
But they're always backing up. Even when they seem to be going forward, what they wish to gain is something they used to have, there's no air or light there, it's never anything really new.
The new again.
And again and again, it's guaranteed to happen. And the old is guaranteed to stop happening. As long as we live in time.
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