Name: Billy Martin
Occupation: Drummer, improviser, composer, producer, educator, visual artist
Current event: August 9th and 10th Billy Martin and Mark Guiliana will present an afternoon masterclass / workshop followed by a performance at The Underground (artist co-op) in San Diego and Motherland Music (African percussion shop) in Los Angeles, CA.
If these thoughts by Billy Martin piqued your interest, visit his website for a deeper look at his work. You can also visit the homepage of his band Martin, Medeski & Wood.
For a look at the responses of one of Billy Martin's creative partners, head over to our Mark Guiliana interview.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
My tools are many, being that I am foremost an experimental percussionist and composer. So that ranges from the modern drum set to Brazilian instruments like the berimbau, pandeiro, caxixi to west/Central African instruments like the mbira, balaphone or talking drum.
My relationship with them is intimate, with a renewed sense of possibility each day. At least that is my goal. To discover a new melody, phrase or sound that evolves into something more than my imagination. I approach with a beginner's mind, navigate sonically and make sure to remember the importance of silence.
Every sound I make is a performance, no matter where I am. Alone or with an audience.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
For me, improvisation is my way of life. I could not survive without it. My compositions are most often realized through improvisation.
I sometimes use the term spontaneous composition which is improvising and composing - they are the same thing to me.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Derek Bailey is one of the great teachers. Watching and listening to him play may be the greatest inspiration for me this far. Although Milford Graves is right there with it in my heart always.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
I like the statements. I agree 100% with #1. But I don’t think you have to create “related” sounds. As long as you are listening and sincerely responding - that's enough.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
Stay young at heart. Use your heart not your mind. Be truly in the moment without preconceptions.
What supports this ideal state of mind for your improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
State of mind is personal. Always changing I think. But I think I mentioned some things earlier that allude to it.
Distractions are many. You could be wondering what the others are thinking which is the killer of the musical conversation. ‘Second guessing’ is the death of any fresh ideas.
Strategy is LISTENING and not playing until you are truly compelled to add something sincere to the conversation.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
Sometimes you must take risks and admit you do not know what you are doing or where the music can go. So, understanding that helps the decisions. First or second impulse is always an interesting way to go. Again listening to the others and listening to your heart. Add what is not there. Or silence, which is always powerful.