Part 1

Name: Dan Kurfirst

Nationality: American
Occupation: Drummer, percussionist, composer, educator
Current Release: Dan Kurfirst's Arkinetics is out now via Neuma. It features a band composed od Daniel Carter (Trumpet, Woodwinds), Alexis Marcelo (Fender Rhodes, Piano), Damon Banks (Electric Bass) and Roshni Samlal (Tabla)
Recommendations: I am really drawn to the rapper Jay Electronica. His music is so profound, beautiful and groovy, yet he remains unknown to many because of the way he chooses to operate as an artist, which falls outside the accepted mechanisms of production in the music industry. His release A Written Testimony is a masterpiece, in my opinion.
Opening of the way, by Isha Schwaller de Lubicz, is a book that disseminates the wisdom teachings of Ancient Egypt in a very practical, succinct way and has influenced me greatly.

If you enjoyed this interview with Dan Kurfirst and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, and Facebook.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I had a drumset when I was three years old. My memory of this is very vague, but my parents have told me that I would play along to some of my father’s records, he had an excellent collection.

I know I loved the Who and Keith Moon’s drumming as a child. For most of my childhood I had an on and off relationship with playing both guitar and drums until settling on the drums as a primary instrument at 14 years old.

My father played an eclectic variety of great music in our house growing up. As a child I had particular fondness for some of his favorite rock artists - Hendrix, Cream, The Police. I also have early memories of listening to Archie Shepp and John Coltrane and Miles Davis and being very drawn to that.

As I began to explore on my own later on, I naturally spent a lot of time with the music of my era. In hip hop, some albums that come to mind are Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Talib Kweli / Mos Def - Blackstar, all the Wu Tang music of the mid 90s are some particular records that come to mind.

Most of my experience playing drums in my youth was in metal bands - I spent a lot of time with that, in particular a 2 or 3 year obsession where the group Meshuggah was playing in my earphones for at least a few hours every day.

Eventually the heavy music didn’t resonate with me as much, and I came back around to making a deep study of jazz, as well as the music of Africa, the Middle east … all over the world really.

For as long as I remember, I’ve heard music in my mind, and had a sense of a particular sound that would resonate with my psycho-spiritual state at any given moment. When I was younger of course I was endlessly consuming music trying to better understand what it was I truly resonated with - these days what I want to hear is much more particular.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

Color is a huge part of it for me. With the Arkinetics record,I felt that I could communicate the aesthetic with purple, orange, red and yellow hues. With some newer music that’s emerging, a neon-ish green is entering in. Resonance is key - the tones of the music and the colors increase each other’s resonance and make everything vibrate at a higher rate, in my experience.

As for the body, an interesting practice I’ve discovered on the drums recently is to play each drum individually, slowly, and feel where they resonate in the body.

For instance, the bass drum produces warm tones in my chest that move downwards … the snare seems to activate something in between my temples and the back of my neck, a closed hi hat somewhere in between those regions … and then to gradually make those all work together and think about “composition” from that perspective.

It’s interesting and can be very healing when you allow yourself to experience music as a direct bodily experience.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

Growing up partially in the digital age (the early days of streaming / file sharing came about when I was in high school) is definitely a blessing and a curse. The positives are clear - i.e. having access to the entire history of recorded music within seconds. However, that has had serious effects on people’s attention spans and the ability to listen deeply. I felt that happening to myself some years ago and had to re-calibrate my relationship with recorded music.

A particular breakthrough that comes to mind were the first times I heard non-Western music, and by extension became interested in non-Western thinking. Some of the first recordings that I was exposed to included music by S Balachander (a veena player from South India), Ali Akbar Moradi (Kurdish tanbour player) and Ahmed Mukhtar (oud player from Iraq).

Shortly after I began to really develop a relationship with jazz / African American creative music, very much through the Coltrane classic quartet (and later the quintet). Listening to records like My favorite things, Sunship, Stellar regions, Love Supreme and Ascension really felt like an initiation into a new understanding of what music and life could be.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Every human being who comes into this world is completely unique, which is so profound and miraculous! I think a great part of our purpose here on Earth is to explore who we are, in the deepest sense, and live out that unique individuality that resides within all of us.  

To answer your question, I’m very focused on getting in touch with my identity in the truest, deepest sense. Music is a central part of that. By following what I hear in my heart and going towards the music that really resonates with the deepest parts of my being, I’m learning about who I truly am.

Culturally, I grew up in a very diverse environment in New York, and there wasn’t too much emphasis on our own ancestral cultural / religious traditions in my home growing up. We had a bit of it, but the way I grew up, in combination with being exposed to a lot of different ideas led me to seek out and try to understand ways of thinking from all different kinds of people. That was paralleled in my development as a musician, as I described in some of the other answers above.

Now, I feel that I’m at a point where I’ve spent enough time with some of these ideas that I’m dealing with them purely as part of my own experience and not as necessarily belonging to a particular culture (or style, if we’re talking about music).

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

To expand on how I answered the last question, there is a phrase as old as time that is found in every religion / spiritual tradition that I am aware of - “Know Thyself”. Every soul that comes into this world is completely unique and has its own purpose.

Realizing this, REALLY knowing ourselves and who we are, and helping others to do the same, is the greatest thing we can do here on Earth. So for me, that is the purpose of music, whether practicing, listening, composing or performing. This has many implications, a lot of which have to do with healing and happiness.

When music gets us in touch with our true nature, we are aligned in body, mind and spirit. With all of that in mind, on a fundamental level, I’m really just trying to make music that makes me feel very good. When I stay true to myself, it seems to me that alot more folks become attracted to the music and benefit from it as well.

Conversely, if I become too concerned with what someone else might want to hear me play, the music resonates a lot less, because I can’t, by definition, experience how someone else hears anyway, so it’s futile to even try.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

The more that I develop my own processes and discover the subtle details of music, dichotomies like this tend to seem irrelevant. On the one hand, nothing is original because what we are doing as artists is really discovering as opposed to creating. On the other hand, any sincere expression cannot help but be completely original, because no two people are alike and therefore cannot do anything in exactly the same way.

Because I work primarily in improvised music, timelessness has a different meaning, since we are only concerned with the present moment. Having said that, as both a player and a listener I have experienced many moments of music that, for me, transcend time and space - of course, most of them are not recorded!

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

I’m primarily a drummer and percussionist, and my main instrument is the drum set. These days I really try to listen to the drums and let the sound guide my playing.

Drums sound so beautiful, they really don’t need anything from me, other than to play them and let them speak how they want to speak. If I really get in tune with that, we can have an authentic, flowing conversation, in which 2 elements create something beautiful together, just as two friends talking, two people creating a child, or so many other expressions we see in nature of 2 entities creating a 3rd, unifying element.

Lately I’m hearing things that would be best expressed through electronic music and production, so I have been working with Logic for a few years. This is a very different experience from drumming that I am trying to understand more.

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