Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I am fortunate to have spent the last 25 years of my professional music career performing, recording, and hanging with so many of my musical heroes. In many different musical spaces really. I've been extremely lucky to have improvised and collaborated on music both live and on records with legends of jazz and improvised music such as Joe Morris, Bobby Previte, Steve Swallow, Wadada Leo Smith, Roswell Rudd, Joe McPhee, Marshall Allen, Danny Ray Thompson, Charles Downs, Hamid Drake, Derek Bailey, Chuck Hammer, Cyro Baptista, Jamaladeen Tacuma and Dave Liebman. I've also been fortunate to get to record and play shows with legends of Hardcore and Reggae music Bad Brains. I connected with the Bad Brains in 2003 through Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys. Bad Brains are musical heroes as well as superb people. Darryl Jenifer and Doctor Know remain positive forces in music and in life. I learn so much from each experience with ALL of these amazing artists.
As a musician, I think it's critical to always be open and in a space where one can continue to learn new things. Each of these heroes of music has vast troves of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to impart. They fight every single day for great music and positivity. It is our duty to learn from these masters - to listen, to be humble, to consider other ideas. Bad Brains speaks of PMA - Positive Mental Attitude. This idea is essential to letting the music speak. PMA works in service of bettering humanity. This is what I aspire to embody in my music and in my everyday life. We continue to learn each day and with that positivity we provide great music a dignified space. Prince had a song called "Positivity" - the lyrics include "have you had your plus sign today?"
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have no real fixed schedule. Some days I'm in the recording studio here at my home. Other days I'm on tour in foreign lands. Many days I'm traveling here in the US playing shows and recording all around the country. I could be working with a Jazz or instrumental group, a loud Rock or Reggae group, producing for a vocalist, writing songs, or producing film scores and music for television. My day starts with vast amounts of espresso and then proceeds to MUSIC - in whatever form it takes that day. Sometimes it appears in a few different forms in the same day. I specifically try not to differentiate too much between tasks. Each situation is part of the musical whole. I don't have to try to make them blend as they are all the same. The technical aspects may differ but the end result should be the same: great, transformative music.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
An album I am particularly proud of is "Strength & Power" (RareNoise Records), a collaboration with Trombone master Roswell Rudd. Roswell was my neighbor here in the Hudson Valley and was such a musical titan. Roswell improvised with Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler in the 60's, Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, and Pharoah Sanders in the 70's, and Toumani Diabaté in the 80's. Roswell was a brilliant writer and improviser who inspired me greatly in my musical development.
I feel so lucky to have spent time hanging and playing with Maestro Rudd. Roswell was consistently positive in attitude and demeanor. This album came about as a pure collaborative effort between Roswell and I plus two brilliant improvisors of my generation. Roswell had never met either of these other musicians before we went into the studio to make this record. Trevor Dunn and Balazs Pandî are both steeped in the Free Jazz improvising tradition. They also both spend a great deal of playing time in Rock and Hardcore projects. So this album was conceived of as a meeting of different generations of musicians in a purely improvised space. There were no previously discussed tactics or compositions used. We simply all came together purely in the moment to create together. No ego, no agenda, no preconceived notions of what we should be doing. Just trust, mutual respect, and respect for improvisation. I am particularly proud of this album as the final document of Roswell Rudd playing purely "free." Playing and hanging with Roswell was always a joy and I believe this joy shines here on this album.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I have no trouble entering into the creative spaces I find myself in every single day. Nothing special need be done to prepare. For me, there is no ideal state of mind for making music. Everyday we get up and we make the music. It's that simple. There are no distractions. It is what we do. Nothing can stop us.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Playing live and making music in the studio are really just about the same thing. In a live setting one gets feedback direct from the audience. In the studio one tries to imagine the listener and how the music might be received. But the basic process is the same. The music must always guide the way.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Honestly, I try to not make too much fuss over the idea of "composition". I don't call myself a composer. I do write original music but rarely on score paper or in a traditional sense. I play music, I draw ideas from my improvisations and from playing around at my instruments as well as from the music I love. Forms will emerge from that. I made a decision decades ago that I don't really write music notes on traditional musical score paper. It's just not the way I write. Once I felt liberated from traditional forms and ways of writing music my music changed drastically. Suddenly it aligned much more closely to what I listened to and to what I myself wanted to hear. Not someone else's idea of what my music should sound like.
Anything I write for a particular project is either easily taught to musicians before we play it or can be written with basic chord names. So my tunes, my original music, comes directly out of what I hear in my head and what I would LIKE to hear. I align myself with musicians and collaborators who have similar interests and who share many languages. People I love and respect as humans.
One important thing I learned from many years working with John Zorn is to write music for specific people to realize. Zorn rarely wrote something just for "keyboards" or "guitar" but for specific people who had a unique language. I write for those I already collaborate with or who I wish to collaborate with. Again, the music shows the direction. Each of these musicians has a specific and clear sound. That informs the music just as much as any written tune or structure. Together we create this music. In its ideal form it can be a selfless act.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I am interested in trance like states brought on through music. The greatest music suspends time and crystalizes something mystical in a particular moment in time. I've seen it happen with most every form and style of music. Bob Dylan, ZZ Top, Bunny Wailer, Stevie Wonder, Bad Brains, Morris Day and the Time, AC/DC, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Hamza El Din, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, The Zombies, Joni Mitchell - each of these artists has made time stop in front of my eyes. It's a full body experience. It is a meditative ecstatic state. Our everyday problems temporarily wash away and we are fully immersed in the mystical. Bob Dylan once said of this "I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music." Sound transcends spoken language and vaults us towards the mystical.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My approach to "art" is quite simple - use sound to give mankind enjoyment. I don't need to call my work "art" and I don't call myself an "artist." I make music that people hopefully can enjoy. That's enough.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
As improvisers, we constantly search for new ideas of what music could be. True improvisers do this every single day of their lives. Improvising legend Joe Morris wrote an insightful book about this path. The title perfectly illustrates this idea: "Perpetual Frontier- The Properties of Free Music" (Riti Publishing). Every moment the improviser looks to new forms, new architecture, to redefine what we do and how we do it. Redefine and refine. This will remain as the guiding principal in so much of the very best music. Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Albert Ayler - these artists embody this in all aspects. Constantly pushing forward towards something new yet fundamental and crucial.