Names: Matthias Lindermayr, Masako Ohta
Nationalities: German (Matthias), Japanese (Masako)
Occupation: Pianist, performance artist (Masako), trumpet player, composer (Matthias)
Current release: Matthias Lindermayr and Masako Ohta's MMMMH is out October 21st 2022 via Squama.

If you enjoyed this interview with Matthias Lindermayr and Masako Ohta and would like to know more about their work, visit their respective websites: Matthias Lindermayr; Masako Ohta.

When did you first start getting interested in musical improvisation?

Matthias Lindermayr: When I was around 15/16 years old. I started to play guitar in a band with some friends and wanted to integrate the trumpet for some solos. Before that I only played classical music. At that time I didn’ have any knowledge about the theory behind it.

Masako Ohta: When I played the Mozart d minor, K.466 piano concerto, I wanted to improvise the cadenza myself. I was about 19 years old at that time.

Which artists, approaches, albums or performances involving prominent use of improvisation captured your imagination in the beginning?

ML: As a teenager I listened to a lot of progressive and avantgarde rock music that featured bigger improvised parts such as The Mars Volta, King Crimson, Can and so on. My first encounter with improvised jazz music was Bitches Brew by Miles Davis which opened the door to a new genre for me.

MO: Concerts by Indian traditional musicians like Ravi Shankar, by The Guitar Trio with John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Paco De Lucía and by Egberto Gismonti & Nana Vasconcelos … etc. Performances by Min Tanaka, a Japanese dancer …

Focusing on improvisation can be an incisive transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?

ML: I used to play classical music for many years but always struggled with the tense atmosphere and the need to fulfill specific expectations. Playing jazz and improvised music felt so much more easy and relaxed to me. I finally enjoyed playing concerts and being in front of an audience.

MO: I wanted to explore purer and more spontaneous forms of communication with others in the world and with myself.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to improvisation? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage?

ML: I want to keep it simple, melodic and emotional. I also like to include unusual sounds and colors I can find on my instrument. I am very much influenced by contemporary European Improvisers.

MO: Yes, in a way … because the music that I´ve listened to and listen to, continues to flow in me and into my music …

What was your own learning curve / creative development like when it comes to improvisation - what were challenges and breakthroughs?

ML: I didn’t know anything about the theory behind improvisation before I studied music at university. The biggest challenge was to keep up with all my peers that were far ahead of me in the beginning.

My first breakthrough was my first recital, when I realized that I CAN keep up with them when I work hard enough. The second breakthrough was, when I started to write my own music and finally found my place in the genre of jazz.

MO: It was a very natural process for me …

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?  

ML: I play mostly trumpet. It’s a very special instrument built by a famous Swiss instrument maker. It allows me to discover new sounds more easily.

MO: The piano is a string-instrument with a huge and magical corpus. A piano sings, speaks and dreams … it is a phantasy instrument: coupled with the player’s phantasy and imagination, it can express nearly boundless colours and feelings.

I keep learning a lot from the piano, also by playing inside of the piano … I love this instrument so much.   

Can you talk about a work, event or performance in your career that's particularly dear to you? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

ML: My first jazz concert was Arve Henriksen with Jan Bang. A performance that completely blew my mind. It was amazing to see what jazz can be.

MO: There are many … for example, working with the trumpeter Matthias Lindermayr. I feel so free and feel that we understand each other with our music so directly without any words. I am grateful for the many magical moments we’ve had and keep having.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?

ML: I don’t really play solo and really prefer to collaborate with other musicians. To me this feels like sacrificing and gaining at the same time.

MO: Gaining – it is definitely an enrichment for me! I love musical communication in collaborations very, very much.

When you're improvising, does it actually feel like you're inventing something on the spot – or are you inventively re-arranging patterns from preparations, practise or previous performances?

ML: This really depends on the context. When I am totally inspired and my fellow musicians are too, it feels like inventing something new. This is the ideal state for me.

But unfortunately it is not always like that. Then it feels more like re-arranging. Also improvising in a musical context I feel constraint within limits my inventiveness.

MO: Both, I would say … I invent something on the spot, and the invention comes sometimes from my feeling, sometimes from the flows of music history within me …

To you, are there rules in improvisation? If so, what kind of rules are these?

ML: Depends on the context again.

MO: Be free and be honest.

In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?

MO: This kind of communication is a blessing for my life. I also love solo performances very much, though …

I would love to have both of them like Yin and Yan …I cannot separate them.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? In which way is it different between your solo work and collaborations?

MO: The ideal state of mind for me is a feeling of freedom – both in solo work and in collaborations.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?

ML: To me sound and space are really important. When I feel comfortable in the room I play and the sound on stage is good usually I am inspired and happy with my performance as well. When the sound is bad, it is much harder for me to perform well and can even feel like a fight.

MO: It´s such a natural thing to do that. I don´t need any strategies for doing that, I think …

In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music and improvisation express and reveal about life and death?

MO: I believe in that. And nature is definitely a source of inspiration for my music and for my life.