Name: São Paulo Underground
Members: Rob Mazurek, Mauricio Takara & Guilherme Granado
Occupation: Composers, improvisers, instrumentalists
Nationalities: American (Rob Mazurek), Brazilian (Mauricio Takara)
Recent Release: São Paulo Underground team up with Mladen Kurajica & Daniel Garcia of Tupperware for their collaborative LP Saturno Mágico, out via Keroxen.
[Read our Tupperwear 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?
Rob Mazurek: I play trumpet, modular synth, sampler, voice, flutes and bells. I feel the need to use all these different sounds in order to create a situation that is ritualistic, life affirming.
Mauricio Takara: I'd say my main tools are my hands, which I use (with sticks or not) to play mainly percussion style instruments, like the drum kit. But I do have a deep relationship with many different instruments, both acoustic and electronic. I love the ideia that each instrument has a history and some tradition and many people have played it in many different ways for many different purposes before …
Besides that, I also love using random objects as percussive instruments. I think each instrument is like a living being, it will ask you to do certain things to it, it will tell you things and make you discover new sounds and new ways of behaving.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
Rob Mazurek: To improvise is to live freely without constraints … To compose is to slow it all down … creating in the best of ways (at least for me) is being able to approach any situation with an open mind, a beginner's mind and to make quick decisions or slow decisions based on stream of conscience and (or) thoughtful consideration with no particular boundaries.
Mauricio: I don't really separate it that much, I think they're all part of the creative voice with the same importance.
With a composition you normally go back to it and analyse it a little more, it might be a little more of a long term activity. But then if you think of improvising as a life time pratice, it is also something you are always going back to, redefining and discovering new things. I think when improvising you do need to have a more alert and quick hearing attention.
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?
Rob Mazurek: Nothing is ever the same. We are in a constant state of change. Everything is transformable and is being transformed in front of our very eyes ... With this in mind it is always exciting to know that there are possibilities in everything. All Material. It is possible to transform a whole tone scale, a brown shoe, the blue sky or a rollercoaster. I wake up everyday with the thought “another day, another possibility” …
I find working with the modular synth as interesting as hitting 2 sticks together… it can never be the same no matter how simple or complex. Once one realizes this, the sky opens.
Mauricio: I agree with that statement. But I would also say the same about composing. I think music practice and listening practice are the most transformable and stimulating activities to me, always.
There's always a new way to do things, always new things to hear, and one can never be too alert and present when playing music. So that's really an endless path to me.
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?
Rob Mazurek: This is interesting of course but also limiting. Any kind of system or rule(s) is going to be limited.
I spent a great deal of time with the great Bill Dixon. For a particular piece he was working on, he asked the musicians not to listen to each other, but create their own sound worlds in their own way without relating to each other. It was quite astonishing!
Now, of course they are going to relate anyway … and it is quite difficult to NOT hear, unless you are wearing aviation headphones or something … this was quite an interesting thing ... And taught me another way of working … So for me, it's cool to have all these different aspects to think about … and then forget … and throw out the rules and just make.
Playing in a group you are dealing with the vocabulary and personality of individuals in the group. Solo, you are dealing with your own vocabulary and personality … when you add 1,2,3,15 personalities to the mix it gets more and more complicated on so many levels … making music for me is all about these personalities and accepting their concept of freedom as much as possible within or without the constraints of the composition … in order to reach some kind of higher resonance that might have a chance of opening up something new and different to the people experiencing it.
Music of course is not just notes, and how well you play the notes … it’s how you project a feeling either singularly or collectively.
Mauricio: Well, I think there's always a place for everything to happen. I would say that's a good premise but there might be a situation where someone just going out over the top is the one thing that will make the music travel to another level .... so I think that kind of idea is always good to have in mind, and actually the most you have the better, but not make it a sacred unbreakable rule. Music is still a very unknown universe, as much as we try to decipher it, and I think that's part of the reason why it's so insteresting .
I think when playing live in a space it all becomes part of the projection of energy. The way the place sounds, the people there, the way your body moves, everything. So I think it goes back to what I said before, trying to stay alert and have your technics as accurate as possible will always help to get the best out of everything in context.
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 for yiur improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Rob Mazurek: When I am relaxed things seem to flow. When tense it’s almost impossible. But we live in a fairly tense world … so it's difficult sometimes …
It seems the best things come to me when I am going for a walk or casually reaching over to my piano … at least the initial ideas … then the hard work is putting it all together to create something meaningful for me. If it’s meaningful for me, then perhaps someone else will enjoy it.
Mauricio: I really believe in practicing and putting yourself in a situation where creativity can flourish … so I'm always trying to enlarge my vocabulary and creating new technics to get to where I want to get.
I think staying curious in all aspects of life is also part of that practice. We live in a time where anything anytime might become a distraction, so really trying to find a pratice routine that you enjoy, and not feel pushed to, is really a good idea.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
Rob Mazurek: Playing live is a ritual for me. You get in a state of mind. People are there to hear what you are doing. I try to focus on sending light and energy to everyone in the room.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
Rob Mazurek: When projecting a unified feeling, the space accepts you, the sound molecules dance in joy, the bodies of all things rejoice.
Mauricio: To me they are very different situations. The studio is a much more controlled laboratory type of place, good for developing details. In a live situation, there's always a lot more random stimuli you have to deal with ... and they are complementary. Each one brings different ideas and opportunities of creation.
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
Rob Mazurek: Like I said earlier about different group sizes and how it gets more complex when you add personalties … I think it's the same depending on your audience and audience size … when you play for 1 person or 10,000 it's going to be different … but I would say that I am pretty good with projecting full energy under both circumstances of studio recording and live recording.
I am glad that people are interested to witness this thing we do, but also great to listen in your own home…. Ultimate resonant communication between beings is the thing.
Honestly, I think the very first few times I as a kid got together with friends to make music are still the most remarkable times. Just feeling the sound energy traveling through the space and our bodies and souls was a very strong feeling … and I still get that feeling of amazement through music a lot...
I can't pick one, but having the opportunnity to play with masteres such as Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef, Nana Vasconcelos and many more, is really a privilege to me.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? 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?
Rob Mazurek: I kind of look at every opportunity to make sound as a possibility for a breakthrough … My idea of a breakthrough is just waking up in the morning and learning that I am still breathing! (laughs)
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Rob Mazurek: All of life is transitory. Nothing stays the same. It’s impossible.
The sound I make is made to elevate, to break through to something else that might not even be explainable … This is where I want to get to … to not understand and not want an explanation.
Mauricio: I think music is a journey into the beauty and the mysteries of the unkown, where there's always something new to discover, always something positive and productive to take from everytime.
Like in life and death. so there's a lot there that we can't talk about. But it definitely helps us go through this passage called life.