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Blank Disc Trio – Live at Klupce

A 2007. recording of Blank Disc Trio’s gig

Georg Wissel: (prepared) altosax, oboe, a.o., voice
Robert Rozsa: no-input mixing, electronics
Srdjan Muc: electric guitars

Recorded live at Klupce, Zrenjanin, on July 20, 2007
Recorded and produced by Srdjan Muc

27 Questions for a Start

To what degree is this kind of music experimental?

Are there preconceptions?

Is the group constellation already a compositional element?

Is this music only for musicians and specialists?

Is there any “popular” potential in this kind of music?

Would it be a good thing if it became popular?

Is music a language or something beyond?

Does our musical scene simply reproduce capitalistic structures?

To what degree is this kind of music improvised?

Is it all about learning to make decisions without being able to fully analyse the current situation (due to a lack of time and/or capacity)?

Does it swing?

Can this music help to stop global warming?

Is our musical scene merely a resort for failed existences and dysfunctional people?

Is it easier to play than not to play?

Is failure one of our main sources for progress?

Are there different levels of listening?

Should everything be possible at any time?

Do we listen differently to an improvisation than to a composition?

Does a recording turn an open process into a completed piece of work?

Do we have to file it under a generic term?

How can stasis be avoided?

Is an improvisation a composition (in progress)?

Is it possible to have no expectations?

Does music anticipate changes in society?

Is this a gender-, race-, education- and region-specific form of art?

Is it possible to have a non-hierarchical group interaction?

Do we need a dedicated space?

from Bertrand Denzler, Burkhard Beins and Phil Durrant  (Trio Sowari),  2007

On Varèse

Throughout his life Varèse was engaged in the pursuit of what he called the “liberation of sound”; a lifelong preoccupation that would “throw open the whole world of sound to music.” While still a student at the Paris Conservatoire Varèse had, under the influence of his scientific background (the career for which he was originally intended), begun to resent the “arbitrary” limitations of the tempered system. It is no surprise that for the iconoclastic young composer the strict rules of the Conservatoire, and d’Indy in particular, represented all that Varèse felt was wrong with music; all that was dogmatic and systematised. Busoni’s aphorism from his ‘Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music’ (1907) that “the function of the creative artist consists in making laws, not in following those already made” had a profound and lasting influence on Varèse, providing him with the confidence to pursue his unconventional path; Busoni’s prophetic conceptions of the future direction of music felt to Varèse like “an echo of [his] own thoughts.” Under the influence of Helmholtz’s ‘Physiology of Sounds’, he undertook his first acoustic experiments using sirens, whose “haunting quality” made him aware for the first time “of the wealth of music outside the narrow limits imposed by keyboard instruments.” Of particular significance in these formative years is that, with the exception of Busoni and Debussy,  Varèse spoke with most fondness of his many encounters with scientists, poets, and painters, whose advances in their respective fields Varèse was determined to emulate in music. This explains for Varèse:

“why my point of view has differed so radically from that of most musicians… My musical views having made me untouchable, I sought and found sympathy and corroboration from the practitioners of other arts.”

Given his theoretical position it is unsurprising that Varèse remained reluctant to discuss his work within the confines of the standardised terminology of musical discourse. In its place Varèse favoured figurative and metaphorical references to scientific processes, natural phenomena, mathematical and geometrical functions, spatial perception and so on. His insistence that traditional musical discourse provided a poor model for apprehending his work could raise the criticism that he was obscuring objective musical processes by resorting to rather vague, unverifiable, and, from the point of view of standard musical analysis, entirely subjective analogies to which the music bears only a superficial relationship. In the absence of an objective musical mechanism capable of assessing the formal quality of his compositions, it is possible that Varèse turned to the objectivity provided by references to scientific phenomena to deflect any criticism that his compositional process is formless, intuitive, and without any genuine theoretical basis.  An “engineer in sound” is free of the cultural and historical associations of, say, “composer” or “musician”; it clearly distances him from the standard musical world so alien to him, while at the same time suggesting something of the theoretical foundation he sought for his conception of form. The title “engineer”, whose medium is “organised sound”, makes clear above all else the rejection of all systems, which for Varèse represented all that was stagnant and limiting in the creation of art, and which were a major obstacle to the continued development of music. Under the influence of the “bad habit” of tradition, music was unknowingly closing itself off to the limitless possibilities of the “entirely new magic of sound.”
In his conception of form Varèse presents a profound challenge to the idea of the heritage of musical models; the process of systematisation inherited from musical tradition had, according to Varèse, become deeply rooted in the creative process, resulting in the perpetuation of restrictive and limiting forms. This restrictive conception of music similarly pervaded the realm of analysis; that “by its very definition analysis is sterile”, and that “to explain by means of it is to decompose, to mutilate the spirit of a work.” Varèse’s work remains outside the standard models of analysis for the very reason that it was conceived in opposition to the restricted nature of conventional composition and the standardised systems of analysis that grew out of it. In a lecture at Princeton University in 1959 he presented the idea that form should be the result of a process dictated by the content of each individual piece, and that “form and content are one.” It is this process that should replace the conventional conception of form as a mold to be filled:

“each of my pieces discovers its own form. I could never have fitted them into any of the historical containers.”

The model of crystallography provided Varèse with a suitable, non-musical process to which he could relate his conception of form as a derivation from the implications and subsequent transmutations of content. The analogy, derived from the professor of mineralogy at Columbia University was of particular significance to Varèse, who paraphrased it as follows :

“There is an idea, the basis of an internal structure, expanded and split into different shapes or groups of sound constantly changing in shape, direction, and speed, attracted and repulsed by various forces. The form of the work is the consequence of this interaction. Possible musical forms are as limitless as the exterior forms of crystals.”

This analogy distills Varèse’s aesthetic of the marriage of science and music while simultaneously providing justification for his theoretical conception of form; it also presents a radical challenge to the perpetuation of musical tradition and lineage by rejecting entirely the prospect of inherited models. The semi-organic nature of the process, in which the form grows out of the implications of the content brings into question the basic generative processes of Western music: variation and development. Odile Vivier suggests that this process

“attempts neither development nor transformation, but rather the transmutation of an initial cell or agglomeration which he subjects to different tensions, different dynamics, and different gravitational functions.”

The engineer could, therefore, through subtle alterations of movement and dynamics, generate a self-contained form of tension, release, attraction and repulsion; the sound-masses, through careful manipulation and arranging in space are not governed by any formal system, but form blocks of sound in space that together result in the growth into a complete form, individual to each work. The openings of ‘Intégrales’ [ex. 1] and ‘Octandre’ [ex. 2] provide an example of these initial cells; cells which undergo in the former a process of transmutation for fifty-two bars before collapsing and reconstituting itself in a new formation.
The significance of Varèse’s conception of music as an art-science cannot be overemphasised at this point. Its influence pervades his musical thinking at every level, leading him to the belief that it is only through collaboration with science, with the recognition that sound itself is the fundamental material of music, that music can make a genuine progression:

“There is solidarity between scientific development and the progress of music. Throwing new light on nature, science permits music to progress . . . by revealing to our senses harmonies and sensations before unfelt.”

“The raw material of music is sound. Today, when science is equipped to help the composer realise what was never before possible, the composer continues to be obsessed by the traditions that are nothing but the limitations of his predecessors.”

Even the most radical of his contemporaries, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, were, according to Varèse, still engaged in what he felt was this restrictive tradition. Where Schoenberg, for example, was interested in pitches as an isolated musical element,  Varèse’s concept of organised sound led him to concentrate on the physical effect of the simultaneous occurrence of all the elements of frequency, intensity, dynamics and texture in a unified sound-mass, with each dimension inseparable from the other. Henry Cowell explained that:

“more important than the chord itself is the harmony resultant from the tone-qualities of the instruments owing to their particular sound in the register in which he scores them.”

Orchestration is, therefore, an essential part of the conception of a work, no less so than consideration of pitch. Each work is scored for a unique combination of instruments, with wind and brass instruments and pitched and unpitched percussion of particular significance to Varèse’s careful construction of sonorities. Although he was without the new instruments that he felt were so badly needed to “enrich the musical alphabet”, he made use of a bewildering array of exotic percussion and noise-making devices throughout the major works of the twenties and thirties, with each instrument chosen for its specific sonorities and resonant qualities: gongs, anvils, sirens, sarrusophones, heckelphones, dynaphones and countless others were all made part of the extended orchestra. It was difficult for Varèse to understand why composers continued to restrict themselves to the limited palette of the traditional orchestral instruments while “whole symphonies of new sounds have come from the new industrial world” ; and while for him the purpose of music was clear: “to reveal a new world is the function of creation in all art.”
The technological means required to bring his conceptions to into being always lagged behind, despite the great effort he expended in promoting his ideas. As early as the 1930s Varèse had conceived of a “secret project” to found a music laboratory, in which, under his direction, and with the assistance of a physicist, “there would be a a working laboratory in which sound could be studied scientifically.” Disappointed with the limited versatility of the ‘ondes martenot’, he also alerted the Bell telephone company to his cause, but lack of interest and funding foiled both attempts.  As a result, Varèse’s orchestral works occupy the peculiar position of compromise, being limited to the resources of largely traditional instruments, despite being theoretically grounded in processes and techniques that technology would only be beginning to make possible in the last years of his life. Nonetheless, his conception of himself as an “engineer” remains entirely appropriate, particularly as he was painfully aware that the technological means to bring about his vision of what music should, and could be were tantalisingly close:

“Personally, for my conceptions, I need an entirely new medium of expression… Today it is possible to build such a machine with only a certain amount of added research.”

“When new instruments will allow me to write music as I conceive it, the movement of sound-masses, of shifting planes, will be clearly perceived in my work. When these sound masses collide, the phenomena of penetration and repulsion will occur. Certain transmutations taking place on certain planes will seem to be projected onto other planes and other angles.”

This kind of extended spatial analogy, in which these sound-masses can “collide” in space, is by no means a mere metaphorical reference to superficial aspects of his work; it is founded throughly in his compositional process from the work’s inception. Long before his ‘Poème Electronique’, for which a system of hundreds of loudspeakers provided an explicit distribution of sound in space, Varèse said of the orchestral ‘Intégrales’:

“Intégrales was conceived for spatial projection. I constructed the work to employ certain acoustical means which did not yet exist.”

In attempt to make sense of the musical world of this piece, and in the absence of musical terminology sufficient to the task, contemporary critics frequently referred to the perception of “blocks of sound” and “sound masses.  In a radio interview publicising a performance of the work Varèse suggested visualising:

“the changing projection of a geometrical figure on a plane with both plane and figure moving in space . . . By allowing both the figure and the plane to have motions of their own one is able to paint a complex and seemingly unpredictable picture with the projection.”

Although a genuine “projection” in space was for the moment technically impossible, this emphasis on the perception of physical space into which the music was projected introduces what Varèse termed the “fourth dimension” in music, in addition to the perception of the horizontal, vertical. and dynamic dimensions. The development of the spatial element in music would allow for the introduction of “bodies of intelligent sounds moving freely in space.” It is unsurprising that the definition of music of which Varèse was particularly fond, “the corporealisation of the intelligence that is in sounds”, was that of a scientist, Hoene Wronsky. Having become familiar with the definition at a young age, Varèse felt that it was a “new and exciting conception”, and that “very early, musical ideas came to me which I realised would be difficult to express with the means available.”
After a long period of dejection and depression in the years following ‘Density 21.5’, as a result of the failure to gather support for the development of new electronic instruments, Varèse was finally able to see the successful completion of two electronic works in his last few years: the incorporation of taped interludes of grating noise, derived from modified recordings of factory noises and percussion, into ‘Déserts’ (1950–54) and the entirely tape-recorded work ‘Poème Electronique’ (1957-58), the fulfillment of a twenty-year search for a “sound-producing machine . . . whose message will reach the listener unadulterated by ‘interpretation’” envisaged in his lectures of the mid-thirties. The spatial preoccupations that had concerned him for so long could finally also see their most ambitious realisation in Le Corbusier’s specially-designed building at the 1958 exposition in Brussels.
The goal Varèse had set himself, the liberation of sound through electronic means, was certainly achieved in the last years of his life. His enthusiastic exploration of the limitless new world of ‘organised sound’, which had become possible as the result of his determination to ensure for composers “a whole new world of unsuspected sounds”, had brought with it a theoretical foundation and formal process equal to it. Varèse, motivated by this conviction that “on the threshold of beauty, science and art collaborate”, recognised the necessity of turning away from music and assimilating processes and formal models from other disciplines in an attempt to reinvigorate an art that he felt was in state of decline and stagnation. Rather than as an enemy of music Varèse saw himself as its liberating force, removing from it “the crutches of impotency”, firmly believing that like all innovators “the links in the chain of tradition are formed by men who have all been revolutionists.”

Jim Connell, 2006

Questionnaire: Valerio Tricoli (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

No, I haven’t, except a couple of guitar lessons when I was 14 or something…

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

That’s kind of a hard question, in fact I generally change my set-up every few weeks, and the set-up itself is always changing in relation to the room, the group and/or the situation in which I’m going to play. Anyway, I use analogue electronic instruments (KorgMs20, Revox and Teac tape machines, loudspeakers, microphones to catch sound to be “live processed” with the tape machines and effects, a mixer of course, which I consider and instrument as well). I play with this stuff because I wanted to play electronic music, a sort of live concrete music (if this makes any sense), and I am not a lot into playing live with a computer (I always found it lacking too much in the “physical/corporal” part of the process..). Then of course I definitely like a lot the dynamics/sound quality that can be achieved with analogue stuff. The only real problem is that all these instruments are kind of heavy to carry around…

4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?

So, let’s say that I am half involved in improvisation. In fact, I have never released an impro cd. My solo releases are electroacustic compositions – my last work, Metaprogramming from within the eye of the storm, for instance, took three years of compositional work, so it’s really far from any idea of improvisation, and 3/4HadBeenEliminated studio works combine improvisation – the raw material is improvised – with a LOT of post-production techniques, overdubs, and experiments with the studio itself. On the other hand I have rarely played concerts that weren’t totally improvised, and when I say “totally” I mean that many times I put myself in a situation of having a lack of control of my equipment – actually I achived the lack of control by setting it up in odd ways, or by playing in total darkness so that I can’t really see faders and knobs, or experimenting with found instruments or objects etc. So, and maybe I’m going back to question number 3, for me is totally necessary to experiment during gigs, I find it impossible and boring to follow a pre-arranged pattern or path, and all the tension and thrill of playing live music, for me, lies in the task of achieving something unexpected.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

I think that practising is really important, expecially for a band. But I feel that band practice should just lead to some sort of telepathic communication between the members, and not to the development of pre-arranged structures. Then, I practice alone with tape machines, to spread the “window of opportunities” of the instrument.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

Wow, this is a question about “quality” in art, and it’s hard to answer. I feel that a gig is good when it has kicked my ass, aesthetically, or mentally, or ethically, or just physically. I generally find myself really bored during impro gigs, expecially here in Berlin. There are just a few musicians that I consider to be exploratory musicians. Many of them, who were brilliant once, have run out of ideas now. They should start listening to some music different from their own. A good gig has to be fresh. The so called impro-scene is really like a cemetery for me.

Swiss-Balkan Creative Music: Interview with Jonas Kocher (2007)

In April 2007, local musicians from four different Balkan cities – Skopje, Belgrade, Priština and Sarajevo – most of whom have never been involved in free improvisation, and coming from different musical backgrounds, had the opportunity to meet with Swiss musicians from Ensemble Rue du Nord, and take up the challenge of searching and finding a collective sound through free improvisation. The initiator of this project, Jonas Kocher from the ensemble, talks about this project, its conception, its development, and hopes for the future, while awaiting its next phase in November 2007.

– What is the idea behind Swiss-Balkan Creative Music, and how did you come up with it? Why the Balkans?

I have been many times in the Balkans since 2001. At first only as a tourist. I liked the region and the people there, and I wanted to come again, but as musician, not only as a tourist. I realized that there are very few people and places dealing with improvised and
experimental music in the Balkans.
So, we (the musicians from Ensemble Rue du Nord) decided to try to organize concerts there. From the beginning it was clear that we wanted to meet local musicians and play with them, because improvised music is (beyond the musical aspect) a beautiful way of meeting new people and sharing unique moments by playing music together. A concert is always something unique, depending on the people you’re playing with and the audience. It’s the intensity, hazard, communication, feelings… And I think it is very important for musicians to be in touch with others, to travel, to share moments, ideas, experiences. It gives me the energy, ideas and motivation to go on with my music. All these aspects are very present in the projects I’ve realized in Switzerland and Western Europe. So I wanted to do the same in the Balkans.
Besides these basic reflections, I find it interesting and challenging to try to build an improv-network between Switzerland and the Balkans and within the region. I have the feeling that it is possible to work things out here: there are good musicians, there’s an interest for new musical practices, and good people involved in the alternative cultural scene. If it works, it will bring the Balkan region closer to the European improv-network, which is very dense, and give the Western European musicians more possibilities to play in the Balkans.
Countries like Slovenia, Hungary, Lebanon, have developed for some years very interesting scenes (musicians, places, festivals, etc). Why not Southeastern Europe too?
The last point I want to mention is the political aspect. Trying to build an alternative, critical and lively network beside today’s capitalism is of great importance in keeping people awake and active (musicians and audience). For me it is the best way of being politically involved as a musician and organizer.

– How do you see the position of projects like Swiss-Balkan Creative Music in the overall cultural politics of the region? And also, what is the position of improvised music on the Swiss cultural scene?

I think that such projects thrive beside the ‘official’ cultural life supported by the governments. Free improvisation is subversive in itself and stays on the sides of the commercial culture and culture bourgeoise. The governments’ support to alternative culture is minimal compared to others cultural fields. I think that cultural/artistical exchanges and experimentations are low on the list of priorities in general for governments. Such projects are mainly supported by NGO’s .
This kind of musical practice needs engaged and passionate people to keep it alive and we have the chance to have such people and organizations here in the Balkans, which is the most important motive for starting this kind of a project.
The position of improvised music in Switzerland is a bit different but not really. There is more support from the government (for festivals, concert series and clubs) but many small venues of free music don’t have money or only very little. These small venues are very important in keeping the scene lively and allowing new musicians to be heard. Thanks to dedicated people it is possible.
Free improvisation has for some years been being ‘discovered’ by contemporary music festivals and high schools. It’s more visible but it is still being looked on as something exotic and not very serious by a majority of the people involved in the academic contemporary music scene.
– How developed is the network of artists in Switzerland?

There are about ten festivals (maybe a few more) yearly. You can find in almost every small city people playing improvised music. Musicians often organise concerts by themselves too – that means that there are many places to play and meet new musicians. The audience is often small but good.

– How did you meet the musicians in the Balkan countries? Were you familiar with their music before?

First I made researches on the Internet about free music, places and musicians in the Balkans. The only person really involved with improvised music I found was Bojan Djordjevic from the Ring Ring festival. I contacted him and proposed to meet in Belgrade. John Menoud (guitarist from Ensemble Rue du Nord) and I went to the Balkans in October 2006 to meet people interested in collaborating on the organisation of a free music project. I also got some contacts from some Swiss musicians active in the Balkans. After this trip I had a contact person in each city (Sarajevo, Belgrade, Skopje and Priština). Each collaborator was supposed to find interesting young musicians able to take part in the project in his/her respective region. The project wouldn’t have been possible without these local collaborators.
We didn’t know the music of the musicians we met in April 2007. It was a big surprise for us…and for them as well!

– What is it that you and the musicians were surprised about?

We didn’t know the musical backgrounds of the musicians we met. We worked mainly around sound and noise: focusing on sound/noise production, tension, interplay and on how to get a common sound with so many different people. We were surprised by how the people understood it every time.
It was at times something very natural, we had the same common language and we didn’t need to explain a lot, and we had great musical moments, even though we had never played together before.
At times we realised that this kind of an approach to sound is far away from the habits of some musicians. In that case you can’t explain and practice it within two days and for me there is also an ethical point: you can give some directions, ideas, and rules but you have to leave space for personal expression and accept what people are doing. You can’t control all the results. That is why improvised music can be so lively and surprising but also sometimes boring when people don’t know each other or don’t have the sensibility for this kind of musical practice.
Each meeting in each city was different, with very interesting results and sometimes also with a more conventional free jazz sound. In each place we met great musicians and also musicians with no experience with free music but with very good feeling and potential for it.
I am very curious to see how we can develop the work further on the forthcoming sessions in November 2007. As far as we [Ensemble Rue du Nord] are concerned, we are not the same musicians’ pool as the first time. It means that the inputs and ideas from the Swiss musicians will also be different.

– So, the musicians were generally receptive to the idea of free improvising – could you comment a bit more on how you went about presenting your ideas and how they responded?

We didn’t talk a lot about concepts and ideas, we simply played. By focusing the work on sound quality and concentrated listening, (most of) the musicians understood what we wanted. When you are playing and you really get into the sound, you feel the intensity, richness and energy sounds may contain. It is the same when playing together. You have to feel open and able to respond very spontaneously and quickly. When all these things work, you don’t need to speak a lot about music.
Bringing the musicians to feel this mix of control, concentration and spontaneity was one of the aims of the workshops. The concentration on sound was sometimes difficult to bring to some musicians. Some of them couldn’t enter this universe, it was too far away from their conception of music. And sometimes people also had difficulties with noise or abstraction. These two points are due to personal education, openness and knowledge about modern art. It is not particular to the Balkans, you can come across such reactions all over the world.

– Were there any specific differences in your experiences in the different cities with different musicians?

Yes, of course. We did almost the same work with the same concept in each city but the result was always very different. In Skopje the music was more melodic, sometimes with jazzy colors. In Priština we played with young students of classical music, and the music was very fresh and direct. In Belgrade, the music was more elaborate in textures and construction by the fact that we had musicians playing electronics and having more experience with improvised music and/or new music. In Sarajevo we only had half a day to work with musicians who had never played free music, so the result was very fragile and not always convincing but we met some interesting musicians who have a good feeling and interest for this music.
Another thing is that in some cities the musicians didn’t know each other and in other cities they know each others very well, which also influences the music. Naturally, it also depends on our collaborators in each city who are responsible for the choice of local musicians who are playing with us.

– What does a successful improvisation mean to you, in the light of the experiences you’ve had in the Balkans?

When you are playing and you have a feeling that the music is working by itself and that all the musicians on the stage are part of it. It then becomes so natural, making you feel like a part of the flow. You don’t have to think anymore what to play, you just do it. You feel connected with other musicians, the place and the audience at the same time. Such moments are rare and you are always looking for them…We had such experiences in some concerts here in the Balkans last April, and we are looking to have more in the future!



Questionnaire: Will Guthrie (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

Yes, I learnt piano as a kid, and from when I was 12 I played drums. I have different periods where I switch between trying to tap into as much of this ‘training’ as possible, and trying to forget or ignore as much of it as possible.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

I use different sound sources for different musics, what I use depends on the music or the sound I want. I still play drums in some groups. In my solo music I often use a setup of objects and percussion, microphones and cheap electronics, and for composed things I use whatever will give me the sound I am looking for at that given time, whatever is at my disposal.

3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?

For me experimentation in music is not something that belongs only to ‘experimental music’ or ‘improvised music’, I could say I have experimented just as much in different styles such as rock, jazz, flamenco etc … I studied drums formally but it was really trying things and experimenting with sounds and rhythms, playing along with the radio etc, that I really learnt how to play. I guess a lot of the attraction with music for me has always been to try to find a different or personal way of dealing with certain structures and sounds. I am more or less the type of person that has to learn by ‘trial and error’, not just in music, in everything! So I don’t really know any other way to learn other than just trying things, stuffing up, trying again, differently, changing… etc…

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

I used to practise drums for hours everyday so I could be closer to being technically able to execute any idea that came into my head. This is still relevant for the drums, but not so much for the more electronic stuff I do. For the electronic stuff I am thinking about music all the time, about how I can arrange sound, how to deal with form and structure, so in a way this is practise. Playing live is always a balance between playing the things I already know, structures I have already thought about etc…and trying to get to the place where the unknown can happen, or sometimes I deliberately introduce random or chance elements to use sounds that I don’t know how they will turn out, this can force me into different areas…

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

For me it is always important to have a sense of form and structure, no matter how abstract that sense of form or structure could be … so success or failure (whatever that is!) is not as important to me as if it makes sense to me.

8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?

There have only been very few releases (live ones) i have done where what i actually played has stayed as it was played. Usually I record sound, then work with it, so the whole concept of ‘recording live’ is not so relevant. For CDS I’m not so interested in live documents, I’d prefer it to be pretty different to what I would do live, being a different medium and all…


Questionnaire: Tomas Korber (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

I only have very basic musical training. I had theory/clarinet classes as a kid for about 4-5 years, then some more years guitar classes. I couldn’t say what precisely I draw from it now as I don’t think it had an influence on what i’m playing nowadays. But I do think it was a good think to be exposed to playing music starting from an early age.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

My equipment consists of a guitar, several effect-boxes and a mixing board (connected to each other in various feedback loops), sometimes contact microphones and a mini-disc player for playing samples, field recordings etc. The choice of the instrument happened naturally since I was playing guitar in a rock band already. The focus then moved to electronics and back to guitar recently. But I don’t consider myself an “instrumentalist” in the first place, I just wanna play music with whatever tools I have at hand.

3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?

Certainly a sense of wanting to explore and discover something or even more so of wanting to learn about the working mechanisms of music itself (by playing it). But that is what attracts me toward any kind of music, not just “experimental” music.

4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?

To me, “improvisation” is a method of working just as “composition” (and all shades of grey in between) is. I’m not an improviser in the sense of being primarily concerned with the process of music making. My main concern is the result, the outcome, the music itself. If this goal is achieved through improvisational means or not is something that doesn’t matter to me.

5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

I cannot give a concluding answer to this question since I think the question whether someone “plans” something or acts “spontaneous” (if such a dichotomy exists at all) totally depends on the particular situation. But generally in an improvised context where other musicians are involved, some flexibility is important.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

I wouldn’t call it “practicing”, but yes, I do play at home quite a lot. Sometimes in an improvisational setting I start with playing something I have already “tried out” and slowly move from there into unknown territory.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

The music. And whether the music is succesful or not is something that, in my opinion, cannot be judged objectively. I have my own reasons for finding something interesting or not, but that is a far too complex topic to be discussed in depth in this short interview.

8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?

Probably yes, though often not consciously. I can’t really tell in what way. Maybe there’s more “tension” which can be a good thing. Generally recording and/or concert situations result in more exciting music than unrecorded private sessions, at least for me.


Questionnaire: Thomas Ankersmit (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

No, I haven’t (with the exception of guitar lessons for a few weeks as a teenager). Musicians who did go to music schools often congratulate me on this, usually implying that it allows me to do my own thing more easily. I’m a little wary of the idea that not knowing something allows me to make better art, though. I guess I’ll never know what I missed out on.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

I basically play two separate instruments: alto saxophone and analogue modular synthesizers, and I use a computer for editing and sampling etc. Although I frequently use all three during a concert, I don’t really combine the acoustic and the electronic, or at least I don’t use one to process the other. The electronics didn’t come in as an extension of the saxophone. I was messing around with electronics before I’d ever held a saxophone.
I prefer analogue equipment over computers, not out of nostalgia (there’s actually very little 70’s synthesizer music I care for, the era my instruments are from) but because of the hands-on, unstable character of it, as well as the nature of the sound itself. A lot of what I do on the synthesizers (an EMS Synthi A and a Serge modular) involves some careful abuse of the machines, jamming bits of metal in the connectors, feeding modules back on themselves etc. You can bend analogue equipment like that without it simply breaking down. There’s very little conventional synthesis technique there, it’s mostly the sound of modules being used differently than intended. I use electromagnetic pickups and contact microphones and little preparations to introduce a kind of tactile, metallic element to the synthesizer, a way of articulating sounds by hitting or scraping something. No keyboard.
The physicality of acoustic instruments is also very dear to me, the fact that you can aim sound depending on your position in the room, rather than have sound pour out of two speakers in the corners, the pleasure of generating sound with your own breath and voice etc. I guess my relationship to the saxophone is a little unusual because I never wanted to play jazz, and I’ve never been able to. I suppose I came more from a noise/rock background, even with the saxophone. People like Tamio Shiraishi and the band Borbetomagus were important in demonstrating this really intense non-jazz side of the instrument before I took it up myself.

3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?

I’m not sure if that’s what I do. Rather than trying to reach something that’s unknown to me I tend to try to execute pretty specific ideas, a sound I’m imagining (but then I do usually end up with something rather different). I don’t think the music I make is necessarily more experimental than anything else. I’m very much interested in a kind of focussed sound-intensity. The balance between transparency and saturation, making sound elements move together as a whole, to the point where all the small elements become a kind of blur that’s still somehow energetic, either with a kind of internal motion or as a line that draws itself. I find the kind of sounds and structures I’m using most appealing, I like noise, rather than more orthodox, popular ways of playing music, but I don’t really know why.

4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?

I like the “in the moment” aspect of it, it unfolds while doing, and it’s probably the only way that I can be involved in music. I can’t read or write music, so I wouldn’t be able to play most other people’s music, and I just enjoy generating things in real time much more than composing detached from playing. It sort of by-passes conscious thought, one sound event seems to generate the next, and I often feel that I’m just following it along.
That said, only a part of what I do is improvisation. When playing solo, I often decide on a broad structure before the concert, and roughly what kind of sound material I’ll be using over the course of time. Sometimes I layer prerecorded saxophone sequences with live playing, so then there’s a clearly predefined element. I also use samples embedded in the synthesizer stuff, passing through signal processing modules, so that also introduces a kind of memory-bank where certain sounds can be called up while I’m doing something else at the same time.
I often use improvised sequences as the building blocks for electro-acoustic “composition”. It’s a way of letting unexpected things happen, of losing control to an extent, and then taking control of the material again afterwards by editing, juxtaposition, processing.

5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

If I play together with others I don’t plan anything, but of course that doesn’t mean that “anything can happen”. When I play by myself I don’t really consider it improvisation, even when I do make up a set as I go along. It’s just that improvising by myself is still only my ideas and the instabilities of my instruments. I may execute things “spontaneously” but I might feel that I’ve been “planning” them for years.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

I rehearse certain things to be able to repeat them, but not “for” an improvisation. Instead of practicing, I just improvise, together or (mostly) alone. I generally start with something I’ve tried before, but frequently end up in something I couldn’t have predicted. Either because my instruments or my body or the acoustics of the room didn’t behave as I expected and led me somewhere else, or simply because another musician’s actions transform the meaning of what I’m doing. At the moment, I’m attempting to teach myself to play a new synthesizer, so I’m consciously listening for what I can do with it.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

Generally, whether with my own stuff or with other music I hear, I’m always looking for a kind of intensity, a focus, and the absence of boredom. It might be easier for me to say when I think something is unsuccessful: flat, predictable, without flow or tension. The good moments are all the other moments. As an example, I heard Robin Hayward do an improvised concert with Diego Chamy sometime last year. It was a rather tense, uncomfortable situation, a very incongruent set of events where nobody knew who had what role in the music or what was keeping it “up”. I thought that was very beautiful.

8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?

I’ve never recorded any real-time music with the intention of having it published as far as I can remember, so I wouldn’t know. I’d say having an audience has a good influence on my playing because you have to stay with it, you can’t start over if the music falls apart in your hands. But that’s a different kind of pressure.


Questionnaire: Sharif Sehnaoui (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

I have had several musical trainings so to say but all where short-termed. The most consistent one for me was studying jazz in Paris. I dropped out of it relatively quickly to focus on free improvisation and an overall approach that leans more towards ‘sound’ than ‘music’ proper. Today I could say that I do not draw much from any of my musical trainings. At least not intentionally.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

The choice of the guitar as my main instrument is totally accidental. I was mainly interested in drums and piano before that but took up the guitar when I took pity on my sister’s guitar teacher who used to come over and often not finding her there at the given time. I told him to teach me a few songs and this just went on.
Later on moving out of my country to live in a small apartment it was much easier to have an acoustic guitar to practice than any other instrument. I never really liked the instrument and free improvisation was a clear way for me to move it out of its regular use. Most of my playing is done with objects and tools to generate unorthodox sounds through extended and prepared techniques.
I play both electric and acoustic (folk guitars) but always diverting them from their primary function.
There a few notable exceptions to this of course.

3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?

The world and our perceptions are in perpetual movement and so should be music and arts in general.

4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?

Improvisation struck me as a strong experience both for the player and the listener, far from offering a set product, it unfolds a clear questioning path. In the blind consumer society we live in I hold it important to offer other alternatives and open new angles of perception. Improvisation deals with a highly subjective individual time, exposing “difference” as the main catalyst for creativity, diving deep within the artists’ own self, putting him constantly on the edge of his very existence. The experience is strong and always highly charged with emotion. Yet it simultaneously promotes dialogue.
Difference, but also how we can work together with it are for me some of the most important issues of modern society.

5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

I wouldn’t use the word planning, rather repetition. Repetition is impossible to avoid as we are finite beings who have our limits and necessarily start repeating ourselves at some point. Yet if we consider the music of an improviser on a longer timescale we notice that it keeps on moving, it necessarily does so because of the interaction with other musicians resulting in new directions and different perceptions of the same material in various contexts.
So yes for me there is some repetition and you might come to like it, still it will undoubtedly break.
As for planning proper it means we are moving out of improvised music in my view. Not totally, depending on the amount of pre-decided material but it’s a clear tendency.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

There is solo practicing where indeed you are both trying to master a specific type of sound, or playing, or technique. But also the will to try something else, to elaborate on some ideas that you would not in another context.
There is group practice where the main purpose would be to understand and put in memory the various sound worlds of the people you are working with.
Some might argue that this reduces the spontaneity of the improvisation as you are no longer surprised by the other. Yet on another level I believe it enhances it because by knowing your partners well you are able to react much faster and more efficiently to any idea that is put forth. This creates some of the most powerful music in my view.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

It is almost impossible not to produce qualitative judgments around the music you hear yet it is something I actively try to avoid. Hence I will not directly answer the question.
I tend to think there is no improvisation better than another. Each one is different, and has a value of its own. Above that comes our subjectivity that allows us to apprehend and appreciate music in a specific time and place and conditions that are both internal and external. There are so many different qualities that could be considered, and it is in part what makes this music interesting to me, so many ways, so many levels of understanding and perceptions are possible

8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?

Every context has an influence on me. If I am playing in a small room or in a concert hall, if the audience is near or far, if we have complete silence or not, if we are outdoors, if we are in a studio. Each of these situations have an impact on myself and on the music. A recording session is also a specific context where the time is set and the musicians have a implicit agreement around the purpose of the gathering.
Yet if the question is about having a different idea of the music simply because it is being recorded, then the answer would be no, I do not play for future listening but always for the time/duration within which the sound is being generated.


Questionnaire: Ruth Barberan (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

I studied at the conservatory and later at jazz schools.
Basically I learnt what I don’t want to do: cut my wings, just imitate, repeat models. On the other hand, i have listened and played a lot of music that still feeds me and that I still enjoy. And I still play formal music.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

– 2 trumpets (one to play with water and saliva)
– a metal tin to make it vibrate with the trumpet bell and to get many       other vibrations with objects.
– Objects that vibrate.
– Objects that swing by their own, that I amplify.
– Contact microphones for the objects.
– Mixing board.
– Condenser microphone to amplify very litlle sounds of the trumpet.
The choice is based on experience, in the searching, the influences of the other musicians and the necessity of creating music with the minimum intervention by myself (in case of the objects).
My relationship with tecnology is bad. I am lazy with it.

3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?

1. Sense of listening: what sounds.
When i was small, I knew the piano index because my sister studied at a higher level than mine, and i remembered the scores when i heard her playing. But with Bartok, I couldn’t memorize, I had to read the score to know if I was playing well. Since then, I have been interested in what sounds strange to me.
2. Musical attitude: work with listening first, and all the basic things that are part of every kind of music (sound, timbre, dynamics, silence…)
personal and collective expression at the same time.
3. Artistic attitude: about creativity, research, permanent questioning.
4. Personal attitude: to value more the artistic quality than recognition, material benefit or fame.

4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?

1. Because, currently, it is the music that interests me and that I enjoy the most.
2. I understand it as a permanent search, personal and within a group. I am very interested in stable groups that get a common language and a group sound.

5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

What is planned (although I wouldn’t say exactly planned) comes from individual or group work. It´s inevitable that while you’re practising, you get some concrete ideas, aquire experience, learn, construct your own language, find resources. These things that are positive, can be negative for spontaneity, and for improvisation in its purest sense, but I also think that it would be unfortunate and artistically damaging not to use them.
On the other hand, to keep this spontaneity, it´s necesary to be brave enough to do a bad concert, to play with risk and loss of capacity. And many times it´s very difficult to get it.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

Yes, i practise, but not in a regular form (I´m not in the regular audience in artistic activities (litterature, cinema, exhibitions, etc…)). I think everyone must do what they need when they need it in order to reach new situations.
Of course, when I improvise I use sounds that I’ve found alone or during a rehersal. I also search the language that I want to use with these sounds, what I want to do with them. That´s more important for me than how I create the sound.
I think that the real experimentation with sound is done during the rehersals or alone at home, but sometimes you can find something during a concert or a recording. In a gig, sound experimentation can be improvisation in the sense that we have to take decisions in real time because of the situation, the space, the other musicians…etc…if we want to make this improvisation real, we have to be able to risk and even to do a bad concert, as I said before.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

It´s very subjective, of course, and it also depends on the way I feel at that moment. I have been able to verify this by listening to the same record many times; I don’t have the same opinion from one day to another.
The first thing I want to say about this (but I have no proof) is that if something is happening internally to the musician(s), that I may be able to have the same feeling; if I see that there’s some risk, if I can see that they are listening to the common sound. Or also if something surprises me. Sometimes, it´s a new sound or a new way to produce it. Sometimes, I enjoy this but not what the musician is doing with that sound. Sometimes, I’m surprised by what the musician is doing with sounds that I already know. Sometimes it’s both.

8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?

Yes, of course, that influences me, but still I can choose not to publish it, until the last moment, and this makes me feel even more free to risk than on stage, but unfortunately less than during a rehersal.
Apart from the way how I play (more or less risky), this influences me in the choice of what material I want to play. New material that has never been recorded and that I want to present.