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Questionnaire: Bertrand Denzler (2007)

November 2, 2010

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

Yes, I have. But I always felt like an autodidact, so that it doesn’t make any difference to me. I spent more time playing (and listening to) all sorts of music and different instruments then studying. What I draw from this experience as a whole is that making music is a natural thing to me, something evident. Like thinking. But I could very well do something else someday.

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 mainly play the tenor saxophone. I have been playing other instruments as well. And, in some projects, I use guitar, electric devices, objects, computer and so on. The tenor saxophone is something like my own sound generator and processor. But I also feel at home with other instruments when I play them, even if there is more distance, which is a feeling I sometimes like. I am more interested in the music then in the instrument. I try to find the right instrument for the music I play. But sometimes of course, it’s also the opposite, the instrument leads to the music. It’s a dynamic process.

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

I don’t know exactly. I even don’t know if the music I play is experimental. The music I play with groups such as Trio Sowari just feels like “my” music, although it’s a collective work. It seems one of the most evident and exciting music to play at the moment.

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

In the beginning, improvisation allowed me to play with others on the spot, without having to reproduce a piece of music. Nowadays, improvisation is more something like a mental tool to play some of the music I want to play, which cannot be composed, because it’s a collective music and a music that needs the tension of improvisation. It’s a difficult tool and I spend a lot of time trying to improve it, to adapt it, permanently. To me, improvisation is a special kind of concentration, which is very intense.

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

It’s quite complex, like in real life. Somehow, I nearly always know which kind of music I am going to play. Because I make some choices. Because I have a memory and some desires. And because there is a place, a time and a human situation. So there is a space, from the beginning. But I try to move freely in this environment. To act, to react, to think. Like if I was walking in a forest or in a city. There are like several engines working at the same time in my head, some of them “planning”, others reacting very fast. Everything plays a role, the whole personality of all the musicians involved, me included, the relationships between them, the context, the acoustic and so on, whether it’s conscious or not. With all this, I try to contribute to the piece of music we are playing, in a way or another.

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?

Most of the time, I don’t practice, I play. Alone or with others, trying to produce some music. It’s a continuous process, so I use sounds I already know. I am not able to reinvent everything on a daily basis. But the parameters of these sounds are flexible, they are not fixed. Speed, pitch, dynamics and so on can vary a lot. And I can mix them. So that they often feel like new. Sometimes, I hear a sound in my head, which I think the music needs at this precise moment, because of the instant band sound or the form of the piece, and I try to play it. Sometimes it’s a sound I know, sometimes not. Sometimes it comes out exactly like I wanted, sometimes not. Sometimes it feels new, sometimes not. Sometimes, it feels like if the sound would come out by itself. It’s experimentation and some kind of knowledge at the same time. Even if I try to forget everything I know, I am still myself.

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

It’s very difficult to tell. Most of the time, it just works or not, there is some kind of tension, or evidence, to an improvisation, or not. In the end, it’s not so different then evaluating a composition, a song or maybe a meal. It’s quite subjective. Even if I often agree with the other musicians I am playing with or with some members of the audience.

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

Yes, I am sure it does. It’s not so different then to play live. There is a special tension when you know that other people are listening (or are going to listen) to what you play. And I like this tension. But sometimes, I also try to record a lot, until I forget that it’s being recorded, in order to focus on different things. And this is interesting as well.

 

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