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Questionnaire: Bonnie Jones (2007)

November 2, 2010

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

I grew up in a musical household. My mother was always playing music – mostly Appalachian instruments, dulcimer, banjo and fiddle. The first instrument I learned to play was a dulcimer that a friend of my mother’s made from cardboard. So the idea of playing music and being musical was always around, but aside from about four years of elementary school flute instruction (“Louie, Louie” and “Star Spangled Banner”), I never had any additional musical training. I can’t really see the link between my early flute instruction and how I use sound now aside from the fact that playing the flute taught me that I really enjoyed making sounds. I’d probably have to contribute many of my current musical impulses to the work I have done and am doing with text and performance projects.

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?

In 2004 I went to Korea and met Joe Foster. We wanted to play music together but I hadn’t brought any instruments with me. In Baltimore I was playing a kind of prepared clavinet (plucking /manipulating the strings). Joe gave me a slightly modified digital delay pedal that Bryan Eubanks had given to him and after a year of playing with Joe I realized that this was my instrument. The pedal created all the sounds I was interested in and had the benefit of being both electronic and tactile/gestural. I currently play about 3-5 different digital delay pedals by exposing the circuit board and touching the board with instrument cables, metal objects and my hands. There’s several things that keep me interested in the pedals, I like the fact that I can play them with my hands, I like that they have a kind of built in chaotic tendency, and I like that the sounds are raw, untamed, and unrefined. I have a few plans to add more microphones and other things – but am still being gratified by the pedals.

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

I experiment with sound and text because I couldn’t imagine anything else I’d want to do with my time and energy. The materials I use matter less to me than the impulse to change and be changed, to explore various ways of being in the world. I usually have a tendency to be too cerebral and sound projects release me from some of my verbal trappings while text projects remind me why I enjoy them in the first place.

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

I think the act of improvising is very human and a very human thing to do.

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

Honestly I’m starting to think that after you’ve played a set of music or written a piece of text once, it’s all some form of planning after that. The experience of making art seems cumulative – one long and hard won piece of music or page(s) of text. I have some ideas, I make art because of those ideas, and I plan to put myself in situations that provide more education about those ideas. I seek out certain collaborative partners because I’m attracted to their ideas and their choices and their ways of communicating and listening. Of course when it comes to making the piece happen I function on a receptive level rather than trying to shape something before it happens. Really paying attention and listening seems to provide finer-tuned results then trying to structure things too much beforehand. People being people though, spontaneous things can and will happen – that’s the most amazing part of working in collaborative situations.

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?

Well I’d have to say it’s all “practice” in a sense. I’m very fond of the idea of being always a student and never a master. I think it will keep me interested in and aware of what is happening around me. I definitely like to work out ideas at home before a concert or recording, if only to expand my understanding of the instruments I’m using. Fortunately, my instruments have their own mind and while I can learn the geography of the circuit board I can never really anticipate the full expression of the sounds that are possible once I start manipulating the current. I can still make sounds with my instruments that I’ve never heard before and unexpected sounds introduce themselves into musical situations very often – sometimes to my embarrassment.

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

I hate to say it, but I usually evaluate improvisations in a purely subjective (and somewhat personal/emotional) matter. How did I feel after the set? Did it seem like we were all listening? Did we communicate in interesting ways? Did I learn something about the musical ideas of myself and/or the other players? I like improvisations that feel as though the players are reading each other’s minds. I like using that part of my brain that deals with non-verbal actions, decisions, and communication systems – and I like it when those things are responded to in kind – with a sense of mutual awareness. As for text projects that I consider “improvised” the best I can hope for is to be able to employ various understandings of language to respond to/shift/address/change/comply to the perception of the audience/reader. At this point, I’m trying to work with text in such a different way then I have in the past that it’s all un-chartered territory. If no one throws anything at me I consider it a job well done.

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

I never seem to notice any difference in my playing while being recorded. Though I do think a lot about the process of recording and revising. I always liked that writing was one of the genres where the playback/the documentation was concurrent with the creation. Like in the case that you are writing and can “playback” simultaneously by simply reading what came before on the page and picking up the ending again. These are just the things that keep my mind busy and content.

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