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Questionnaire: Bruce Russell (2007)

November 2, 2010

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

No I don’t. I studied piano for a few years as a child, but I really didn’t learn anything I have used in my own music – except I learned I have no conventional musical talent and I hate practicing an instrument. This insight has been very helpful in directing me towards improvisation and always seeking new instruments with which I have little familiarity.

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 an electric guitar and a valve amplifier. I also have analogue electronic devices, which again I use with my amplifier to create a particular kind of sound. I also play clavioline, a monophonic vintage synthesiser, and a range of analogue tape machines. I love older equipment, about 1960-65 was a great era in electronics, I feel. I want gear that imposes limits on my imagination, so the tools influence the work, and affect the sounds being made, quite separately from what I do. If my equipment makes spontaneous sounds that I can’t explain, that is a great show!

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

I bore easily with ‘proper music’. Too much repetition, not enough spirit.

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

I can only improvise, I can’t repeat, I can’t read music, I won’t learn routines like a trained monkey. Musical interpreters of other people’s scores are almost never artists, they flatter themselves. One in a thousand can bring their own spirit to ‘interpretation’ – very few do. Improvisation is a valuable life lesson, it teaches real skills we all need. Listen, and respond instantly, that’s what improvisation is about. Alternatively, don’t listen, and respond instantly – that can work too.

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

I don’t think planning has a role in improvisation. I don’t really plan performances, other than to select what I will use.

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?

Never practice! When we rehearse improvisation, we aren’t rehearsing what we do later, we are just ‘improvising now’ and then we ‘improvise later’. Sometimes I find sounds I like and sometimes I use them again, but usually I have chosen my equipment too well, and this is impossible. I want new sounds.

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

Good improvisation is ‘cool’. Coolness is a West African concept that denotes ‘alignment with your inner divinity’. You know when it’s good, but you can’t express it.

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

I try to record everything. It does not affect what I play.

 

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