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Questionnaire: Doug Theriault (2007)

November 2, 2010

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

I have been a musician my whole life. First with classical piano and trumpet in the 4th grade then with jazz and classical guitar in high school all the way up to college where I took up computer music and singing opera. But hey, reading regular music notation was not me… I had visions of sounds in my head that I never had the chance to actually “hear” myself. And then one day it hit me, when I went to a demolition derby I thought that was the most beautiful music I had ever heard 🙂
When I play my music now, it is on guitars that are modified in various ways. the musical training is relevant if i’m playing in a free jazz context, but otherwise it’s been thrown out the window.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it?

I have built a couple of hybrid guitar controllers that control external electronics. These can control lights, video, dsp (live sound manipulation) computers, synthesizers, etc… I built them because I wanted to be able to control things directly from my instrument instead from an external box. Building them on and into my instrument has enabled me to make instant choices much quicker in a live situation. I have to practice every day as there are so many issues that come up with these instruments on a daily basis. and it takes a while to be able to understand a setup naturally.

What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

I was strongly influenced by instrument builders michel waisaviz, hans reichel and hugh davies. I’m an avid listener of all music. i’m attracted to many sounds and ways of working and I wanted to be able to do this live. so, I had to build my own instrument to do that…

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

Innovation, making something I have never heard before. Starting from nothing and hearing as the piece evolves into a composition in a live situation, this is very exciting.

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

I had been improvising since I was a teenager, but had no idea why I was doing it. I was lucky enough to have a friend and teacher phil woodruff who introduced me to all of this kind of music about 15 years ago. We started improvising together in his apartment and in my basement. I was attracted to crude noise and new sounds, and to be able to play them all live…and wanted to be able to do something of my own at the same time. I perceived improvisation as being a developed system that is implemented in different situations depending on the playing focus.

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

Improvisers all have different languages they have developed. Spontaneity has to do with choices made during the improvisation in a particular system. That is the only kind of improvisation that is going on…players can choose to go along with or ignore what is going on.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?

I don’t practice. I develop systems that I use in different playing situations. If I play solo, the systems are different then playing with other people. It depends on the playing situation.
If you are any good at improvising you understand your instrument as well as you understand your arm and how it moves. It is literally an extension of your brain. Sometimes your brain misfires, that is when the music is best I think 🙂

When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

No. the sounds I use usually are a surprise to me and I work with them live to create a piece of music. It is in the listening and understanding the instrument so well that the piece unfolds by itself.
The systems have been worked out. The only experimentation going on is how the piece evolves live and the choices I make of where a piece might go.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation?

Does it have all the things that excite me as a listener? If not, it is deleted..

What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

Whether or not the piece has broken new ground for myself.

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

If I am in a studio I go in knowing that i’m going to kick ass, otherwise, why pay somebody to record the music? The awareness makes me concentrate more clearly and focus more intently.
This can also happen if I record with someone I only see once a year. I usually practice many hours/days before I see that person again. Systems have been worked out in advance and I usually need a refreshing time to get up to speed again with that persons playing style. I like developing the music in duos as it enables me to have a strong working relationship with that person and it moves the music forward much faster.


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