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Questionnaire: Mattin (2007)

November 2, 2010

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

I have a PhD on Lou Reed’s solos on “I Heard Her Call My Name”, I learned that sometimes you should watch out for your ego and sometimes you should just let it go.

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 think there is a big problem with  the attachment that an improviser  has with his/her instrument and the history of the instrument. In other experimental music scenes they laugh at the way that improvisers always put their names and their instruments in the recordings as if it was a brand or a trademark that later on can be used as a way of promoting a certain musician for his/her specific use of the instrument. Improvisation is often discussed as being a kind of music that is made together in a communal way. At the same time most of the players (including myself) are very conscious of putting their instruments next to their names as a way of making a name for themselves within the history of each instrument. We should get rid of this attachment.

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

Trying to achieve freedom whatever the fuck that means.

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

I take improvisation as a problematic term that can never be resolved.
As a matter of doing, a constant-work in progress that questions boundaries of sound, time, spaces, people and social situations, and the music and culture industry.
At the same time the question of improvisation is a very tricky one if we put it in relationship to capitalism these days.
Capitalism puts higher and higher demands on people to be able to improvise, to adapt to the constant changes of the market, to interact with each other and communicate in an effective way, to be ready at any time for the worse.
There is a strong correlation between the importance of constant innovation in capitalism and in improvisation, and we cannot avoid that there is a strong relationship between the two.
So my question is:
when does capitalism stop producing value out of our own experimentation?
Can you make a clear distinction? I could not, so who are we really experimenting for?
The more open you are to experimentation, the more you would be likely to open up new avenues for capitalism to produce value.

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

Oh when I improvise I am so free! Free of what? Certainly not free of falling in the most obvious cliché that improvisation has developed: the idea that while improvising you are free to do whatever you want, and that you create new music all the time.
I think we all pretty much can anticipate to a certain extent what the music that comes from certain improvisers might sound like. I am very dubious of the idea of spontaneity, as if what we do to be free could ever be without restrictions by ideologies, circumstances, spaces, people in the room, aesthetics and  judgments.
I am surprised when Christof Kurzmann (in an addlimb interview) says in reference to improvisation that he is interested in communication but only between musicians, as he considers playing solo a monologue rather than a dialog.  Where is the improvisation taking place, just among the musicians? I don’t thinks so. I am interested in looking at concerts as situations in which different people are involved, and even if hierarchies are established by default (the performer getting attention and being paid, the  audience paying for bringing their “quality taste “  and being quiet and respectful), these aspects  should be questioned, dealt with, twisted , deformed and contradicted. This should be done by creating intense atmospheres in which all involved feel strange, in which they do not have clearly defined roles to fall into, where they are part of something which does not necessarily need to be pleasant. A situation created in order to stop the reproduction of stereotypes through amplifying to 11 the alienation that capitalism produces in us.
More and more the notion of spontaneity is questioned in improvisation.
Early on in the history of improvisation, to react to each other’s sounds in very direct way was a way of expressing freedom. At some point it became clear that this way of interacting was becoming more and more predictable. Other people like AMM (and also thanks electronics) were able to play longer sounds, so the reaction to each other was not so direct and it was more about sounds being together. Players like Sachiko M, took this drawn out way of working with sounds and minimalism to an extreme by playing just one sinewave in a concert.
A single decision could also be a way of improvising: I play only one sinewave in the whole concert and let’s see what happens. Some people might think of this as a composition, and here many interesting questions emerge. Among them: who is performing the sound?
Every time the listener moves his/her head the sinewave sounds different to him/her. This kind of playing, is very paradigmatic in the way that it takes into account a more direct relationship with the audience and the space.  But of course this is not an end point and we should keep exploring different possibilities.
Then people like Taku Sugimoto, Taku Unami and Radu Malfatti started to put their own compositions into an improvisation context.
These musicians have opened avenues that help us to understand that  improvisation happens between all the people that are involved in the room or space. We all know that a higher amount of intensity and concentration on behalf of the audience also makes the atmosphere more interesting. Is the creativity coming only from the performers? I do not think so, I think it is a shared experience. We  see that to put ideas  into the improvisation context-for example of single decisions (Sachiko M sinewave) or a composition (Radu & Taku’s) – can help us  precisely question the boundaries of improvisation. These kinds of works are seriously questioning the role of the performer, as anybody would be able to press the ‘on’ button on the sinewave, or turn on the amplifier and just let the hum sound. I don’t think its just about making those sounds and pretending they are the only ones that matter in the room, but also taking into account what the people who are present are experiencing, and what feelings and thoughts are being developed.
So if we can bring single decisions and compositions into improvisation, I am also interested in using specific concepts as part of my playing in order to question notions of spontaneity, authorship and freedom in improvisation.
These concepts are often developed from discussions with other players.

I will give an example:
Before playing a concert in the 2006 Erstquake at Tonic in New York, Radu Malfatti and myself started to talk about what we were going to do for the concert  based on what we knew about the space, the context and the possibilities that we had.
And this is something that many musicians do.
When does the improvisation begin? As we started to play or when we started talking about it?
We decided  that it would be interesting to play with a composition of his, that has a very strict time structure with many silences. During these silences I was to record the sounds of the room with my computer (people moving, rumbling stomachs, glasses, mobiles ringing, ventilators…), and then I was to play those sounds back at the same time that Radu’s was playing his composition with the trombone. I was not producing any sound per se but re-contextualising the sounds being produced by the audience in the room.
Generally both the audience and the players respect the sounds that come out of the instruments and the speakers more than those produced by the audience.
This respect is created by the hierarchical division between performer and audience that makes up the structure of the concert format.
But in improvisation you cannot separate the sounds made by the audience from those by the performers, they are existing together and we cannot exclude or forget some and leave others for our enjoyment.
This concert was very intense as it became like a sonic panopticon, where the  movement of the audience was monitored and then heard by all the people in the room.
At the same time it became obvious that everyone present was part of the situation, everybody was playing the concert, all of us were audience and performers at the same time and this did not give a sense of freedom but a sense of responsibility.
Some people had criticized Radu’s concerts because the audience felt like in a church or in school and you would not be able to move. But what happens when your movement actually becomes the music that everybody hears?
Then your social behavior comes into focus, and people have the chance to disrupt the concert totally. In the case of the concert at Tonic, nobody did anything strange, everybody behaved in a very correct way.
This says a lot about how audiences feel comfortable behaving in certain ways depending on the context. If we had tried the same concept in a pub or noise festival or in a squat, it is very likely that audience would have been more playful and reactive. But as the audience at Tonic that night had an interest in very quiet music, people behaved in a very respectful way. But the question of “respect” is complicated: could passivity also be read as active participation in the form of concentrated listening?

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?

If we are talking about improvisation happening in the concert context taking all the aspects into account (room, people, amplification, lights…) then there is no possibility to practice as the concert is going to be a single special occasion. You just basically have to do it. Of course you can think about it, but what then actually happens happens and you cannot go back.
I use the concert situation as a place for research, like a “social studio” to try things out.
Also the conversations that I might have with the audience and other musicians are very important to me to try to find out what it was that actually happened.
For me to “practice” is very problematic, especially since I am not so interested in showing off my musical abilities with my instrument. I try to reduce possibilities as much as possible.

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

When I get a headfuck, when I can feel that something is going on that I cannot fully understand but there is intensity, its good. I find it interesting when I cannot work out whether what I hear is good or bad, because it makes me question the foundations of my values and judgments.

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

Of course it does. When you record you do not have a direct relationship with the audience, you have no idea in which circumstances your music is going to be heard, who they are, or how they got the recording (internet, bought in a shop…). There is a temporal quality that makes the cd a totally different thing from the performance. The listener can listen to the cd as many times as she or he wants, in different stereos, rooms and while doing other things. Basically they are improvising with their own listening environment, whether they are aware of it or not.
I think it is important not to make clear cut divisions between the musician as the creator of a recording and the listener as just a consumer. Peter Gidal and the structural materialist filmmakers in the 60’s were discussing that the film is not happening just in the film but in the head of the viewer, the viewer had to make sense out of it. I think we could think in similar terms about recordings; the real improvisation is happening when a person is listening and trying to make sense of it. Of course I cannot interfere with this kind of “improvisation”, I can only hope that in  the recording there is material for thoughts that is going to inspire the listener for a long time.

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www.mattin.org

 

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