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Questionnaire: Sharif Sehnaoui (2007)

November 2, 2010

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

I have had several musical trainings so to say but all where short-termed. The most consistent one for me was studying jazz in Paris. I dropped out of it relatively quickly to focus on free improvisation and an overall approach that leans more towards ‘sound’ than ‘music’ proper. Today I could say that I do not draw much from any of my musical trainings. At least not intentionally.

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?

The choice of the guitar as my main instrument is totally accidental. I was mainly interested in drums and piano before that but took up the guitar when I took pity on my sister’s guitar teacher who used to come over and often not finding her there at the given time. I told him to teach me a few songs and this just went on.
Later on moving out of my country to live in a small apartment it was much easier to have an acoustic guitar to practice than any other instrument. I never really liked the instrument and free improvisation was a clear way for me to move it out of its regular use. Most of my playing is done with objects and tools to generate unorthodox sounds through extended and prepared techniques.
I play both electric and acoustic (folk guitars) but always diverting them from their primary function.
There a few notable exceptions to this of course.

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

The world and our perceptions are in perpetual movement and so should be music and arts in general.

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

Improvisation struck me as a strong experience both for the player and the listener, far from offering a set product, it unfolds a clear questioning path. In the blind consumer society we live in I hold it important to offer other alternatives and open new angles of perception. Improvisation deals with a highly subjective individual time, exposing “difference” as the main catalyst for creativity, diving deep within the artists’ own self, putting him constantly on the edge of his very existence. The experience is strong and always highly charged with emotion. Yet it simultaneously promotes dialogue.
Difference, but also how we can work together with it are for me some of the most important issues of modern society.

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

I wouldn’t use the word planning, rather repetition. Repetition is impossible to avoid as we are finite beings who have our limits and necessarily start repeating ourselves at some point. Yet if we consider the music of an improviser on a longer timescale we notice that it keeps on moving, it necessarily does so because of the interaction with other musicians resulting in new directions and different perceptions of the same material in various contexts.
So yes for me there is some repetition and you might come to like it, still it will undoubtedly break.
As for planning proper it means we are moving out of improvised music in my view. Not totally, depending on the amount of pre-decided material but it’s a clear tendency.

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?

There is solo practicing where indeed you are both trying to master a specific type of sound, or playing, or technique. But also the will to try something else, to elaborate on some ideas that you would not in another context.
There is group practice where the main purpose would be to understand and put in memory the various sound worlds of the people you are working with.
Some might argue that this reduces the spontaneity of the improvisation as you are no longer surprised by the other. Yet on another level I believe it enhances it because by knowing your partners well you are able to react much faster and more efficiently to any idea that is put forth. This creates some of the most powerful music in my view.

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

It is almost impossible not to produce qualitative judgments around the music you hear yet it is something I actively try to avoid. Hence I will not directly answer the question.
I tend to think there is no improvisation better than another. Each one is different, and has a value of its own. Above that comes our subjectivity that allows us to apprehend and appreciate music in a specific time and place and conditions that are both internal and external. There are so many different qualities that could be considered, and it is in part what makes this music interesting to me, so many ways, so many levels of understanding and perceptions are possible

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

Every context has an influence on me. If I am playing in a small room or in a concert hall, if the audience is near or far, if we have complete silence or not, if we are outdoors, if we are in a studio. Each of these situations have an impact on myself and on the music. A recording session is also a specific context where the time is set and the musicians have a implicit agreement around the purpose of the gathering.
Yet if the question is about having a different idea of the music simply because it is being recorded, then the answer would be no, I do not play for future listening but always for the time/duration within which the sound is being generated.


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