Saturday, September 26, 2015

Greg Malcolm 13 Questions

Photo Rachel Cobcroft

Greg Malcolm, guitarist, composer and improviser, born in 1965 (Whakatane, New Zealand) posesses an unique adapted guitar and drone-based improvisationary style. He's a musician with a long sound history; he has composed, performed and recorded for short films, theatre, children’s performance, radio plays, and held solo art exhibitions at the High Street Gallery and Film Archives. Malcolm's sound consists of hypnotic evolving melodies that are built upon layered drones, (created by mini fans, e-bows and floor guitars).

The melodies utilise a variety of tones and sounds created on Greg Malcolm's unique adapted electric guitar created by New Zealand Luthier Peter Stephen. The compositions and improvisations are specifically designed to accentuate the beauty inherent in the innovations developed within this guitar. Other than the e-bow and fuzz box all sounds are created live and organically by string manipulation techniques.

From 1987 to 1992 he took part in the bands Breathing Cage, with Gary Sullivan, Jay Clarkson and Michael Kime releasing the Misericord and The Old Hill recordings; Don't Make Noise, an improvisation group releasing You are Here and Don't Make Noise. Performed at Robert McDougall Art Gallery (Chch) and Band Rotunda and Cramner SquareOne Leg Too Short new music released Like the Highest Number Only Better.

He has toured Europe in 1995 and 2003 -2004 and performed extensively throughout New Zealand at art galleries and music venues. He also contributed a chapter in ‘echtzeitmusik berlin published in 2011 on the ‘echtzeit’ Berlin music scene - where he was based for two years and was part of a collective running a venue for new/experimental music called the Anorak.

In 1996 Malcolm fled from New-Zealand to Berlin because he risked persecution for the New-Zealand media. In Germany Malcolm was granted Artist Refugee Status Entry (ARSE) so he could stay in Berlin and work at the avant-garde squat Anorak. In 1998 the political climate in New-Zealand changed and Malcolm could return to his homeland. Back home Malcolm started his solo guitar project. For that project he developed his own guitar, which took him over 2 years building it.

The guitar has pick-ups attached in such a way as to enable him to turn up sounds that are generally avoided such as guitar body noise, the sound of the string vibrating towards the nut, scrapes, etc... In addition to the rebuild guitar, he also uses 2 floor guitars. One is played by his foot and is used for percussion, the other one is played with an e-bow or several mini-fans to create drones and extra noises. Playing all 3 guitars at once Malcolm creates a hypnotic sound of evolving melodies, built upon layered drones. In 2002 the project resulted in the cd The Homesick For Nowhere and was released on the famous Corpus Hermeticum label.

He has released many CDs and DVDs including Some Other Time Kning Disk 2009, Leather and Lacy Interregnum records 2008, Jazz School Monotype Records with Eugene Chadbourne 2010, Six Strings with Tetutzi Akiyama Korm Plastics (brombron) 2007, International Domestic, Corpus Hermeticum Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshimaru Nakamura and Bruce Russell) 2003, Surferdelic Proper Records 2001 Surfing USSR, What is it Keith? Proper Records 2000 with Tony Buck, Leo Bachmann, Jenny Ward, Jon Rose, Joe Williamson, and Trust Only This Face Braille Records 12 1995.

What do you remember about your first guitar?

I remember driving to Tauranga with my mum to look at guitars, at that point Whakatane where I grew up had no music store. My mum was seemingly suitability impressed when I played some sort of version of Johnny Cash's, I Walk the Line. My first guitar was a black pearl (think drums) Les Paul copy guitar. I took the guitar back to Whakatane and while showing it off to friends, mimicking Pete Townsend, I accidently let the guitar fly out of my hands and it ended up wedged into the wall (the crack still remains in our old family home). The crappy pickups meant it was blessed with a weird sort of underwater sound. I tried to customise it 7 years later on an access scheme for long term unemployed I pulled out all the frets in an effort to make a fret less guitar, slapped a couple more tuning pegs and strings on it and generally made it quite unplayable until it was only good for kicking.

I started by giving it the occasional kick to cover any mistakes I was making. Then I realized I could sit down and play simple rhythms on the floor guitar and tambourine. Later I added another floor guitar for drones and extra noise. I found I could operate the whammy bar with my foot almost playing simple tunes and/or a real racket.
I still use it now and it became a big part of my solo sets sound. Solo simultaneously played multiple guitar performance (SSPMGP for short)

I had an acoustic guitar which I taped pickups to different parts of its body. ie, by the tuning pegs, on the neck etc. This enabled me to turn up sounds that are generally avoided such as guitar body noise, the sound of the string vibrating towards, the nut, scrapes etc.

Luthier Peter Stephen

The acoustic guitar was the prototype for my adapted electric guitar. I collaborated with a friend of mine; Lyttelton based Luthier Peter Stephen, who built me a guitar after discussions about the requirements and possibilities. It was 2 years in the making.

Generally I perform solo with this set up. It is quite versatile and enables me to get a lush sound with lots of varied timbre. I also like the idea that every sound comes from a movement and I enjoy the unstable nature of the set up. Sometimes I think that the improvisational elements in my music come more from the unstable nature of my set up than any conscious decision to reinvent the tunes on each passing.

It's kinda of like driving a truck on ice where the goal is fixed but the path may vary. It keeps it interesting for me and makes for a few brutal accidents along the way.

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

The first record I brought is hard to remember but I acquired a few from the local radio station where my sister worked  that I thought they would never play, mainly Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. I also remember buying Another Green World after finding it in a sale bin in Whakatane. I remember taking it home and loving it but none of my friends shared my enthusiasm.
The last two I brought were Ivor Cutler’s Privilege and Sergio Merce Microtonal Saxophone. I had some paypal money to spend and wanted to replace my old tape of Ivor and Sergio Merce was something new to hear... both great

What do you expect from music?

Nothing really

Greg Malcolm (guitars), Sum Suraweera (drums), and Reuben Derrick (soprano saxophone) play the music of Steve Lacy. 

Which work of your own are you most surprised by?

Trust Only This Face -the first CD I released under my name surprised me. It was a sort of clearing the house CD, where I went back and recorded many things that I had been involved in and with over the previous ten or so years. When I edited it up it came out as a sort of a black humour look at growing up in the suburbs in a small town in New Zealand. It wasn’t the plan, but that’s what happened. In particular the track The Ballad of Peter Plumley Walker  I remember getting to the end of it and listen to it and thinking, “My god where did that come from?’ So I blamed it on the news media and put “look what they have done to my brain” on the end  Then a rather weirder sequence of events followed as documented on What is it Keith?

Leather and Lacy also surprised me although prior to recording it, -the impetus for Leather and Lacy was an invitation from Jeff Henderson to perform at the Wellington Jazz Festival 2006. I thought that I should come to the party and perform a programme that was somehow
related to jazz.  In hindsight this probably wasn't necessary as the Jazz festival included Birchville Cat Motel, Robin Fox etc. Leather and Lacy is the live recording from that night.

I had been tossing the Lacy tunes around since 1996 when I first started playing them with saxophonist Gregor Hotz while I was living in Berlin. Gregor was fresh from workshops by Lacy who was living in Berlin with a DAAD residency.  Around this same time my partner and I were also trying to formulate a country duo in an effort to escape busking on the U-Bahn. We decided {that} in order to be a popular and in-demand duo we needed to find the worst possible name for girl/boy music. After many suggestions were floated around including such gems as Chalk and Cheese, Salt and Pepper - we settled on Leather and Lace.

We formulated an irresistible press release and approached our manager Volker Schneemann. Volker had a history in running clubs such as the Anorak which had a less popularist approach. When we confirmed that this was a genuine attempt to find more legitimate work, Volker booked our first and only gig at a noisy corner bar in Konigs Wusterhausen. The gig was successful and we secured a place to stay for the night with some friendly locals who fed us breakfast too. The bar owners only comment was maybe we need a PA as we did the gig acoustically vocals and all.

Years later it only required a small jump of imagination to conceive the slight variation of Leather and Lace to Leather and Lacy, noise versions of Steve Lacy tunes. Anyway that’s just the blurb from the CD but what was interesting was than when I played these tunes in 1996 with Gregor I would not always really know how to approach the improvised sections. I put them away for 8 years and when I came back to them found that in the meantime they had organised themselves somehow in my subconscious and the “middle sections” just flowed out of the tunes. I also liked the way that the tunes end up sounding more like a folk music to me than a jazz tune. I talked to Jeff about this once and said, “I can’t just jazz them up as I am not a jazz guitarist I have to get an idea or concept first”. He replied, "That’s what jazz is" and he knows more than me about those sorts of  things.

Recently I have gone back to listen and relearn parts I played over 20 years ago with Jay Clarkson (sort of more an indie rock context I guess) and that surprised me too. I played very differently and used my broken guitar to get a sustained sound by wobbling the strings across the serrated frets. Sort of a low budget multiple string ebow. re-hearing it has made me wanna play around with that idea again.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

I realised many years ago the sound of musicians or composers that I enjoy is more often characterised by the way that they use or think through their “weaknesses” than any all in compassing supreme ability. I remember sitting in on a Butch Morris conduction rehearsal and seeing Butch question a fantastic guitarist about whether or not he was following his repeat gesture to which the guitarist replied, "Well I am trying to”.  I talked to the guitarist later and he said,  "As an improvising guitarist, I can look at it two ways... one is a problem and the other way is that I never need to think of what to play next I just keep playing the same thing and it comes out different"  Would John Cage have been as interested in what there was to hear if he could hear what he was writing when notating on a staff?

Personally I just play a lot at home because I enjoy the act of playing and often work on techniques but almost always in the context of tunes. Sometimes it never seems to show in my playing until years later when it pops out or not.

What quality do you admire most in an musician?

Depends, if am playing with someone it helps if they are not a jerk but musicians to hear, I like a personalised sound- someone who sounds like themselves and /or brings something of themselves to the music.

What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one?

Nearly all my instruments are broken in different ways. The guitar I mentioned earlier had the strings squashed into the frets once when I was playing it too enthusiastically with knives. The result being fret buzz when picked, but infinite sustain when wobbled back in forth across the bumps. My fret less 8 string pearl is only good to kick. Every instrument has something and  the trick is to find it.

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

Well I love being able to find stuff on line. I worked in a library for 12 years during which time I tried to create my own library of things that interested me but these day I can go to sites like ubuweb and find things that I spent years looking for. However for myself the idea of a vinyl release excites and motivates me much more than a digital only release.

I sometimes miss the musical listening experience of the past that was more social. When friends and I would work hard to hunt down treasures from around the world then have group listening sessions (you go around to some ones place and listen to the new and hard to find record that they had just brought). You couldn’t just type things into google and find them. It’s a different experience to solitary listening I tend to do now.

Define the sound you're still looking for.

I usually just fish around till I find a path to follow and go after that. I do like the idea of creating something that sounds old and or timeless and I am intrigued by paradoxes like the further back in time you go the more modern things sound

How would you define order?

Something that people make for themselves

What are your motivations for playing music?

Been thinking about this a bit lately as I am turning 50 this year. Part of me wonders if all of my life is folly. Our neighbours spend all weekends renovating houses, building sheds etc and Jenny and I spend a week building a time machine. All the neighbours come over to check the progress or our lack of good sense. My involvement in music is maybe the same. I am a foley artist adding to the soundtrack of my/our (my poor long suffering family) lifelong movie. So it’s a mixture of the foleys... art purely because it’s not good for anything else.

What's your best musical experience?

So many hard to name here are a few

Chris Abrahams play solo on a grand piano to 12 people in Berlin
Joelle Leandre solo
Dagmar Krause playing with Marie Goyette
Taraf de Haidouks in a church in Berlin..
Eugene Chadbourne solo and with Paul Lovens...
Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg. ..
watching and playing with Chris O’Connor ...
Jeff Henderson playing both solo and in groups..
Swapping turns at singing songs to each other with friends..
Sitting on the deck drinking looking at the sea and waves singing and playing with Jenny..
Backing my boys Felix 7 (singing Born to be Wild), Ivor Malcolm 9 (singing Schools Out)at the ohope beach school talent conquest (we call them conquests because we always win).

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

There are two things that I vividly remember firstly my grandfather was big into ham radio (amateur radio). He had a little cluttered green shed out the back of their house with a great big ariel extending from the roof. I would spend hours out there from about 6 years old with him telling me stories about how soon we will be able to build a radio on the head of a pin.

He would call and talk to people in faraway places with his call sign,  “Arhh ITS ZL40WZZ HERE..I GOT MY GRANDSON WITH ME” and through a fog of static and noise people would talk to us from the other side of the world.  It was fantastic, mysterious and magical. He also built all his own equipment and love to talk about developments in modern electronics (early 1970). A beautiful and moving experience to recall... thanks.

The second sound experience was rowing in a boat with my dad in Lake Taupo, fishing for trout. The sound and lack of it was beautiful. The lake had pieces of pumice floating in it and when you hit one it would bounce under the hull of the boat making a sound not to dissimilar to banging on a double bass body. Always different and slightly altered by the movement of the water .just a beautiful comfortable sound I have firmly in memory.

What’s your craziest project about?

I guess that would be Any Suggestions. At concerts, over the years, I have passed around a suggestion box for people to write on using Big Fresh supermarket customer feedback forms that ask questions such as: "Did you enjoy shopping with us here today?" and "Is there anything we can improve on to make shopping easier for you?”  The punters would fill in the feedback forms. These feedback replies provided  rich source material ranging from the absurd to the offensive and are incorporated in a sound work/powerpoint presentation as text and as a conceptual source for sound design.

These forms originally started as a way to shut up hecklers. I discovered cultural differences, germans are generally much more earnest while kiwis are pretty rude if it’s anonymous. I have 420 forms and they fit roughly into categories: Abuse – ie, “Hurry up and die”, Drugs – ie, “I want what you’re on”, Singers and Songs – ie, “get some better lyrics” and Stylistic – ie, “play more Death Metal”. The premise is that the sheer economics of survival force musicians to operate in the same customer friendly way as supermarkets, CD super stores and fast food franchises.

Experimental music has often been labelled as self-indulgent or difficult for audiences – what I was trying to create is an experimental piece with 'a customer friendly slant'. It also turns the blame of the creation back on the audience.

If you could, what would you say to yourself 35 years ago, about your musical career?

Keep your overheads low.

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?

For me hearing this question answer session was one of the most significant events in my musical education?

Norton Lectures (1988-89)

Q & A, Part I
I had of course heard of Cage and 4.33' but had pegged it as well arty.  I love the way he talks about the process of writing 4.33'. The joy in his voice when he talks about listening in ordinary and extra ordinary circumstance and also that he seems to enjoy the humour and the outward ridiculousness of it, that it’s funny but serious.

When I was living in Taipei in 1992 trying to save money to travel to see and hear music that I loved, Cage died. I was in the Taipei at the English language library, after being there for 5 months and just about to leave.  I saw a Taiwanese women looking at a book on Cage.  I went and chatted to her as I thought that I finally had found someone interested the same stuff. Turns out she was a music student writing an obituary on Cage for a paper, when I asked her what she thought about him she said “I think he was very naughty but not mad”.
























Trust Only This Face
Braille Records 012 1995

What Is It Keith?
Proper Music Proper Music 1 2000

Homesick For Nowhere
Corpus Hermeticum Hermes039 2002

Tetuzi Akiyama ‎– International Domestic
Corpus Hermeticum ‎– Hermes040 2003

Swimming In It 
(K-RAA-K)³ 2005

Celebrate Psi Phenomenon 1015 2005

Greg Malcolm & Tetuzi Akiyama - Six Strings 
Korm Plastics KP 3027 2007

Some Other Time 
Kning Disk KD059 2009

Leather And Lacy 
Interregnum Records INT005 2009 


& Eugene Chadbourne - Jazz School 
Monotype Records, Cat Sun 2010 

Surfing USSR ‎– Surferdelic
Proper Music ‎– PROPER MUSIC 2 2011

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