Saturday, April 30, 2016

Giuseppe Calamia 13 Questions

SHADOW PUGILIST a.k.a. Giuseppe Calamia, experimental musician from Alcamo, the fourth largest city in the province of Trapani, in north-western Sicily, southern Italy, living now in Denmark.

He has developed studies in painting, decorative building and also in the food sector. Now he studied and worked in the field of experimental music and new media technologies associated with the concepts of disorder and malfunction.

Right now he's working in three musical projects:  
Displasia deals with radical and experimental research improvisation , along with Francesco Calandrino. He published a cd-r "mnnu rvrsu"  for deutsch label Attenuation circuit 
Midnight at Four is an audio-visual project: a trio ranging from ambient to electronics, from noise to techno. Contrudting with low volumes, distortion and reverb, they have released an amazing
first EP.

Giuseppe work in a border between the visual and the sonic virtual, making bridges, interactions and collaboration between musicians "limb form of dimension tomorrow". First ones of this initiative are Paolo Sanna and Marco Lucchi. He has collaborated with the experimental rock group Italian von neumann.

He has founded landEscape, an  audiovisual and experimental research festival in Sicilia, now in his second edition 

A lover of sound and noise, and interested in music research. He works on prepared guitar with extension techniques and object interaction, mixing Harry Partch's microtonality with Luigi Russolo's pioneers "intonarumori", in a perfect mix of experimental, ambient, electronic, avant-garde, free improvisation & improvised music with musique concrete and tape manipulation:"Forme realizzate con materiali poco consueti"

What do you remember about your first approach to sound?

 I remember the special care about the artificial sounds kindle the desire to seek them, understand their role and keep them in a mind map.

I think my first approach was listening techno music by Detroit and Velvet Underground & Nico.

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

Now, I don't remember my first purchase,  maybe a record by Pearl Jam or Q.o.t.s.a. but I remember it was a great thrill and since i don't not stop buying. I think my last purchase is The Catastrophist by Tortoise

How's your musical routine practice?

I don't have a true routine. I like lost my self to arpeggios my acoustic guitar or electric guitar. Two or three hours every day.

 Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

One of my work are more tied it "drops". It's a collection of songs that I recorded at different times and contains many moments of my musical birth.

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

The magnitude and variability of the sounds are an integral part of the musical structures.  About the theory of the technique of shadow boxing. This project timbre research and alteration of the instrument sound, with various found objects and improvised composition, for a fusion of ambient sounds. is an unusual practice, I think we tend to be very close to the Dada conceptions

Why do you need music? Can we live without music?

Music is all that remain

Tell me one impossible project do you like to realize?

A few years ago I contacted on fb Sean Meadows of June of 44 asked if he had time to realize remote collaboration  for a experimental frame songs. He replied that perhaps he could put on some idea. When he refused, saying they did not feel at ease to work at a distance.

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

I think that one of benefit  is experience art forms that comprise assembly  disciplines to practiced hundreds year ago. The challenge to bring  with innovation and the new technologies into the new digital millennium

Depict the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.

I'm a investigator in the field of music research, sound and noise. I think to be continuous search for it in its many forms of its mechanisms and its extensions.


How do you feel listening to your own music?

Certainly the relationship with nature and in general the Robert Luis Stevenson stories

What special or extrange techniques do you use?

These disciplines can be included in the complex of the humanities that form us as intelligent men.
Art plays a central role in this. Today I can say to be linked to different forms of art like painting in which I find relief and refuge in times of absolute freedom of expression


Which is the main pleasure of the strings? What are their main limitation?

It is the pleasure of extended or turn the sound of instrument,  "metamorphosis" at your leisure.  Limit is a border you can pass on having mastered of instrument

What’s your craziest project about?

DISPLASIA it is what a care.
The collaboration with Francesco Calandrino teach me to much and take me important lessons about the radical improvisation and experimental music. The sound is very hard and fraught with suggestions and temporal vortex.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sound Art Pierre Henry

Interview by Iara Lee for Modulations

As you could tell by the name, music concrete is a French concoction- one of its pioneers is composer Pierre Henry. Along with Pierre Schaeffer, Henry took sounds and manipulated, re-arranged and recontextualized them. In one brilliant piece, Henry took a squeaky door and a person sighing and turned these into saxophones, bells, laughter, gongs, wind gushes and other unidentifiable noises. After creating his early revolutionary work with Shaeffer in a state sponsored studio, Henry went to work on his own studio in the late '50's, further exploring this medium, which continues even now. Today, Henry's work with sound manipulation is what we usually think of as sampling. His works have included the very moving "Voile d'Orphee" (1953) (where sound sources become meditative orchestras and choirs), the above mentioned "Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir" (1963), "Le Voyage" (1961-63, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead) and more recently "A La Recherche..." (a radio play based on a Proust work) and "Le Livre des Morts Egyptien" (1990). His work has also included assorted collaborations with poets, dancers, film makers and rock bands (Ceremony with Spooky Tooth, 1968), not to mention his foray into popular music with Yper Sound ("Psyche Rock", 1964).

Q: What time or period do you consider music concrete to be rooted in?
Concrete music is not a music of today nor of yesterday. It comes from a long way off. Many composers, artists, writers, painters imagined that one day music would transform itself into a vast opera of new sounds, unprecedented sounds, sounds that have never been heard of.
As a child, my head was filled with new sounds, sounds that couldn't be interpreted. And that is the peculiarity of concrete music. It resides in the fact that it doesn't come from interpretation nor performance. Thus imagination is the core of concrete music. And this imagination is linked to a technique, to a way of doing. So the first would be that concrete music is a music that is done differently. It's the fabrication of music and not only fabrication but also its conception and its composition.

Q: What do you mean here by "conception"?
I refer to conception because it's unwritten music. It is thought and imagined and is engraved in the memory. It's a music of memory. Usually when a musician leaves out a fragment, a chord, he leaves it out from his score. In concrete music, we can't leave anything out because it's always there. So the second posit is to isolate a sound, keep it, record it and than proceed to make manipulations, developments, imitation of old pieces, and synthetic exploration of the nature.

Because concrete music comes from nothing it has a high range of possibilities. It's a spontaneous creation and at the same time it doesn't play, therefore it keeps on being. Fortunately recording still exists. Now it's through digital recording, before it was on a tape recorder and before that on a soft record. Concrete music was born in Pierre Schaeffer's studio. Pierre Schaeffer had the idea to produce sounds by means of different tools, by splitting the attack of a sound, prolonging the sound by reverberation, repetition, a sort of alchemy that doesn't exist in orchestral music.

Q: What was the initial reaction to this music?
There weren't many reactions because it simply didn't exist. When we started it in 1948, 50 years ago, there weren't any researchers or inventors. We were isolated. Many instruments could be considered electric. There were sophisticated organs. Electricity was fashionable. The introduction of electric guitars and other electronic instruments was certainly interesting for us. It encouraged us to use high-speakers in order to create other sounds that came from nowhere. Thus concrete music is a music that was invented based on nothing. It's a dust of sound, it's a coma of sound, it's almost nothing. In a piece entitled "Spiral," the sound came from some sort of amplified respiration that repeated itself endlessly, this continuity was of a very interesting choice in the sense that one could see that it could be performed and developed with the wrist and with fingers. This music cannot be played with instruments but with electronic tools.

Q: Did you consider this music to be a stance against any particular school of musical thought that came before it?
There weren't any reactions against any school. We came from a musical cell. Before, I was a normal music composer. I wrote for instruments. I studied at the academy of music with Olivier Messiaen. I played percussion. The classical approach to music led me to connect this new music to tradition. So there wasn't any opposition to atonal music nor to serial music.
The idea was to find a new form of music, a new writing style instead of just imitating and being stuck in a trend. We essentially wanted to bring out a new music. It had nothing to do with the other kind of music. It was meant to be a revolution in connection with the state of being a musician, to the musician's function and to listening. We are different from other musicians but we are not opposed to any music.

Henri Michaux had lent me a record of Japanese music, sacred music and I started doing something with it. It was an interesting way to begin, more interesting than a flute. It had a different blow that we could play off. We could make variations out of it. Variation is the principle of concrete music. A cell becomes another and then there are combinations, associations, and many possibilities of inter-mixing, of polyphony. Current music is extremely polyphonic. It's like a grand orchestra but it's done track by track.

Q: How did the sounds that you create literally come about?
It was a day by day, in the 50s an ongoing invention, but it was also a search for brainwaves. This music was still not codified, standardized equipment such as the synthetics, before synthesizers.
All current processes were discovered at that time. The anarchy was to search for these processes but it wasn't a revolution. A composer is inevitably revolutionary. But it's not necessarily revolutionary in his writing, in the way he composes. He is a revolutionary in the mind meaning he has his own esthetic. Beethoven was a revolutionary compared to those that preceded him.
I wrote about destroying music in order to alter little by little the listening of music. But contrary to groups of painters or writers, the musician is like a monk. He has to stay in his studio and work everyday by constantly trying out, listening, starting all over a piece. Musicians don't have time to be revolutionary.

Concrete music leads to authenticity more than the usual kind of music. It's like a photographer who makes try outs, does Polaroid, spotting. Music proceeds from photography, cinema. We set up planes, cut out the editing but also the grain of sound like the grain of photography.
It's a music that is connected to photography, to cinema, a little to literature, and less to music because the music lies within you, you don't learn it whereas you have to learn the rest. A story needs to be told with this type of music. It needs an action of gestures, a choreography of sounds, movements. Concrete music is the music of movements, of rhythm, of beat. The body needs to be linked to a musical sentence different from the one of other kind of music. This other music is thought and abstract whereas ours is concrete. It is concrete because it is related to the body, to the surrounding, to objects, to nature, to emotions.
There is an emotion. I'm currently composing a new piece in which I'm trying to bring forth an emotion that will then be experienced by a public. There is also a communication. It's a music of communication.

Q: How important is rhythm to you?
I'm interested by all kinds of rhythm, irrational rhythm and arithmetic... syncopation, jazz, rhythm, beats. There is always a beat in my music. The beat is what I find more interesting than something asymmetrical. Everything has to be natural for me. It's a music that comes from nature, there are rhythms in nature that can be qualified of elementary, surprising, aleatory, that come and go.
I don't like codified music.

Q: So do you see a connection between your work and techno?
We've been recently talking a lot about techno music, in reference to the mass of the present that sort of initiated not so much rhythmic music than music of the rhythm. It's a music that must be drawn from technique and be connected to what I'm trying to do that is inspiration, to the body, some sort of cerebral trans., though I think it's unfortunate that it is for the moment too much connected to the place it is listened to, to high volume listening where bass is powerful. It's a music far too much connected to physiological reactions and not enough to mental reaction. It has no sensitivity, it's not surprising enough and it lacks poetry. I feel music should keep its share of poetry.


Q: Do you think it should also have a soul to it?
I don't think music shouldn't have a soul. Music should consider the past as much as the future. And there are still many things to discover in the future. So we should begin illustrating this future with futurist projections such as the apocalypse, by emphasizing changes, and by pointing out the differences in each centuries, and that there is an evolution. A technical music is of no interest for me.

Q: Does it bother you to use digital equipment for your work nowadays?
No, it doesn't disturb me. It helps me keep and preserve the sound. Concrete music was precarious, very difficult because sounds were almost immediately damaged.
There are many things we can do with digital sound such as uncovering the original sound. All sounds become original sounds, the sound of the beginning. That's interesting but there is a betrayal in the sense that digital sound is not as good as analogical sound. It has less strength, less impact, less presence. Therefore it's necessary to mix analog, that is, old equipment with new equipment. We can't get rid of old equipment. We still need to have the future connected to the past. And that's what life is, this mixture slightly archeological of the laws of the past with the foresight of the future.

Q: Is it possible to create music that expresses inner thoughts and expressions?
I did that in the '50's while I was working with records and making improvisations. But I used tape recorders. I did concerts where I would improvise and perform using artificial waves. I had transmitters set on my skull so that we could hear what came directly out of my skull. Instinct served music. The music was intuitive, instinctive.

Q: Do you find it necessary to be open to chance in your work?
It's as important as fate. Without fate, without any deviation... drifting is necessary once in a while. I often play everything together and then listen. Sometimes a strange phenomenon occurs.
We need to catch it. But that which is intuitive, instinctive, imaginary comes also from fate because fate is nature. It's always the same. There's thought and fate, the control of fate by thought, and the simulation of thought by

Q: Did you see composers such as Russolo as kindered spirits?
I can't really say that I felt close to Italian futurists. I thought of them as fascists and not as artists. Of course it was glorifying for them to say we could make noise, but there always has been noise, even classical composers would add a cannon shot in their work. Noise becomes a musical note when altered.
Real noise is very interesting. A drama should be told with noise, and then it can be broadcast. I enjoy noise in film, I dislike music in film. I like to conceive a score like a film, with noises, voices.

Q: So music concrete stood alone?
We were isolated. There was the bet. There was John Cage whom I didn't know. And Stockhausen was much younger. It all started distinctively and then similarities were discovered. I've also performed prepared piano different from John Cage's performance. Stockhausen's research was somehow slightly similar to mine. And then there was the splitting. There was a need for new music. New music meant new sounds, new ears.

Q: How do you see changes in recording technology as having an effect on music? Has it been a positive effect?
During the evolution of technique, engineers wanted to bring out finished products, standardize manufactured products. What was interesting in electroacoustic music, was to search, to find new ways, new possibilities. The automatism of finding didn't bring forth much possible aspiration. Though gradually this music evolved and became quite convenient. It has become a homemade music, the music of the new studios, the music of films. Now we can't imagine any other kind of music for those kind of work. So we play classical music, but current music is constantly invented over and over again, it has become like the sound of the sea, constantly renewed, but always the same. That's why I fear that sound will be the same everywhere, on the radio, in films.

And it's easy now for youngsters. They can get for only a few thousand francs, a box, an amp, something that makes sounds. There is no longer a formal sensitivity, meaning that music comes out. I prefer music that stays inside of us, that allows us to dream, to imagine and even perhaps to love. The music I'm referring to is the one of communication. It's a language more than an art. Now it's no longer a language. It's some sort of tam-tam constantly present. I'm not convinced by current music, the way it is done. But there are some possibilities. It's form is similar to the one of beginning of music in the Middle Age in France where it was not only just a form but it was also very boring. I don't particularly like cave music. I prefer vocal music starting with Bel canto and then with Melesande and Pelleas. Music of yesterday was linear and white. When Renoir spoke of white he meant with no colors. And music of today has no colors. That's why I try to add a little spatial effect and colors in my music.

Q: What do you mean by 'space' then?
Speaking of space means that there is already space in reactions, in music. I want music to be profound. Even in mono. At first, I was against stereo. I didn't like it. I like mono sound, the sound of a dimension and that in this dimension there is a past, a present, that it moves. I didn't like the panoramic aspect of sound. I like the sound to be enlarged and elaborate like under a microscope. The first concerts I did were in mono. First the sound came through one track. Then there were tape recorders with two tracks, stereo, which had inevitably a center. There was still mono in stereo. I thought of it as being too artificial. I then imagined concerts using a lot of mono, which created movements using specific technical tools, or gestures that would attract sound to a high speaker.

Mono sound was moving and I found it more interesting then to create movements with stereo sounds. Gradually I stuck to the cinematography point of view, where sounds had various dimension, were very focused that is with a sound here, on the top on the bottom but stereo couldn't be used to give spatial effect to a concert room. I refer more in terms of specialization than of stereo. My next creative piece for the radio will be on 16 tracks. Those 16 tracks will each go directly in a speaker.


Q: How has editing figured into your work?
It was an option because sound existed with length. With length on a record or a soundtrack, we couldn't always cut off the attack but we could place it at the end or reverse part of the sound. Cutting off the attack... well many film makers have done it way before us. Optical tools allow us to cut off the attack of sounds. Many film effect were done that way. It's not an invention. Invention is recording a sound and playing with it. That's invention. Cutting off the attack is part of the 1001 possibilities of manipulation.

Q: Is it a technique that interests you?
That's a harmonic question. It's a question of thickness of sound. It's not very interesting. At the beginning Pierre Schaeffer cut off the attack of the piano and it gave sound. What's important is to have many possibilities of manipulation in order to give substance to the game, the game of sounds.
Sounds must play for we don't play with instruments, we play with soundtrack, with editing, filtering, reverberation. These games must use all kind of possibilities. It's about transformation, the magic of transformation of sounds is important. I've always thought of music as a way to let things come out. Many sounds, and also many ideas. It's an animation, an animation of sound talk.

Q: Do you find that your work with Sheaffer has been something of an exploration?
"Symphony for a Lonely Man" corresponds to my first step toward concrete music. Before that, I did some try outs with equipment, with instrument of sound search. When I met with Sheaffer again, we composed this piece. It's not a research. The search had already been done. It was a continuity. We wanted it to be like a spokesman, with an aesthetic approach. And the aestheticism was a symphony of voices, instruments with noise. "Symphony for a Lonely Man" was composed by two lonely men.

Iara Lee conducted this interview for her film Modulations in September 1997 at Henry's home/studio in Paris.  



Sound Aesthetics: Xenakis (January 7, 2016)
Pinhas Deleuze Sound language (January 21, 2016)
Angle(s) VI John Cage (April 30, 2015)
Morton Feldman (March 16, 2015)
Morton Feldman and painting (October 3, 2014)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sound Art Pierre Schaeffer II

Pierre Schaeffer: an interview with the pioneer of musique concrete. Second Part

by Tim Hodgkinson, 2 apr 1986

TH: So new music is impossible?

PS: Yes, a music which is new because it comes from new instruments, new theories, new languages. So what's left? Baroque music. Has it struck you that the music which is regarded as the most sublime in western civilization, which is the music of Bach, is called baroque? (Note: In the French language, the term 'baroque' has the meaning 'roughly put together' -- as well as the meaning we have in English of that theatrical, excessive, late Renaissance style.) Bizarre. Even its contemporaries called it baroque. Bach lived in a moment of synthesis, in terms of the instruments, the theory -- tempered scale, etc. -- and was putting everything together. He was taking from the middle ages, from the new developments in the instruments of his time, from the Italians, and he made a music which was so clearly made up of bits and pieces that it called itself baroque. Simultaneously traditional and new. And this applies today; it will be when our contemporary researchers abandon their ludicrous technologies and systems and 'new' musical languages and realize that there's no way out of traditional music, that we can get down to a baroque music for the 21st century.

Electronic music studio, PierrevSchaeffer - Jacques Poullin, 1951

Such a music has been prefigured in popular music - not that I rate it very highly. Jazz, rock, etc, the music of 'mass' culture, and I'm not talking about good jazz, the marvelous negro spirituals which are completely traditional, but the kind of utility-music which is widely used for dancing, making love, etc; this is a baroque music, a mixture of electricity and DoReMi...

TH: So there is nothing essentially relevant in the fact that the world we live in is changing and that we might need to express new or different things about it?

PS: The answer is that the world doesn't change.

TH: There is no progress?

PS: There is no progress. The world changes materially. Science makes advances in technology and understanding. But the world of humanity doesn't change. Morally, the world is both better and worse than it was. We are worse off than in the middle ages, or the 17th and 18th centuries, in that we have the atomic menace. It's ridiculous that time and time again we need a radioactive cloud coming out of a nuclear power-station to remind us that atomic energy is extraordinarily dangerous. So this shows the imbecility, the stupidity of mankind. Why should a civilization which so misuses its power have, or deserve, a normal music?


TH: Well, if you are committed to music, you try to reach, to encourage, the good in people, whatever that is...

PS: That could be wishful thinking. I'll bring in Levi-Strauss, who has said again and again that it's only things that change; the structures, the structures of humanity, stay the same - and the uses we make of these things. On this level we are just like the caveman who makes a tool out of a flint, a tool for survival, but also a deadly weapon: we haven't changed at all. The world has just got more dangerous because the things we use have got more dangerous. In music there are new things, synthesisers, taperecorders, etc., but we still have our sensibilities, our ears, the old harmonic structures in our heads we're still born in DoReMi - it's not up to us to decide. Probably the only variations are ethnological. There are the different musical cultures, the music of ancient Greece, for example, in so far as we can know it, the music coming from the Hebrews into the Gregorian chant, the music of India, China, Africa, these are the variations, and it's all DoReMi...


TH: Are you pessimistic about the future of this variation - in the sense that there is a cultural imperialism which is destroying the local musics of the world and replacing them by a kind of central music which is driven forward by industrial and political power?

PS: I'm very aware of what you're talking about as I was involved with the radio in Africa in the same period as I was doing Concrete - I was doing both at the same time. I was deeply afraid that these vulnerable musical cultures, - lacking notation, recording, cataloging, and with the approximative nature of their instruments - would be lost. I and my colleagues were beginning to collect African music. At the radio there is a small department run by Mr Toureille, who has very courageously for 17 years systematically sent out expeditions to gather authentic African musics and released them on record.


TH: The problem is that the records are bought in Europe and not in Africa. It's hard to see how you can regenerate the music in its own context. In fact, we can accuse ourselves of appropriating it. There is this ambiguity in that we are in a meta-cultural position with the entire cultural geography and history of the world laid out for our pleasure. Do you think this situation brings about a lack of a sense of the real value of culture and cultural artifacts? Many people listen to ethnic musics from all over the place. Does this leaping about in space and time affect the quality of the listening?

PS: Well I don't think we can answer this question of value ultimately, but we can recognize the fact that civilizations are mortal. In music there are, unfortunately, two principles at work. There's the principle of barbarity. The fact that western civilization invaded these autochthonous people entwined with their ancient local cultures - this was certainly barbarous, if not entirely heedless. Barbarians always think of themselves as the bringers of civilization. The western barbarity was turntables, the radio, etc.

Then there's the principle of economics which is that bad money gets thrown after good. So if barbarity is the triumph of force, bad money is the triumph of economy - in a metaphoric sense...

TH: I'd like to turn now to the idea that, scattered all over the world, probably in tiny garrets rather than in expensive state-of-the-art studios, there are people busily cutting up bits of tape, making loops, experimenting with tape-recorders, and I would like to ask you if you have anything you would specially want to say to these people.

PS: Well, first I can't pass the buck to them. I started all that. I think they have the great satisfaction of discovering the world of sound. The world of music is probably contained within DoReMi, yes; but I'm saying that the world of sound is much larger than that. Let's take a spatial analogy. Painters and sculptors are concerned with spaces, volumes, colours, etc, but not with language. That's the writer's concern. The same thing is true with sound. Musique Concrete in its work of assembling sound, produces sound-works, sound-structures, but not music. We have to not call music things which are simply sound-structures...


TH: Is it not enough for a sound-work to have system, for it to become

PS: The whole problem of the sound-work is distancing oneself from the dramatic. I hear a bird sing, I hear a door creak, I hear the sounds of battle; you start to get away from that. You find a neutral zone. Just as a painter or sculptor moves away from a model, stops representing a horse, or a wounded warrior, and arrives at the abstract. A beautiful sculptural form, as beautiful as an egg, a greenhouse, a star. And if you continue this abstracting movement, you get to the graphics of the forms of letters in written language. And-in music you get to music. There's thus a gradation between the domain of raw sound, which starts by being imitative, like the representational plastic arts, and the domain of language. Between, there's a zone of gradation which is the area of 'abstract' in the plastic arts, and which is neither language nor model, but a play of forms and materials.

There are many people working with sound. It's often boring, but not necessarily ugly. It contains dynamic and kinaesthetic impressions. But it's not music.

TH: But what is the exact moment at which something becomes music?

PS: This is a difficult question. If you had the complete answer you'd be a prophet. The traditional testimony is that a musical schema lent itself to being expressed in sound in more than one way. An example is that Bach sometimes composed without specifying the instruments: he wasn't interested in the sound of his music. That's music, a schema capable of several realisations in sound. The moment at which music reveals its true nature is contained in the ancient exercise of the theme with variations. The complete mystery of music is explained right there. Thus a second. a third a fourth variation were possible, which all kept the single idea of the theme. This is the evidence that with one musical idea you can have different realisations.

TH: Do you listen to rock music?

PS: My 18-year-old daughter listens a lot downstairs, so I hear what comes under her door. It's enough.


TH: I was thinking that rock music is also a music that's essentially engaged with technologies, in the sense that it grew up with the recording technology and the means of mass-producing discs.

PS: What strikes me is the violence of the sound, a violence which seems to be designed to reach not only the ear but also the gut. In a certain way this seems to function as a drug. Real music is a sublime drug, but you can't really call it a drug because it doesn't brutalise, it elevates. These two characteristics of rock, the violence of the sound and the drug-function, revolve on the basis of a musical formula which is impoverished. This doesn't interest me. I feel rather that it indicates a nostalgia amongst today's young people, a desire to revert to savagery, to recover the primitive. At this time, who can blame them? The primitive is also a source of life. But the musical means seem sad and rather morbid. It's a dishonest primitive because it's reached through technological sophistication. It's a cheat.

TH: But do you recognize in it the techniques of Concrete, for example in the idea of production, as the term is used in the recording industry, this conceptualization of the difference between sound source and process, between source and manipulation - where the producer can regard the recorded sound as simply raw material for a process of radical transformation, but of course, more often than not, with the aim of making a successful commodity? Would you allow any kind of humanist potential where the empiricism, the bricolage of rock, is not totally subordinated to commerce?

PS: Well we've already mentioned pessimism, and I must say that I do judge these times to be bad times. We seem to be afflicted by ideologies - often, entirely incompatible ones. Thus, the ideology of scientific rigour and at the same time the ideology of chance; ideologies of power, technology, improvisation, facility -technology with which to replace inspiration. If I compare that to jazz for example in its historically fecund period, the extraordinary fruition of American music at the point where the European DoReMi was suddenly seized upon by the blacks for the production of expressive forms... this was sublime. Now if you think that, decades later, this bloated, avaricious and barbarous culture, brutalised by money and machines and advertising, is still living off this precious vein... well, you have to admit that some periods are simply vile, disgusting, and that this is one of them. The only hope is that our civilization will collapse at a certain point, as always happens in history. Then, out of barbarity, a renaissance.


TH: Some of what you were saying about rock music reminded me of Adorno's essay on jazz, the regressive, nostalgic function, and so forth. Yet you find jazz, in its great period, sublime.

PS: But primitive American jazz was very rich, it wasn't very learned, but it was richly inventive, in ways of expressing into sound, in its
voicings; what I really admired, when I was there the first time, after the liberation, in the '50s, were the operettas - Carmen Jones,
excellent music, I can't remember the titles, but great music - Gershwin of course...

TH: I have the impression that in the '40s and '50s you were optimistic about the outcomes of your musical project. Was there a
particular moment when you underwent a general change in your relationship to this project?

PS: I must say honestly that this is the most important question you have asked me. I fought like a demon throughout all the years of discovery and exploration in Musique Concrete; I fought against electronic music, which was another approach, a systemic approach, when I preferred an experimental approach actually working directly, empirically with sound. But at the same time, as I defended the music I was working on, I was personally horrified at what I was doing. I felt extremely guilty. As my father, the violinist, used to say, indulgently, What are you up to, my little chap? When are you going to make music? And I used to say - I'm doing what I can, but I can't do that. I was always deeply unhappy at what I was doing. I was happy at overcoming great difficulties - my first difficulties with the turntables when I was working on 'Symphonie pour un homme seul':: - my first difficulties with the tape-recorders when I was doing 'Etude aux objets' - that was good work, I did what I set out to do - my work on the 'Solfege' - it's not that I disown everything I did - it was a lot of hard work. But each time I was to experience the disappointment of not arriving at music. I couldn't get to music - what I call music. I think of myself as an explorer struggling to find a way through in the far north, but I wasn't finding a way through.

TH: So you did discover that there was no way through.

PS: There is no way through. The way through is behind us.

TH: So it's in that context that we should understand your relatively small output as a composer after those early years?

PS: I was very well received. I had no social problems. These successes added to my burden of doubt. I'm the opposite of the
persecuted musician. In fact I don't consider myself a real musician. I'm in the dictionary as a musician. It makes me laugh. A
good researcher is what I am.


TH: Did your time in Africa have any particular relevance to changes
in your attitudes to music?

PS: No. I had always been very interested in music from Asia, Africa,
America. I considered that music should be tracked down over the whole
surface of the planet.

TH: I think we've said enough.

PS: Yes, I think we've said a lot.


Sound Aesthetics: Xenakis (January 7, 2016)
Pinhas Deleuze Sound language (January 21, 2016)
Angle(s) VI John Cage (April 30, 2015)
Morton Feldman (March 16, 2015)
Morton Feldman and painting (October 3, 2014)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

WADADA Leo Smith: notes on my music

notes on my music (part 1)

the concept that i employ in my music is to consider each performer as a complete unit with each having his or her own center from which each performs independently of any other, and with this respect of autonomy the independent center of the improvisation is continuously changing depending upon the force created by individual centers at any instance from any of the units. the idea is that each improviser creates as an element of the whole, only responding to that which he is creating within himself instead of responding to the total creative energy of the different units. this attitude frees the sound-rhythm elements in an improvisation from being realized through dependent re-action. this is the fundamental principle underlining my music, in that it extends into all the source-areas of music-making, i.e. each single rhythm-sound, or a series of sound-rhythm is a complete improvisation. in other words, each element is autonomous in its relationship in the improvisation. therefore, there is no intent towards time as a period of development. rather, time is employed as an element of space: space that is determined between the distance of two sound-rhythms (here the reference to rhythm is in reference to its absoluteness: the sum of the elements and the placement of them) and space/silence that is the absence of audible sound-rhythm (just as each sound-rhythm is considered an autonomous element in an improvisation, so, too, must space and space/silence be considered; and when space and space/silence are really-realized, then we will know so well how to perceive and appreciate their uniqueness each time they appear, as easily as we perceive and appreciate the uniqueness of each sound-rhythm): i seek another dimension in music.

the forms that i use in my music other than some of the traditional or contemporary forms are EeLO'jsZ and afmie. EeLO'jsz is an ensemble-orchestra,form for improvisers, and simply refers to the grouping together of more than one orchestra, more than one ensemble, or several orchestras with one or more ensembles in such a way as to preserve the autonomy of each improviser within a group, each group within the orchestra, and each improviser within the unit total. afmie is an art-dance-music form, where the music and dance elements rely upon improvisation for deliverance.

the dance is scored as sound-rhythm movement, and the symbols used for both musician and dancer are the same. here, too, the movements for the dance are in the the same relationship to each other and to the sound-rhythms as was outlined earlier for the music alone (i.e. autonomous). so, the elements of the dance as well as of the music are conceived without past or future.

i am an improviser, and my music is for the improviser. in most cases, my improvisations are conceived for multi-instrumentalists, i.e. for those who approach all of their instruments as one complete instrument, who perform on all of their instruments as if they were only one instrument. the attitude of the multi-instrumentalist should be the same as one who performs on only one instrument. this concept of all instruments as component parts of the total instrument offers the improviser a world of sound-rhythm as diverse as the many different component parts of the instrument.

notes (part 2)

the wonder and gorgeousness of nature -

i've heard the sounds of the crickets, the birds, the whirling about and clinging of the wind, the floating waves ' and clashing of water against rocks, the love of thunder and beauty that prevails during and after the lightening - the - toiling of souls throughout the world in suffering - the moments of realization, of oneness, of realness in all of these make and contribute to the wholeness of my music - the sound- rhythm beyond - beyond - is what i'm after through this precious and glorious art of the black man - this improvisational music that i see, that i feel, that bursts all about us in this world, that's conveyed to us from the many different other worlds and that's held intact through our minds from the universe - these are life sources that bring forth love through the creative ability of all man - these are the sources that spur, that prompt the nowness, right-nowness,totality of the improviser, the creative improviser - our music is so personal (the improviser's) that it takes in the natural world of all, the universal principles of all when created through the cosmic powers of the all, and this personalness as contributed by man are, too, of the source of the universal mind of all is interpreted by the man and therefore the creations of man cannot be universal - only cosmic creations are universal, as a mountain or valley or rivers and planets - i, a black man, a creative improviser, strive, through my improvisations and as an improviser to pay homage to the black, the blackness of a people, and that these creations themselves are for all, and the natural laws that are prevailing under these creations are relative as they are interpreted or perceived by beings of other peoples and thus they must extract what is of universality for themselves to each and every individual, but on the level and in the expression that is clothed in the garment of improvisation, and i contend that only the principles underlying these creations are universal to my people - i spoke earlier about the crickets and the rhythm of the little tadpole that floats about in a little pond, or the rhythm of the waves and wind, or in one's life, the wholeness of sound-rhythm, of all that is created cosmically and all that one interprets (cultural) as beings on earth - these are the things that set in motion my thoughts,unfolds the heritage, my heritage. which/ from the (u.s.) north america to those ancient lands of africa and this present day modern africa - that is the lineage of my music - that is a part of the creative music of the improvisers - i humbly strive to create and document my music through this line of heritage with every conscious effort and action i feel the urge that is stronger than any other force a kinship, a realness, and realizing such, a heritage - and it is through this heritage that i find the most vital and creative energy for me as a person.

it is what makes my life complete with all its suffering and all of its pleasures and all that makes life life.

the speaking of the spirits, the essence of the spirit, the realness of the creation, spirit-drum - i feel is the essence of essence of i speak not of the drum physically or anatomically, but the spirit-drum (rhythm).


in the orchestral music of improvisation one can feel and know the presence of this spirit-drum. rhythm. rhythm propels the sounds that are unseparated from rhythm, and rhythm unseparated from sound but the attitude is the spirit- drumrhythm - as i stated in part one(note son my music) i tried to show the relationship in a philosophical sense how the set-ups and the principles underlining the sound-rhythm that takes place in my music and the consideration of space as also rhythm-sound that is incorporated - when rightly seen and felt these principles introduce a totally personal world that is in itself the spirit-drum - rhythm - rhythm -.

"rhythm, according to many africans, existed at the beginning of time and was often thought to be the absolute creator of the worlds and their inhabitants - it is therefore the very essence of the universe, the hidden fluid that runs through all beings - human, animal and vegetable - the magical point of contact and of participation, of man with nature" - i hold this to be the highest in essence in consideration of improvisation.

other notes part 3

(the equality of all in struments and a few notes on a sound recording, creative music-1 --- and other thoughts)

part 3 deals specifically with the fallacy that if the drum is not present then it is not black music (creative music); with the sound recording, creative music-1, which consists of 6 solo improvisations; and with the sound recording form. first a few misconceptions must be cleared up about the function of certain instruments in creative music. i'm specifically referring to the statements and attitudes of reasoning that hold that the drum is the center of black music. it is not the element but the spirit that is: rhythm. in other words, it is not the center as all evolves out of (as explained in part 2, the spirit-drum) but the center in the sense of the dominant-the controlling factor in the music. this is a misconcepti on as was with the trumpet and saxophone. critics have applied narrow concepts to this improvisational music so that they could easily write about and define it and dictate what is the essence of black music-creative music. the percussion, brasses, strings and any other beaten, plucked or wind blown instruments in improvisational music are equal --- they are all equal in the creation of music, although the improvisers seem not to understand this and continue to roll along with the critics-ideal of himself and creative music. so the "front-line" dictates and controls what's happening or feels that they are the only creative ones along with the drummer (or "solo" and "rhythm section"): and the drummer propels the "solo" in their creations, or so says the critics. (one has to only take note of the unfairness in the documented evidence of creative music. here one can find that only saxophones, trumpets, pianos, and occasionally other instruments have been endowed with the honor of being "leaders" and thus most of the contributions to different periods of development in creative music have always been attributed to one individual, and never more than one at one time --- highly unbalanced procedure.)

 i refer all those who hold these types of views to the continent of africa to consider the great master improvisers there in ancient and modern times. in this great music of our heritage, any instrument, including the voice, is performed (improvised) in solo (i.e. without accompaniment of drums). in fact if one has noticed, in african classical art music there is a string music, a percussion music, a vocal music, and different music of wind instruments (ivory trumpets, for example). no matter what size the ensembles are, all the instruments are given equal importance, and with that equal importance they are given their autonomy in relationship to time (no unison in time). regarding the orchestras, the same principles hold true. and to come straight across, or into the lands of north america we'll find in the early orchestra and ensemble music of the african-american, the many flourishing-lines of equal independence (importance). one has only to look to fine recorded examples of early ensemble music to realize what i'm saying. for example, louis armstrong and the hot five ensemble. they recorded in chicago during a span of time that ran from november 12, 1925 through july, 1926. now, on none of the sound recorded during that period was there a drum used (allegedly, one of the reasons was because they couldn't record the drums, but what i'm talking about is the actual documented fact of master music without drums, regardless of the circumstances ).

although, hear me clear, i'm not saying that the spirit-essence of the drum is not there. i'm saying that all of the instruments are equally important, and hold equal, no matter what setting the music is performed in. now to go to further proof of what i'm talking about, consider "weatherbird". this improvisation was recorded in 1928 and performed by only two improvisers: louis armstrong and earl hines. now this duo music, as you will have noticed if you've ever heard it, does not have drums, but the spirit-essence of the drums is there. the point that i'm trying to make is that when listening, if you listen to an orchestra, ensemble, or a solo, listen seriously to that only. do not listen with some strange outer third ear for something that's not there. in other words, if a solo improvisation is taking place, do not suppose in your mind that you are hearing a solo and plus. that is absolutely an unintelligent approach to music. so i simply say: hear what you are hearing when you are hearing and you will never have illusions of what it is that you are hearing.

an excerpt from:

© 1997-2011 Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith