Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fred Frith 13 Questions

Though the point of reference for many remains the iconic band Henry Cow, which he co-founded in 1968 and which broke up more than 30 years ago, Fred Frith has never really stood still for an instant.

Photo: Kazue Asano

In bands such as Art Bears, Massacre, Skeleton Crew, Keep the Dog, Tense Serenity, the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, Eye to Ear, and most recently Cosa Brava, he has always held true to his roots in rock and folk music, while exploring influences that range from the literary works of Eduardo Galeano to the art installations of Cornelia Parker.

Photo: Bernd Wendt. In concert at LOFT (Cologne / Köln) 13.12.2007

The release of the seminal Guitar Solos in 1974 enabled him to simultaneously carve out a place for himself in the international improvised music scene, not only as an acclaimed solo performer but in the company of artists as diverse as Han Bennink, Chris Cutler, Jean-Pierre Drouet, Evelyn Glennie, Ikue Mori, Louis Sclavis, Stevie Wishart, Wu Fei, Camel Zekri, John Zorn, and scores of others.

Photo: Jörg Krüger
He has also developed a personal compositional language in works written for Arditti Quartet, Asko Ensemble, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Ensemble Modern, Concerto Köln, and ROVA Sax Quartet, for example. Fred has been active as a composer for dance since the early 1980s, working with choreographers Bebe Miller, François Verret, and especially long-time collaborator and friend Amanda Miller, with whom he has created a compelling body of work over the last twenty years.

His film soundtracks (for award-winning films like Thomas Riedelsheimer’s Rivers and Tides and Touch the Sound, Peter Mettler’s Gambling, Gods, and LSD, and Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow’s Thirst, to name a few) won him a lifetime achievement award from Prague’s “Music on Film, Film on Music” Festival (MOFFOM) in 2007. The following year he received Italy’s Demetrio Stratos Prize (previously given to Diamanda Galas and Meredith Monk) for his life’s work in experimental music, and in 2010 was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield in his home county of Yorkshire.

Fred currently teaches in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, California (renowned for over fifty years as the epicenter of the American experimental tradition), and in the Musik Akademie in Basel, Switzerland.

1. What was the first musical sound you remember? 

Woodpigeons outside my bedroom window.

2. How would you define the present time in musical terms? 

Full of possibilities. Just like any other time.

3. So, why did you decide to pick up the guitar? 

It asked me to. 

Wu Fei: guzheng and vocals. Carla Kihlstedt: Violin. Fred Frith: acoustic and electric guitars. Helge A. Norbakken: percussion on Hunan

4. Which work of your own are you most proud of, and why? 

Pride goeth before a fall. 

5. Which is the main border, the main drawback of the guitar? 

I try not to think of it in terms of drawbacks. 

6. What do you change or add to your guitar?  

Whatever seems appropriate at the time. 

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

Benefit: anyone can do anything. 
Challenge: anyone can do anything. 

8. Do you play other instruments? Do you approach them differently?

Yes, and yes.

9. Define the sound you're still looking for. 

If I could define it I probably wouldn’t be looking for it.


10. Why do you use a prepared guitar? 

It’s my instrument. 

11. Which living artist would you like to collaborate with? 

I like the ones I’m already collaborating with. 
And I look forward to meeting and working with others. 

12. What dead artist would you like to have collaborated with? 

I collaborated with many wonderful artists who are no longer with us. 

Tom Cora. 
Lars Hollmer. 
Lol Coxhill. 
Hans Reichel. 
Butch Morris. 
Lindsay Cooper. 

To name a few. They are a part of who I am. 

13. What’s your latest project about? 

I won’t know until it’s finished. 
Maybe not even then. 

Selected Discography



(with Matthias Bossi, Carla Kihlstedt, Zeena Parkins, The Norman Conquest):

Ragged Atlas (2010)


(with Kato Hideki, Ikue Mori):

Drunken Forest (2007)
Synesthesia (1998)
Death Ambient (1995)


(with Bill Laswell and Charles Hayward):

Lonely Heart (2007) Meltdown (2001)
Funny Valentine (1998)
Killing Time (1981)


(with Nick Didkovsky, René Lussier, Mark Stewart):

Upbeat (1998)
Ayaya Moses (1997)



(with Jean Derome, Charles Hayward, René Lussier, Bob Ostertag, Zeena Parkins):

That House We Lived In (2003)


(with Tom Cora and Zeena Parkins):

The Country of Blinds (1986)
Learn to Talk (1984)


(with Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause):

The World As It Is Today (1981)
Winter Songs (1979)
Hopes and Fears (1978)


Western Culture (1978)
Concerts (1976)
Unrest (1974)

Solo Projects

Prints (2002)
Cheap at Half the Price (1983)
Speechless (1981)
Gravity (1980)


Music for Dance and Theatre

Nowhere/Sideshow/Thin Air (2009)
The Happy End Problem (2006)
The Previous Evening (1997)
Accidental (1996)
Allies (1996)
Helter Skelter (1991)
The Technology of Tears (1987)

Music for Film

Eye to Ear III (2010)
Touch the Sound (2005)
Eye to Ear II (2004)
Rivers & Tides (2003)
Eye to Ear (1997)
Middle of the Moment (1995)
Step Across the Border (1990)
The Top of His Head (1989)

As Improviser

Long as in Short, Walk as in Run (with Annie Lewandowski) (2011)
Late Works (with John Zorn) (2010)
To Sail, To Sail (solo) (2008)
Unsquare (Maybe Monday w. Gerry Hemingway, Carla Kihlstedt, Ikue Mori, Zeena Parkins) (2007)
Cutter Heads (with Chris Brown) (2007)
The Compass, Log and Lead (with Carla Kihlstedt & Stevie Wishart) (2005)
All is bright but it is not day (with Pierre Tanguay & Jean Derome) (2002)
Dearness (with Anne Bourne and John Oswald) (2002)
Whisperings (with Michel Wintsch & Franziska Baumann) (2001)
Clearing (solo) (2001)
I dream of you jumping (with Louis Sclavis and Jean-Pierre Drouet) (2001)
Later (with Mark Dresser and Ikue Mori) (2000)
Two Gentlemen in Verona (with Chris Cutler) (2000)
SaturnÕs Finger (1999) (with Maybe Monday)
The Art of Memory (with John Zorn) (1994)
Live in Prague, Washington and Moscow (with Chris Cutler) (1990)
Epiphanies (with Derek BaileyÕs Company) (1985)
Voice of America (with Bob Ostertag and Phil Minton) (1982)
French Gigs (with Lol Coxhill) (1982)
Guitar Solos (1974)


As Composer

The Big Picture (with Arte Quartet, Katharina Weber, Lucas Niggli) (2009)
Still/Urban (with Arte Quartet) (2009)
Back to Life (with the Callithumpian Consort, Joan Jeanrenaud, William Winant, Daan Vandewalle)(2007)
Eleventh Hour (with Arditti Quartet) (2005)
Freedom in Fragments (Rova Sax Quartet)(2002)
Traffic Continues (with Ensemble Modern, Zeena Parkins & Ikue Mori) (2000)
Pacifica (with the Ensemble Eva Kant) (1998)
Helter Skelter (with Que dÕla Gueule) (1992)
Long on Logic (Rova Sax Quartet) (1987)

As guest

Ascension (with Nels Kline, Ikue Mori, Otomo Yoshihide,
Carla Kihlstedt et al) (2005)
Alvin Curran: Lost Marbles (2004)
John Zorn: Xu Feng (2001)
Christian Wolff: Burdocks (2001)
Stefan Tickmeyer: The Science Project (1997)
Looping Home Orchestra: Live (1993)
Naked City: Absinthe (1993)
Naked City: Radio (1993)
Naked City: Grand Guignol (1992)
Naked City: Heretic (1992)

John Zorn: Naked City (1990)
Bob Ostertag: Attention Span (1990)
Heiner Goebbels: Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (1989)
Christian Marclay: More Encores (1988)
John Zorn: Hu Die (1986)
John Zorn: The Big Gundown (1984)
Material: Memory Serves (1981)
The Residents: Commercial Album (1980)
Eugene Chadbourne: 2000 Statues (1979)
Lindsay Cooper: Rags (1979)
Gavin Bryars: Squirrel & the Ricketty-Racketty Bridge (1976)
Brian Eno: Before and After Science and Music for Films (1976)
Robert Wyatt: Ruth is Stranger than Richard (1976)

Audio Library

Etymology (with Tom Cora) (1997)

Many Thanks to Mr. Frith for sharing our ilusion,