by Lenin Simos, Jun 2008 (Adelaide, Australia)
– first of all, what are some of the key factors which contributed to your beginning your new line of works? have you started from scratch or so to speak, or moreover have you redefined existing practices and applications to the new works? in this instance, does ‘space’ refer to spatial and sonic zones (i.e. composition, structure, and especially silence), as well as literally using space as a buffer zone – space from your past works? was there one specific epiphany that led to your changing directions or was it a cumulative process?
Basically, i realized that my previous line of works was complete. In other words, i felt i would start repeating myself and rely on a formula from then on.
Since i have aversion to repeating myself, i decided to terminate it and start something new. This was by the time i was finishing Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance in late 1999. At least in my mind i thought i was going to start from scratch, but in the (long) process of deciding what to do i observed that some aspects of my practice continued – i was unable to get rid of myself – but most of the thinking and way of working changed radically. It took me until 2004 to figure out what this new thing would be, but i am still refining concepts and will continue learning and understanding…
The use of the word “space” has really no connection to the previous works. You’re right, it’s a metaphor for silence. Sound rarefaction equals space, sound saturation equals lack of space. But there’s plenty of other angles too. In fact, we can apply it to anything that can be saturated: Physical space, aural space, mental space, visual space, musical space, etc. The Space Program thus becomes a way of positioning myself with respect to how everything becomes saturated in our society, from the way we’re sistematically stimulated to consume any and everything to how scarce and expensive physical space is, from radio’s horror for silence to musicians tending to play without interruption and ignoring the vast field of meaningfulness that silence is.
– when did you begin experimenting with electronics and sounds, and when did you first begin to modify electronic apparatus? was it something with which you experimented as a youngster?
I became fascinated with the sound transforming possibilities of electronics early on, quite before i could afford any gear. The electric guitar was a natural gateway into live electronics and it still remains one of the most versatile instruments today. I became interested in hacking and modifying stuff when i first visited STEIM in Amsterdam back in 1995. It was really inspiring to see engineering expertise put to service at cracking things up and putting them to different uses than what they were designed for.
– how much trial and error/experimentation/rehearsal do you engage in when using new equipment? can you tell me a little about the schematics of the apparatus with which you will be performing? has anybody other than yourself customised and/or modified equipment for you? is it appropriate too for us to call you an instrument builder?
When it comes to define a new instrument’s lexicon – which is what i always do in order to be prepared to perform with it – i experiment extensively with it and try to map its possibilities, choose which actions and sounds can be used to articulate discourse. When i perform live, i’ve done that “homework” before, but it often happens that with time i discover new possibilities and integrate them.
Schematics? I don’t wish the readers to be bored… well, i’ll perform 3 pieces:
“Space Study 2” is based on a modified portable amp feeding back with a cheap microphone which goes through a light-controlled filter. “Space Study 6” is a new piece performed on a portable twin square wave oscillator routed through a modular filter system and an analog delay. Lastly, i’ll play the last part of “Space Study 5”, a “suite” for mixed electronics. It’s the infamous “bender solo”, on another modified portable amp played with the fingers on the circuit board, almost a found instrument.
So far, nobody has done work for me but that would be nice – there are so many people doing great work with custom electronics, far better than me… it’s a key aspect in my work that the instruments are unique things that don’t come with a manual, and everything i play is either built, modified or customised by myself, but i honestly beieve that my concern with what to do with the instruments is far more relevant than the instruments themselves. A music builder, perhaps…?
– how wide a sonic range (concerning frequency, tone, and pitch) are your apparatus capable of achieving? i understand that ‘simple and clear sonic identity’ refers to the apparatus sound capabilities and i wonder if you are ever surprised by the sounds emanating from the equipment, especially in the live context, or is your practice and preparation time aimed at completely nutting out all sound possibilities? do the concepts of randomness and chance play a key role?
Each instrument has its own sound, its tone and spectrum range. How wide it is is probably not as important as the fact that all of them operate in a free frequency spectrum, not formatted by right and wrong pitches, scales and the like. In other words, they’re all inadequate to deal with the Western system. ‘Simple and clear sonic identity’ refers to a sound that can easily be recognized as belonging to an instrument, the same way you can tell a sax from an organ. I found it a relevant statement to make in electronic music, since it’s so common to have devices producing such vastly diverse sounds that they don’t configure the sound of an instrument – this happens especially with computers.
I do surprise myself with the sounds that instruments make sometimes. But that brings us to another key aspect of the Space Program, which is that none of the instruments allows for full control. They always behave with some degree of unpredictability, there’s a bit of chaos here. I establish a palette of actions and corresponding instrument behavior that i can use as structuring elements of musical discourse. But the exact sound that results from each action is never precisely foreseen. This keeps me free from closing my own lexicon, and also makes performance full of continuous tension. On top of making split-second decisions on phrasing, i also have to adapt/ react to the actual sound i’ve just played.
– am i right to argue that, like jazz and specifically free jazz music, ‘post-free jazz electronic music’, nevertheless defined by a matrix of individual decision-making possibilities, can present recurring/returning sonic motifs (jazz-borrowed ‘heads’, or so to speak), as well as free and non-repeating sounds?
I can indeed produce recurring patterns, always irregular and never repeating, because of the nature of the instruments i just explained. However, i don’t use ‘heads’, for motifs appear in phrasing as part of a continuum. There are structural developments and parts of discourse with specific character, that’s as close as i may get to that idea. Actually i’m not interested in it. I definitely embrace discourse development not as variations on a given structure, but as variations on the very performing condition itself.
– is this field of music separate to/an extension of standard notions of jazz playing and perhaps (free) improvisation, and in some ways does it in fact overlap?
It’s not separate, i would risk saying it’s a sort of extension, since is takes jazz playing as a model, more than free improvisation which i would describe as improvisation without system. I am interested in a system, and for this matter we could describe jazz as improvisation with a system. The strength i find in a system is that you can use it as a tool to coherently develop your own discourse and stick to it, whereas in “free” improvisation it’s more common to play depending on where the wind is blowing.
But i see myself as contributing more to electronic music than to jazz, there are so many post-free jazz developments i have total respect for, i try to keep from being pretentious to the point of proposing to bring something to a vast culture that i respect and that is not the one i originated from. Electronic music, however, is my home and i feel more confident about proposing new practices to it.
Anyway, ‘post-free jazz electronic music’ generally means electronic music informed by post-free jazz, at the same time that ‘post’ implies that there is some kind of consequence or development. It’s actually an imaginary development of jazz history from the late 1960’s with a deep use of electronics with free jazz as a starting point. Electronics did become more widely used, but integrated in a different development, that of jazz-rock, resulting (as a structuring paradigm) in performance based on keyboard instruments (with a vertical pitch grid) played on a regular beat (with a horizontal time grid), whereas the development i’m pursuing demands the entirely free fields of frequency and time.
– i am especially interested as to how you go about producing group-works in this field. is there a post-Cageian approach to group playing, or perhaps even a post-Zorn (more explicit reference to cues, discipline, ‘solos’, freedom, ‘noise’, etc.) approach?
Sei Miguel, an amazing musician to whom i owe much of what i know, has a vision (and practice) of how group playing can be “unlocked” by using a Cagean notion of open time. I’m slowly developing the “Space Collective”, which will be based on similar principles, but it’s still too early to expand on it, i still have much to learn. There’s another collective unit, the “Space Trio”, which is directly evoking a “classic” free jazz trio but driven at the core by alien electronics. It’s the most visceral region of the Space Program.
– is it then appropriate to refer to it as related to noise musics? i understand that your new works might be difficult to categorise…
Noise music? No! ‘Noise’ is a concept that has no place here, just like ‘note’ has no place either – actually, ‘noise’ doesn’t exist per se, it’s just a disfunctional quality we attribute to sounds in certain contexts. This is, and is meant to be, pure music. Music free from historic and cultural baggage, music made as if there hadn’t been music before (therefore it claims a kind of stylistic innocence). I found a way to describe it as a category, which is “post-free jazz electronic music”. That’s what it is…
– i am also interested in the inference that language and music are both preternatural and universal communicational tools, and that decision-making within music might be related to speech. can you tell me a little more about the links that you perhaps have made between language (human and/or otherwise) and ‘post-free jazz electronic music’.
Music is not language. That said, i can start by admitting that i use several borrowed terms and concepts from language, such as ‘lexicon’, ‘phrasing’ or ‘discourse’. But that’s probably as far as it goes regarding “links”. I am very interested and inspired in the communication abilities and needs of early hominids, before the use of sound had split into the emergence of both music and language. Their sounds would convey both information and emotions of all kinds and would necessarily have had musical qualities even if they didn’t think of it as such, because the concept didn’t exist. But sound communication was key for survival, each sound had a strong reason to be made, it was necessary. I am much interested in the idea that we make sounds for a reason, which implies avoiding unnecessary sounds, the refusal to be “carried away” by one’s own sound and inconsequentially noodling with it. I’m also inspired by the raw nature of tactile action and gesture in a pre-historic perspective.
– i’d also like you to discuss, if you will, the importance of gestural performance as related to your works. is the performance aspect physically as well as psychically demanding? do you/must you enter a particular ‘zone’ or ‘headspace’ when approaching the works? is there perhaps an (un)specific link to religion or spirituality inherent the works?
It’s much more psychically demanding than physically. Physical performance is important to me, it makes sense in my eyes to see what a performer is doing. There are two aspects of gestural performance here, one of them is direct action, the sound-making gesture, and the other is how the body is in flux with the sound. The way your body responds to what you’re playing is part of the expressiveness of the whole thing – not only the music, but your physical presence is expressive too. This is surely nothing new, we don’t need to tell a drummer about the body… but in electronic music the case is different. Most often electronic musicians forget they have a body and don’t think about why they are on stage. To me, music is human action. In our times we need awareness and action, and how i understand performance is a metaphor for that, while i relate the common practice of having machines running regardless of action to sit idly waiting for things to fix themselves.