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“The poetry of possibility”

Interview Hildegarde Kleeb & Roland Dahinden

I am a classically trained pianist. I played Beethoven, Schubert, Bach. I did my studies in classical music but I was always since a kid was interested in contemporary music. I started to do just contemporary music. A lot of composers composed pieces for me. I collaborated with composers such as Anthony Braxton. Roland and I lived in Connecticut and we were actually neighbours of Anthony Braxton. I recorded all his piano music from '68 to '88. A four CD set and we had a wonderful friendship and collaboration and I learnt a lot from him. Coming back to Europe other composers would write pieces for me. And one day I thought I want to do my own music I don't need always composers writing for me. My favourite thing is improvisation and doing my own music.


My background is Anthony Braxton's music and I love Morton Feldman's piano music. It is very spacey, abstract music with beautiful sounds. I love sounds. I see the piano as a sound object.

Where did your style of piano, improvisation creativity come from?

I am married to Roland Dahinden and he used to be a jazz musician so I have jazz influences but also from contemporary classical techniques, what I have learnt in pieces written for me and I mix all different styles together. I just go on a journey when I am playing. I smell sounds and I listen to the surroundings and I listen to my imagination. On this trip we went to the Museum of Africa and seeing the apartheid exhibition and speaking to people and listening to the birds, I try to be in the moment in the place where I am and just open my mind and my imagination and my senses and I try to catch the sound and go on a journey.

Is there a spiritual aspect?

Why not…

Is there something that makes your music Swiss?

I am born in Switzerland and live in Switzerland but I am not interested in being Swiss or being European or being African. I am being a human being. It is so nice to play with other musicians like Carlo and Thebe and create a world, our own world, our own micro cosmos and macro cosmos together.

Is that cosmos expanding for other people to join?


Yes I hope so, listeners are enjoying it and jump on the train and laugh and smell the sounds and enjoy it and have a good time and start to think about things. But I am not a priest I am just a human being playing with others together.

Interview Hildegarde Kleeb and Roland Dahinden 06/03/15

How did you meet Carlo?

Hildegarde says,

Cameron who we are playing with, with the computer, he did the Indaba festival in 2011 and he invited us. First we were invited to play Swiss and European composers and we said we would like to play together with people from the place. Cameron organised us to have a concert with Carlo Mombelli, Samora Ntsebeza , Lucas Ligeti . Also we wanted to have a workshop together with people from townships. We did concerts with the people from the townships, Alexandria township.

Roland says,

They just loved it. It was an ensemble of about a dozen musicians. And we improvised together and they just loved it.

Hildegarde says,

There was a dancer that found out while doing this. He said, I love this music. I would love to dance with the music. And one was a painter. And he said he wanted to do the drawings of the concert. He did drawings of everybody. At the end of the concert the floor was filled with papers of every musician playing.

Roland says,

It was conducting improvisation. There are signs to merge the ensemble and signs to go out of the ensemble as a kind of soloist. In the beginning we didn't have anything on paper. We had empty white paper. Later on we showed all the drawings. This was quite cool.

Do you do workshops in Switzerland, how do you compare the youth?

Roland says,

We just did a workshop the day before yesterday at Wits University and the students were so fresh, completely open and very vivid. They really did go for it. There was so much energy. They were curious and keen to participate. They wanted to play. In some universities in Europe, not always, the students are sometimes a bit slow and not so curious, not so open, not really going for it.

Hildegarde says,

Maybe a bit spoilt…

That is interesting because some people say the audiences in Europe are better?

Roland says,

At the concert at Wits, the audience was great because there was such an energy in the space in the concert hall. I felt very good vibes from the audience. They were very concentrated and this is just wonderful.

Hildegarde says,

We really love to come here and we hope this work is going on. We are looking for an exchange. People can come to our place.

Roland says,

The other day when we did the workshop at Wits, quite a few students recognised us, came to us, walked to us, talked to us, said it was a wonderful concert and asked questions. A wonderful experience being here. And this includes the audience. Great people.

What is that instrument you played? We have also got the kudu horn …

Roland says,

The Alphorn horn is about 10 feet long. It is quite a long kudu horn. By tradition it is made from wood. It is just a pine tree with a big hole in it. I played at the concert a modern version which is made out of carbon fibre. It is just a tube. You have a fundamental tone which in my horn is F natural. And from there on you have the harmonies, the overtones which you get by producing the sound with the lips with more tension. The more tension the faster the air flow. I started it when I was 18 and I was studying trombone, classical and jazz. I started to ask my specifics in my culture. Why I am doing music, what should I do, who I am and some basic questions. I picked up the Alpine because it is traditional at home. And I learnt to play the traditional songs since I am looking for the other and different I started to do my own music with the Alpine horn always with respect to our beautiful and great tradition. It is a signal horn in the Alps.

What is the influence of Anthony Braxton?

Roland says,

Our relationship with Anthony Braxton started in 1992. Between 1992 and 1995. I did my masters at Wesleyan University Connecticut where he teaches. And at that time I was his student, his assistant. Did photocopies for him and we played together on a weekly basis. We played in a duo, trio, quartet, up to big opera. We did several recordings with Hildegarde.

Hildegarde says,

I already told you I did all his piano works that he recorded between '68 and '88. I really love his piano music. Anthony said once his favourite instrument is the piano. Since he was not able to play piano, he played saxophone. And on the horn he tried to search for a sound referring to the piano. For me those piano pieces are from the saxophone sound of his musical background. Wind music. I am also searching on the piano for different sounds to go out of the piano. I am very thankful to Anthony that I had the possibility to play his music. It helps me on the way of searching for my own sound. That is what Anthony always does. He is searching for his own sound.

Roland says,

One and a half year ago was our last collaboration we recorded in the States a 4 CD set, Anthony on the saxophones, Hildegarde on the piano, a computer who reacted on our music and me on the trombone and Alphorn. Each time we come together it is so fruitful to play with him and learn from his playing. I learn a lot. He is a super nova as I say. In cosmology you would say Anthony Braxton is a super nova. Back to your question about the titles. Each composition has a number. For example 136, or 758. He gives to each piece as a title a little drawing. When you see CD's you have a number and on each piece a little drawing.

Hildegarde says,

And you can mix each composition. You can play composition number 5 together with 255. You can combine things.

Roland says

Anthony told me once, I quote now Anthony, “I was thinking how can I move my music and me from the earth to the moon and then I discovered the music of John Cage … these guys already left the solar system they are so far head. This brought me to the point where I completely opened my system to all and everything.” Meaning up to that moment he wrote composition X … He then said he completely got rid of that idea and said all pieces are combined with all other pieces and are playable with any kind of instruments.

Hildegarde says,

It is also a cosmological idea as everybody is connected with everybody. The soul is connected with every soul and every being on earth is combined. This has different backgrounds. It has also an African background. And also there are influences from composers like Stockhausen and John Cage. Many different backgrounds are coming together in this. He is a very open minded spirit.

If all the compositions are inter-related does every composer have one composition in them…?

Hildegarde says,

Yes, that is a way of looking at it. It can be true. You can also see it with all the cosmos. Anthony sometimes has this expression, ‘take exit 31.' Or take another exit, exit 1. You just move around and you are in another star. The compositions they have different characters. They are quite different. They are just a part of the cosmos.

Roland says,

There are philosophical aspects to it and cultural aspects. You can say everything is connected with everything. Everyone is connected with everyone. There is a certain trueness to that. Then there is the artistic aspects to it which as a composer and or improviser you are looking for the specifics. Say when I play I hope I sound in every concert a bit different. Oh Dahindren is playing on the trombone. But still I hope I sound each time a bit different. And I try to be open to where I am in my playing. There are the specifics. We play with Carlo Mombelli and Thebe Lipere and this influence is huge when you improvise. Everyone comes with their own background on stage. What is the acoustic of the space, does the acoustic influence you? Do you feel the vibes of the audience? This has an impact on your playing. Where are you? We are in Joburg. Does this impact on my playing when I visit Zulu markets with dead animals hanging around with herbs and stuff. It is quite different then say Zurich in Switzerland.

Does jazz and classic meet in improvisation?

Hildegarde says,

My point of view is from searching for this sound. I want to go out of the classical tradition. As I grew up there were a lot of wind instruments in my family. I still have this wind sound in my soul. Roland is playing trombone and hearing him working the trombone, the daily work, I am influenced my sound on the piano. And then playing Anthony's music. I take his jazzy sound in my way of playing the piano. And also I was listening to a lot of jazz music with a different concept of rhythm. Just listening to that it slowly influences my music, my concept of rhythm and beat and time. I am not going to be a jazz musician. I am not able to be a jazz musician. I don't want. I am looking for my own way of playing. But I love to take the influences, any influence.

Roland says,

For me it is a bit different. I studied jazz, the bebop tradition, wind tradition etc. together with classical music. I think it is quite different trombone to piano. When you study classical piano, piano literature is so rich and huge it is overwhelming. A life is not enough to master the classical piano tradition. Trombone is very different. The genre is very small. The classical genre is very small. In the second half of the 19 th century it started to bloom. When you compare it to the classical genre, or violin, it is tiny tiny. So, it is easier to get in contact with jazz and beyond. I was always interested in the jazz music and the classical music from the beginning and I studied both and then beyond that it is a question of character, who are you? I tried to go beyond jazz music and bebop and similar tradition and then you end up in an open space where you can't say anymore, is this now coming from jazz, is this now coming from classical music. Is it coming from popular culture or is it coming from a soundscape or is it coming from indigenous music. You just there try to learn to be constantly open and try to learn to absorb all sorts of influences and that is the tricky thing without being superficial and loosing yourself.

Hildegarde says,

And also a big influence on my music are visual arts. I always was interested in visual arts. And I see the piano as itself is a sculpture. I see the piano music as a sound body, the piano as a sound box. And that is how I want to see my music. It is like a sculpture. I work with the sculpture. It is in space. It can be a soundscape. There are a lot of influences. I see the music visually also.

Can you comment on your approach to rhythm?

Roland says,

Everything can happen. We rehearse together. We were looking for sounds, specifics, but it does not mean that we got to repeat it on stage. And finally we didn't. So what we played was completely unique to us at the concert. The next concert hopefully will be again very different to the Wits university concert hall. One of the rhythms, clearly Carlo was triggering on the bass. And he triggered it with quite a noisy kind of sound on the fretless bass. And later on one rhythm I started with. But it can be an irregular rhythm at the beginning. You start with an open context and step by step it gets filled in and filled up. More and more you build it up that you get a groove. That groove may or may not bloom up.

Hildegarde says,

For me this moment when you get rhythmical, you can really feel their jazzy background. It is always for me a challenge but I really like it. I am really not a jazz musician but then I have to deal with it. I go with them and if I want to play in a jazzy way it would not be very good. SO I try to find the possible in my way and deal with it. This ca give an interesting view. Also I am trying to break their concept of rhythm because if you go in a jazzy direction it can get really boring and then I am also lost. It is like different people from different backgrounds coming together and having a conversation together which they can understand. I love these moments.

Roland says,

This brings me to a very important moment. When we play together it is a special moment. There are many aspects of space and music. When we build it up to a grove, we play a groove. Thebe, Carlo and I we can play jazz jazz. And Hildegarde is coming from a more open, improvised classical background. When we play that groove, the groove must have enough space for all of us and for Hildegarde's approach so she can fit into that space o the groove. The groove can be quite closed. So you have to be in that very distinctive language of the groove. Or the groove can be an attitude. It might be the same speed, or the same rhythm, it is an attitude how to play it and you leave enough space for everyone in the ensemble to add something, change something. This is quite different to jazz jazz. (He starts snapping his fingers to a beat and walking the bass with his song, doo be doo). It goes down the alley, no matter what, vroom.

Hildegarde says,

And then you play within the clichés, but hear you try to break down the clichés and open it up. Looking for freedom.

Roland says,

I say that with all respect if course. When I say jazz jazz I mean the bebop tradition. When a musician plays bebop and they play good, I admire that a lot. I know there is an incredible work behind that. A great craftsmanship and mastership. I say it with all respect. But in relationship to our standpoint and our music of course.

Do you write your own composition?

Hildegarde says,

People were writing music for me a lot. This was a very specific type of music, with their own notation. I was more and more packed within doing what they wanted me to play and function in their way of thinking. I didn't find my own freedom in some of their music. There are composers who write material for freedom such as Anthony Braxton. I thought wait a moment I am not interested any more in functioning in someone else's thinking I want to be free and do my own stuff. I improvise, sometimes I write. I still play music written by composers, I still love Morton Feldman. I am now going to have a project with a Japanese pianist. She is also a friend of Jill Richards, we are going to play compositions written for piano four hands. Two Japanese composers and two woman playing in Switzerland, one is from Serbia and one is from Siberia. They write pieces for us. I ask them to write them for the dup and for me the way I want to play music. It is a collaboration. It is very fruitful.

Does your composition come out of improvisation?

Roland says,

I am a composer, I do compose. I have just finished a piece for 8 percussionists. I write for string quartets etc. This is little bit different to Hildegarde and me. When we are playing together in a duo. Our last CD is inspired by the paintings of Jackson Pollock. It is called Recall Pollock. It is on Leo records. In our dup music, the notation is just there to remember which direction we go. We play the work. Composition I understand as notated music. The notation is a vehicle to give someone else a clear idea about your music. But when you play the music yourself it might not be necessary to write everything down, or anything down.

The best is when we send you our CD's. Some of the CD's are with my compositions. One is with a string quartet. The music is inspired by different visual artists and there my idea is very linked to what Hildegarde said before her about her situation of being an interpreter of contemporary music. I try to be very clear in my compositional work. Say, composition X, the last one Navigate… It is for me a political understanding that I do not push the interpreters under my thumb. Very clear in your composition but still have it open enough that the interpreters can find themselves and find freedom in their interpretation of the composition. There is enough space for specifics like who is the guy who plays it, how is he tonight. Is he different to how he was the day before. And how is the acoustics? Again these questions. Not to take the interpreter under the thumb and push push …

You talked about the exchange you wanted to create with South Africa?

Cameron invited us. That was the beginning and then we had a rehearsal at Jill Richard's house and we just met. She was working on the Concorde Sonata. Something happened and she couldn't play it in the concert and we said you have to come to Switzerland and play it we want to listen to it. She came to Switzerland. We invited her and things came out of it. We had a friendship. Carlo invited us here and we invited Cameron to come. And now we are here this one week. We had the Wits concert, the big concert and we have the small concerts. We are living within the Joburg community meeting a lot of people. Today we are going to visit a friend of Jill's whose husband was a very important visual artist and everyday we are meeting people and trying to learn for each other. Cameron is planning to come over again by the end of the year and have a few concerts in Switzerland. One week ago we were in Soweto at Buskaid. We meet there and Roland did a concert with a big band of young people. A benefit concert of Buskaid and one string player from Buskaid came to play with the big band in Switzerland and we want to keep an exchange going on. Tomorrow we go again to Buskaid and we also visit Thebe's place where he has concerts. Maybe have a concert there next year. We keep things going and open it.

Roland says,

We play tonight and tomorrow two concerts with Cameron Harris. Hildegarde and I we have a trio. We rehearse everyday. He on the computer. We try to develop our own language. This takes time. We have a week of rehearsals in Switzerland and now a week of rehearsals here in South Africa and there we go we build it up more and more.

Hildegarde says,

For us it is a research. To be hear feeling the vibrations.

Roland says,

It is very much about interchange, learning is an interchange. I learn from Cameron, Thebe, Carlo and hope they learn something from me. It is beyond personality. It is a cultural background. Me with a Swiss background, especially when I play Alphorn. And Thebe plays with his wonderful crazy percussion instruments from a totally different background. It is so wonderful to learn from each other.

Hildegarde says,

It is also nice discussing with Thebe. He used to live in Europe for fourty years and then it is easier to communicate. We have already something in common. Sometimes you don't have this similar background. You are very different. It is harder work. It is beautiful to try and find a way of communication.

Will the exchange reach further into other countries?

Roland says,

This is our second time in South Africa. Of course we play in different countries. In April we will be in Japan to realise works and concerts there. It is very normal to musicians in general in improvised music and jazz beyond. I believe improvisation is the worldwide language per se. There is no other language where you can speak with other people no matter what background and no matter what culture they come from. Improvisation is a wonderful language to communicate with. It is a perfect art form to travel with.

Hidegarde says,

I can feel this is only the beginning.

Someone said jazz is the classical music of the 20 th century. Is improvisation the classical music of the 21 st century?

Roland says,

The 21 st century is quite young. I am not such a fan of the term classical music. We could consider jazz as the major fruit or move in music in the last century. I believe something which is typical for post modern is things are not so divided from each other as they were in the modern. And that opens up new possibilities. Improvisation I believe the acoustical vehicle for that. Because broadly speaking, everything can happen and there is no other form in music where everything can happen. I think it is a great form to communicate with all barriers of music or any art form. You can improvise with light, colour, movement, temperature etc.

We have been lead to believe that music is the mother of all arts. But now you make me feel all arts can come together. It is a different philosophy.

Roland says,

Sure, there is no barrier between artists. There is no reason to say music is more valuable than visual art or dance or whatever. There is no value, no judgement. It is all on the same level. All participants no matter what the background, discipline, only that they come together on complete equal footing. Absolutely this is very important. No hierarchy. Hierarchy is shit. All on the same level. It comes back to Anthony Braxton, he is such a super-nova. But he is so totally full of respect when you play with him, it is on the same level. This serves as a base to reach for a fruitful music which has a positive impact on society. We are in an energy field, a morphic field that changes all the time.

Hildegarde says,

We have to be very humble to learn from each other.


 

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Interview Jill Richards

It was something I never really thought about because when you think classical music and improvisation, you tend to think Baroque because of the whole improvisation tradition there. I don't play a Baroque instrument. I have played quite a lot of Bach in my time, but not the other stuff because there is no point, I think it sounds fab on the piano.

Do you know Zim Ngqawana? For some reason he got in touch with me and he said he wanted to work with me. He must have known that I work a lot with new music. I felt like a complete idiot because I knew who ZIm was. And I am so grateful. He was talking a lot about Ornette Coleman who I think was one of his big heroes. It was quite beautiful working with him because I showed him a lot of pieces by Kurtag. I don't know if you know Kurtag's music? He wrote these books called Yatekok, which means games. They are designed as teaching for kids, but not like teaching normally. It is about exploring piano. A lot of the pieces are one page long and anyone can play them. Zim got totally taken by that. We did a gig at Nirox.

The next big push into it for me was Georges Pfruender who used to be head of school of arts at Wits. A fantastic man, a Swiss guy. He left but what a totally brilliant inspiring guy. He is a great networker and he put me in touch with this Swiss drummer composer, called Christophe Fellay. And I went to Switzerland for something and I had a meeting with Christophe without instruments and we talked and talked for hours. It was obvious we shared the same kind of values and things. We just liked each other a helova lot which is not essential for music making. There was a very nice connection. Christophe came here on a residency and he said he just wanted to hear me play some stuff. And I was messing around on the piano. And he wrote some chords down. I think it was later, I was back in Switzerland and he presented me with this basic material and said now let's improvise on these or use them as starting points to serve as an element of structured improvisation and free. I wasn't feeling very confident because I knew there was so much of this stuff going around Europe, because it is the next thing. There is a helova lot. There is a London improvisers orchestra and so on. It is so different from here. What set me on my path was Christophe said you bring such a great energy because you come from Joburg and we all know what Joburg is. It is a kind of mad city, but it is a great space, especially creatively if you open yourself up to what is around. It is super inspiring. I never looked back. We have a lovely partnership going.

And then I did some stuff with an artist Marcus Neustetter . We were improvising to each other. As an artist what he would do is improvise on a pad of paper with pens and he had a microscope which was plugged into a USB port and the monitor of the computer became my visual score. That was pretty amazing. Joao Orecchia and I have good stuff going. Joao is a sound artist and stuff. I have play dates. I don't know if you know Samora Ntsebeza. Mpho Molikeng. He works with traditional instruments from Lesotho a lot. And there is a sound guy, Jannis Kouche, I have also worked with and some of them are just about the joy of making music. And some of them are more focused like in the case of Joao, we will take it further. And there is this women, Charlotte Klug who just came from Switzerland, who is based in Zurich. She is a viola player and she uses amazing extended vocal techniques. She paints these scores and stuff. That is another collaboration.

What is the music?

Gosh, I know what it is but it is hard to describe. My sense when I improvise is about being acutely sensitive to sound and to sometimes happy or unhappy accidents. And to be in a very present state, so that when that happens, I can respond very creatively to that and not react. I think at the same time it's quite important to have a deep innate sense of the thing having some sort of a shape or direction or flow. Sometimes I hear people improvise and I think they are just making lots of bits of noise. When I practicing written music, it is very important to have a sense of the thread that runs through the music. That is structure but it is also a deep intelligent feeling thread. I think one requires that with improvisation. On the one hand you can be very flexible and on the other hand you have a knowledge of what has happened before. SO the whole thing is coherent and it has a coherent whole even in this unplanned manner. I think with an audience member, I think it requires an interesting listening in that you need to be very present in each moment which is surprisingly difficult to do as we all know, because it is easy to get distracted and your eye wanders and the next minute your brain wanders with it. It is to have that and also in parallel with the performer hold that aural memory so that you can have that deep nonverbal sense of the work as a piece. You know like when Carlo and the guys played there were moments there where I was completely transported because they all so connected and they are inhabiting a kind of parallel world where there is no speech and often no eye contact. They have got this deep musical connecting. I think it is also about musical integrity. Musical integrity is the basic requirement. You have that and that will give the coherence. That is the foundation.

What is the Joburg energy you say you bring. Is it what makes you unique?

It is probably a combination of things. My own personality. And I love the un-inhibition of improvising which is not to say you can do anything you like. Depending on who I am working with it is like taking things to extremes of repetition and dynamic and pushing it even further. I really enjoy doing that. I really love Joburg even though I hate it sometimes. You sit in the traffic and there are twenty taxi drivers and you just wish you had a fucking flame thrower to take them out or whatever, but there is a lot of friendliness and warmth and open-ness and it is an energetic city. I don't know if you pick up on it. I walk up to 7 th street and I go up to Lucky Bean and there will be people having conversations. You can go up to folk and everyone talks a bit louder, laughs a bit louder. I think it is that. I wouldn't call it raw-ness, but no-one has the time to be too refined but there is a lot of energy. And it is also about not feeling bound by convention. That is what pushes that part of me. I worked with a turntablist in Berlin. We did a gig last year. An amazing guy. I was presented with this piano. It was a hundred years old. It worked, it was just not a great piano. Then I suddenly thought. It is perfect because I could really do what I like. I can kind of slap it and play it hard. I didn't damage the piano in anyway but I felt completely in my element because who needs to be inhibited? Societies tend to iron out those things a little bit. On the whole it doesn't generally do to shout too loudly. It is out of consideration for other people that we behave quite well. Oh fuck that I can behave how I like in music.

Is silence the default position for improvised music?

No, I don't think silence is a default. That tends to separate the grownups from the children. People tend to play and play and play because they haven't learnt. It is something you learn more easily with written music because silence is part of the music. It really really is. It is not a passive part. It is not like a blank on a page. It is like white in a picture. Silence is such a beautiful thing in an improvisation because it enables you, there are so many responses one can have to it. It is not a default, it is a very active thing. It is like a John Cage silence.

How as a student do you incorporate that into your practice?

If I am playing written music, the silence has a function. With written music the function is the composer new exactly what he or she is doing and if they wrote a silence, there is a musical reason. It has a purpose. For instance sometimes it can be a purpose of surprise or rest. Or other times when I am working in the silence I find I have to be super present and hold that musical tension through the silence so that one comes afterwards makes complete musical logical sense. It is a very active functional thing. And I think the same with improvisation that is how it should be, it is not just taking a break, it is remaining in that musical intent space.

Is there restraint?

No. It is not about restraint. It is about having a deep sense that this is what the music needs. And then being in the music so that when you finish with the silence it is actually just part of the same thread. I think if it were restraint, it wouldn't have a musical function again and for me that would be enormously problematic. When you sit down to play Boulez or improvised, it all has to have a meaning or a purpose. Have intention.

How do you find computer as an instrument?

I haven't done enough with computers. Here it is a musical instrument. Joau and I were playing o that Friday night, he is doing a lot of sound processing with the computer. I think Cameron was doing the same when he and Roland and Hildegarde were playing. I had a play date with Joao the other day and he was doing astonishing things with his computer but it was all from sounds that I generated from the piano. I have done other things with ring modulation, but again that is more like processing. I would love to do something where it is more active where the computer is generating stuff or maybe if someone has their own samples and makes those as a musical source, rather than responding to an analogue piano or a trumpet or whatever.

My understanding of a musical instrument is it offers a meditation for the player to express themselves and aid them in their process. I am wondering how the computer fits into the music?

The one in Grahamstown he wasn't actually processing sounds there. He was just working with levels and stuff like that. All of the sounds were natural sounds. He sat down with the six of us and said I want to hear what your instrument can do what you don't normally do. So, that is why some of the stuff sounded really weird. The guitarist Reza completely de-tuned his guitar and he was using rattles and stuff. But Francisco was not really manipulating the sound as much as working with levels.

In some ways I don't know enough to answer the question, but my feeling is that if it can make music it is cool. A computer always depends on whose operating it.

Can a beginner musician step right into improvising?

Absolutely. Do you know Buskaid? I am very involved with Buskaid. I have seen Rosemary in classes and she teaches improvisation. This is all very much in a tonal context. The kids al learn it in class and they start with really simple stuff so by the time they are a bit older they are completely comfortable with it. If I were to teach kids now I would do something very similar. And absolutely get them in right at the front end. The other thing that it does is it hugely enlightens your practice of playing whatever, Boulez, or Brahms or Stockhausen. It is like having another powerful torch shining on that music. Those beginner kids wont be as good as Roland and Hildegarde because they don't have the experience of improvising and also they don't have the physical technique because that has to be learnt. You have got to have a great technique to be an improviser. I work hard on my technique. You have to be able to do anything. If your body and your ear says X. And your finger says no, that is not okay.

What do they teach them at Buskaid?

For instance with the little babies who are completely cute, in the violin classes they will be playing open strings, so they will play ba bum pum. And the kids will have to do an improvisation on that so they will do ba bum bum pum and ba bum ba pum baa. It is simple, but it is taking the material and taking something knew like that. So that is how it starts and it gets more complex. But that is what little pianists should be doing.

When you improvise do you have a basic structure?

No, that is because we are all quite experienced. It is about listening and being very open. I think that is an important thing about improvisation. Personality goes out the window. You can't come in there with your ego and say I am a fabulous pianist sort of thing. What is beautiful about it in a way is that music is not about ego, it is about music. We serve the music. And with improvisation that is totally clear because if I wanted to do be a pianist when I was playing with Joao, it would be horrible because then it becomes like a contest. It is kind of clear in a way.

With traditional music it is rhythm, melody and harmony. But with improvised music, rhythm seems sporadic, melody also sporadic. So, what is the music? Or, what is music?

It is about listening to the sounds and making yourself open to perceive the coherence of those sounds and the relationships between the sounds. That is as close as I can get. There will be rhythmic things set up but as you say they are sporadic. So, in a way there is nothing to hold onto. I think it is about your trust in yourself as a listener and having an open-ness. The music will almost come to you. I know when I listen to something knew I use that thing of clear the mind and just sit and listen and don't judge. Listen very openly and allow sensations or thoughts to come in. It is not like trying to nail anything down. It is about trusting yourself as a listener so at the end you can think, wow that was pretty amazing or wow that was a load of shit.

Improvised music is something that is expanding and gong t be more popular in the future. Can you see how it is going to achieve that?

I don't feel very optimistic about this country. Someone like Carlo is amazing and he is a real figurehead. That improvisation he was doing that night at the Great Hall was staggering, but there are not Carlo's on every block. I don't know any other pianist in the country who is doing what I do. There are people like Siya Makuzeni who does amazing stuff with her voice but it tends to be in a jazz context which is not to say I don't respect her work. It is very nice. What I do think though, it has been at the back of mind and I can't decide what to do with it. In a country where there is so little devoted to the arts in terms of resources, there is God knows how many million people who have musical talent who don't have an outlet for it other than choirs; choirs are amazing. I did some teaching in Zurich and I was big on this thing of found instruments. So I told all these students to go out on the streets of Zurich and look for rubbish. There is no rubbish in Zurich. If this was Joburg they would have walked in with a treasure trove. I have been thinking, wouldn't it be amazing if there was a space where you could do stuff like that. Say to people make something. And then let's start with a rhythm or whatever. But, I think it would be a way into the joy's of making music, but also to get into that thing of free-ing up an improvising space because it is always in a jazz context. There are fabulous people out there but this is for the not jazz. I think that would be amazing and I just don't know how to do it.

Can the improvised revolution touch those who are sitting alone at home?

If you are using found instruments they will be quite limited musically, so then you do need to get together with people and have a jam session or a play date. I think you need people to drive it, keep it going, inspire people. It is another form of teaching I guess. My thinking also comes out of the fact that I have been with Buskaid. It takes 15 years of teaching minimum to produce a professional player. Even if they are not professional it is someone who is competent on their instrument so they can play it so it can give them pleasure. That is something that is very expensive and very resource hungry. You have go to have an instrument and preferably have a mommy and daddy that are supportive of you. Some of those kids, there home circumstances are really difficult with not enough food to eat, that kind of scenario. That is when I think if you have someone of 20 or 25 who are musical, but where do you go with this. Wouldn't it be lovely if there were a space and a structure to produce something alternative that doesn't involve expensive, fragile, high maintenance Western instruments. I think there is so much musical talent in this country it is staggering.

 

 

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