What's New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker

(continued)

Shoemaker: Given that improvisers move through different situations constantly, it is natural that materials and methods developed in one setting migrates so to speak, to others. Often, it is not perceived in the moment. In retrospect, are there moments in your respective performances on House of Mirrors that you now realize had origins elsewhere? Have you noticed taking aspects of this body of work into subsequent situations?

Harkins: Obviously I was familiar with the rhythms – I’ve been writing pedagogically oriented rhythm puzzles for years.

For better or worse I am basically lickless, but I definitely have certain predilections.

In terms of orchestration – in attempting to boost the timbral diversity of the trumpet, I have been developing, since the early 60’s, a repertoire of types of sounds and their associated musical implications. I have done some of that in several projects – playing reed trumpet, 2-bell trumpet, modular trumpet, mellophone, piccolo trumpet, slide trumpet. etc., as well as the usual low and high range extensions.

But improvisers seem to love most the unprecedented moments – the phrases, whether they be ensemble or solo, they find charming or somehow captivating - “stuff” mostly stimulated by the community of colleagues. And it was invigorating to experience a kind of starting-over-clean-slate feel that was spawned at this particular recording session.

It’s too soon for me to comment on taking aspects of House of Mirrors into other artistic contexts.

Schick: This is a difficult question since I am not a regularly practicing improviser. That means that my improvising work, whether on HOM or elsewhere, is always a self-contained instance. I have experiences as an improviser but no history (in the sense that history is connected and coherent).On the infrequent occasions when I have improvised I have done so with great artists: Ed and Mark; Fritz Hauser and George Lewis have been partners. Being carried by artists like those makes improvising a joy, but the weight that they bring has meant that I try to join their world, rather than to create one myself.

On the other hand I have always believed that the core values of improvising exist in every musical (and even non-musical) walk of life. Playing a notated piece by Xenakis, or conducting a Beethoven symphony, or even working through the mundane parts of regular life requires that you enter a space where some things are clear and others are not; where there is material to work with, but that material has limitations; that you must react to a sometimes rapidly changing weather system. Are these not also the building blocks of improvising in music?

I come from a long line of farmers, and I suppose that my first real experiences with improvisation involved watching them work. I mean this seriously. Life on a farm is a delicate equilibrium between fixed and accepted aspects of form – you plant in spring, it rains in May; you cultivate in June and so on – and critical, unpredictable shifts that rub against the form – it's too cold to plant when you thought you should; it does not rain and so on. Accommodating a shifting set of instances within a bounded form (although I doubt that my father would have phrased it that way) is what a farmer does and it is what an improviser does. Does it sound odd to say that I first noticed improvisation when I watched my father walk out onto a thawing field and rub the dirt between his fingers to see if it felt like the right time to start planting? Well, there is at least this in common: with improvising as with farming it only counts if roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

Dresser: Once again I must credit the influence of Ed Harkins on my own compositional thinking for over twenty years. Ed's rhythms demonstrate multiple approaches to notation and the complex, swinging, interchangeability of rhythm, pulse, meter, and tempo.

I must cite the work of Charles Mingus, Conlon Nancarrow, Harry Partch, Anthony Braxton, and Evan Parker among others whose music has indirectly impacted my contribution to House of Mirrors. I am aware of the continuum of collaboration and of sharing ideas with my long time colleagues and friends whose influence travels into this project. Composer Anthony Davis, whose harmonic ideas exist within a matrix of phasing meters. I have spent so many hours exploring rational and intuitive metric modulations with my rhythm section partner, drummer Gerry Hemingway. Also Earl Howard, who first articulated to me the need to codify one's personal vocabulary and how to connect this information in a larger context of musical organization. Also, Denman Maroney with whom I've spent so many hours over years improvising together, identifying textures, composing pieces, and posing both intuitive and rational musical interactions including swinging metric modulations and three and four voice polyrhythmic cycles. There's one piece, within HOM, called "Harkemony" which is based on a reduction of one of Ed's rhythms and a three voice polyrhythmic cycle that is a nod to both Ed and Denman.

Our music, which combines improvisation, composition and repeated performance, is so inherently communal. Even if one or more people compose the pitch or rhythmic code, it is the performance experience with particular musicians, which bring it to life and give its unique identity. Our accumulated experience both as 'makers of music' as well as listeners and students of music, travels with us into each subsequent situation. This is one of the great joys of continuing in music, to keep on learning, inventing, accumulating, to push one's own boundaries, with others.

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