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

(continued)

Shoemaker: Approaching the end of a decade – the first in a new millennium, no less – tends to promote retrospection. Looking over your work since 2000, what has fundamentally changed and what has remained somewhat, if not fundamentally the same?

Parkins: I found Bill’s question not easy to answer.  Being asked to seriously consider one’s own work over the course of an entire decade is daunting. Ten years is a long time: long enough to see what you did do - like it or not, and see what you didn’t do – like it or not. (I tried to find a way to respond succinctly, but apparently was unable to encompass a decade in brief.)

What has fundamentally changed?  By 2000 (ten years ago), I had spent my time in New York as a performer developing an improvisational language and exploring a specific “sound,” especially on accordion, processed with analog and digital effects, and on sampler. In the 1990s I had made a couple of records as a leader, with great musicians and a few decent pieces that I wrote. I would say these CDs were OK, and that they represented an attempt to compose in a genre for which I didn’t particularly have a strong affinity. By 2000, outside of my solo and collaborative improv pursuits with NYC-based artists like bagpiper David Watson and others, I think I was known primarily a side-person – mostly in the “avant jazz” - for lack of a better term - context, though it’s true I was lucky to be working with amazing musicians from whom I learn(ed) a lot: Ellery Eskelin and Jim Black.  In the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s, I participated in many interesting and some exciting performing/recording collaborations, (I think, especially with Watson, and later on, guitarist Nels Cline.). However, much as I really enjoyed playing – and still do - in these projects, looking back I think I was passive in not pushing myself to intensify my focus on and honor what I had been thinking about and working on previously as an electronic musician and visual artist. I had previously taken a much more obviously conceptual, and even interdisciplinary, approach in my work, and that approach was still really important to me. By the beginning of the 2000s, I had begun to feel quite fragmented because I could see that I hadn’t been pursing this way of working very consistently or made it a priority. I missed it.

What effected a big change was that I went back to the “drawing board” via several art residencies that I had the opportunity to attend throughout the decade, beginning in 2001. That year, I was invited to a residency sponsored by the Cultural Board in Hamburg, Germany, where I spent a couple of months just thinking and writing about what it was I really wanted to do: sort of reacquainting myself with myself. The following year I was awarded an interactive media residency at Harvestworks– a great digital arts center in New York that supports experimental technology-based audio and visual work, and then in mid-decades spent time at several residencies in Europe. During this period, I considered very seriously how I could integrate the range of inquiry, art forms, and materials that I’d thought about or worked with since the mid-1980s, without forcing them together in some gratuitous way. In 2002, at Harvestworks, I began exploring interactive technology, found new collaborators, and discovered some new tools through which it seemed I could better express what “meaning” means to me (This does seem to be important.): I co-designed a software instrument that is the primary tool with which I now compose and perform, with a programming structure inspired by ideas I have about systems and their potential to fail. And starting in mid-decade, after a long hiatus from making much visual or multi-disciplinary work (a serious pursuit for a quite extended period up until my first few years in NYC), I made an audio/visual installation at a residency in the Czech Republic in collaboration with and encouraged by electronic musician Matthew Ostrowski. I did provide some of piece’s sonic elements via my new software instrument (most of the sound and the programming for its spatialization was Matthew’s work), but also created an interesting visual environment with objects, photography, assemblage, site interventions. The piece related well, I think, to the site for which it was made and its visual aspects had a real reflexive relationship to its sound. It was an exciting, relieving moment for me, letting me know that there was a real possibility for me to re-integrate the materials, thoughts, media I had set aside. In 2007, I made a 10-channel installation for Diapason Gallery for sound in NYC, based on the movement and interaction of physical objects I’d found or made - a piece I felt good about and remixed as my most recent solo CD, Faulty (broken Orbit), on Important Records. In 2008, I began working on a new audio/visual piece, and this year, I composed a live dance score for Vera Mantero, a choreographer whose work I find really interesting. Things are looking more as I had hoped they would.

I would say that after this particular 10 years I’ve come to understand which ideas are most important to me and see that there really is now a consistent conceptual thread in my work, regardless of the medium. I think I have a much better understanding about what I’ve been trying to articulate all this time but about which I maybe wasn’t always fully conscious: what I want to do. This has helped me to re-commit to composing while keeping in my writing the gestural approach to sound-making that has been important to me as an improvising performer. I’m also much more focused on my own projects  -- including multi- or interdisciplinary work.

Most important for me is to keep working on this integration of study/practice I’ve experienced in sound, improvisation, aleatoric and electronic music, language and the visual arts, and to address in some way my reading and thinking about feminist, psychoanalytic and other critical theory – not in a “disconnected” way, but through art and especially in relation to the structure of what I’m making, its materials and language. I can see more and more evidence that – over time – this has begun to happen, and that’s gratifying. In composing, I’m letting sound lead me to structure, form, realization, materials, manifestation, orchestration – not the other way around. I’m allowing myself think about music and sound differently - often in sculptural terms, revisiting ways of working that I haven’t addressed since the early 90s, and this is both pleasurable - and relieving, as I mentioned. And as long as I’m still a performer, I think it’s important to consider what it is to be a performing body – how it feels, what it means, what it sounds and looks like; how it is read by others, and also about who is doing that reading. So I try to find a way to play all of my instruments in ways that reflect this – including laptop electronics - and am creating a series of controller “sculptures” that will allow me to really move, to get up on my feet and to be gestural in the way that I am as an acoustic musician. I’m asking myself anew: what forms and structures and sensations and materials are really important to me, and want to create work that engages with as much of this as possible, even if there are really so many ways (too many?) that I am thinking about this all at once. I actually think that this is OK, and that I should let it happen. (It’s possibly important that I’m reading more again –Morton Feldman’s essays on music and art, Dostoyevsky, and Julia Kristeva:  the first reassures me, the second – oddly - makes me laugh, and the third works on me in ways I can’t write about yet.) It’s a good moment for me: while I feel some urgency to address all this work, I also feel more confident that I can take my time with it so it the will come together in a way that makes sense to me.

What has remained somewhat the same? Well, clearly I still have a lot to say!

As I mentioned, I think that gesture has always been intrinsic to what I do as a performing artist and musician. And I think my first impulse has always been to organize information/materials rather structurally and systematically, even if this isn’t always apparent because somewhere during the process of making something, I usually try to introduce a flaw into the system. I suspect none of this will change. But who knows?

Coxon: eek: that's a hard act to follow.

Anyway …coincidentally 2000 was an important year for me and my partner in music ashley wales.

we released “masses,” our first recording involving a large group of improvising musicians. as we have said elsewhere, one of the key reasons for this change in method[from essentially midi/sample based metrically rigid music to looser more musician orientated composing]was the development of relatively cheap hard disc multitracking.

in 2010 this technology comes as standard with almost any cheap laptop.

when i first started recording twenty years ago,you needed a computer the size of a fridge freezer to edit a stereo DAT master.

nowadays my home laptop can easily cope with 96k recording sessions involving 20 or more inputs………i sat on my bed yesterday and opened up the wadada abbey road protools session and listened to different mix of the whole album just out of interest-on a tiny slim machine .i could do that on a plane trip.

processing speed has changed in a radically useful way.

the development of close musical relationships with many improvising musicians followed on from that recording and i suppose has defined the decade for me.

we met evan parker in 2000[we had asked him to do some overdubs on masses],and through him han bennink etc., who we recorded and toured with in 2003 [along with matt shipp j spaceman and william parker].following on from this, wadada leo smith, john edwards, mark sanders etc.

it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of these people[and many others]on our musical lives.

ashley started the club series 'back in your town' at the sadly defunct red rose labour club [it's now a pool hall]and i started the record label “treader”.between us we recorded albums and put on memorable concerts with john tchicai, matthew shipp, ODIM, han bennink, eddie prevost, amongst many others.

treader has 15 titles now, and i suppose represents most of our work during the decade apart from the 5 thirsty ear recordings.

ashley has stopped playing live – he got fed up with putting concerts on and as a consequence with playing live -- and if i'm honest, this has been the biggest change for me over the decade – i  really miss playing with him.

Oswald: If i may respond to these two questions in reverse order:

What has remained the same?

i tend to progress according to the perspective that my interests and creative investigations have not changed at all since as far back as i can remember. When i was about eight years old i announced to my parents that i intended to grow up to be a nonconformist, and that is the path that i still follow, although now, after half a century it may be more from habit than intention.

Some examples:

As a kid i used to play records at different speeds, with jump cueing, and also with multiple simultaneous sources such as radio and records. I was in a band where a record player was one of the instruments. I would actively tune the radio between stations. This all eventually led to investigations such as plunderphonics, which is the transformation of familiar recordings of music.

Although i never got a pair, i was fascinated by the mail-order advertisement for X-Ray glasses you'd find in comic books. More recently, i have been photographing people in layers of dress and undress, and creating chronophotics: slow visual transpositions through those layers in various still and time-evolving images.

And, after not being able to develop much enthusiasm myself or in others with my attempts to play various musical instruments, as a teenager i began to blow into an alto saxophone, and i liked the feel and the physical fit of the thing, and the fact that i could get quite a few sounds out of it. Forty years later it still is the only musical instrument in my performing arsenal.
As well, i began as an improvisor and i have yet to play any other way. This also effected the way i dance, which i've been doing regularly for almost as long a time.
Time continues to be the perceptual and transformative device i'm most fascinated by.

So, now, the question of what has happened in the past decade.

Well, the most noticeable phenomenon is how quickly the time went by. Does everyone experience this acceleration of the perception of time passing as they age? i feel like it took as long to get to the age of 12 as i've spent in the subsequent 45 years.

Anyway, some things have changed in the past 10 years and those changes have changed where i choose to concentrate. So lots more composer/musicians have been creating definably plunderphonic music than did twenty-five years ago when i had a burst of productivity in that realm, and so i, non-conformingly, don't feel much of a need to do much more of this sort of thing myself - the final goal in that field is something to listen to, and there's a lot of that around without my adding to the quantity.

But ten years ago i began to take my very first photographs when the digitalization of photography and video enabled me to do some things that i had been thinking about for a long time, and to date i have taken "x-ray" images of 1400 individual people. The adaption of a new activity has a lot to do with the technology becoming available.

A decade beginning around 1973 was my time to focus a lot on improvisation. This field hasn't changed much (at least from my point of view) and neither has my way of relating to it. I play a lot less now but i enjoy playing more than ever. Every Friday percussionist Germaine Lui, trombonist Scott Thomson and i play an acoustic public concert at 8AM (i've wanted for decades for there to be more early morning music events). We played this morning, just after dawn. I hear so much more detail in this music; it digs deeper physically, mentally, and intangibly than it usually did even just a decade ago (when i was playing more often with that great acoustic band the Double Wind Cello Trios).

The opportunities for and circumstances of playing this kind of music doesn't seem to change over the years, but the music changes completely every time we play it.

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