Lisa Mezzacappa: Crossing Over

by Troy Collins

Lisa Mezzacappa                                                                                                           ©Martin Phillips

Since relocating from the East Coast over a decade ago, San Francisco-based bassist, composer, and bandleader Lisa Mezzacappa has become a key presence in the Bay Area music community. She currently leads a number of groups, such as avantNOIR, Bait & Switch, Nightshade, and the Lisa Mezzacappa Trio, while co-leading ensembles like Cylinder, the Permanent Wave Ensemble, and the Caribbean folk band Les Gwan Jupons. Recent projects include the Interlopers, an avant-folk string band; Eartheaters, a trio with Brooklyn vocalist Fay Victor; and BODABODA, an international quartet featuring Venice reed player/composer Piero Bittolo Bon. She is a frequent collaborator with other West Coast luminaries, including Vinny Golia, Darren Johnston, and Aram Shelton, and regularly performs as a side-person with notable artists like Steve Adams, Myles Boisen, and Ross Hammond. Mezzacappa has released her own music on the Clean Feed, NoBusiness, and NotTwo labels, and has recorded as a side-person for the Tzadik, Kadima, and Porto Franco imprints.

Holding an MA in ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley, and a BA in music from the University of Virginia, Mezzacappa’s all-inclusive aesthetic has found her involved in myriad cross-disciplinary projects, which have taken many forms, including interactive dance performances, sound installations, and film and video projects. As a curator, she programs the annual JazzPOP concert series at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; Mission Eye and Ear, a live cinema series at Artists’ Television Access; the Best Coast Jazz Composers series at San Francisco’s Center for New Music; and she founded the Monday Makeout creative music series, held in San Francisco’s Mission District. In 2012, she started the Festival-of-Us, a semi-annual celebration of Bay Area creative jazz and improvised music.

Late in 2015 Mezzacappa premiered Glorious Ravage, her most ambitious work to date – a multi-media song cycle for vocalist, large ensemble, and filmed accompaniment – inspired by the writings of Victorian-era lady adventurers. Conducting in tandem with the project’s release on New World Records, I interviewed Mezzacappa in the fall of 2017.


Troy Collins: Some biographical information might be beneficial for readers unfamiliar with your background. You moved from the East Coast to the Bay Area in 2001. How did you first get your start playing where you grew up, in Staten Island?

Lisa Mezzacappa: First, I played clarinet and alto sax in elementary school concert bands and orchestras, since there was still a lot of music in the public schools in New York when I was growing up. Besides the school ensembles, I studied privately and played in at least a few different orchestras and bands after school and on the weekends. I was really serious about it. This was from about age nine. At the same time, I was a devoted consumer of classic rock – I had inherited a friend of the family’s record collection, and just jumped into The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Bruce Springsteen. I started playing electric bass when I was about 12 or 13, and connected with some guys from school who were learning guitar at the same time. From then on, playing in bands, and going to see shows, consumed pretty much all my time outside of school, through my high school years. I spent most of my free time in mosh pits and in garages and basements at band practices. We just devoured any music we could get our hands on, and tried to learn it – classic rock became hard rock and hair metal, then death metal and hardcore, then funk and soul, then ska, then eventually we discovered Mingus and Stevie Wonder around the time we all scattered to go off to college.

TC: It’s interesting that you started on electric bass as a teenager, playing in rock bands. It’s refreshing to see more gender diversity in music nowadays – but not so long ago that wasn’t the case. Were you aware of any other female bassists when you decided to switch to bass yourself? Were there any influential teachers, mentors or musicians that inspired you to take up the instrument?

LM: There weren’t many any other girls playing the music I was into, when I was a kid playing electric bass in high school – only one or two I can think of. In that way it’s interesting, I play with a lot of women musicians now, but we all came to the music very differently – a lot of my peers now studied jazz from the start, or started out as classical musicians who then got into improvising or experimental music. But almost none had that same history of playing with guys in garages as their formative musical experiences. A confluence of factors led me to jazz and the upright bass in my first year of college. I had just discovered the music with my friends (we went to see the Mingus Big Band at the Time Cafe every Thursday we were able) and it was starting to take a hold of me. I was encouraged very early on (really with no experience) to join the jazz ensemble and jazz improv classes at the University of Virginia where I went to college. The trumpeter and composer John D’earth ran the program there, and immediately took me under his wing and encouraged me. My second semester, I started upright lessons with the bassist Pete Spaar – who was the principal in the symphony as well as the first-call jazz bassist in town – and that pretty much derailed all my plans for the rest of my life! I was a biology major and not planning to pursue music formally. After my first bass lesson, the following weekend there happened to be a jazz festival on campus with the theme of “Bassmasters” – and Richard Davis, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Milt Hinton all came and did concerts and masterclasses. So that pretty much settled it.

TC: Did you ever encounter any obstacles as a female musician in a male-dominated genre?

LM: I was very fortunate to find support rather than obstacles as a young female musician – if anything, I think my mentors when I started playing bass, playing jazz were more supportive because I was female. They saw how unusual it was for a (very serious) 17-year-old young woman to be drawn to this music, to be playing upright bass without many role models, and they just threw all this positive energy at me, they had such high aspirations for me from the start. What a gift that was – the way good parents bring you up to make you feel like you can do anything. Of course, I realize that is NOT the situation for so many young women in male-dominated fields. I think I experienced those sorts of obstacles more in the professional world, especially when I first moved back to NYC after college, and was trying to play more “straight ahead” jazz. In hindsight, I don’t know if it was my insecurity as a newcomer to the NYC jazz scene, or if it was really as hostile to women instrumentalists as it seemed, but I had a hard time getting people to take me seriously. There was this almost competitive way of being an artist for those guys, that “cutting session” mentality that I could not relate to. I was not that kind of player, and I knew I was not interested in becoming that kind of player. At the time, I also really wanted to play Latin music, salsa, Caribbean music, and that was a joke as a young woman in NYC at the time. It wasn’t until I started playing free music that I felt I could just walk into a room with my instrument and interact with other musicians on an even playing field.

TC: This is a common complaint about the NYC scene, especially from musicians living outside New York, who value the collaborative nature of their own local scenes, in contrast to the Big Apple’s highly competitive environment. Similarly, I’ve read in interviews that you “fought for that ‘jazz’ word for so long, thinking it has a right to be as broad as I want it to be.” But then you found that wasn’t necessarily the case with how others viewed it, and so now you consider what you do to be contemporary performance. Since music is often advertised and marketed by genre, how has that impacted how you get your multi-stylistic music heard?

LM: I don’t think I’ll ever completely make my peace with the jazz word, the jazz world. In interacting with my peers, in seeing the work my heroes are doing under that umbrella – Braxton’s operas, Wadada Leo Smith’s music, John Hollenbeck’s large ensemble work, Nicole Mitchell and Myra Melford and Matana Roberts’ multidisciplinary projects – jazz still seems huge and full of possibility to me. Most of my influences, my musical inspiration, my training, my listening are all rooted in that vocabulary, that tradition. But then every now and then it feels like cold water splashed in my face, when I am confronted with how conservative the mainstream jazz world has become. It is still mostly shredding dudes leading bands. Which is great, but it would be nice if there was also more room in the conversation for conceptual works, different kinds of compositional approaches, these works that pull in other artistic media to help tell a story. I’m so grateful for these trailblazers before me who just kept working and following their path, without anyone in the jazz world really knowing what to do with them yet.

TC: Delving a little deeper into specifics, considering your ability to navigate multiple genres and styles, what aspects of the jazz tradition do you currently find inspiring and what established practices do you find constraining?

LM: Inspiring: the interaction in the moment, the blues feeling, the combination of rigor/preparation and intuition/flow, the presence of the History of the Music in the room, on stage with you, firing between all of the musicians. Constraining: traditional roles of instrumentalists in an ensemble, predictable forms, the privileging of notes over textures and sounds.

TC: Expanding beyond jazz, you write music that tends to fall outside of some more conservative listeners’ comfort zones – especially in relation to conventional notions of melody, rhythm and harmony. Has any of that feedback ever factored into the creation of any of your work?

LM: I can’t say that I have gotten much feedback from that kind of listener, one way or the other – a radio station recently reported I was “too out” for their programming when I offered to send a CD. That’s cool. I have to make the music that is authentic to me, I can’t write music to please some imaginary audience or listener. How do you even make those decisions in the actual notes, the actual rhythms? My job is just to be clearer in that music I’m hearing, to convey it more powerfully and honestly with each piece I write, and I think people respond to that. I find that most listeners who take a chance and come to a live concert of my music, end up coming along with us, regardless of their expectations. People like being surprised, immersed in an artist’s vision and sound world. They like to be in the room when great improvisers are connecting. They like to feel that what is being put in front of them was made with love, that it is considered and deliberate and again, honest. They can tell the difference! I think Henry Threadgill has said something to the effect of, he composes UP to people, not DOWN to them.

TC: In a similar line of thought, the inspiration for your music varies greatly, from scientific processes (Organelle) to noir genre fiction (avantNOIR). How do such non-musical interests influence your approach to composing and performing?

LM: I’ve always needed some kind of spark to jump into writing a new piece of music. As a musician whose creativity emerges from interacting with other players, starting from blank staff paper as a composer doesn’t work for me. Some years ago, I started seriously writing my own music by sort of tricking myself – I would start by transcribing other musicians’ free improvisations, something I LOVE to do, and then I’d use some tiny idea or moment or gesture of theirs, to build a whole new piece of my own. This is how my first record for the quartet Bait & Switch was created. Since then, a lot of subsequent compositional projects have emerged from my interest in, and curiosity about, other things in the world. It’s very organic – I will read something in the science section of the New York Times, see something in an old art film or at a museum exhibit, find something on a shelf in a library, and some aspect of it latches onto me. It’s like the only way I can get it out of my system is to make it into music. It happened by accident, but this way of initiating new work, new projects has been pretty liberating – I let each topic or inspiration lead me where it needs, and let the material and ideas create the rules for how I will compose, how the musicians will interact, how the music will be notated. It frees me from thinking in terms of style or genre – and also creates a structure for each work that is endemic to the ideas that inform it. The only through-line with all of this is that I’m always writing for improvisers.

TC: Do you compose parts with specific players in mind, or do you write in a more open-ended manner? Regardless, how do personal and stylistic dynamics end up shaping the inner workings of your various groups?

LM: I almost always compose for specific musicians. It allows me to take advantage of what I know they do well, and what I know they like to do, and then also write them into less comfortable zones to see what they come up with. It makes it crazy to have a sub in any of my bands – I recently added a new vibes player to one group, and ended up changing a lot of the arrangements on tunes we had recorded and had been playing for years, just because the new guy could do different things and I wanted to make room for his personality. I realized as I was making parts for him, that I would have written a lot of the music very differently if he had been in the band from the start.

Personal dynamics are the meat of what it means to be a bandleader! Navigating the psychology and dynamics of a group of creative people is by far the hardest and most exhausting part of what I do. I don’t think it’s like that for everyone, it has to do with my personality for sure. I am hyper aware of how everyone in my band is doing, feeling, if they are challenged enough, if they are bored, if the music is too hard/too easy for them, if they get enough solo space, if my directions are clear enough. Sometimes I wish I could just channel my inner Mingus and not care! Working on that. But this definitely leads me to work more often with people I know, who are generous as side-people, and very often, are also bandleaders themselves. Of course, those long-term musical associations raise up the music, too.

TC: The jazz bands of a previous era featured long-term personnel for extended tours (Coleman, Coltrane, Davis, etc.), but that has largely changed today, for various reasons, both aesthetic and economic. What advantages and challenges do you find in maintaining so many different groups?

LM: Each group or project seems to have its own lifespan. Some exist briefly, others are carried through multiple recordings or bodies of work. The music community is pretty small here in the Bay Area, and I tend to become attached to certain musical personalities, so there are definitely musicians I carry forward from one project the next. There’s just no substitute for that history together. And also, there’s the indoctrination that happens when a musician has played a lot of your music before and jumped through your hoops. As the Bay Area gets more and more hostile economically to artists, and my peers get older with more life responsibilities, it becomes harder and harder for people to find the time to invest in each other’s work, though. That’s something we are always navigating as bandleaders out here, the desire is there to put in the time together, but sometimes it is a challenge.

TC: That brings us to Glorious Ravage. Music scenes often have a certain sound that defines them, no matter how subtle those differences may be. As a West Coast scene leader and community builder, do you notice any stylistic differences between musicians from San Francisco and Los Angeles – since members of that project hail from both cities?

LM: Many of the Southern California musicians in Glorious Ravage actually have roots elsewhere – Mark Dresser is from CA but is still pretty NY in his approach and attitude I think! Michael Dessen’s musical connections are in San Diego where he went to school, but also strongly in NY in terms of people in his bands. Nicole Mitchell still spends a lot of time in Chicago and most of the musicians she works with are based there. Kjell Nordeson lives in San Diego because he’s finishing his degree there, but he is a bit of a traveler – he’s been part of the Swedish, Chicago, Bay Area jazz/improv scenes. Vinny Golia, though, is a true Angeleno, in the sense that he has built his whole musical life there – and, well he is a “style” unto himself! I can’t say you can hear a difference in how people play necessarily between LA and SF, but the ways the scenes operate – who runs the venues, where are the concert series, what schools feed into the scene – certainly make things different down there. I’ve had people from LA explain to me that the creative music scene there has suffered because of the competition with the commercial music world there, that it drains musical talent into more profitable realms. Whereas in the Bay Area, there is no music economy to speak of! A hindrance to making a living as a musician, but also somehow liberating to the kind of music you make, once you accept that it will not be the source of your income.

TC: Exploring the East Coast/West Coast dynamic a bit further, how did an intimate trio project featuring Fay Victor as vocalist grow into the large scale, multi-media production Glorious Ravage?

LM: The more I worked with Fay in this smaller (much more practical!) setting, the more I wanted to hear her voice embedded in this Big Sound. Then as the themes, inspirations, texts for the project started to come into focus, it was clear to me that there needed to be a strong visual element as well, to contribute to the feeling of vastness, wonder, escape that I was trying to conjure.

TC: In reference to the film component of Glorious Ravage, multi-disciplinary, multi-media productions seem much more common on the West Coast (especially the Bay Area) than in other major metropolitan areas (in the States). Do you have any idea why that is?

LM: One of my favorite things about the arts scene in the Bay Area is how fluidly people cross genres and collaborate. This habit goes back at least to the 1970s when a lot of important multidisciplinary arts spaces and collectives were founded here, by artists doing experimental, noncommercial work that wasn’t necessarily bounded by one artistic discipline. It’s super common here for improvisers and composers to work with choreographers and dancers, writers, media artists and filmmakers. I didn’t realize how much I take that for granted, until I tried to host a night of film and improvised music in Brooklyn a few years ago – it didn’t seem like something any of the musicians had ever done before, and the press, the public, didn’t seem to get the idea of it. There are “live cinema” events like that here almost every week! And in Paris, Berlin, that is also a common practice. For Glorious Ravage, the desire to work with film and video emerged very directly from my interactions with the SF nonprofit media space Artists’ Television Access (ATA). I had learned about a lot of the work going on there, the artists screening there, and had run a series there for several years, that connected performer/composers with video artists and filmmakers to create new works together.

TC: In performance, Glorious Ravage includes live film projection(s). Can you explain what that element adds to the production in a live setting and how do you view the recorded work, sans visuals?

LM: Glorious ravage was created as ten discrete movements, and each movement has a musical component and a film component. In the premiere performances, there was also lighting design for each movement. I commissioned four different Bay Area filmmakers to create new work for this, and collaborated with each of them individually. Sometimes the music and film start and end together, sometimes the music begins without film and some musical event triggers a transition where the film joins in. Or the film ends and the music continues. In the live version, there are also a handful of very brief interludes featuring musicians improvising in solos or duos, and the imagery for these is a variation of, and abstraction of, some of the imagery in the longer formal movements. The films are projected onto one big screen behind the musicians – for now, but if we ever had a chance to perform it again and have time to experiment in a theater, multiple projection would be a welcome and exciting variation on this.

I think experiencing sound and image at once is extremely powerful, it is a transporting experience that is sensual and arresting and at times overpowering, at its best. Even though my music can be called brainy, I think adding the moving image, its colors, shifting layers, textures, pulls you into a really non-intellectual state. It’s how I feel when I’m on a hike at the top of a mountain, or on a cliff overlooking the wild endless Pacific Ocean. It’s huge and gorgeous and you can’t fully grasp all of it, and that is somehow part of what makes it compelling. The texts that this music was born from evoke that feeling over and over again, through different peoples’ experiences and writings. So, I knew that the imagery would help get the performance into that zone.

I wrote the music for this with the goal of it also standing alone as a complete work, even when it is missing the film component. Maybe it’s like a photo of Yosemite without actually being there ... still compelling even if it is a different experience. I’ll also release a web streaming version of the work this December, where people can listen to the studio recording while watching the films.

TC: The album definitely holds up as a standalone entity; seeing it with filmed accompaniment would be interesting, but even as a song cycle, it is compelling. Since the basis for Glorious Ravage is one of exploration, I’m curious if you find parallels between adventuring and improvisation?

LM: Yes absolutely! The creative impulse is a lot like the impulse to venture out into the (physical, geographical) unknown. And improvising in particular embraces that thrill of experiencing each moment in its fullest, and requires a certain kind of personality that is OK with some (psychic) discomfort, with some surprises, and not necessarily knowing where it will all lead. My challenge with this piece was holding onto that wildness and wonder and joy at exploring the unknown that we get to when we’re improvising, while also being a control freak composer with very specific ideas about how I wanted the piece to unfold, how I wanted the written material realized. Thanks for asking that question – I’m not sure that this theme in the work – of the tightrope walk between freedom and constraint, exploration and cultivation – is something reviewers have picked up on so far.

TC: I interviewed John Lindberg recently and we discussed something similar – he was an EMT for a short time and equated the rush of being an ambulance driver with the sort of thrill that free improvisation can produce. So, there is a precedent, of sorts. Which leads me to another question. Most of your projects feature pre-written material, with room for improvisation. What are your thoughts regarding “pure” free improvisation compared to more traditional theme and variations-based strategies?

LM: I love being part of both. If I don’t maintain an ongoing practice of playing free with people, things start to feel off balance in my ideas, my playing. It has always made more sense to me, to be part of collective ensembles in the free improvisation context, though. I’ve never feel like it was appropriate (speaking for myself) to be a “leader” in that context – what does that even mean? You booked the gig? You’re paying everyone? You have an agenda for how you want the music to go? I don’t think I like that power dynamic in a free context – either it’s really truly free, and we can each play the way we need to at that moment together, or if you have some ideas about it, great – then write a piece, provide a structure. But then it’s just not free or egalitarian anymore. So, I guess I’ve enjoyed keeping those two dynamics separate. Within my compositions, I wrestle with sometimes having the desire to ask people to improvise a certain way – but really, that is a crummy thing to do to a person, though – so instead I do my best to set up a controlled improvising environment where they will likely go in a direction that I think serves the composition.

TC: Regarding composition, this is your largest ensemble recording yet. What unique challenges did this size outfit offer that were new to you?

LM: In this case it was a combination of the size of the band, and the fact that most of the band was spread out all over California, and also Brooklyn – that made for some new challenges. I like to workshop material with musicians over long periods of time, try different versions of ideas and keep revising the score and parts based on how the musicians handle what I’ve put in front of them. So, I had to figure out a way to do that with a Northern California contingent, a Southern California contingent, and then find time to work with Fay who is based in Brooklyn. It was a long process and took a lot of planning to get the parts to come together – a few workshops in the Bay Area while I had a residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts, a couple of workshops in San Diego with the guys who lived near there, a daylong hang in Vinny Golia’s house in Valencia where he demonstrated all his different reed instruments for me and gave me a crash course in writing for them. Then I did a couple of work-in-progress performances at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco, and Fay came out for one of them and for some rehearsals. So, I stitched it all together that way over the course of a year, which at times was challenging – to create these ensembles-within-an-an-ensemble first, then fold it into a coherent whole for the premiere.

TC: In reference to the album’s subject matter, most of the female explorers that inspired Glorious Ravage are white Colonial Europeans, but not all, such as Sarah Winnemucca. What differences did you find between these women and how did those contrasts influence your writing?

LM: They each seemed pretty different to me as individuals, the more I read their words and read about them. The decision to include Sarah Winnemucca was very intentional. Since it wasn’t common for indigenous people of that era to write memoirs or have published accounts of their experiences – that was a perspective that was missing unless we really sought it out. Konrad Steiner, one of my filmmaker collaborators, was especially interested in that part of our bigger story – what about the people who were already there, in these far-off places? And we spent a lot of time trying to dig up some first-hand accounts to offer that perspective.

Sometimes the music reflects my overall feeling of a person, the sum of all I read about them. Mary Kingsley, for example, I found to be really funny in this dry matter-of-fact way that she explained the most Godawful circumstances she’d find herself in. So, “Great Green Gloom” is the sound of how I picture her – petticoats drenched and weighing her down, as she’s waist-deep in mud and leeches and parasites in a West African swamp, trying to find a rare fish specimen for the British Museum. Isabella Bird loved a good time, she liked to eat and drink and ride a horse, fast, up to the highest mountain she could find when she found herself in a new place. So, the music I wrote to her words often has a restless, thrill-seeking quality. The tone of the Winnemucca piece is really determined by the text – I found a handwritten letter she wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, pleading for the fate of her people, the Paiute. It was so clear and sober and powerful. And Konrad’s film, which he shot at the site of the Paiute homelands near Pyramid Lake in Nevada, is very still, very austere, so that’s another component that had a real impact on my compositional approach.

TC: The differences between these women really comes across in your varied sonic portraits of them. Conversely, there is also a unifying thread underlying this project, in the sense that many of these explorers were traveling concurrent with ongoing Westward expansion in the states, and since this is very much a West Coast-based project, did you find any cultural parallels between the Bay Area then and now, while doing research for this project?

LM: Yes, a few of the women were either Europeans who came to California and the West Coast right around the time of the Gold Rush (Ida Pfeiffer from Germany, Marianne North from England), or were East Coasters who headed West for various reasons (Dame Shirley, Annie Londonderry). It was fascinating to hear some of them describe San Francisco as a place of decadence that attracted opportunists who only cared about making a buck and having a good time, where there were constantly fires because nobody was thinking long-term about the city’s future or development. Which are pretty much all the things we say now! The tech boom has totally transformed the place on so many levels. I realized, a lot of us pine for some other period in San Francisco history – the punk ‘70s, the activist hippie ‘60s, even the beat era – but this gold rush town ethos has always been part of the place, it seems. People were awestruck by the natural beauty here, too when they visited – the redwoods, the rolling headlands and sheer cliffs dropping into the ocean. Those are the things that captivated me when I first came here, and are still a major reason why I stay, despite the other nonsense going on.

TC: As discussed earlier, there is a slight difference between the recorded version of Glorious Ravage and the live show. Speaking of performing, how do you feel about studio recording compared to live performance and how does that affect your playing in each situation?

LM: When I’m leading a project, I usually treat the live performance context pretty differently than the recording context. They do different things for the music – live, you want to be able to stretch, explore the material, surprise each other. It might take some time to discover new ideas. And I think that’s exciting to watch/be part of as a member of the audience, as a member of the band. But I’m not so sure I need to hear all that searching on a recording. In the studio, I’m thinking about a very different animal that has to emerge – this fixed sound object that represents the work, the composition, and that needs to have some longevity. I tend to need things to be more concise, more clear, more accurate in this context. I create a much more controlled environment. The challenge is to get all of that precision without sacrificing the energy, the flow between all of us. So, it’s important to record at the right moment in a project or band’s lifespan, when the written material has become second nature and the execution isn’t hanging anyone up. It’s also why I have zero qualms about editing and overdubbing as part of the process, because I want it to be its best and most fully realized self.

TC: Similarly, what are your thoughts on the state of the recording industry, specifically regarding archival documents (CDs, vinyl) versus more ephemeral formats (downloads, streaming)?

LM: Sad, sad thoughts ...! I think I am finished making actual CDs. Too many people I talk to no longer own CD players at all. Which is crazy. LPs are interesting, but very expensive to produce, and very impractical to travel with on tour. They are also limiting in their 20-minutes-per-side format, which doesn’t lend itself to all work. Digital downloads and streaming are practical and ubiquitous and of course economical and take out the middle man. But it’s not enough for me to have my work only live online. I don’t like that it has to be mediated by a corporate entity (what happens when Bandcamp folds or sells to some other, more exploitative company?), I don’t like that people end up listening to the music in a distracted or low-fi state. And it seems like music you’ve downloaded (or meant to download) just gets lost in all your digital debris. I still play records by friends and colleagues from 10 or more year ago, because I will see the CD spine on my shelf and put it on. That doesn’t happen with me with digital music, so far. And I miss liner notes and knowing who the personnel is on the track. Maybe it’s figuring out how to re-create that more tactile experience, but it’s just not the same with me. Same for e-books. Practical but kinda soul-less. So I have to come up with some other plan!

Also I think one problem with how cheap and easy it is to “release” something digitally now, is that people are putting out a lot more music. And maybe sometimes it is music that isn’t all the way cooked, maybe it’s become too casual. There’s a constant deluge of digital releases by so many great artists, it’s hard for any one recording to pop out as special. So the sum effect might be that it’s hurting us, in a way. The landscape is just becoming too cluttered for anything to be taken notice of. Will be interesting to see what comes next, I think we are in a transition.

TC: As a collector, I understand your frustration, although from my perspective, the situation doesn’t seem quite as bleak ... at least not yet. I agree with you 100% in regards to streaming and downloads. The vinyl resurgence is an interesting phenomenon, but impractical on many levels. Most of my music consumption is on CD; whether new or reissued. (I wouldn’t count them out just yet.)

Since we’re on the topic of technology, considering the recording industry’s current complexities, do you find musical inspiration in any technological advances, stylistic movements or particular artists?

LM: Didn’t mean to seem so bleak! I’m past the mourning stage of CDs though, now into the imagining an alternative stage. Well the web promises other interesting ways to create and disseminate work – I was just watching someone’s site-specific opera online using this great website they built, where you could click on a floor plan of the building, and it linked you to video documentation of the performance that happened in each that space. Cool. And another composer just released a serial opera for the web, all streamable online, never happened as a live performance. I think we are just starting to have fun with this medium as an artistic one, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, in terms of building interactive online worlds where my projects can live, instead of manufacturing physical objects. I need like a 2-year residency with some programmers and coders to experiment with all the ideas I have! It’s a bit daunting to figure out how to jump in and start, but promising.

As far as musical inspiration, my peers are endlessly inspiring. I try to keep up with what all my friends in Europe, NY, Chicago are doing as much as I can from afar, that’s really what keeps me going. Everyone is up against the particular challenges of their scene, the economics and pressures and access being different everywhere – but what people come up with against those odds just knocks me out.

TC: In conclusion, what projects do you have planned for the immediate future?

LM: Next up: I’m scoring a short silent film for Kino Lorber, part of a series of silents by women filmmakers they are releasing soon. Should be fun.

Next year I’ll start on a new book of music for avantNOIR – still lit-inspired, but not by noir fiction this time. That band just had its first tour this past fall, I’m very very motivated to keep working with those guys, we are gelling in a whole new way, something special has happened. I hope to tour Europe and the East Coast with a new multi-media solo bass project next year. And I’ve just started planning a site-specific, serial opera that will premiere in Berkeley in 2020. Plus trying to get more out of town performances for existing projects that haven’t been seen/heard outside the Bay Area. So, no shortage of ideas and plans!

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