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Mike Ladd: Cerebral Refugee, Part 1-2

By Published: April 18, 2005
AAJ: The level of human travel today is almost going to ensure that there's a sort of levelling off of all cities—where they more and more resemble each other.

ML: Right. What you get, almost, is an Atlantic Rim: Boston to D.C. is almost one city—connected to London and Paris. And now that I'm living over there and I come to downtown New York, I see a bunch of the same people I'd see in Paris over here. They sort of pop up because they share the same neighborhoods: the Lower East Side and Oberkampf. Williamsburg and Oberkampf: it's the same neighborhood. That's the hip class, they can travel, but on top of that there's this immense global working class that, if they're not travelling, they have enough family members in different cities that there is still a profound cultural exchange going on—which connects those cities. Not even cultural exchange: familial exchange. If you came from Lagos [Nigeria], your family's in Lagos. You moved to London, part of your family's in London too, you've got a brother in Paris and more of your family's in New York. That's pretty common with a lot of different workforces. So that provides a whole other dynamic—metropolitan energy—that's interesting. So if I were to move to a place to enhance my art as a black expatriate, it would have been to one of those source cities like Kingston, Bombay, Lagos. Or parts of Bahia or Rio. These cities that are massive so-called Third World hubs and are creating a tremendous amount of energy culturally because of the technological and communication industries that are popping up there. Plus they're connected to postcolonial terminals like Paris and London, Los Angeles, New York.

AAJ: I'm going to shift into more musical terrain. The first track on your new CD Negrophilia, "Field Work, is a fantastic song: parts of it are outrageously swinging and polyrhythmic. There's an element of free jazz, there's a huge electronic component, and of course there are your words. This is very new-sounding music; I've never heard anything exactly like it and that makes me curious—out of ignorance—about its composition and construction. Can you tell me how you compose a song like this, both lyrically and musically, and how you set up the parts in the studio?

ML: That is sort of a three-part construction. All the songs [on Negrophilia] didn't necessarily go this route, but for "Field Work, [Drummer/all-around musician] Guillermo Brown and I—Guillermo is really a major part of this record—

AAJ: Yes, this CD is a collaboration between the two of you, right?

ML: Yeah. And if it were up to me and not the record company it would say "Mike Ladd and Guillermo Brown on the cover. Anyway, what we did—with a bunch of the songs, before we even went into the studio with the musicians, we got together and electronically jammed at my house. And what you hear at the beginning of "Field Work is me playing one sample and him playing another sample. So I'm playing "doonga-doon-doon —just pressing that on the MPC, which is a [percussion] sampler. And he's pressing something else—

AAJ: Yes, his part is the more percussive-sounding one?

ML: Yeah, he's doing the sort of kungas over it (mimics the rhythm). We spent a night doing that with a whole bunch of different songs and ideas. And we took those ideas into the studio with [trumpeter] Roy Campbell, [winds player] Andrew Lamb and [keyboardist] Vijay [Iyer]. Now, some of those songs were totally lost on them: "what the hell are we going to do with this?

AAJ: But you are starting with parts.

ML: Exactly. And they took those parts, played over those parts, and then Guillermo and I, in this case [with "Field Work ] together, after that recording session, took the information back to Guillermo's house and completely cut it up again. We'd take Andrew Lamb's horn sample and cut that up, put it in a completely different place than where he'd originally placed it. Or make it really short, so that we're actually sort of playing a note of his: something that I like to do. Even when we had live musicians who'd agreed to be manipulated like that—I don't like looping things or taking long samples, I like manipulating the sound as much as I can. So we ended up playing a lot of stuff with the notes that they played. Then the longer samples are the extended solos, stuff like that.

AAJ: So on Negrophilia there isn't a single solo—like for example, a horn player—just playing live over anything and not altered?

ML: There are, like, thirty-second samples that are only altered by, say, an effect. There are a couple of those.

AAJ: Because on the beginning of "Back At Ya, I thought it was live horns.

ML: That's all chopped-up. That's mostly my niece.

AAJ: Oh, that's Marguerite Ladd, who's credited with "sampled composition.

ML: Yeah. She's at New England Conservatory of Music for composition right now, and that was her freshman recital.

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