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Michel Portal: Meanings, Feelings and Rivers

By Published: July 1, 2005

AAJ: Well even in free jazz there is a tendency for people to be expected to play a certain way, but as I've noticed in your music, it seems like there isn't that regard for expectation and that contexts appear to merge without concern for how it sounds - just to see what can be done. To me, this sounds very much in line with what you were learning in New Phonic Art and the Living Theatre.

MP: Every musician that comes along has a certain way of playing in mind - Albert Ayler, Jimi Hendrix - and every musician has a clear reference in mind, a sort of "father." At this time, everybody was trying to play together [perhaps across certain bounds], but we all had a spiritual leader. After the deaths of Ayler and Hendrix, and later of Miles Davis (who was a big reference for a lot of musicians), many people lost their way - they were totally destroyed. But at the same time, without a clear reference, many musicians have focused on their own identity and way of playing, being honest with themselves. If you were to ask each one of these musicians what style they play, they would say "the only one that exists." Yet at some stage, the communication between musicians was lost, and things became very fuzzy and dried up. Without a reference point, the hinge on which communication exists becomes lost.

I don't want to become part of any fashionable trends, an "example" of something; in France it is always a matter of fashion and each fashion is very, very short-lived. France is very intellectual, very avant-garde and people don't like to hear what they think has already been done. It is very pretentious.

AAJ: How did you come to playing in Minneapolis?

MP: I will be honest. I was at a stage where I did not know what I wanted and I did not know what I was doing with my music. At the time, I needed to record, but I was unconvinced that I could find a way to do it right. I'd met Jean Rochard [Nato/Universal] and at that time it was of interest to combine styles - say, free with funk or electronics. So we decided that I should come here to work with Michael Bland and see what would happen. People in France thought I wasn't the right guy to play with these kind of musicians and I was not very popular at that time, but I've tried a lot of things in my life and now I have done that, so what's next?

But I've done it, I've experienced Minneapolis and these players, and now I must find something new. I must figure it out - I want to do my own thing and I must flow like a river. It may come, and it may not - the Minneapolis project was my last and that was in 2000. I'm a bit worried because I don't see anything on the horizon. Maybe I'll leave the country!

Thanks to Michel, Jean Rochard of Nato Records, the staff of Minnesota Sur Seine and Eric Damien for interpreting.

Selected Discography

Sunny Murray, Sunny Murray (Shandar, 1968)
Michel Portal, Our Meanings and Our Feelings (Pathe, 1969)
Karlheinz Stockhausen, From the Seven Days (Deutsche Grammophone, 1969)
Michel Portal/John Surman/etc., Alors!!! (Futura, 1970)
Mauricio Kagel, Exotica (Deutsche Grammophone, 1971)
New Phonic Art/Iskra 1903/Wired, Free Improvisation (Deutsche Grammophone, 1971)
Michel Portal, No, No But it May Be... (Le Chant du Monde, 1971)
Michel Portal, Minneapolis We Insist! (Universal, 2000)

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