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Interviews

Cuong Vu: More Power in a Collective

By Published: September 5, 2005
AAJ: How much did you play with Frisell before the recording sessions?

CV: When we did the gig in Seattle, we rehearsed for a couple days for about four hours each day. And then before the record, we rehearsed for about five hours.

AAJ: I love Frisell's playing on the CD. It's actually quite a bit noisier than he's played in a while. "Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse" is Bill at his skronkiest since something as far back as John Zorn's Naked City band.

CV: Yeah, and it was really cool to have that happen. I was hoping that he would go there, but I wasn't sure what was going to come out when we actually were in the studio, and just to hear that again was a really great thing! Because, like what you're saying, I really haven't heard him do that in a long time. He's exploring a whole different area now. I kind of miss that kind of thing from him, and it was really cool to have that kind of contribution in this music.

AAJ: Had your trio played this new material much before recording the album?

CV: Yeah, we did. I heard guitar, but I basically wrote the material in a way where we could cover it as a trio, because at this level, at this point in my career, I still can't really afford to go out with a fourth person. We have to be economically sound, and so we have to go out as a trio. And we're able to cover it and it doesn't sound empty, and it sounds pretty good as a trio—it's a totally different thing. So we did a couple of tours as a trio doing this music, and then we did one tour with [guitarist] Mark Ducret and then the recording with Bill. And then actually, we did a gig in New York—the first gig after we recorded the CD, and it was really hard to do because we'd been listening to the CD a lot [laughing]. And suddenly, all this sound wasn't there anymore and it was really hard to compensate. But I think it's just a matter of time—maybe a couple more gigs before we can do it as a trio again. And it'll probably just take a little time to go from being a trio to being a quartet; it can work both ways.

AAJ: I really like the mix on the album. Laurent Brondel mixed it, and co- produced the record with you. This is very dense music, and if it hadn't been mixed just right, it would be incomprehensible. But everything is audible and distinct.

CV: Yeah. He worked on my other two CDs for the Knit [Pure, 2000, and Come Play With Me, 2001, Knitting Factory Records]. He's from Paris and he used to do a lot of electronic music, especially in the Detroit techno scene. He just happens to have really good ears and knows the programs—he's an intellectual who's really good at math and all that kind of stuff. But he has really good ears and strong opinions about how music should sound. I actually mixed this on the road—basically, I just gave it to him and said, "do your thing and send me the MP3s and I'll listen to it and I'll tell you what I think." So basically, he did it all by himself. He's really good at finding those spaces to put the sounds so it doesn't interfere; it sounds like layers but they all have their compartments in the aural spectrum.

AAJ: There's a lot going on on this record. The instruments, Bill's loops, your own electronic effects. But this is pretty much live, isn't it? There's not much overdubbing—this is how it would sound in concert? Everything is happening in real time?

CV: There's no overdubbing in the way that you're asking, I think. We didn't overdub any loops or any extra parts. I overdubbed bad notes. I cakked a bunch of bad notes, and it just sounded so bad I had to go back and fix them. But aside from doing that kind of thing, there aren't any overdubs.

AAJ: Let's talk about the title cut to the album, "It's Mostly Residual," which is a great beginning to the CD. Like a lot of your songs, it takes its time getting to its theme—it starts with a couple minutes of everyone sort of coalescing, joining in before you and Bill play that melody. Then the tune desconstructs, gets more abstract. There's a real contrast between formal, melodic parts and less structured sound. Can you tell me something about this tune—how it was composed?

CV: The tune—I'm trying to figure exactly out what your question is. I think there's a question within the question. The way I composed the tune was basically the way I compose everything: just sitting down and waiting. I spend a lot of time waiting for something to come. The thing is, if I just start writing down things and working on them, and developing them—in the end, when I play them back, I don't like how it sounds. It sounds like an educational tool, or something. It sounds very school, very college, whatever. And so when I sit there and something comes to me that I really feel attracted to, that's when I write it down and start developing it.

With this one, however, I didn't have to develop anything. I just sat and started hearing, and then whatever I heard, I wrote down. I would play it over and over again, to get it soaked into my subconscious, and then later I'd hear another part. So that tune basically took two weeks to hear and have it come together. And then in terms of how I wanted to approach the improv, that's kind of my formula of wanting to be able to have open spaces and having the material be bookends that help us get into the freedom and also help us get out of the freedom. I really love free improvising and experimenting; it's really exciting. But I also hate the fact that if I don't have these bookends, we can go for a half-hour of just experimenting and not have anything—maybe thirty seconds of really good stuff. That's what I really hate about improvised music, and so in all of my writing I try to come up with something that I as a listener, as a fan of music, want to hear. Something I can listen to over and over again. But then it has the opportunity for us to go explore—and then the listener will go with you, because you're giving them something that they want to hear.



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