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Cuong Vu: More Power in a Collective

By Published: September 5, 2005
AAJ: Speaking of "Chitter Chatter"—I notice how, in the improv parts, everyone's really busy—except you. Everyone's hyperactive: the drums are all over, Stomu's working the bottom, Bill's playing lots of notes—but you're playing long, long, single-note lines. It's striking. Do you think about doing something like this is or is it just how it happens?

CV: This is another one of those questions that gave me another question— which is, a lot of times when I improvise, I hear longer melodies over denseness. If the situation is really dense, I tend to play longer phrases. I always try to play the opposites, try to add a different kind of counterpoint to it. So, sometimes I think that way writing too; on the first part of that song, I really heard this long, melodic line—that I wanted to use not just as a melodic line, but as a melody used as a background to Bill and Ted improvising together. And then Stomu was kind of like the free agent, going in between being with them and then also accompanying me on the melody.

AAJ: I like the way that song ends. After you play a solo, you and Bill go into this composed tag that's very baroque, almost Bach-y, and the group snaps into it very effortlessly.

CV: It's funny how that came out. When I wrote it, that part is really what the song is all about. That whole first part I came up with later. But when I was writing that part, I was like, "okay, I want to write something that really uses a lot of counterpoint, and has three voices where each voice can stand on its own and be a melody. And I don't want to use any repeats because that's been done." And [laughing] that turned out to be only like a minute and thirty seconds' worth of material! But it took me so long to write! That thing took so long; it was so labor-intensive. Like, if you go back and you take each line, each instrument, and you added everything else, that equals probably about three or four minutes of material. And if you apply the normal way of stretching out a song, that is enough material to last fifteen or twenty minutes.

But because I wanted no repeats, and I wanted all [those other conditions], it turned out to be a minute and thirty seconds. It was kind of a drag at first, and I was sure it wasn't going to make sense—but then I came up with the first part of the song, which is really long—I stretched out that material. It was kind of the opposite spectrum, because there I took a very small amount of material and stretched it out, made it five minutes worth of stuff. Then, when the density of the second part came in, it became a really effective answer to the first part. And that's a total accident. I mean, I kind of heard it, but I didn't know it would work until we actually did it. But at first, I thought people were going to laugh: only a minute and a half of material!

AAJ: "Blur" is the album's closing track, and in some ways, it sounds the most like the stuff from your two previous albums. Maybe not that different from "Again and Again and Again" from Come Play With Me—it's got one of your trademark dreamlike melodies over a slow, spacious drum pattern. If this one's more like your last two albums, then a lot of this new album is somewhat different from those two CDs. Do you think the music on It's Mostly Residual differs significantly from the last two? And if so, how?

CV: Well, I think that I tried to have this record be a bridge between what we did before and to hopefully give an impression that we're going into some new territory. And the new territory is basically playing over more structured forms that are prewritten, and trying to keep that form. And also, playing over harmonic structure. Before, it was completely free. And now I want us to be able to be completely free—over form that's very rigid. And I think there are a lot more chords on this record. There's just more structure in terms of things that I came up and we have to deal with instead of playing completely free. What I found was, when we would tour, after about the fifth gig, we starting really running out of ideas because we were playing two or three sets of free music for the whole tour. And so this new material has a lot of both, where we're playing free but there's also structure that we have to deal with—which really helps you conserve your thoughts and ideas and energy. You don't have to work quite as hard.

AAJ: Did you find, when you were running out of ideas playing free on the road, that you were just repeating yourselves? Playing the same things?

CV: Yeah. And playing free, you're going to repeat yourself. You're going to end up using the same vocabulary, the same things you know that have worked in the past. Whether you want to or not, that's just how it's going to be. You can change it a certain amount each night to make it interesting and still fresh for you. But then after a while—it got to a point where we were like, "this is just too hard. I can't think of anything else to do." And if you really, really repeat yourself to the point where it's almost like playing the same changes over and over, the same solo—then it gets to be really dead and not fun anymore.

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