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George Lewis: AACM Veteran

By Published: October 20, 2005

AAJ: It's interesting you speak of empathy, because I think we tend to think about computers as impersonal and cold.

GL: Well, I don't know about "we" but I don't think about them that way, but maybe there is a "we" that thinks that way [laughter].

AAJ: I'll be more careful about my pronouns.

GL: No, please, it's great to hear the "we"!

AAJ: Well, when I picture a few musicians playing together and a laptop across from them, I think of the humans as having more personality, warmth, empathy.

GL: That's interesting. I guess over the years, I've had to give up that idea. I mean I did believe in it at one time, but then I wanted to see how far it could go. And you know it can go pretty far. Over the past 25 or so years that I've been doing this, I've seen the computers and programming that I've made evolve along with my thinking about what music is. Computers have helped me to think about music and helped me to understand improvisation more thoroughly than I used to. And one of the things I've discovered for myself is that a person can be very warm and nice and a pretty bad improviser! [laughter]

So at a certain point you have to listen to the music and say, well, it's great to have all that warmth and everything, but what about the music. And to me, I'm looking more these days at who the good players are—there's no reason for me to exclude anyone, human or whatever. If I think they're doing a good job, let's see how far they go.

AAJ: So your experience is that the computers you've programmed are just as responsive as humans?

GL: No, no, that would be overdoing it. But who knows how far they can go? I think they've gone very far already. But you know, the whole man/machine competition thing is pretty cliché at this point... Basically my major task now is to explore music and not machines and man. I think that ultimately my work in computers is mainly about exploring what we do as human beings.

Visit George Lewis on the web.

Recommended Listening:

George Lewis, Solo Trombone Album (Sackville, 1976)

Anthony Braxton, Quartet (Dortmund) 1976 (hatART, 1976)

George Lewis, Homage to Charlie Parker (Black Saint, 1979)

Steve Lacy Seven, Cliches (hatHUT, 1982)

John Zorn/George Lewis/Bill Frisell, News for Lulu / More News for Lulu (hatART, 1987/1989)

George Lewis/Bertram Turetzky, Conversations (Incus, 1998)

Photo Credit:
Frank Rubolino

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