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Bill Bruford: No Random Act

By Published: May 4, 2004
The Earthworks band with Bates and Ballamy, often referred to as Earthworks Mark I, lasted until the early '90s, when Bruford was once again enlisted in a new formation of King Crimson. The dissolution of the Crimson Double Trio in '96 gave Bruford the push to finally devote himself full-time to his own music, but with a changed concept. Eschewing all forms of electronics, and moving towards an even looser improvisational format, Bruford released '97's If Summer Had Its Ghosts , a beautiful trio outing with guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner and bassist Eddy Gomez. The experience was good enough to motivate Bruford to form a new version of Earthworks, this time an all-acoustic affair with pianist Steve Hamilton, saxophonist Patrick Clahar and bassist Mark Hodgson. '99's A Part, and Yet Apart was an impressive calling card for a group that has since become Bruford's main project and primary musical emphasis. Releasing two more records with that line-up, '01's The Sound of Surprise and '02's live release, Footloose and Fancy Free , further consolidated the direction and thrust of Earthworks Mark II.

An Unconventional Drum Kit

Immediately apparent on the '02 live DVD release, Footloose in NYC , is Bruford's unconventional drum kit. "I've always been interested in drum configurations, says Bruford, "and ways you can set them up. Rather than bringing the traditional American style drum kit to a gig and saying, 'this is what I've brought,' and letting that determine the music, I try to listen to the music first and say, 'you will need this and you will need that.' So you hear the music in your ears first, and let the music dictate what instruments you have and how you set them up; that's generally true, through much of the stuff I've been doing with Crimson, Yes and all those types of things.

"The new set is based on the very easy and natural way that timpanists go by, continues Bruford. "Five drums sort of flat, waist-high, and set up symmetrically with two cymbals and two toms on the left, two cymbals and two toms on the right. Swivelling slightly from the hips, from left to right, is an easier motion for me than reaching forward to the top toms. So once you've got them flat you've got to get rid of the high hat; that means you've got to get a remote high hat right in front, along with the snare, which is possible. That kind of symmetry opens up a huge range of possibilities for quite a small drum set. Like all things to do with music, money comes into play, which means if you're hopping around Europe like I am you can't take a ton of stuff. So that particular drum set—two cymbals and two toms on each side, a snare and high hat in the middle—has a lot of bang for the buck.

"And it alters your approach, concludes Bruford. "The classic number one cliché is 'diga-diga-diga-diga-diga-diga-diga-diga-bush' as you go around the toms and end with a cymbal crash. With my set-up the pitches are out of order, so that's actually very hard to play. So the pitches are going to come out in somewhat odder orders; you can hear that a bit on my solo, 'With Friends Like These.'

Enter Tim Garland

In '02 Clahar left the band, and was replaced with woodwind multi-instrumentalist and composer Tim Garland, also a bandleader in his own right. "Well, we keep going up a notch, says Bruford. "Tim's a British guy with a standing in American credentials; he comes from Chick Corea's group, Origin, so he's got a combination that I like a lot. First we speak the same language, and I don't mean that facetiously; I mean we share the same view of life. But he also has the international view down as well, he's played all the big festivals, he's seen how it was with Chick. So we're up a notch with Tim. He also brings a number of other instruments; he's a multi-instrumentalist who plays flute, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones; he can play piano if you want him to. He brings all that, but he's in the band particularly for his compositions.

Three of Garland's compositions—"White Knuckle Wedding, "Tramontana and "Speaking With Wooden Tongues —are featured on the most recent Earthworks recording, Random Acts of Happiness. Unquestionably Bruford's loosest playing to date, there is still the strong sense of composition that characterizes his work, even in his drum solos. "I'm very concerned with that; I've always, in a way, thought of my drumming as being little compositions in their own right, Bruford explains. "In the sense that if the electricity were switched off and the entire group went silent, the drum part alone would be worth listening to; it would have its own life; its own reason for existence. I love composition because I do see the drums very much as moving from section to section; this thing exists because of the thing that existed immediately prior and has a reason for being. I like that a lot.

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