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Interviews

Clogs: Opening Up the Possibilities

By Published: March 20, 2006
AAJ: It unnerves musicians when someone isn't playing. It can be interpreted as surliness.

BD: Yeah. In his case, we know it isn't.

AAJ: No song is more beautiful than "Lantern." I love the idea of Padma singing one song per CD—which isn't to say this is a strict rule. Somehow when there's only one vocal track, it gives that track a remarkable presence due to its being, as on this new CD, right in the middle of the record. I like the steel drum melody and Bryce's guitar, and it's very nice that when Padma sings the melody, he and Rachael have already played that melody on their instruments. The vocal ends up being the last word on the subject. Padma, you wrote the lyrics?

PN: On that song, yeah. I don't know what to say about that song—I like it too. It was written in Mallacoota [in Victoria, Australia]. I have a lot of nostalgia [laughing] for anything I write in Mallacoota for some reason or other. It seems like when I'm looking for material there, it's not sophisticated. It's pared down, an idea in its simplest form. I do like the piece.

BD: A lot of ideas come from songs. Padma writes a lot of songs. There's only one on each Clogs record, but it's not by choice. There might be other pieces we've done that had songs in them. I think it's a really nice thing that there's this voice that comes out. Rachael has also sung a bit in the past; there's a song on the first record that has singing with no words—"I'm Very Sad."

PN: It's nice in a concert, too. People aren't expecting it and all of a sudden it opens out into a song, a sweet and sad song.

BD: It invites people in much closer.

AAJ: I'm not really one for inquiring what lyrics mean, but I will say that that phrase "light me a lantern by your lighthouse, my keeper" is extremely moving to me when I hear it.

PN: The Gabo Isle is a symbol for where I live. There's an island there with a lighthouse on it. I don't mean to personalize it too much, but everybody has their home.

AAJ: Tell me about the song "Fiddlegree."

BD: "Fiddlegree" is another fun piece, like "Cricket." It's got a little bit of humor in it. It's played on a ukulele, a tenor ukulele I bought in California, which is actually very nice—a concert uke. I originally wrote the material on the guitar. The name comes from "filigree." I think I was reacting at the time to a few things. One was the lack of detail in a lot of contemporary music, especially minimalist music—the lack of ornament or subtlety. As a player, when you're playing tht kind of music, you very much lose your sense of individuality. So on the song you start off with these kinds of ornaments; Padma and I play those together. We're improvising. It's a heavily improvised piece.

PN: Very free.

BD: Very free. There are kind of scalar passages [sings the repeating phrase] which is kind of a loose quote on a Philip Glass piece called "Music in Fifths." I'd just gotten off of playing "Music in Fifths," which is a thirty-minute piece—with him, actually, which is just amazing, but mind-boggling to have to follow that line exactly with six players. So it's kind of like, well, ghost this scale but do whatever you want. And then the ending makes it all a palindrome. It's these little intellectual ideas that kind of hide in these pieces.

PN: Just going back to that idea of intellectualism in the music—I'm personally of the belief that some kind of mental restriction or bind actually binds us to the music in a stronger sense. Then as a player or writer of music, the assumption would be that if we are bound to the music and we feel more strongly about it, then that's going to reflect in some way in the way the music is received. That would be one of the theories behind doing something. It's not outwardly obvious that there is a palindrome there, but there's a sense that there is something there and that there is a kind of tension about the way the performers are playing it, or trying to play it as adequately as possible.

AAJ: The intellectualisms add a structural rigor?

PN: Yeah, but I don't think structural rigor in itself is a good thing necessarily. Or a bad thing.

BD: It's a small piece. It's kind of delicate, it's got quiet instruments. It's an attempt to create a delicate kind of music which I think was successful in a way. It's sort of like a toy piano piece. It has that levity live. It's also strangely upbeat live; it's quick, up-tempo. What's funny is that my sister finds it very sad—the opening and the melodica line.

PN: For that piece, I'm often sitting on the floor with a pen or something doing the rhythms. It's fiddly. Intimate.

AAJ: Interesting how the audience reaction to a piece you play can tell you what emotional content it has before you might know.

PN: We're just happy to go with the audience's response. "Well, okay, they liked this." And I think that's the reason why we kept playing it and kept it elegant, because people had a pretty unanimous response to that piece.


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