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Uri Caine: Transformation, Improvisation and Context

By Published: October 9, 2006
AAJ: When you're performing live, I assume you don't have a huge bank of keyboards. Are you just working with, say, Rhodes and laptop? Or do you have any real synths or anything else?

UC: Well, on the last tour, for instance, I played a Rhodes that's usually supplied. You know, especially on the road, we don't carry that around. Then I play a little Edirol miniature keyboard that's hooked up to my laptop—a Macintosh. Then I have all those software synthesizers—some from Korg, some of the Native Instruments ones are really good, some from Logic itself. I also have some of the Arturia instruments; they're making software versions of Minimoog, Prophet-V and ARP 2600. So that's pretty much my arsenal. You can really get a variety of sounds out of all that stuff.

AAJ: I was struck by the ways that different people have responded to this music—meaning the ways writers have chosen to interpret the Bedrock material. I was taken aback by how much some people have seized upon the seventies disco side of the music. It's not as it that element isn't there—it is—but the drum sounds and ambiences seem just as rooted in '90s and current electronica, with some house music bridging the gap, as they are in disco.

UC: I agree. I think that functions all the time when you read critiques of your work—that people seize on certain elements or think that you're implying certain things because you've chosen to play with certain people, or use certain different sounds, or somehow refer to different things. You know, I would say generally that sometimes people might read more into it than is there, and sometimes they sort of pass over the variety of what we're trying to do. They go for the more easily identifiable things. Not to mention that there's also, in this particular case, a sensitivity to whether or not the music is parodying fusion and that type of sound that came out of that era—or whether it's actually embracing it.

A lot seems to depend on whether they think that we're sort of making fun of it as we're playing it or actually taking it seriously. There is a lot of humor in it, or an attempt at humor—whether people find it funny or not. But to me, it's more about the variety of all those things, of being able to move within, and in and out, of those things. And that's also true with some of the other musical projects that I've done, and also, I would say in general, with music that I enjoy. There's an element of transforming things and moving in and out of different feelings, and that's certainly a part of this project.

But how people judge that—it's sort of out of your control. It says more about the people that are making the judgments. And, you know, I'm a believer in the First Amendment, so everybody has the right to comment on it and say what they want to say. I think that as musicians, you try your best to do your thing and you leave those commentaries to other people. I'm not saying that I don't take those comments seriously, but there's not much you can do once you put the record out. I think there are certain criticisms that people make that I might even agree with, because you feel some things when you're working on something, when you're in the heat of it and trying to deal with it. Then, over time, you change your opinion—and again, that would go for many of the projects that I've done. Things change, and your opinion of things change.

But I'm not sure that you can really do very much about somebody seizing on it and saying something. Like, for instance, a certain article said that it sounded like the music for a porn soundtrack. It's not we set out do that that necessarily, but, in another way, that sound—or the sound of music from certain movies, or television shows, or certain aspects of [trumpeter] Miles Davis or Weather Report—it would be natural that that would creep in to any music that's dealing with electronic music, because of the association that people make with it. But I think that in certain cases, people are being a little simplistic about how they're judging it—because for the purpose of their review or their analysis, they're seizing on things that seem to me to be much more on the surface. I think for musicians, it's a little bit more complex than that.

AAJ: I think it's hard for some people to understand that one can approach a style, or many styles, playfully but affectionately. I think some people are confused when a musician has the ability to approach a music that has cheesy elements and play the hell out of it. And no one would bother to play music that they had no respect for at all.

UC: Right. Part of me totally agrees with that, in the sense that there are certain artists that I would think of that, when I was growing up, people around me would say, "Oh, that is so corny, so cheesy. How can you be into it? But then, if you really start to investigate and somehow get past that, you see that there's a lot of not just technical skill, but imagination going on. It's one of those things where you want to say, "Don't knock it until you've tried to get into the inner workings of it. And again, that goes for so many different types of music. There are always going to be certain people who are saying, "We want the hard stuff —the thing that seems to be the most uncompromising. But that also changes over time; things that seemed that way to one generation quickly become cheesy for the next. That, to me, seems less important than the actual building blocks of the music. It becomes really fascinating, if you're a musician, to see how things are made. It doesn't mean that everything in that world needs to be praised, or that everything's equal, because I certainly don't think that way. And part of me is also into the hard, uncompromising music. But I think it all comes down to that thing that's sort of indefinable—you like it or you hate it, and then you have to find the words and the emotions to explain it.

Again, different critics have different constructs for what they believe to be good and bad music, and, again, I think it says a lot more to do with where they're coming from. Which is all valid; I'm not saying their criticisms aren't valid. It just has a lot more to do with their own personal agenda than it necessarily does with the intrinsic value of the music. That doesn't make it pleasant to read those things sometimes; when you feel that you've been misjudged or even dismissed. And certainly with some of the classical music things I've done, I've endured the same thing. Especially if you think of yourself as a musician playing with other musicians. You're on your road; you're trying to figure something out in your own way through playing—not through talking or writing, but through actual music-making. And the process is interesting, and fascinating, and wonderful on those terms, so that fact that other people comment on it is interesting. But it's not essential.

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