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Mark Feldman: His Own Music, His Own Sound, His Own Aesthetic

By Published: January 29, 2007
AAJ: I'm curious as to just how specific a notion you had of what sort of record you wanted to make. Obviously, you had the compositions, but did you know, for example, just how much improvisation you wanted as opposed to composed material?

MF: Well, I thought the pieces that I wrote had a specific requirement. I didn't have any kind of formula, no. I definitely wanted to make what I consider a jazz record, and that means there's quite a bit of improvisation—maybe less than some other jazz records, of course. I wasn't really thinking of any formulas. I really wanted to just write my own music and have a free reign, you know—make my own statement after all these years of being a sideman. This would be how I would present this kind of instrumentation and this kind of world; this is my idea.

So if you look at a piece like "Father Demo Square, for instance, that's a real head-solos-head piece. Totally. Then there's other pieces that are definitely not that, but from my perspective, you couldn't really make an arrangement for them for mixed ensemble or string quartet. They were really specific kinds of ideas for a rhythm section with a violin.

AAJ: I've listened to this album quite a few times in the last several weeks.

MF: Well, that's a compliment right there. It really is, because there's such a glut—I wonder how anyone has any time to listen to anything. And if anyone even tells me they listened to the whole thing, I'm happy.

AAJ: When I listen to it, I'm struck every time by the remarkable amount of dynamics in the music. It's striking; it goes from whispers to real vehemence. I'm also struck by the spaciousness of the music—the importance of silence as an actual component of the music. That's something the other players really seem to grasp: that not playing is at times as important as playing. At times, the players are as noticeable in their absence as their presence. Any insights into this?

MF: I would say that's pretty much on the money, because from what I remember of the rehearsal time that we had, that was an exact phrase that I would express to the others, especially on certain pieces. The choice of not playing. I tried to construct the pieces in a way that the choice of not playing was just as visceral or important to the player as playing—not just as a place to rest your chops. And as far as dynamics go, I would say that in my own development in the past five, six, seven years, developing a larger dynamic range has been something I've been really conscious of.

Part of it was when I stopped playing electric violin and starting performing only through a microphone. And when I started performing on a much more concert-quality violin, I was able to develop a much larger dynamic range than when I was plugging into a guitar amp, so to speak. That became more and more important to me, and some of the elements I wanted to add to some of these models that I had lurking in the back of my mind like Sunday Walk and Man of the Light were a larger dynamic range and a greater use of space.

AAJ: Those are characteristics that can be unnerving to casual listeners. I don't think people are as accustomed to those qualities as they once were.

MF: Right. Other people have used this phrase: "casual listener. It's a new one for me, and I think it's interesting. What this means, maybe, is people who put the record on when they drive? Or people who put the record on and do other things?

AAJ: Well, what it really is is a cliché, so I'm embarrassed to have used it.

MF: Well, I don't mean to be overly pedantic. I know that if I'm doing a little workshop with someone, some students, and I want to touch on this concept, I'll stop talking and use a lot of silence in my speech. When you start putting silence in your speech, it really does either make the other person pay more attention—or be really uncomfortable. Any time you break the pattern of what people are used to, what people expect, it can make them uncomfortable. Or it can bring more attention to certain elements. When you look at music like Morton Feldman's, that would be an extreme example of using silence and spaciousness, wouldn't it? And it's certainly successful. It certainly isn't for casual listening, I guess. Of course, it certainly isn't jazz, either.

AAJ: Well, on this record, I think the dynamics and silences make the music more effective. It's just part of what the music is.

MF: Well, I'm glad you see it that way. I think so, too. I just think the more multidimensional you can make your music—for me as a listener, the more I'm interested. I mean, there's certain music I really like. And there's a lot of pop music I like, but I notice that I don't like it for a long time. I tend to like one or two tunes. Because if I listen to more than one I start to get numbed-out by the lack of different elements.

Anyway, in my music, some of the elements that I find important would be a big dynamic range and a good contrast of silence to activity, fact activity to slower activity, more harmonic movement to less—all these things keep me interested as a listener, as long as it hangs together as one vision. You could do all those things and it could just be a hodgepodge, and then it wouldn't be successful.

You know, at this early stage, one thing that I've read that people have written about my music is that it's a combination of genres. And I don't really feel this is true. I really don't feel like I'm taking different genres and pastiche-ing them in a kind of postmodern way, or something like that. But of course, everyone has an opinion.

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