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Interviews

Ravish Momin: The Business of Time

By Published: March 3, 2009

AAJ: From introducing electronics into the ensemble, how has your approach to the kit changed, if at all?

RM: The approach hasn't changed but it has made more demands on my technique. For instance, I'm using loops and I can modify them live as I'm playing (depending on the patches and so forth) and when you're playing along with anything that's preset, you have to have your shit together. As an improviser who's really focused on time, it kicked my ass into getting my time together because if you're off on those loops—and my music is based on non-traditional time signatures anyway—it can really throw you. If we're doing a piece in 7/8, 13/8, or 15/4 and I'm not on, it sounds terrible.

AAJ: How's your experience been with the implied time that you're creating on the kit transferred to electronics?

RM: It's another instrument and a valid palette, like adding shakers or something to percussion setups, and I want to go somewhere else with it than what I've heard Satoshi Takeishi or Jim Black do. I'm using a program called Ableton Live which actually lets you do that—program beats and random patterns on the fly. It has a velocity function that allows it to mimic a human feel where things don't always sync up. The patterns change and it's very close to how improvisation might sound.

I've added on top of that an additional element, so the whole thing is filtered through a MIDI unit where I have these pads that provide alternate textures and loops. I can trigger those on the fly as I wish—another element of control over the setting that's provided—but it's totally open.

AAJ: In your demo recording, it sounded like all of the instruments—including the electronics—were on equal footing.

RM: Awesome, that's our goal. Eventually I'd like to take it further, where you won't be able to tell who's doing what and it'll be a huge, massive sound. The cellist might be using some effects and allowing a sort of blend.

AAJ: With the acoustic Tarana recordings, and especially Miren (Clean Feed, 2007), it wasn't always clear who was doing what. It also seemed like being discernible wasn't that important.

RM: That's what I'm going for. Sure, there are soloists who can play technically, but again for this music to develop, it has to be more about the band and less about the individual ego. I'm more interested in what excites me sonically, whether it's a Braxton quartet or electronic music. Not to mention, jazz and creative music are already marginalized economically, so that you really have to focus on getting an individual approach together rather than spreading yourself thin.

Ravish MominAAJ: There's a Chicago saxophonist about whom the consensus seems to be that his touring quintet is where it's at; even though the other projects are cool, they distract and lead to a diffusion of what you might have.

RM: Especially in this economy, you can't get the money together to do that live, so doing five or six projects doesn't really work. You have to be cognizant of the world you live in. I remember a quote from [late saxophonist and composer] Julius Hemphill saying, "Jazz is the paper kingdom," which is brutal—we all look great on paper and like we're doing so much, but the reality is that not many are making a living off of it. For me, I'm actually trying to make a living out of it. This is what I'm trying to do. Sure, I could have a couple more projects going on, but you really need to distill what you want to do.

AAJ: Improvisers with a supportive community seem to exist out there—the Bad Plus are selling records and touring...

RM: Oh certainly, there are people out there and touring who are successful—Pedro keeps doing the festivals and bringing people over to Portugal because he's cognizant of the fact that if you're going to sell records, you have to be out there. Bands that are touring are the ones who are selling records, for sure.

AAJ: It seems like in the past few years, the market for music and CDs has gotten somewhat bleak—people are downloading everything and not buying anything. And tangentially, maybe jazz is the new indie-rock. It's a weird thing to say, but it's under the radar of most of the population and self-production or small labels are the only thing making it move as a market. One has to make tours oneself and do it out of the proverbial van.

RM: Yeah, but a lot of the musicians haven't realized it yet. People assume that they're going to get calls because of their merit and have tours, but by and large if you're not one of the chosen ones, you have to be out there selling yourself. I was talking to a curator of a Brooklyn-based venue and he was telling me that a lot of the jazz guys won't even do any promo—they won't send e-mails, nothing. How do they expect anybody to know about it?

Saying that jazz is the new indie-rock is a heavy statement; you could open up a whole discussion forum on that and see what happens, because it's so loaded. To be self-fulfilling and self-actualizing, it has to work from the angle of the labels and the musicians who have to realize that they need to be self-sufficient. Records don't sell themselves and you have to get a publicist and an agent, or be your own—unless you want to have a comfy teaching gig and sit at home, putting out ten records a year and be happy with that.



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