Tim Berne: The Subliminal Explorations of a Creative Mind
LP: What have you learned from the risks that you have taken in your career?
TB: I don't know if they are risks because what am I risking really, someone not liking it? It's not that big a deal. You know what I mean? Are you risking anything writing this book? People can choose to read it or not like it but that's not really something like risking your life. You don't think of it that way really when you are doing it. It's what I do and I'm choosing to do it. No one said you have to do this, you have to play this weird music, or else. So I don't really see it as a risk. The risk is almost in not doing it. What I've learned from it is that it's probably the only time that I have ever expressed myself clearly. Where I really don't hold back and I'm not inhibited. Whereas in dealing with people, you are kind of always holding shit back or you don't say what you mean. You are scared to say this and you don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. When you are playing, that's gone. You just play and do whatever it takes to make music happen. I like that because it really brought me out of a shell just in terms of being shy or being incommunicative or scared of my ideas or of expressing myself.
LP: Can you connect today's music politically, culturally, or spiritually?
TB: I'm sure there is a way to do that and with some people more than others. I think music is a real positive force and it certainly doesn't promote violence, maybe violent reaction, but I really don't connect it with politics if I'm honest with myself.
LP: Do you think about the importance of your music moving forward?
TB: I want it to change but I don't know if I can define what forward is. I mean I don't think any of this stuff is new. It's just being organized in a different way. It would be pretty presumptuous to think that I'm going to do something new or progressive or advanced. I'm more interested in trying not to retrace my steps and maybe it means going forward but adding to whatever I'm doing rather than duplicating it, but it doesn't mean it's going forward. Some people may consider it going backwards in terms of my development, but I just try to get better at expressing my ideas. Just being clear with my ideas. It's pretty hard to do the same thing twice. It just gets crazy. One of my role models is Julius Hemphill and he was extreme about not playing it safe in terms of how things were going to go musically or doing projects that he knew were going to work without much effort.
LP: How much influence did Julius Hemphill have on you?
TB: He was a brilliant and amazing man. Amazing vision though most of it was undocumented and he was an incredible influence. It was all about ideas and that's what it's about for me. It doesn't really matter how you get to them. The music that I'm attracted to is about ideas and not about craft, and ultimately, it's about sounds and ideas and probably a million other things and that's why I don't like to talk about it. You know what I mean by that? I mean there are guys that can solo and there are those that can get inside the music and that's why you are attracted to people like Miles or Sonny Rollins because even though they are playing an old form, they are really ripping apart the song and getting to the point, the core of it, and they are personalizing it. And that's what people are attracted to. That's what separates it from people who are very good instrumentalists.
LP: Do you take the audience into consideration when you compose or play?
TB: The audience is an important part of the picture or part of the equation. But I never set out to do what I think the audience will like. But I know if I'm honest about what I'm doing and I'm convinced, most of the audience will be convinced. I've been in situations where the audience will hate us and I'll think, "God help us." But we are so strong in our belief in what we are doing, we don't condescend that we'll win some people over. But you just don't ever expect it with people who don't ever listen to this kind of stuff. Just because we are so into it doesn't mean that we can be condescending or try to do something that is not us because people will pick up on that and you almost always sabotage yourself that way. But the audience is important and you can feel it. When it's not going right with the audience, it really affects the music. There is no way that you cannot notice that, and you can hear it and feel it in the room. There are certain clubs in Europe where we just know the audience is there, we feel confident and end up taking a lot of chances. It really leads to some interesting stuff.
LP: Are the audiences that much different in Europe compared to the states?