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Interviews

Weasel Walter: Revolt

By Published: August 3, 2009


Defined Storms

AAJ: Are there any meetings with players that you haven't documented on record?

WW: I take it upon myself to record everything I do, pretty much, so everything is a potential release. As long as everyone is fine with the music—certain combinations of people feel right. I'm not interested in the resume; everybody's got one and it doesn't mean shit. I'm not trying to play with everyone in the scene and I've been fortunate enough to play with people of different statures. People show up, we shake hands, play and it's a killer—it's not a matter of discussion. You know when it's really coherent. I've been fortunate to play with pretty high-caliber musicians, and they've held their own against my hyperactivity [laughs]. That's my criterion.

Weasel Walter

Some people would have no interest in playing with me, and that's fine—I've had the experience of playing with musicians whom I thought were interesting, but the results didn't fit with their personal vision. I tend to try and turn everything into what I want it to be—it's not about domination or subversion, it's just that I see improvisation in terms of balance, counterpoint and equilibrium. I am interested in the intersection of voice, language and vision. That's what I do—show up and play with whoever's there.

AAJ: Could you shed some light on composition?

WW: I'm interested in complexity and a certain level of discrete dissonance and asymmetry. There does come a point where composition becomes a springboard for longer forms with more focus. Free improvisation has a pretty bad reputation with the general public, and I understand where that comes from because there's a lot of bad free improvisation out there. I think that the part of me that's never satisfied looks at it with an eye toward improvement. I've been struggling with my ideas toward both composition and improvisation because a lot of the time they seem at odds with one another. With a lot of the rock people I work with, they can't often handle music of that complexity, whereas the improvisers I work with often can't commit to the level of rehearsal that a long-form composition would require. The struggle is how to rectify this; I haven't figured it out, and I keep trying but it comes up a little short for me. This is one of my main concerns in life—I haven't solved the problem. Writing is not the problem, but getting it played right is very hard.

AAJ: When you're convening a group, how much discussion happens before you hit?

WW: That depends on who the people are and whether there's an implicit goal. Some people, there's nothing to discuss. Others might have a specific idea or gestalt they want to touch on, and I'm pretty open to both ways of doing it. I can show up and hit with somebody I've just met and generally make something coherent out of it, or someone can hand me some music and I'll play it. I'm less reluctant to play others' written music sometimes than play with improvisers—I've been a sideman and worked on tons of projects. I've been the bassist in a glam rock band—Bobby Conn's band—and the whole concept was pretty copacetic. The songs were interesting and the subtext was interesting, so I had no problem with it and I would be in that situation again if it were to happen. I'm a flexible musician in many regards, but everything I find myself doing has to somehow fit into my body of work. Luckily, there are a lot of people I can relate to musically and I've been lucky to play with a lot of them.

AAJ: We've talked a lot about your percussion setup previously. Could you talk a bit about the evolution of your kit in light of how your music has changed. Even on Luttenbachers recordings like Trauma, you approached the bass drum sound rather differently from most improvised or rock music.

WW: At that phase, I was using a kit of very small drums—roto toms, bongos, no snare drum and mostly broken cymbals. The reason for this was to more closely match the reeds and bass in dynamics and to have mostly staccato sounds with little decay in order to leave more space for the other instruments. I was beginning to use a 16-inch floor tom as a kick drum, something I still do to this day. At the time of mixing, I was dissatisfied with the recording of the kick; it sounded too mushy and indistinct to me. I was very much used to hearing piercingly clean, triggered kick drums in a death metal context and wanted that kind of clarity, so we simply ran the original kick drum signal through co-producer Robert Wilkus' modular synthesizer bank and created new voices for the kick sound. The sounds themselves are slightly different on every piece, and basically the sound of the kick drum was electronically filtered.

AAJ: It's interesting you mention a setup that gives more space to the reeds and bass, because so much sounds like it has been filled in, at least with respect to improvised music as it's usually presented. Please tell us how you define "space" in this context.

Weasel WalterWW: That was very dense music, but from the perspective of the drumming, it had to do with pure incremental mass, not just building up layers of sustaining sounds. It's not that complex; what I've done over the last two decades is develop a system that allows me to play in as many contexts as possible with the least amount of gear possible, with the widest dynamic range. That's all that's happened—I've grouped together random instruments that allow me to participate with a range of settings, from duets with [oboist] Kyle Bruckmann to playing in a death metal group. I travel with my percussion setup, so it's got to be small and light and it's got to cut through any band but be transparent enough that I can play with any instrumentation. Most of the pieces in my kit have no sustain whatsoever; they're very staccato and short.

AAJ: People talk about clarity, but it's quite fascinating to hear in your playing every note and this rotating satellite relationship with very few daubs or wispy things.

WW: That's what I've been working towards. I think people misconstrue that my music is all bile and violence and hatred. Of course, I talk a good game, but what I'm really interested in is the precise articulation of artistic violence. I like a certain amount of tension and upheaval in my music. That is paramount, and the way the drum kit sounds is the most eloquent statement of chaos and disorder I can find. I'm working very hard to produce all those notes, so I want people to be able to hear them. I don't want to obscure it all by playing on a loud, mushy kit—anybody can buy a big amp and make a bunch of noise. A lot of my drumming has to do with this approach of different orbits or clusters of things happening at the same time—as you said, satellites. One of the things that appeals to me as an image is a shower of broken glass—somebody said that about Sunny Murray.

AAJ: Robert Levin, "The Continuous Cracking of Glass." (Jazz & Pop, April/May 1969)

WW: Right, that's where I'm coming from. If I were to talk about specific influences in free jazz, the first thing I heard that was a jumping-off point was Rashied Ali's drumming on [Coltrane's] Interstellar Space (Impulse, 1967). It was an almost static approach to amorphous, massive cyclical units of sound. I don't play like him, but there was a lesson learned there. I feel like I have a personal sound at this point, and it's pretty easy to hear when I'm playing the drums. I listen to a lot of my own stuff because I'm always mixing, mastering and editing the music. It's interesting—I have a wide approach but my intent is the recognizable thing. It's not as much about "style."



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