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Vic Rawlings: Hardball

By Published: January 10, 2010
In addition, Rawlings has recorded two duets with Bullock, On That Which is Best and the Best That Can be Done Under the Circumstances (Fargone, 2006) and Fall of Song (Chloe, 2003). He's also recorded a duet with percussionist Tim Feeney, In Six Parts (Sedimental, 2007), and a sort of isotopic string trio (with an added guitar), Refrain (Creative Sources, 2008), with Gust Burns on piano, Ernesto Rodrigues on viola and David Hirvonen on electric guitar. At this point, he has honed his contrarian art to a minimal complex of acupuncture pinpoints. The string trio still has its grand sonorities as a whole, but one senses them sliding out in the evolutionary scale. This is apparent on the duo with Feeney—especially when one hears him live and solo. Hearing him can be compared to freefalling, which may give an idea of the sort of challenge and exhilaration one might experience when one bears with him, not knowing where one's feet are going to fall.

Jazz is a guessing game. With syncopation, it has always been such with trying to anticipate the next beat. The idiosyncratic Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
took this to another level, which contemporary artists like Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
have revisited and resituated in turn. But that is like comparing a tall ship to a submarine. The listener, once caught up in Rawlings' art, is taken undersea not knowing when he can catch a breath. This arbiter of sonic chance and opportunity blesses us with a mad and illuminating adventure. He continues to do so, as anyone who witnessed his magical, mysterious Boston duo with Ikue Mori in the spring of 2008 will testify. His acupuncture down pat, Rawlings could vary its healing and invigorating properties. His eclectic amplified instrument complex gave an earthy counterbalance to Mori's roping, ringing laptop improvisations.

Another project, from 2004 and as yet unreleased, is with Howard Stelzer of Intransitive Recordings. Stelzer's instrument is the cassette tape recorder, on which he floods dense sonic lakes that echo as if in a cave. He favors the vintage and battered-up in his arsenal of devices and has a collection of tapes with found and collected sounds. He fast-forwards and slows these on the machines. It can be brutal or ethereal, just as nature itself. Stelzer is a younger and more iconoclastic listener than Rawlings, although the average audience member might find his actual art to be smoother more accessible than Rawlings.' There is promise of a palatable pairing of contrasts between the two artists.

All About Jazz: What do you value in music, and in particular, in the concept of music as you redefine it in your own work?

Vic Rawlings: That is a huge question! In short, I look to music as a heightened chance to be present in the moment; I feel that when I go to a show or when I play one. If it's good and happening then there's nothing else in my mind—that's a welcome respite! I can get that mind frame happening at home sometimes too, but it really kicks in when there's an audience.

It's also a heightened chance to get on the level with people—the other people in the band or the people who have come to see what the band's going to do. Everyone knows if it's happening or if it's not really there—it's like church in that way, but a really great experience of community.

I'm referencing "music" when I do my thing on the cello and the electronics—there's all the elements of music there. The fundamentals are unavoidable—that's OK. I'm not really hoping to make something happen that's not music in the absolute. Time is time. It's always there. Events have duration and density, repetition or not.

AAJ: Is there a relation between the abstract work you do on your CDs and the banjo and guitar work you do in other contexts?

VR: It's all music, of course, which is to say that it all happens in time and is there to be heard....I have never met a good musician who is absolutely narrowly focused on one sort of music. Everyone has many interests; I'm not exotic in this way. Look at the record/CD/mp3 collections of interesting people, and you'll find a lot of variety, likewise with musicians. Many people play a certain thing in public, but let other music happen in other settings or privately.

To clarify: I play and professionally teach a few traditional pre-bluegrass styles on the banjo. I use tunes, actually parts of tunes, as starting places. It's always seemed to me that any music is the experience of the sound of those instruments that make it. I like the sound of the banjo, so I play it. I don't tend to play tunes faithfully or go to jam sessions; I'm looking more to simply play the instrument itself; the music brings a lot of other things with it that I'm less interested in.

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