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In the Artist's Own Words

Bill Dixon: Excerpts from Vade Mecum

By Published: January 29, 2010
The Art of the Solo

The Art of the Solo was prepared for delivery when I was in residence at Wesleyan University in 2005. I never fully delivered it there due to the fact that I was so busy and the solo trumpet concert that I gave there seemed [to me] to more eloquently present my points than any words could. I also had the same experience at McGill University [in Canada] a few years prior to that when I presented my work in music and visual art [via slides and power point] where the talk that I gave and the performance of solo trumpet [in addition to the visualness of the slides of the paintings] served to make my points as definitive as they could be made. —BD

What I am attempting to do within the framework of the construction of a solo has to do primarily with creating a solo composition that, as a composition, is complete within itself.

The form or structure of the solo seams itself into the solo simultaneously as the solo is being performed.

There are no pre-existing performance patterns that I know, have taken the time to learn or use, consciously, that I can, at will, "call into play."

I don't approach my work on the instrument in that manner and never did.

I, right from the beginning, when I started to learn the instrument and was working on the fundamental things in music that support musical thoughts and ideas, for the security of their realization, dependent on knowledge (personal playability) that "guides" when the "nod" to utilize a scale passage is made apparent, for example, and in the music that required it, when to, in the music that required it, to arpeggiate the chord, or when to further identify the quality of the material as that related to further identification of the piece of music being examined [played], either by alteration, rhythmic or intervallic, or use of the melodic structure and rhythmic layout in a more variegated manner that, in its formal structure (the way the primary composer had organized the piece to reflect it as being an "original"), I still resisted the learning of preordained or pre-thought out or pre-worked out, either passages or sequences or phrases since my feeling was that if what one was supposed to be doing [as a player] had to do with the idea of spontaneity, then any other way that avoided that, the learning of or the insertion of things thought out in advance at pivotal points might be "hip" and capable of getting the crowd to respond but, to my ear, it wasn't fully musical, from the standpoint of being creative [on the spot], and it certainly wasn't spontaneous.

Of course I know that anything that we do has to do with having knowledge of that thing that quite possibly we didn't know we had.

In other words, it is not possible to play something that on some level one didn't know something about, or on some level, intellectual, philosophical, metaphysical or methodological, have some kind of "inroad" knowledge about what one was playing. But that doesn't mean that one doesn't try to keep the mind "clear" and not "cluttered" with things so that at the right moment one will be able, both to respond and to execute those things that one didn't know that one knew, and freely as though it, as an idea, had just occurred. This is the high point, in my opinion, of the performance of any genre of music.

My approach to the solo at this point in my performance on the instrument focuses on the sounds that may be placed at my disposal and my attempt at their placement in the areas that they must be placed that will identify them, or what I play, as having the order and logic, in terms of hearing and experience, of a more academically "formal" constructed or thought of piece of music as experienced through being listened to in performance.

Sound and the fuller penetration of sound becomes the universe or the slate that can either be written upon {placing a sound on it} or extrapolated from, "taking" if that is possible, if there is a "body" or a mass to this sound, things out of the sound; much as one would carve something out of something.

In that instance I try to pierce the innermost qualities of the sound; I feel, because it is in this instance "cube-like," that I can "walk" through the sound and each sound has a multitude of layers that, again, much like something that can be carved, alterations can be made upon.

In my work, or my explorations with the instrument, I am currently and have for some time ceased to look or feel that the trumpet has to be eternally linked with what it has done {and excellently} in the past and continues to be doing, in the hands of rather incredible players, in the present.

I, myself, for a variety of reasons, am not that interested, for myself, in that aspect of the trumpet.

I am also not that interested in the formulations of the literature that have generally been the foils for the instrument and the development of its subsequent identification. I am interested in trying to "find" those things that I am interested in that sometimes I don't know that I would be interested in until I am faced with the fact that they are emerging from the instrument as I am playing and that I have indeed found them. I have a vision of how I want to begin to place some things; some lines; some textures; some points of rhythmic interruption of those sounds, but most of the time I am content to let the "sounds" themselves dictate where they must go, what they must be, the qualities they must have, their interlockings and their durations and their densities. I try to be ready to grapple with the elements that are produced.

In that instance, the sound in the room, how the instrument is responding, whether there is attentiveness on the part of who is there witnessing; and even my own feelings about what I am doing and does a composition really have an ending? If you will consult the work in ODYSSEY: SOLO WORKS there are pieces that can be traced that lead you, much as I was led, to where, for me, the work on these solos is currently focused.

The works: Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
, done in 1970, concerned itself almost totally with what I call the "mass" of the sound, almost brutally; MOSAIC, done during the same period, "permits" the emergence of a "linear" quality to arise out of that mass.

The piece "TRACINGS II" [1974-1975], are those masses of sound, less "thick" in texture, that serve as punctuations; "SHRIKE" [1973], is like, what I would call a "velocity" knife thrust of slowly elevating horizontal sound, frightening in its intensity; I wanted to see, then, if it was possible to "blow the bell off the horn." I don't need to do that anymore...

Ideally, for this presentation I would have, by recording, played the three solo pieces that I did in 2004 in Donaueschingen, Guimaraes, and London. And there are portions of the quartet work that I did at the FONT Festival in NY in August.

You would then and because I am pointing out those things that serve to define the "curve of departure" from one area of performance thought, as that relates to how the instrument is being used to another, be more aurally in touch with the linkages of those things.

As an explanation, this is clumsy I know, but it will have to do for now. Any of you who may be familiar with the work of the Viennese trumpeter Franz Hautzinger, who is quite an interesting young player, will have to read my liner essay to his work Gomberg (Grob, 2000), where I detail more graphically [there are drawings, etc.,] some things about the process that while not at all necessary for coming to terms with this music, for those that would want that kind of clarity, it is there.

Regarding the explanation of the process, I know that I have been wordy; I also hope that I have been clear.

This performance is dedicated to the memory of an old friend, the poet and writer Allan Polite.

It is also dedicated to the work of an American artist that I hold in high esteem, Gordon Parks.

BILL DIXON February 2005

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