Greg Kelley: Flesh to Metal
Boston trumpeter Greg Kelley takes an atom and constructs a world out of it. Taking his cue from the metallic tubes of his instrument and how they are connected to his mouth, and ultimately his body, his sounds are never wholly disembodied but rather maintain the precise quality of that apparatus that, in his hands, is a physical/technological continuum.
Or somethingefforts to characterize his art are bound to fail, turning back on themselves with the fatal realization that the only way to properly experience his work is to be silent and listen to it very carefully.
Kelley's work is not in essence symbolic: it could be characterized as holographic, perhaps, the way the smallest elements contain the largest, and the manner in which nothing and everything happens in his performances, flurries of activity that go on only to dissipate into the void, and then resituate themselves again in another fashion.
Kelley is one of the great originators. He has precursors in his minimal, or lower- case school of playing. Guitarists Keith Rowe and Derek Bailey come to mind. But no one before him has so unashamedly fused flesh to metal. He can be humorous and then just as quickly deadpan. The "mood ring" from the 1970s comes to mind, the way its colors changed depending on pulse or blood temperature.
Kelley has a mind, to be sure; and a remarkable one. But it is the act of trained, disciplined listening as opposed to structural analysis that opens the door to the glories of his inner kingdom.
All About Jazz: You have a national profile; you've played with everyone from Keiji Haino, to Joe McPhee to Jandek. And you've recorded onwhat is it, 80 albums?
Greg Kelly: I don't think 80 but I don't know actually.
AAJ: But, say, the average girl in the street that you meet wouldn't have heard of you.
GK: That is true.
AAJ: What if you went up to her and said, "Well I'm a musician," and she asked you, "What kind of music do you play?" Could you answer that?
GK: It depends if it was completely random like that, or if I'd talked to them beforehand and had an idea of what kind of knowledge they had...If I'd just met them off the street I'd probably say, "It's not really music" [laughs]. And they'd either stop talking to me or ask more questions.
AAJ: What do you think of labels likesome people call your music "lower-case." There's a little ambient, drone, noisewhat do you think of these labels?
GK: Generally they're trying to find some kind of quality between various musicians that holds them together and I don't think they're always accurate. Lower-case started because James Coleman, the theremin player, had read an interview with Steve Roden, and Steve Roden had described his music as lower-case.
AAJ: Steve Roden is from where?
GK: He's from California and he's a sound artist. He does a lot of recordings, field recordings, with some studio manipulation. He had described that as how he thinks of his own music. He didn't think of it as a genre, or something anyone else would make, he just said that's how he thought of his music. So James liked that idea and he started a mailing list or an e-mail group and early on a lot of musicians were talking on that list, Bernhard Gunterhe's a German composer...That mailing list started and that was more of a discussion group. It wasn't meant to name a label, or define a style. It was basically to discuss a certain kind of art or music that was not too showy or fireworks or technicalthat was more about quiet or contemplation. But anytime something like that becomes codified it becomes problematic.
It's hard to quantify what makes something what it is, and I felt like people thought we were part of this lower-case movement, which is mostly people just talking on the Internet. But we would never define what we are doing as lower-case. It's more a simplistic way of giving someone a vague idea of what kind of music someone's playing...But, I feel like it was more useful early on but once something gets codified and people get serious about it and start drawing lines in the sand, then it becomes uninteresting for me to use that word because it's got a lot of weight to it.
AAJ: You talked about the "drum/clarinet" story in your 2003 AAJ interview with Fred Jungand also with Susannah Bolle (on rarefrequency.com). You probably don't feel like talking about it again.
GK: It's not that exciting. Basically, the gist of it is that how I became a trumpet player was pretty arbitrary.
AAJ: Now people credit you with forging a new style of trumpet playing, which I think is largely justified. And I don't see it in the music you've listened toDan Fogelberg, Fleetwood Mac, Sonic Youth on the one handor Stravinsky or Bach or what have you. There are no precedents I see in your style. How did you discover it?
GK: I think trial and error for the most part. But in general I've always just strived to make music that I want to listen to, and music that interests me for whatever reason. And obviously in none of those things can you hear a precedent, necessarily, form Fleetwood Mac, to what I'm doing. When I got into college I started listening to George Crumb, and I thought that that was, in terms of classical music, pretty much as experimental as