Patrick Brennan: Rhythms of Passion
PB: Well, there's real irony in conducting what amounts to a one person "strike." Like any strike, it's a matter of refusing to work unless certain conditions are met. But by oneself in a freelance situation, it can simply mean that you just don't work. Sure, you could work for free, for the door or for cheap. You can also refuse substandard offers all you want, which is what I'm talking about. But during phaseswhich can be amazingly long, where you can't stir up better conditions it can mean what might be an honorable inactivity, but one spiced with a growing chunk of invisibility that can also edit your future possibilities.
Most businesses develop with other people's money, i.e. loans. But the arts are unique in that the artist is expected to supply all startup capital out of pocket, even though artists need income to live like anybody else. But this is because the art's not really a commodity. It happens and people pay attention to it for different reasons. And they're going to do it regardless of whether it's sellable. Selling your work means having enough perceived value that people are willing to pay for it. My ambition has been to earn this status on the basis of the quality of the music alone, but so far, it doesn't seem to have accrued enough of that kind of value. The power of "no" seems to have its limits.
AAJ: In your web bio. it says that you developed the first version of Sonic Openings Under Pressure. What conceptually is that moniker all about?
PB: I love to cook. I love to savor food, and I love to ruminate while eating. A lot of the time I'd be practicing while cooking, or composing while eating, turning ideas over and over. I'd be cutting up vegetables, cooking them into a soupgood, solid low budget fare.
Collage has long been one solution to incorporating disparity in an artistic synthesis. Many musicians in the late '70s were responding to colliding diversities in our soundscape. A good number surfed on eclecticism, while at the same time, presentations of more conventional jazz devolved toward pick up bands composed of "stars." John Zorn's initiatives, for example, interested me. A piece like Cobra (Hat Hut, 1991) energetically spun sudden changes between radically dissimilar sound bodies. That's what I liked. What I didn't want to do was organize music through a centralized command structure, and I wasn't interested in fragmented pastiche or caricature.
What was really important to me was keeping the logic of collaborative composing audible, as with Ellington, Ornette, and Coltrane's early '60s band, the CJQ or the Art Ensemble. I was wondering how to develop a shared matrix for multidirectional thinking in a band; how each improviser could be consciously operating with a number of contrasting musical strata simultaneously, but still be so in sync that the band could stop on a dime or switch directions like a flock of birds. How could I incorporate disparity, contradiction and frequent shifts of direction? How could I embody what it feels like to move that way?
I initially called the group SOUP when I first formed it in '79. The notion of slicing up and discovering new wholes suits that metaphor. Fishing around for something else in the 90s and blindly reaching for an anagram, I blurted out "Sonic Openings Under Pressure." Hmmm. That turned out to stick and has found some meanings too.
Once you put something like this into motion, it develops a broader evolutionary rhythm, and you become responsible to that as much as to whatever's on your mind that week. In this case, I'd become involved with growing a language that coded multiple rhythmic strata with multiple themes. These interface structureswhat people usually call "forms"are hinged shape shifters that can behave cyclically, as do conventional "tunes," or act like vamps, or be developed in less easily mapped waysfreely or whatever.
This interface structure is what people call a "composition" when related to collective improvisation, which is already a mode of composition in itself. I'm more interested in interaction among reciprocating collaborators who think and do differently than I do. I like the movement. I imagine my own role as a composer who happens to voice through a saxophone. I'm not looking for solos over accompanists. And one more very important distinction of this project is featuring and developing the rhythm section as the absolute core of the music, which is also where many of my ideas begin.
The "pressure" is the composition, which functions not only to link and spur collaborators, but also to push improvisation away from its entropic attraction to habit and cliché (my own included), and invoke some, well, OK, some "sonic openings." It's as much about the thinking and the relationships as the sound.