Thomas Stronen: The Tin Drum
AAJ: How did you come to combine drums with electronics?
TS: Well, that's quite interesting, because it wasn't on purpose. It happened when I met Arve Henriksen; it was his fault, actually. I was sitting in the studio practicing from morning till night, and at some point I got extremely tired of the sound of my drums and the cymbals. They just annoyed me a lot, and I told Arve that I was bored with the sound. He suggested I buy a sampler to play along with. I had never seen a drummer work on samplers at all, so I asked him what should I buy, and he suggested the sampler that he had. I bought it and started working on it. I started recording rudiments in different time signatures and tried improvising on that, worked on fully formed rhythms and grooves, and slowly adding a few effects and finding out how to use them.
AAJ: There's a certain rhythm in your movements. Are the electronics an addition or an extension to your drums?
TS: In the beginning I was terrified about moving my hands away from the drums. It was very challenging and I realized that I had to practice playing and doing the tunings. In the beginning, it sounded horrible; it was either one thing or the other. It was like learning a new instrument, in a way, and then it just developed. Now it is a natural part of me behind the drums. These days it isn't any different from moving to a cymbal or a drum. It is a whole.
AAJ: Last year at Enjoy Jazz, [trumpeter] Nils Petter Molvaer said, during an interview that took place just before the show you did together, that everything in the show was going to be improvised. Are you actually experimenting together along a specific conceptual track or does it just happen?
TS: Improvisation is like a language you have the words for, and you just have to put them in the right order to make meaning out of them. Sometimes, when the communication is good, you listen and you talk and it all goes very naturally, and the conversation may take a different turn because of the "things that have been said" or the chemistry; sometimes you deliberately take a turn to make things more interesting. Iain and I have played together since 1997 and we still rehearse a lot. We meet several times a year and we rehearse one week at a time, ten hours a day. We talk, we play and we agree upon the parameters of our conversation.
AAJ: Do you have an ideal audience?
TS: I can't really say. I'm always surprised that people like the music I play, because I know that it is challenging. It is different in every country and every culture. I am excited about tonight [performing with Food at Romania's Garana Jazz Festival 2011] because I know that it is going to be a big crowd and the music that is presented before us [Hiromi Uehara Trio] will be very different. We're not reaching out to the audience that way. We are inviting them, and they have to come along of their own free will. I was very surprised the other day, in London, when a woman in her late fifties came to me after a show at a quite conservative party and told me that she had never experienced such a thing in her whole life. She said that she had closed her eyes and was in a movie where she was doing her own visuals. She opened up and she just let the music come to her. There's nothing to understand about my music. You just have to take down your guard and let it speak to you.
TS: Nordic Jazz was something that started in the late sixties. Today what is called Nordic Jazz is not disappearing, but it is developing into something else. These days, Nordic musicians want to belong to a larger category; they don't want to be restricted to that geographic denomination anymore. I think the heritage is about openness. Jon Christensen, Arild Andersen, Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek and a few others brought in a wide spectrum of genres, from classical music, from rock, and from ethnic sources Garbarek, for example, was into John Coltrane and Gato Barbieri, but he did it in a different way and added new flavors.
AAJ: Where do you see the role of drums and percussion in general today? Has anything changed there in the last 30 years?
TS: It is quite difficult to answer, being in the middle of it. But the roles have definitely changed. The drummer is not there to merely keep the rhythm anymore. They've moved from backing up soloists into the center of the music-making, and in many bands the drummers has a totally free role, while other guys are keeping the time. Compared to 30 years ago, drumming has become more about color and texture, but the actual playing hasn't changed that much. We still listen to Roy Haynes and think, "God, how can you play that funky," but the role of the drummer has definitely changed. Drummers plays in different settings, with DJs or samplers, and there is a lot of mixture between scenes, like classical meeting metal.