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A Fireside Chat With Mark Whitecage

By Published: January 18, 2003

MW: Well, Liquid Time, I wrote all the parts, all the pieces, except on that record that Michael J. Stevens did. It was my writing, my conception, the whole thing. With Glass House, I built sculptures. I had these glass rods, which gave the group its name. You dip your fingers in water and then you stroke the rods and they are tuned impeccably. They play symphonies on them and stuff. They make this beautiful, steel sound and we use that, the one built, which was not nearly as refined as the French one and some other things that I built, steel, bolt stock, and wooden, anything that I could do to make sounds for a long time. While my kids were growing up, I was exploring that.

FJ: Having played on Anthony Braxton's mammoth opera, Trillium R, shed some light on that experience.

MW: Oh, it was fantastic. In fact, I was negotiating, I just found out that Bob Rusch had the Trillium up there and I couldn't get it from Anthony's company. I'm trying to get it because Rozanne did all the pictures for it and I haven't heard it yet, but it was a fantastic experience, rehearsing and playing. We had stage parts and we were running around the stage in robes and stuff. You would count about two hundred and fifty-six measures a rest and then he would have two or three notes for you to come in right with some oboe player down in the pit or something like that. It was very intense, the rehearsal and the playing. I learned quite a deal. I learned to carry a little flashlight from Steve Swell (laughing). The lights would go out and we would be in the back and we would come up on our cue and we couldn't see what we were doing. He always had a little flashlight and he reached in his pocket and pulled out this little thing. So I learned to carry one of those. I learned all sorts of things. They were beautiful musicians. Joseph Celli, I remember, I reunited with him. We had a really good time together. He's an oboe player from up in Connecticut.

FJ: How substantial has your association with the Improvisers Collective been?

MW: Well, I met Sabir during that time. Yeah, it was good. I did that because I wanted to meet more musicians. I thought I was getting too insulated. I was just playing my own thing, so I joined the collective and I met all the people that were playing. I got a chance to try out. We did a bunch of concerts. I think one session I did I had three bass players, I used one time with Lou, Lou Grassi was a part of it. Yeah, it was a good learning experience. It was nice.

FJ: Since its inception, you have recorded prolifically for Bob Rusch's CIMP label, something you haven't been doing much of late.

MW: He won't record what I want to record. He just wants to record what he wants to record and so that is what he is doing. I have had discussions with him and he is just not interested in what I am doing now.

FJ: What are you doing now?

MW: A lot of electronics. I have this thing called a Voice Prism that vocalists use to create harmonies and studios use it as a high end piece of gear, plus a lot of guitar pedals and loops and things like that. I found that rather than just play the sax, I've been doing that since the Sixties and it hasn't changed all that much. So I am more interested in doing what I am doing now. I have a brand new release called Ducks on Acid, which has just gone into production now and I will be taking some ads out and I will send you it. It is what I call my virtual combo. I play all the parts on it in real time and I got a much better recording. I did that a couple of years ago with the Turning Point record, but I took that off my label because the recording wasn't that good. But this one is much better. I am getting better all the time with this. That is my passion at the moment, is to do these electronic things.

FJ: The trapping of electronics is losing the authenticity of your playing.

MW: I have to, when I first started, I had kind of a mantra, less is more, less is more. I'm already pretty good just playing acoustic with my alto. I can pretty much do a solo concert with it. So all you have to do is you add a little echo or I have a machine that will play an octave below what I am doing, so I just have to stay the line and run that octave below thing through a loop and it comes back an octave below and then I am gone. I am doing something else with the alto and I can change that at will and have four octaves above me and stuff like that. You are doing the same things that you normally would do, but your pallet is much bigger, the sounds you get. And also, when I do transfer that back to just playing alto with another type of group with no pedals, I start making the same sounds. It has been happening the last couple of years. I am making them without the pedals. Whatever you listen to, you grow into it. It is just something I do.

FJ: Artistic individuality is not applauded in today's monkey see, monkey do society.

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