An AAJ Interview with Larry Ochs

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AAJ: Which (if any) recordings have you heard lately that you would like to recommend to the AAJ readers? Why?


Goldberg/Schott/Sarin: What Comes Before (Tzadik)

Ruins Symphonica (Tzadik)

John Zorn Godard/Spillane (Tzadik)

Shibusashirazu Shibusamighi (Chitei Records)

Satoku Fujii Indication (Libra Records)

Art Ensemble of Chicago Bap-tizum (Koch jazz)

Xenakis Works for Piano (Mode)

Feldman Untitled for Cello and Piano (Attaca Babel)

Discotheque 70-73 Guinee (Syllart Productions)

Zorn is my man; he sends me a lot of the CDs he produces—and he produces a lot of music for his label. Like three CDs a month. So one and two on the list are two of the best I've heard from Tzadik recently. Number one is a beautiful meditation on sound and silence, the use of space in music. The Ruins CD is not about that; it's intense and really a great composition. I also include the Zorn CD because there are still people out there who either don't know his work or came to it late. This is a reissue of 2 pieces long out of print—seminal works—and, needless to say, the production values on this CD are outstanding.

Rova went to Japan for the first time in October. This is going to be hard for some of you to believe, but there's actually a band on the planet that can only be described as "Sun Ra on acid." I know: you thought that that was how you'd describe Sun Ra himself in relation to jazz. Shibusashirazu is one amazing indescribable orchestra. There's no way to describe the energy or the feeling of their live show, but this CD does retain some of the energy on its best tracks. Worth a trip to Japan just to see the band. Safe to say they will never play the USA (band ranges from 23 to 50 artists) 'satoku was someone we met and hung with. She's a fine player and composer and has CDs on Japanese labels as well as on Leo Records and (in fact) Tzadik.

Lester Bowie died the week I was to travel four hours by car to Cal Arts and teach classes run by Wadada Leo Smith. I played live-concert Art Ensemble CDs all the way down there. Baptizum is still the best, recorded in Ann Arbor over 25 years ago. If you haven't heard it, get it.

I'm trying to write pieces for Rova now inspired by and dealing with the musical spaces informed by the piano music of Monk, Xenakis, Feldman and Scelsi. This Xenakis CD with Aki Takahashi on piano is the best piano CD of his music; I just bought it myself. The Feldman piece is great (and also exists on Hat Hut under a different title).

The last CD listed is actually four separate CDs (70, 71, 72, 73) released by Sylliphone as a compilation series of their old recordings. Great dance bands from Guinea.

Finally, if the readers are interested in some good—listening lists, go to Rova.org and click on Favorite Street. There's a list made by each of us in Rova of favorite recordings. There's a lot to chew on in these lists. (Eventually, there will be lots of other art up there under Favorite Street, but we can't get to everything at once, even though we'd really like to.

AAJ: The Angelica 95 CD includes three brief portions of ROVA performing Fred Frith's "Freedom In Fragments." Are there any plans to record and/or release this work in its entirety? For those readers who are unfamiliar with this work, would you please briefly elaborate on it?

LO: That Angelica CD is a drag—my opinion only—the sound is lousy. If I could do it again, I wouldn't let them include those fragments. The entire 75 minutes piece is now being edited and mastered for release on Black Saint sometime in 2000. "Freedom In Fragments" is 23 sections of music ranging in length from 11 seconds to about 10 minutes. We commissioned Fred to write the piece in 1994, but, for various reasons, we've never ever performed it in it's entirety, so it was very rewarding recording the piece over the first 8 months of 1999, bit by bit, and then—after I mixed it and Steve Adams edited it—finally hearing the piece. A lot of surprises. In fact, the final order of the fragments was changed quite a bit after Fred and I heard it back in order for the first time. But I'm at a loss as to how to describe the work, because it goes to so many musical places over the course of the 75 minutes. Let's see: beautiful melodies, interesting rhythmic figures, improvised solos over vamps, lush harmonic passages, wry humor, passionate anthems, up-tempo marches, free jazz blows, California dreaming?it's all there. Frith spent six months with his family on the coast of California near Big Sur. He wrote the piece during that stay, and some of that environment rubbed off on the piece too.

AAJ: Are there any plans to release the soundtrack to Letters Not About Love? For those readers who are unfamiliar with this work, would you please briefly elaborate on it?

LO: This is a one-hour film shot and directed by my sister Jacki Ochs. I could try and describe the film, but maybe the press release information will do a better job. It follows:

Ochs builds visual bridges out of words by combining home movie clips, archival images, and stunning new footage. LETTERS NOT ABOUT LOVE reads like a documentary and flows like rivers of paint on an expressionist canvas. The director combines narrative, travelogue, and memoir in a fusion of image, sound and word that is a total sensual experience. Shot in and around the poets' homes in Northern California and the former Soviet Union, the camera focuses on farmers markets, park benches, beauty contests and demolition derbies; zooms into the food on the table at a typical family dinner and finds a bug sipping nectar off a flower. What Ochs discovers in these ordinary events is precisely what makes them extraordinary.

LETTERS NOT ABOUT LOVE presents a challenging meditation on the meaning of language and culture. The filmmaker initiated the correspondence by giving both poets a list of ordinary words (e.g., "home," "book," "violence," "neighbor") and asking them, in each letter, to reflect on one of the words—its conventional meaning, as well as what it means to them. As an unfolding examination of their lives, the film becomes a dynamic expression of cultural differences and the art of mutual understanding.

That's really not a bad description of the film. I think it's a beautiful piece, and I was happy to lend music to it. Jacki had ?no? budget for the film; as it was, it took years to raise what she could for it to happen, which is typical of independent film with no commercial potential. So I couldn't go into the studio and create totally new music. So I watched a video of the film a ton of times and imagined parts of pieces already recorded that would work with the images. It came out really well. But because all the music is parts of already released pieces, there will not be an independent release of the movie's music. Those pieces collected together would make a nice compilation of my work, but that's another story.

The movie just showed at Museum of Modern Art in New York. The next known general public showing is May 2 and 3 in San Francisco. But it is available to universities, museums, theaters and perhaps general public.

AAJ: are there any plans to reissue the Metalanguage lps by ROVA?

LO: No. I don't have time to think about it. I'm waiting for a producer to call.

AAJ: As conclusion, what other projects can we expect from Larry Ochs in 2000-2001?

LO: I'm spending a lot of time on the business side right now. Rova has been more than a performing group for some time—over 15 years. And I've been the point man for most of the producing we've done here in the Bay Area. I can't do it anymore—or want out—so I have more time for music, especially composing and thinking. But I'd like to see the music events continue, which means we need to find money to pay someone to do all the shit I've been doing for free. More work. We're looking for foundations, art patrons, board members who want to help. That'll be a big part of the first half of 2000.
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