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Ben Monder: Le Monde du Monder

Phil DiPietro By

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AAJ: Tell us the differences, if any, of the European circuit versus the American circuit for Motian's band.

BM: I've only done two tours with him, and they've both been in Europe.

AAJ: How about for you, as a solo artist? Where do you do most of your solo gigs with your band? Differences, if any, of the European circuit for you solo? Have you even done any gigs there solo?

BM: I've been to Spain a few times with my band, but outside of that haven't done that much. I need to get on that...

AAJ: Who are the working members of your band? How did you go about assembling such a talented cast of musicians? Who do you gig with most often these days for your own dates? Who are you gigging with most often on the "sideman" front?

BM: These days I'm trying to keep the band to the same people— Theo Bleckmann, Kermit Driscoll, and Satoshi Takeishi. It's the only way to get inside this very challenging music. And I feel very fortunate to have found them, because besides being great musicians, they're really dedicated to this band and seem to give it a priority.

AAJ: Tell us more about your "career" with Maria Schneider's band and the elements of that gig that most hold your interest musically.

BM: Maria writes really interesting guitar parts. She has a great sense of how to use the guitar as an individual color, not just a reinforcement of horn parts, although that's also effective at times. I'm definitely not just chunking away there. Come to think of it, what ever happened to Chun King?

AAJ: I think it's available as a Japanese import...Ok, how do you see your deal with Arabesque playing out? Are they expecting a certain amount of output from you or a certain product from you? Do you have total artistic control? How do you collaborate with your producer?

BM: I don't think Arabesque is going to do any more of my recordings. But whatever happens in the future, I'm always going to need total artistic control.

AAJ: Where did you find Theo Bleckmann? How has it evolved that you have now become such close "collaborators" that you are actually part of each other's bands?

BM: Theo called me to do a duo gig around (I think) 1995, and the chemistry was immediate. We did the duo for a while before I had the idea to add him to my band, which had always been a trio. Theo is endlessly creative, can sing just about anything I put in front of him, and has a huge arsenal of extended vocal techniques. I also love the way he uses electronics. Anyway, our aesthetic visions seem to complement each other.

AAJ: Please tell us a bit about the evolution of the concepts for your most recent stuff. Excavation?

BM: With Excavation, I wanted to effect a marriage of the multifarious and often conflicting elements of Man's unconscious: the urge to self immolation with the urge for self-knowledge; the divine alongside the demonic. But ultimately it is a paean to the apocalypse, to the bracing truth that our darker impulses will prove our undoing, because they so often masquerade as our virtues.

AAJ: WOW...I hear that in there somewhere, actually...

BM: Actually, there's no real concept other than finishing enough tunes to make a record. Although Excavation was unique in the sense that I knew what the order was going to be before it was recorded.

AAJ: Origami?

BM: Origami is Theo's concept.

AAJ: I haven't asked this before because I thought I'd save it for your own stuff. Please tell us about your compositional approach. I mean tunes like "Mistral," "Ellenville" and "Hatchet Face" are extremely complex, with layer upon layer of harmony. Where does this compositional eruditeness come from.

BM: Concerning tunes like you just mentioned, my modus operandi seems to be to bite off more than I can chew, and then chew it anyway. But I don't have an "approach" as such. Each piece is unique and suggests its own problems and solutions, regarding harmony and form. In "Hatchet Face" I explored some serial ideas, but I'm completely unqualified to write a real serial piece, and if the 12 tone police ever found out, I'd be in trouble.

AAJ: I know you wouldn't want to tell anyone how to "listen" to your music. That being said, can you offer any helpful hints ?

BM: Get really stoned.

AAJ: Silly question. Do you write all the parts out?

BM: I write out all the parts except for the drums.

AAJ: What kind of recording technology are you using on these dates? Hard disc or analog?

BM: All three of my records were recorded to analog. I find it best preserves the dimensions of a guitar's sound. A digital reproduction doesn't shimmer in the same way. Flux, my first CD, was recorded live to two track, which was really hard considering the complexity of the music. The other two were done 24 track. As long as I'm recording original music, I'm going to need the flexibility to fix things.

AAJ: Are the players all in the same room, or are you overdubbing on a lot of the "sideman" stuff?

BM: That depends on the type of record, the studio, the budget, and of course the format of the recording. Sometimes fixes are done, sometimes not. Sometimes it's not possible to fix things even if the recording is multitrack, because of the way the band is set up. Actual overdubbing is rare on most things I do, with the exception of more rock oriented projects. A couple of my tunes have overdubs, like "Hatchet Face."

AAJ: How long is the recording process for your records? I'll bet extremely short. How much rehearsal occurs beforehand?

BM: We rehearse a lot and generally record in two days. Dust was a little different in that we had played the material a number of times on gigs, so rehearsal wasn't such an issue. Also, I've always done the solo pieces on a different day.

AAJ: With all you've got going on, how do you decide on which project to do next? It seems like you make room for everything. Is there a lot of work you decline?

BM: I don't decline that much. And the business is really erratic. Some months are wall to wall work, and some are really light. But when a conflict arises, I naturally try to choose that which is most rewarding musically.

AAJ: Explain to us your perception of yourself as an artist. Where do you see yourself on the jazz landscape. Are you even on the jazz landscape, or would you prefer the compositional or improvisatory landscape?

BM: I don't see myself on any landscape, which is maybe why I don't have any gigs. Or maybe because it's January...

AAJ: It'll warm up...trust me. Do you see yourself crossing into an almost modern classical approach ?Do you have tunes composed this way that are waiting in the wings?

BM: I just (as of a few hours ago) finished a long through-composed piece that might qualify as what you're talking about, but I wouldn't necessarily designate it as modern classical. I think it's hard for an individual to categorize his own work. I value composition as a means of expression, but I feel improvisation, both free and structured, is equally important. I wouldn't feel complete without both.

AAJ: Please explain to the fortunate folks who have seen you play live your thought process behind what tunes, or parts of tunes, you play sitting, or when you stand. Although you may not see it that way, I think it's a special element of your performances. It seems like you stand for single note passes. This makes it more dramatic, especially when your playing starts going in a rock direction.

BM: I just find it easier to play single note passages standing up, for some reason. I would prefer to stand the whole time, but a lot of things I've written are impossible to play that way. It has something to do with where the neck is in relation to my left hand.

AAJ: Are there other aspects of your technique you consider "unusual"?

BM: There's one tune where I have to play a bass note with my nose.

AAJ: What music holds your most extreme interest these days, and what of it may influence your next project or recording?

BM: I'm listening pretty much exclusively to two CDs right now—Alfred Schnittke's Psalms of Repentance and Morton Feldman's For Bunita Marcus But I find things to be influential obliquely, not directly.

AAJ: To wrap up, please tell us your musical plans, or projects in the pipeline , for 2002.

BM: Well, I'm writing a new batch of material for the quartet, and hope to get it recorded either this year or next. I've also been wanting to do a standards oriented recording, with a trio—maybe this is the year it will actually happen. Some other things—I have a duo tour with Theo in Japan coming up in May, and I'm working on some dates in Europe for the quartet in June. Other than that, I'm looking forward to a fairly busy spring of traveling with one thing or another, mostly sideman work. I guess my main hope for the coming year is just to stay inspired and productive.

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