Experimentalists: Talking with Adam Berenson, Dana Jessen, and Abdul Moimême

Experimentalists: Talking with Adam Berenson, Dana Jessen, and Abdul Moimême
Karl Ackermann BY

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For some reason, I try to make my guitar not sound like a guitar. That might denote a certain rebellious disposition. On the other hand, so-called, experimental music can be dismally conventional.
—Abdul Moimême
The newly opened Théatre des Champs-Elysées was sold out on the night of May 29, 1913. The well-heeled Parisian audience had come to enjoy the much-anticipated premiere of Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" which featured the choreography of the acclaimed Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Some accounts of what transpired that night appear to be exaggerated. There were no riots in the street outside the theater, as had been reported, but there was considerable violence in the theater as fans and detractors went at each other with walking sticks and fists. One audience member was said to be stabbed with a woman's hatpin and the police arrested dozens of audience members at intermission. The dissonance, odd rhythms and lack of other familiar points of reference caused outrage among many in the audience, as did the accompanying ballet which featured a staged human sacrifice. As a performance art package, "Rite of Spring" seemed to have something to offend almost everyone and it wasn't performed again for twenty years. In retrospect, it was viewed as a work ahead of its time with Walt Disney using part of the score in his 1940 release of Fantasia. In the jazz world, Hubert Laws, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane and The Bad Plus have adapted passages from the score.

Experimental Music

Since early man banged sticks on rocks, the history of music has been one of innovation, and innovation does not exist without experimentation. And low or high technology, experimentation has remained a constant—if sometimes, unwelcomed—aspect of music. The body-slaps of drum-less slaves, the comping of early blues guitarists, left-hand walking bass lines on the piano were innovations developed for an earlier purpose; amplification, or fill, for lacking instrumentation. "Experimental" as a multipurpose label, is often used as a proxy for work that is pioneering, progressive, radical, or simply just so beyond the conventional norms that there is no convenient epithet to apply. Experimental music has been described as any music that pushes the boundaries of conformity; or, as music written with no prescribed end result; obscure and without intention. Harmony, melody, and continuity may be considered extraneous. It may, or may not, be created for the listener's entertainment. Composing can be more related to direct sounds than musical tones. Everything is what it is, and the artist's freedom of expression is the only driving force. Like the flexible definitions of jazz itself, the descriptions of experimental music exist in a limbo where they are affirmed, disputed or ignored. It can be reasonably argued that all music is experimental and that no music is experimental, but that's debate is for another time.

Half a century before John Cage's revered and reviled "4' 33" appeared, Alphonse Allais' "Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man" (1897) was the first known composition of complete silence, comprising of twenty-four blank measures. French composer Erik Satie was among the early modern composers to push beyond conventional tonality, employing unusual scales and pitch; techniques furthered later by Claude Debussy. The influence of Debussy has been cited by jazz composers across the entire time span of American jazz, including Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington and Branford Marsalis. But to talk about music as "experimental" requires framing the genre based on arbitrary and sometimes ambiguous criteria. Music that uses unconventional instrumentation, extended techniques and untraditional composing processes, are fundamental to the broader discipline. Other explanations talk of removing the human element from the composition method so deeply-rooted social norms are not influencing the creative process. If composing in a subliminal state seems counter-intuitive, it partially explains why the "experimental" label is untenable.

Individual instruments are often the platform for experimentation, and sometimes, necessity was the mother of invention. Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman both played plastic Grafton saxophones for a time, only because neither could afford the brass instrument. Digital interfacing of instruments is widespread and "prepared" instruments are used across much of the Western instrument families. Pauline Oliveros, an early pioneer in experimental electronic music, applied similar principles to her accordion music. On Accordion & Voice (Important Records, 2014) her instrument is customized with an unusually large sound chamber, multiple processors, pitch-blending pedals and an extended bass range. Some experimenters look to the periphery of the music for inspiration. Àine O'Dwyer has recorded on pipe organ in the depths of a cave, and in a church, where she incorporated the sounds of the cleaning crew at work, on Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I and II (Mie, 2015). Making the environment part of the musical experience has appealed to many progressive artists. The acoustic properties of churches and cathedrals have long been a draw in that regard. Trumpeter Susana Santos Silva recorded All the Rivers—Live at Panteão Nacional (Clean Feed Records, 2018) playing the album's one extended solo piece to the alcoves and fissures of Santa Engrácia's Church in Lisbon. The physical settings for experiments run from the small—a trumpet bell submerged in a bucket of water—to the very large, as in a solo drum kit recording in an airplane hangar. Performance art/multi-media presentations utilize the environment in a different way. Cornetist/electronic artist Rob Mazurek created an avant-garde score within his own visual art exhibition on Marfa Loops Shouts and Hollers (Harmonipan, 2018), and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, on Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam Records, 2013), accompanied graphic artist Danijel Zezelj as he painted—and un-painted—a massive mural of the Brooklyn Bridge, on stage.


I interviewed three visionaries, with different, and important, ideas about creativity. Adam Berenson worked with Paul Bley and Cecil McBee as a student of the New England Conservatory of Music where he earned a Master's Degree in Jazz Studies. The Philadelphia-area pianist and composer cites influences as diverse as Frank Zappa, Beethoven, the Beatles and Ornette Coleman. He composes and performs across a wide range that includes jazz, classical, avant-garde, noise, and electronic music. Outside of music, Berenson has been a correspondent for the international publication, Pulse! Magazine and a contributor to the Philadelphia Weekly newspaper. He is an instructor at the prestigious Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. Besides his NEC degree, Berenson holds a BFA in film production from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.

Dana Jessen is to the bassoon what Satoko Fujii is to the piano; she might play that difficult instrument without its reed, or the reed alone. Electroacoustic music is often part of her repertoire. She has performed with Anthony Braxton's Tri-Centric Orchestra and holds advanced degrees in Bassoon Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and Improvisation from the Artez Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in the Netherlands. On her solo album Carve (Innova Recordings, 2017) she moves through an array of pieces that are sinisterly blue, threatening, melodic, abstract or methodological.

Lisbon native Abdul Moimême is primarily a guitarist, but a saxophonist, architect, and writer as well. As a guitarist, he is often far outside the realm of conventional composing and playing. Some of his music may be characterized as pliable harshness; grating and biting, but filtered through electronic and percussive effects and bowed strings, creating music that exists in uncharted territory. Whether he is steeped in electronics or leaning toward the more natural character of instruments, there is an ethereal quality to Moimême's music.

To set the table for this conversation, I asked each creative artist to describe their early experiences with composing, and what or who influenced their early career.

Adam Berenson: "It remains a source of fascination to me that, practically, my first instinct within the domain of music was to compose. I was given a clarinet to play (or perhaps I chose it) at the too-young-age of 7 or 8. The instrument was technically too difficult for me, but I distinctly remember composing something as soon as I had learned to play, perhaps, 3 pitches. And I remember that I called the piece "Circle Music" or "Center Music." I wish I still had it, as I believe it would reveal a lot to me about myself. There's almost something Platonic about the title. I think we need to take those earliest instincts very seriously. They are pure, and not yet impeded upon by social reality. Paul Simon once said that his career was the "idea of a 5-year-old." This should be the case for most of us. My earliest influences would have been popular songs heard on the radio: the singer/songwriters of the 1970s."

Dana Jessen: I began improvising when I was a graduate student at New England Conservatory. I was attending NEC for a Master's degree in bassoon performance (the classical division) but was really interested in contemporary classical music and improvisation. NEC's Contemporary Improvisation division was really welcoming to me and allowed me to join some of their ensembles. The first CI ensemble that I was part of was led by Joe Morris, a fantastic mentor to me and also an Albert Ayler expert. So some of my first influences within the improvised idiom came from the music of Albert Ayler. I found there to be a raw, incredibly emotional, quality in his music that deeply resonated with me. NEC was a great place for me to be studying at that time, primarily because it introduced me to all sorts of improvised music. I took classes with people like Joe Maneri and was coached by Anthony Coleman, Joe Morris, and Stephen Drury. This really helped me to identify what I wanted to do artistically. After my studies at NEC, I ended up moving to Amsterdam to further study contemporary and improvised music, and it was here that I really took improvisation seriously and began to shape my voice as an artist. My mentors during this time included: Wilbert de Joode, Frank Gratkowski, Wolter Wierbos, and Michel Braam. Since I was equally playing improvised music and contemporary classical (composed) music, much of my early influences came from artists and music within both these idioms. These include all of my mentors previously mentioned, Albert Ayler, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Roscoe Mitchell, Ornette Coleman, the ICP Orchestra, Meredith Monk, Anthony Braxton, Sofia Gubaidulina, Stravinsky, György Ligeti, Michael Gordon, Bang on a Can, and probably many more that I'm forgetting. It's a pretty wide-ranging list but these are some of the artists that I remember listening to when I first started working artistically as a composer-performer.

Abdul Moimême: The word 'influence' unsuspectingly insinuates the gravitas of a legacy. So, I'm wary of acknowledging any immediate precursor. But the question invariably reminds me of having asked bassist Barre Phillip the same question, while attending a memorable performance of his, where he played alongside violinist Carlos Zingaro, in Lisbon, back in 1980. I was perplexed with his answer. Instead of conjuring a list of outstanding names, Mr. Phillips invoked the most commonplace experiences such as the rising sun, or the rustling of leaves in the wind, etc. His words had a sobering effect. Nonetheless, playing with Ernesto Rodrigues, as well as the other inspiring musicians which constitute Lisbon's small, yet robust, Free Improvisation scene was essential for my development as an improviser, as well as a listener.

I asked how each artist typically begins the process of composing; if they start with a clean slate or have an idea that's been kicking around?

AB: "I'm sure that most composers would say that there are many sources which lead to stimuli, however, it seems to me that the process is remarkably consistent, no matter what the initial stimulus might be. Sometimes an idea just pops into the mind (and nobody knows where their ideas come from, which is a nice and perhaps necessary mystery). Sometimes there might be a project to compose for, and one simply sits down and actively mediates, 'looking' for ideas. This is often the least effective: essentially ideas need to just "arrive when ready to do so." Regarding my 'jazz' work, the earliest albums had many pre-written compositions—all of which contain a "premise" for improvising. That premise could have been chord changes, a 'mood,' a texture, etc. I often enjoy not knowing what to do with these pieces at first. I remember sometimes playing my pieces for a long time as if I were asking a particular piece what it was that it wanted from me. What am I supposed to do with you? Perhaps I would begin playing the piece much slower than it would ultimately end up, in order to really explore every nook and cranny. In fact, if this sort of process isn't necessary, it may be that the piece is not very substantive, or perhaps won't bear much that is fresh and stimulating. My latest albums usually have no material. I go into the studio with only my instruments. Sometimes there are discussions with the other musicians, and at times there may be no conversation at all as related to the material. These albums are characterized by pieces whose "premises" may be construed as 'textures' or 'atmospheres.' The latest recordings would sometimes have the moods almost 'dictated' to me by the sounds on the electronic keyboards that have often been employed. I would choose these beforehand. Patches for my electronic instruments are always chosen ahead of time, as are ideas regarding the preparation of the acoustic piano or double bass if those sonic manipulations will be employed. Obviously, there is no time in a studio situation to search for or create electronic patches. The creative process, I surmise, will always remain a mystery, however, it seems to me that this kind of brain activity is always the same, once the process begins. For myself, whether I'm playing the piano in real time—alone, or with others—or sitting at a computer with a template of instruments, once the day's composing begins, one finds oneself—for me quite consistently—'in the zone.' Composition is improvisation— slowed down. One sonic event leads to another, and somehow the piece (or the live sonic events) 'tell you what comes next.' They really do. Sometimes it tells you more quickly than at other times, but it you are patient enough, the music will tell you what to do, and when it has been completed. Interestingly there aren't many possibilities; very rarely, at any rate. There is one sonic element which must come next, and then one must write it down or implement it in real time."

DJ: "My process always goes back to establishing a language. When I first started improvising, I spent a lot of time exploring all of sound worlds I could find on the bassoon. Many of them were unconventional, not because I was trying to be unconventional or "experimental," but because I truly wanted to find as many sound worlds as I could. Then I would create exercises for myself using a few of these sound worlds and become really familiar with how they work and how they can be musical. This is partly a pedagogical technique used by Frank Gratkowski, the incredible German reed player. My language is constantly expanding and changing based on sound worlds that I'm drawn to, or music that I'm working on. "Improvisation" has always been a difficult term to define and the best description I've encountered is "instant composition." In order to be an effective improviser within this definition, it's really important to have a fully established language that you are bringing to the table while simultaneously remaining curious and open to further exploration."

Berenson and Moimême discussed having multiple senses at work during the creation process:

AB: "As stated earlier, the creative process is a total mystery, and completely untranslatable into the language we are now using to communicate. Multiple senses—for me—can and do certainly inspire or 'spark' the creative process in the musical domain. For example, cinema is a massive influence upon me (I have a BFA in film production from NYU): the rhythms and atmospheres of films in general; specific scenes and individual films; and personal feelings evoked within myself from certain films— which may not have an apparent correlative relationship. The number of influences which spark the creative process are, of course, incalculable. However, once one is engaged with the creative musical process, I believe that one is engaged in this very abstract world or language, and that one must (as stated earlier) listen to 'it' to find out what is supposed to come next: like taking dictation from a part of one's brain. You have to trust it. You have to march forward with confidence. This mysterious process is the same (for me) no matter what the situation. It is one thing. One 'sense.'"

AM: "I would say so. In the first place, one hopes 'listening' comes into play. But sight may often be essential to better understand how our fellow musicians are executing a certain idea or even to anticipate a change in their musical direction, or simply marvel at their prowess as musicians. Form the public's perspective, sight reinforces the sonic experience, especially if extended techniques are being used (implying that the instruments are producing unconventional sounds). Sight clarifies and adds to the experience of the performance. After all, it's an audio-visual event. As an example, my musical utensils have a sculptural quality, resulting, invariably, in having people come on stage after concerts asking to see and especially touch the paraphernalia surrounding my guitar. For me, this is always a tense moment because many of these objects are quite fragile. In the end, I willingly comply because I understand listeners needs a tactile validation of their audio-visual experience."

"In a very different mode, Glenn Gould made a thought-provoking disclosure regarding the 'tactile,' in a 1969 interview, "If I want to have a strong tactile affirmation of a score I will still put a television set beside the piano, or even a radio, or two radios, going at the same time and I'm not all that much concerned in listening to what's on the radio at that moment. I'm mainly concerned with not listening to myself." It all originated during the rehearsal of a Mozart fugue, when the maid provocatively turned on the vacuum cleaner. Random occurrences sometimes have the power of revelation, if only one is listening attentively."

Experimental music can often be surreal. I asked if there is a state of mind that lends itself to a concept or an inspiration for creating this music?

AB: "'Experimental music' conjures for me Harold Bloom's observation of Hamlet. "He is all of us, and none of us." One might say that no music is 'experimental' and that 'all' music is, simultaneously. Anything that I allow others to hear is not experimental. It means that 'music' has resulted from the process of trying to create music. All great composers were considered radicals at the time of their work's creation: in retrospect, one can often perceive that they were creating and breaking the rules simultaneously. The composers we remember clearly are the artists who needed to be "penetrated" by their contemporaries, as well as by those of us in the present moment. (They always sound 'new.') Again, I believe it's all the same. I never want to repeat myself, so perhaps the kind of textures I want to explore might be deemed 'experimental,' although, at this point in time, I'm not so sure this designation is even relevant. Way back in the 1960s or perhaps 70's the great composer Luigi Nono famously said that "music is over, but we must go on anyway." This can be liberating: it removes a lot of pressure from composers, and we can just get down to doing the work that we need to do. Interestingly, it's resulted in many contemporary composers writing music which simply sounds like no other. Music may be over, but composers with unique sonic signatures seem to have never been more plentiful and varied. So, in this regard, "Stella By Starlight," "Blood on the Rooftops" and "String Quartet #3" come from the same state of mind."

DJ: "I think that experimental music can often be the most creative, brave, and unapologetic music. From the listener, it simply requires an open and curious mind that is willing to explore unfamiliar territory. I've found that many of the audience members that I've played for have been really engaged, in part because they've never heard some of the sound worlds that I've created and rarely get to experience a bassoon in an experimental, electroacoustic and/or improvised context."

AM: "If by 'surreal' one means that it enhances our perception and ultimately our understanding of the 'real,' I would agree. Correspondingly, in a site-specific free improvisation, the musician can act as a guide, highlighting for the listener certain aspects of the surrounding sonic landscape. Hopefully, the experience will be uplifting and hence 'surreal.' In this instance, the musician acts as a catalyst, probing ever-increasing degrees of freedom."

"I once offered a recording of mine to an acquaintance, not expecting any kind of feedback. Oddly enough, a couple of months later, she acknowledged that certain sounds in her daily subway ride had lent themselves to the creation, in her mind, of a 'composition' in the style of my music. In other words, the recording had impelled her to listen in an active way, as opposed to listening passively. I concluded my life wasn't entirely futile."

What do improvisation and composition mean, and what are their respective merits?

AB: "Both of these are a means of general exploration as well as self-exploration. Notwithstanding my comments on both being essentially equal, composition for multiple instruments (and instruments one doesn't play), of course, would not be feasible without the often pleasurable 'slowing down' which must occur during composition. (Someone once said that "composition is frozen improvisation.") So, one, by definition, becomes much more self-conscious during composition (during the most profound moments of improvisation, one senses that something else has taken over and one isn't in charge, and isn't self-conscious) and this in turn has something different to reveal. One has to think about so much in composition. What instrument should play what? How does that instrument function? How does it function with other instruments? For myself, as stated earlier, one does not need to have a secure sense of what the ultimate form might be. That reveals itself to me slowly, over time. I know that I need both composition and improvisation. I would feel very profoundly, a sense of loss, if one were removed permanently."

DJ: "I view improvisation, composition, and interpretation as complementary entities. Each supports and informs the other. Unfortunately for many musicians, our formal training often separates composition and interpretation from improvisation. For me, improvisation played an essential role in discovering my artistic language, and from there the connections with composition and interpretation became clear and very much intertwined. Much of my work in commissioning new compositions includes sharing my personal language and sound worlds to composers that then incorporate these ideas and sonic environments into their pieces. With my album, Carve, all of the commissioned works have some element of improvisation or a platform to improvise. The challenge was then to improvise in a way that jelled with the electronics while representing both myself and the aesthetic of the composer. In this sense, improvisation, composition, and interpretation are all at work."

AM: "I distinguish improvisation and composition as two distinct phenomena. In improvisation, you are trapped in the unforgiving arrow of time. The process can only occur there and then, confined in the ensuing moment, but allowing the improviser to instantaneously interplay with the multiplicity of occurrences in the surrounding environment. In composition, there is the possibility that every moment can flow logically form both the moment before, as well as the moment after. The latter is certainly not possible in improvisation. In Free Improvisation 'the moment after' is an unknown occurrence. The composer may use utensils such as pencil and an eraser. He or she doesn't necessarily need an instrument to practice their craft and the composition can he heard, back and forth, in their minds ear. Nor does a composition need to specify a specific instrumentation. Bach's 'Art of Fugue' doesn't indicate (intentionally or not) any instrumentation, which doesn't invalidate it as a composition."

"In his revealing book, "Improvisando / La Libre Creación Musical," Wade Matthews distinguishes between 'product' (composition) and 'process' (improvisation), which I find appropriately clarifying. Thus, in my opinion, to talk of improvisation as 'composition in real time' is a misconception, that does neither one justice. Describing their respective merits would be too formidable a task in a simple answer, but they can be intermingled in fascinating, as well as not so enthralling ways."

I asked the artists how they address the balance between complexity and simplicity:

AB: "Bill Evans once said that he was always trying to make things as simple as possible. This sounds right, however this is not something I am usually—if ever—conscious of. Some musical conceptions ask for complexity. Some (perhaps most) ask for simplicity. Perhaps the best composers instinctively make the simplest choice at any given moment. "The simplicity of genius" as Charles Rosen characterized it. This was certainly true of Mozart. It's perhaps most easily recognizable in Mozart. So, let's say that good musicians will make the right decision at the right moment, and usually, it will be the simplest one."

AM: "In my opinion, the balance between such binomial pairs as 'complexity and simplicity,' 'order and chaos' are some of the fundamental issues in any art form. Taken to absurd limits, imagine something so complex than it becomes impossible to perceive any distinguishable pattern, the result being we simply miss the point. On the other hand, if something is meticulously ordered it can easily become static and thus rapidly lose our interest. If one is dealing with experimental music, this becomes an issue, more so, because one is functioning outside pre-established cultural norms, that normally facilitate the communication of ideas. If one decides to walk the uncharted wilds, some sort of distinguishable trail must be outlined, giving the ear a sense of orientation. There are many possible approaches.

Berenson addressed current compositional challenges:

AB: "I'm currently finishing a massive piece for full orchestra, which should have the aural effect of a Jackson Pollock. Speaking of complexity—this piece requires a lot of notes! I'm 53 pages in, and a blast of brass is now forcing its way out of a vast tapestry of winds and oscillating strings. Hemingway would always compose the first couple of lines of the paragraph or chapter he would write next— the night before— and then close the book for the evening. This way, he had done the thinking; he had set up the situation, and then getting back into the zone—as it were— would be much easier. I try and do this, especially with large pieces. The challenge at this very moment is that I have exited this very long pattern of complexity, and I'm floating in space with these microtonal brass energy waves. I need to steer them and decide where they shall travel. I know that the piece is almost over. This became apparent to me at the beginning of the massive, main body of the piece, which I have just exited. So, the problem is that I can't ride on such long patterns of auto-pilot. Important decisions have to be made more frequently."

I asked if, in the creation process, if the artists start with an idea that is more conventional (or musically tangible), and then deconstruct and reorganize that idea for an alternate reality?

DJ: "I typically start with a sound world, or a musical idea. Then I often improvise on these things to explore some compositional possibilities. Improvisation and exploration play a big role in my compositional process."

AM: "As a starting point, I have a palate of sounds that changes through time. What I play or don't play depends on decisions made on the spur-of-the-moment and on the conditions of where I'm playing and with whom I'm playing. As a possible approach, you can have two or more concomitant processes occurring, with no casual relation of interaction between them. A sort of Parallelism, as in Metaphysics. I know it sounds a bit like vacuum cleaners and fugues, but it's qualitatively different, as well as an interesting point of departure."

Do you feel like you're dismantling music theory and recreating it for a different end goal? Or is that over-thinking the process?

AB: "It—by definition—has to be over-thinking it. If one is thinking in those terms, one is effectively paralyzed. An analogy is the centipede. If the centipede has to think about moving 100 legs, he can't move at all. If you are thinking about "theory" (something applied to the creative process ex post facto, in a sense), then you won't be able to listen to what the piece is telling you it needs. If you're a good musician, and if there are 'rules' at any given moment, you will abide by them, or break them as necessary."

DJ: "I think it's over-thinking my process. The heart of what I do is sound exploration and turning those new sound worlds and ideas into an artistic and musical framework. Then sharing these works in a compelling and engaging manner."

AM: "In Stravinsky's "Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons" he remarks that musical practice precedes theory. Hence, ideally one would be always creating musical theory. That is rarely the case. My goal is to participate in an adventure with fellow musicians as well as the listeners. If all are willing to partake in the risks, a meaningful experience might materialize."

Is experimental music a form of rebellion?

AB: "I'm not sure that I, myself, ever think of music as rebellion. (And I never think of it as 'experimental.') It's always about finding something one hasn't found before. And I mean to say that all 'real' music is about this search. If you have done this, perhaps it might always sound 'rebellious' to a listener. Remember: late Mozart was very difficult for contemporary audiences— very complex; and very abstruse. So, this lovely music might have sounded 'rebellious' to his listeners."

DJ: "I think that saying 'experimental music is a form of rebellion,' dismisses the creativity behind the art. Is my music experimental? I don't know. Perhaps that's the simplest classification to make, but I don't necessarily make my music to be a rebel. Certainly, there are aspects of my music that are rebellious, but that isn't necessarily the intent behind the whole of what I do. I'm simply trying to create interesting and creative art, as I suspect are most experimental musicians."

AM: "For me, improvising is a necessity. As far as an example of non-conformity, for some reason I try to make my guitar not sound like a guitar. That might denote a certain rebellious disposition. On the other hand, so called, experimental music can be dismally conventional."

I asked if there is such a thing as a "soundscape" in these artists' compositions, and how they would describe the terrain of any particular one?

AB: "I wouldn't necessarily deem any of the pieces soundscapes, however I could certainly imagine others doing this. And they wouldn't be wrong. Much of the "jnana" album as well as the "Penumbra" album could be viewed this way. A solo piano and synthesizer album of mine, titled "Anamnesis" has textures and soundscapes which I then overdubbed piano on top of. I have enjoyed, recently, finding patches which could be deemed 'soundscapes' on my Korg Triton, and using them (without alterations) as background for soloistic playing and also for non-soloistic "textural" playing. "Penumbra" has harpsichord (used in a textural, Ligeti-esque way) and prepared double-bass on top of 'soundscapes.' Composers are always on the lookout for new shapes; new colors; new combinations of colors, etc. The apotheosis of this idea— as it would be found in my own recordings of my own music—is a project I recorded some years ago titled "Lacanian Fantasy -The Abyss of Divine Madness." It is an entirely improvised 'classical chamber work.' For this recording I chose many Triton patches, and for the first time many which emulate acoustic instruments. I performed at least four times in the studio, in order to build up the composite work. In the first recording session I tracked the acoustic piano playing for the basic texture, and I was sure to not play for more than, perhaps, 20 minutes, so as to leave 10 minutes of no repetitive texture for the conclusion of the piece. (The piece is approximately 30 minutes.) The first overdub would have included instruments of a particular family or those which complimented each other in a useful way. The next overdub, the same: perhaps electronic sounds and effects—and maybe a "backwards" piano. The end result sounds—to me—like an elaborate contemporary chamber ensemble work of great complexity. There were enough successes in the piece for me to want it to be heard, however, for this piece, in particular, it's very difficult for me to be relatively objective about it. It's a bit overwhelming in conception, as it is for me to listen to. You might call it a vast 'soundscape,' or an 'improvised classical soundscape.' It's ultimately a kind of walking contradiction, which may be why I, myself, don't know what to make of it.

DJ: "Probably one of my most well-known "soundscapes" is my reed playing. (from the Carve album, it would be "Carve (only reed)" and also heard at the end of Paula Matthusen's of an implacable subtraction.) I've had so many people come up to me after hearing this technique with their ideas of what it sounds like. The most common reaction is that it sounds like bird calls. I've also heard it referred to with specific bird calls (such as duck calls and turkey calls), and I recall one audience member telling me it sounded like a crazy Armenian vocalist! It's really cool to hear how different people relate to a sound world that they've never experienced before. Many people are surprised that I'm not purposefully trying to make bird sounds. When I play with just the reed, I treat it like a different instrument that is completely detached from the bassoon. Therefore, I don't play it like I would play my reed when it's attached to the bassoon. In this sense, it's a bit like learning a new instrument and become proficient and musical on this new instrument. I've been able to expand my playing range on the reed to now have a few sound worlds within this one (unusual) environment.

AM: "My work is usually narrative and thus lends itself to being perceived as a 'soundscape.' I don't intend it as such, but that's the inevitable result, at least as perceived by the listeners. I've come to accept that fact. Hence, my music has been frequently described in visual terms. Some noteworthy analogies are "eerie, atmospheric" (Nekhephthu); "a Balinese train yard in space." (Khettahu); "the sounds inside Godzilla's ear as he rampages through Tokyo." (Mekhaanu). Paradoxically, being a visual person, when I'm playing I only think in terms of sounds and spaces, but never images."

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