Keith Rowe: One Bird Flying Through

John Eyles By

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AAJ: For you, is it different for solo playing as opposed to duo playing?

KR: It is exactly the same thing; it makes no difference. The room is apparently a more complex room if you've got two or three... If you are on your own the room is quite complex and you are absorbing everything in the room. If you have two extra players then there is that level of complexity to what's possible. Then there are a couple of skills that I think become relevant. One is the skill of the option of not listening. When it is a solo, you do have a range of listening skills. The not-listening one doesn't activate itself so much at that end of the spectrum.

I think when there are three of you, as tonight, then you go into hyper-listening when you listen at the most extreme range of the spectrum; at the other end is not listening at all. Not just shutting your ear off. I learnt that from the Japanese. I would say that expanding the spectrum of listening in that way was very important. That would be one difference; I think essentially observing everything that is in the space in the room. If there are two people there, it does make a difference of course.

AAJ: Do you still have the feeling that the music is there before you play it? Is it here? Are you externalizing it when you play it?

KR: Of course, we never know, do we? What always seemed to me the old question was: Is it one piece of work inside you, like a novel you keep on writing, or one painting that you keep on repainting, or one piece of music that you keep repeating it in different ways or do you have one piece of music inside you and you do episodes of it? Maybe it is a mixture of both; I've never been sure actually which it is. In a sense, I probably don't need to know, because you tap into it.

AAJ: A variant on that. You, Seymour and Martin play here [Cafe Oto] tonight and then in Leeds tomorrow. Would you know at this point how those two would be different? Or is that totally unpredictable?

KR: Totally unknown because the room tomorrow will be different—the space, the people. There is a sense in which the audience actually produce the music, not you. You are in the space, and the people are in the space with you. We're all in this space now. You can pick up a lot on them, on what they are feeling, how they are concentrating. So their concentration for example will allow you to develop material and extend material. If there is no concentration amongst the people in the room, you almost tend to go through an inventory, you rush through things. I think if they are concentrating, you almost tend to extend material a lot more. I hope that makes sense. And I think that must be true for Horowitz playing Liszt...

AAJ: You were at the performance last night, so you saw Rhodri Davies playing. In seeing people like Rhodri playing—and there are many others—do you recognize a legacy that you have left to the music, left to the current crop of improvisers?

KR: Yes. I can see the family relationship, if you know what I mean. I just recently worked with Rhodri in Wiesbaden. It was the Fluxus composer Ben Patterson's 75th birthday, so Rhodri and I were invited to do 75 minutes of music. So I got to know Rhodri a bit more. We'd not spent a huge amount of time together but it was very nice to see his thoughts and get his responses. And to see the technical things about the instrument because he has deconstructed the harp in the same way as I have deconstructed the guitar. Comparing notes, I'm probably slightly ahead of him in that I've got my guitar down to almost nothing, whereas I think he wants to go another stage in getting the harp down to—I think somewhere he saw a folding harp in a magazine; I think he is interested in that [laughs].

AAJ: How about you? Are you evolving in what you do to the guitar or have you reached there?

KR: Some of it is based on probably quite negative sentiments. At this point, I won't mention names but just recently I saw a guitarist playing in a trio and the guitar seemed to be masturbatory. I think there is something in the way the guitar has been a masturbatory instrument, very phallic with the hand going up and down. So some years ago I decided to castrate the guitar, in fact; I cut the neck off which is a symbol of castration. Maybe someone could actually write something about the fact that as old men get older their penises reduce, so maybe you can tell something by looking at the instrument on the table. I'm not going to go there.

AAJ: It is a very symbolic reduction is it?

KR: (Laughs.) Who knows? Maybe it is all subconscious.

AAJ: I can leave that bit in, can I?

KR: Yes [laughs]. Do illustrations and drawings.

AAJ: That is quite instructive. Beyond Rhodri, as you say, there is a family resemblance between a lot of improvisers.

KR: Sometimes I actually go to festivals and before me there is a guitarist playing, and I look at the table and an absolute mirror, a reproduction of my table with the same pedals, the same instrument, the same contact mikes, the same face fans, the whole caboodle, you know. What is interesting, if they have played first they have basically occupied all of the areas. I've got nowhere left.

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