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Kyle Bruckmann: Purposeful Discontent


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Things are shifting in unpredictable ways. I suspect that more than ever the fringe, sub-cultural, niche markets have a heck of a lot more visibility and power than they ever did.
Kyle BruckmannWhen I spoke with oboist Kyle Bruckmann earlier this month, he was in the midst of a recording session with experimental metal act Oxbow (Hydrahead Records). Yeah... haven't heard of them, huh? Punknews.org called Oxbow's 2006 release Love That's Last "free-form psychedelia and an "infusion of jazz, rock and noise. So it should come as no surprise then that the eclectic Bruckmann would be recording oboe overdubs for Oxbow's latest record.

Bruckmann's budding career as a creative musician began just over ten years ago at Rice University where, as an undergrad in the early '90s, he formed and fronted the noisy industrial hardcore band Lozenge. The group would reconvene years later in Chicago, where Bruckmann was beginning to get a foothold in that city's experimental music scene.

A variety of recordings would follow—Entymology (Barley Auditable, 2000), a solo improvisation album, And (Musica Genera, 2001), duets with, amongst others, Chicago scenesters, trombonist/guitarist Jeb Bishop and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm—and different ensembles, including more with Lozenge, electroacoustic duets with Ernst Karel as EKG and Bruckmann's chamber jazz ensemble Wrack. Follow all that up with the oddest of records, Gasps and Fissures (482 Music, 2004) an album's worth of odd sounds, clicks, whistles and a few actual notes that is shocking intriguing, enthralling ...and just damn interesting.

Fast forward to 2006 and Bruckmann is now living and working as an orchestral musician in the Bay Area. His latest release, Intents and Purposes (482 Music, 2006), sees him working with Wrack again and getting as close to jazz as Bruckmann can get. With light and open compositions, Bruckmann conjures a wealth of sounds from his instrument, using silent space as the informal sixth member of the ensemble. Call it minimalism if you will, but Bruckmann's compositions show undeniable promise and his exciting and almost careless approach to recording and performance are, well, frightening.

All About Jazz: Oxbow is a good place to start. Let's jump right in to some of your earliest work. You did stuff with Lozenge, starting in 1992. How did that all come about?

Kyle Bruckmann: We were all at Rice University once upon a time and we were together as a band from '92 to '94. And then we all went separate ways—I went to University of Michigan for grad school. After a couple years we decided to get back together and we chose Chicago as a base. We stuck it out there for about seven years.

AAJ: So even as you were in college and studying in that sort of academic setting, you must have always had an interest in punk and metal and that aspect of music.

KB: Oh yeah, definitely. It's been a sort of twisted path for me. Ever since high school I've been playing in various versions of industrial and hardcore bands.

AAJ: Beyond Miles Davis bringing three guitars into his band for extensive jamming, what Lozenge does, or did, is completely different from that and totally left field, yet still incorporates jazz in a sense, definitely improvisation. Other bands, like Yakuza and, obviously, Oxbow, do this also. Do you think that musicians today are exposed to so much music and with relatively easy access—do you think it is almost natural for creative people who are involved in classical and jazz to also expand and bring in elements of punk and metal and hardcore in ways that, twenty years ago, might not have happened?

KB: I would like to hope so. I feel that this is such a bizarre time in the music industry that I can't even begin to understand what's going on. But it really does feel like things are shifting in unpredictable ways. I suspect that more than ever the fringe, sub-cultural, niche markets have a heck of a lot more visibility and power than they ever did. The dominant pop culture is so completely bankrupt that people are seeking out stranger and stranger little eddies and crosscurrents and they're easier to find.

Now [eclecticism] feels like the default for bored adolescents. Rather starting a hardcore band, they're all getting a suitcase full of broken pedals and trying to be Wolf Eyes. That that's happening on such a wide level I think is really exciting. Nobodies going to really sell any CDs and break even anymore but, so what—I've never done that anyway.

AAJ: That shift—to where there almost seems to be an understanding now amongst young, creative artists that it's not going to be a lucrative endeavor, where you feel like you have to do this, you have to create and you're not going to make money off of it—do you think that gives you as an artist the opportunity to say "Fuck it—I'm going to record Gasp and Fissures because I want to?

KB: I think so. In the larger scheme of things I guess I haven't been [recording music] for that long. It's been ten years since I graduate from Rice and before that Lozenge was active but it was really my only outlet and things have exploded since then. I've always done projects just to do them—out of some twisted creative need. And that's obviously not going to change. The stakes do raise a bit as you get older.

Things are a little complex for me—to the degree that I actually make a living, I do so as an orchestral musician. So it's very strange to have completely, financially untenable activities trying to fund each other. I make a paycheck playing in an orchestra and then I spend it all making creative music. I love it and it keeps me sane but I do occasionally wonder, would I be better off completely not giving a shit and having a day job of some form and doing everything else with free mp3s and CDRs.

AAJ: That allows the music to stay pure though, right? If you were forced to make money off of recording albums, that may alter what you're able to do as a creative person.

KB: It works. There was a time when I worried about trashing my ears, ruining my chops. That I was somehow being a very bad boy by making noises that were going to detract from my ability to be a classical musician. I've thankfully since realized that's bullshit. That was a lie that I was fed as an undergraduate. Rice is a really tremendous place and there are amazing things I got out of music school in particular but there is a narrowness of focus that I had to shake. And really it was exposure to all sorts of exciting things in underground music and work with KTRU [Rice University's student radio station, where Bruckmann was music director from '92 to '93] that enabled me to be in a position that I could move beyond that and realize that the musician I was, was something much different than the musician I was expected to become.

AAJ: So let's get into Gasp and Fissures and what pushed you to record an album like that.

KB: It was pretty organic. With a lot of my projects I find I wind up in the midst of something before I even realize it. I had already recorded Entymology and And. I kind of felt like I had made specific statements of recorded improvised music and I hit a wall at this point where I thought, "Well, I want to keep working but it doesn't make sense to me, right now, to continue recording improv. There's got to be a way to address the medium more specifically.

The very process of choosing a sequence of tracks—you're composing. That was really the germ of it—that was what started percolating for me. "Okay, I'm an improviser and I'm experimenting with sound but as a solo artist, I need to do something beyond simply improvising. I was teaching a lot of high school students and going out into the suburban schools giving lessons and things like that. Spring Break came along and I had a few days to mess around with something and I decided I was going to record some materials, raw materials basically. I was going to catalog extended techniques and just make sounds that would then be building blocks.

Olivia Block, a sound artist and composer living in Chicago that I've been working with since '98, and I had been talking about doing a duo collaboration of some form. That's still in the works. We had to back off the project and I had all these raw materials and I said, "Well, why don't I keep going with these and keep messing around with them. So I assembled them into a couple of pieces and then learned about a fellowship program through Experimental Sound Studios, which is a really great organization in Chicago. I applied for that [fellowship] and got forty free hours of studio time with a ProTools engineer. I didn't know anything about ProTools and digital editing so it was really a blast to be able to go into the studio with an engineer and just experiment and overdub. I started building [Gasps and Fissures] from there.

AAJ: Why? Really—why do a record of post-composed oboe technique?

KB: Part of it was that I felt like I kind of wanted to make a "psychedelic electronic record. Again, this is another KTRU thing. There's a show on KTRU called "Genetic Memory that my really good friend Keith Rozendal founded and he would play a lot of post-industrial experimental music—that sort of world. And I thought it would be fun to make a psychedelic concrèterecord only using my oboes—something that has that sort of aesthetic but limiting myself to acoustic sources.

I think I just started getting obsessed with [minimalist composer] Charlemagne Palestine at that time. And friends and peers like [saxophonist] Bhob Rainey and [trumpeter] Greg Kelley [influenced me]. I felt like we were neck and neck there for a while where I'd hear their records and think "Aha, now I have to one up them somehow. This incredibly exciting approach using very artificial micing and really playing with the studio and getting to the raw, physical sound of the instrument and something that is completely apart from the instrument's traditional role.

AAJ: You talk about using ProTools and post-production and then you also mention getting into the "raw, physical sound of the instrument. Is there not a dichotomy there? Or is this just the natural progression of using the technology we have now to further what you are able to do with your instrument?

KB: For me, personally, I definitely think it's the latter. I was really only interested in ProTools as a tool unto itself—something that enabled me to make really organic sound sound really artificial and completely reorient and dislocate the sound of my horn.

If I can pin down any through-line, any unifying thing going on in all my different projects, it is about that sort of weird discomfort and the blurring of dichotomies and things that should be opposing and very deliberately zeroing in on them and trying to muddy the waters. I think that's as true for Gasps and Fissures as it is for Lozenge and EKG and Wrack.

AAJ: Nice segue. Earlier this year you released Intents and Purposes, which utilizes your Wrack ensemble. So tell me more about that record and the difference between a group setting and your past, solo work.

KB: Again, it was kind of tripping into an opportunity before I realized it. I had been asked by a friend, a really great clarinetist and teacher and organizer in Chicago who had started booking a music series at Northeastern Illinois University, to do something—left it completely open. Something that would make sense in a chamber music series that was interested in doing new music and being a little bit more experimental. That just coincided with a thought that had just been brewing with me to reengage as an acoustic musician with composition, with actual pitch content and counterpoint and harmony and good old fashioned things like that. I'd been playing a lot of Creative Music—capital "C M —and other peoples' projects and really enjoying that but I felt like for me to focus on actually playing notes I needed to exert a little bit more control as to what those notes were and why.

I'd been thinking these thoughts already and then when I was asked to do this concept I thought, "Alright, it's time.

It was a big leap for me and it was the first time I'd done any composing for anything other than Lozenge. But it was really very gratifying because it was an opportunity to play something a bit closer to jazz in a context that I created myself. I had to create it myself because nobody was going to ask me as an oboist, "Hey, come play some jazz with us. So I had to come to other friends and find an excuse to be on the stage at the same time as [trombinist] Jeb Bishop and [percussionist] Tim Daisy.

So our first record came out on Red Toucan and that was a great experience playing with those guys but again, it was rather short. We played a few shows in Chicago and then there was a recording session [resulting in 2003's Wrack] and then I moved to California.

After I'd been in San Francisco for a couple years, I realized it was time to get going with creative work again. I contacted all the members of the original band [Bishop, Daisy, Lozenge bassist Kurt Johnson and violist Jen Clare Paulson] and two of them were not around. Jeb was taking a break—his ears were sort of screwed up at the time and he was taking a break from music, thank god he's playing again now. [Bishop and Johnson are replaced by bassist Anton Hatwich and Jason Stein on bass clarinet].

So [Intents and Purposes] again was a very organic process. I'd been thinking about and writing the tunes for a while but the actual rehearsing, playing and recording all happened within weeks of time. It was great and I feel incredible blessed to be able to work all four of those musicians.

Kyle Bruckmann AAJ: It was pretty amazing to get a package, not have heard anything from you before and hear Gasps and Fissures and Intents and Purposes. Those albums are, not necessarily different ends of the spectrum, but still very different records.

KB: Thank you. That is intentional on my part. I have a lot of different interests and a lot of different things I care about musically and I try to focus within particular contexts. They're a lot of different things but I try to make sense of whatever the project is by asking, "Why am I doing this? Why am I trying to make a jazz record? Why am I trying to make an electronic music record? And they are all very specific attempts to get at something in particular that I think I'm not getting at elsewhere.

Selected Discography

Kyle Bruckmann, Intents and Purposes (482, 2006)
Pink Mountain, Pink Mountain (Frenetic, 2006)
Lozenge, Undone (Sick, 2005)
Kyle Bruckmann, Gasps & Fissures (482, 2004)
Kyle Bruckmann, Wrack (Red Toucan, 2003)
Kyle Bruckmann, Grand Mal (Barely Auditable, 2003)
Scott Rosenberg, Creative Orchestra Music Chicago 2001 (New World, 2003)
EKG, Object 2 (Locust, 2002)
Kyle Bruckmann, Six Synaptics (Barely Auditable, 2002)
Scott Fields Ensemble, From the Diary of Dog Drexel (Rossbin, 2002)
Kyle Bruckmann, And (Musica Genera, 2001)
Olivia Block, Mobius Fuse (Sedimental, 2001)
Kyle Bruckmann, Entymology (Barely Auditable, 2000)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Marc PoKempner
Bottom Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Bruckmann

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