Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet: Bridging the Future with the Past

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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PB: I don't want to give the wrong impression but maybe what annoys Paul is that a lot of younger people today already start thinking about the result, then produce it, which is the way that maybe rock music is being produced. But I don't think it has a place in our music.

MG: This is completely true. It's really a slow process to get closer and closer to the result.

PB: It's a lifelong search and process of trying.

MG: Sometimes you can acquire the feeling of what Peter is talking about and maybe it's even good. But for me, it's not just about the process. That would be stupid because it would be to say that I am not interested in form and I'm really interested in form when it comes to improvisation.

JM: I'm interested in form too and I'm looking at this because this is the way I try and see things. This is a form and look what's going on in there (looking at an awkward oblong water glass.) You can move it around and it can definitely form something to work towards and I like that kind of fluidity.

PB:Yes, but that's that dialectic thing of what we call in the German language, "form und inhalt." That means the form and the content, which has to come together and that is what all art is about in a way. It's very simple.

Paal Nilssen-Love joins the discussion.

LP: With improvisation, you create something that is very much alive and then it's gone. Do you ever feel a sense of loss after performing a piece?

MG: For me, it's a process that is never done and it's never going to be finished. When it is done, there becomes a new starting point but the music is never done.

KV: There are times when I feel like I have failed at getting to the music and if something in my mind isn't successful, then I would say that I do feel a sense of loss. I feel like the opportunity is gone, or there was a chance to do something and I failed. As Mats was saying, after a concert is over, I don't feel a loss - ever! The only loss I feel is when the music fails and that chance won't ever happen again.

I definitely feel as if a struggle is involved and I think that everyone that I work with has a very strong sense of self-awareness and with that, a self-expectation about realizing something that is worthwhile. We can succeed or fail to varying degrees from night to night and for me personally, that can be painful. It's very much a reality in the process of either a live performance or in a recording situation.

There is a risk of failure involved anytime that we play and I think that that is a central part of the process, because if the sense of taking a chance and risk gets removed, then the music becomes very much dead. It's like an ongoing process of pushing yourself to a point of where you may fail because of the need to find out what Joe said earlier, of what can't I do or what can I do? That's a very intense process.

PB: It has to be.

MG: If you are not willing to take a risk, the music will be empty and flat and then you might as well get rid of the music.

KV: It has become clearer and clearer to me that there is no separation between who you are as a person and what you play as a musician. And the way that you care about the way you live and the way you deal with the music are not separable. That means that it can be painful. Just like being alive can be painful. You just cannot separate those things. And I think that some of the most remarkable music or art that I have experienced is an intense expression of all kinds of things simultaneously; because it's an expression of these people, in that time, in that moment, in a real and true way.

If you go back and listen to some of the older records with people like Thelonious Monk, they always sound new because there is so much in that music and I think that's what we are striving to do. We want to make music that is true, that is an expression of us now, along with the things that we deal with, and that can be painful but it can also be joyful.

PB: As a kid, I was interested in boxing and I can compare that to going on stage. You have to accept the fight and you have to accept that there is a chance that you can lose, but you have to give all that you can in this special moment to win. You have to concentrate and get whatever you can but on some nights, it may not work and that can be painful but without that actual experience, you don't have a chance to win the next time. And that's the thing.

KV: We recently played in Montreal with Sonore, which has always been a fantastic city to play in. The audience and the people that present the music there are really special. But for whatever reason, that night was a really hard night. There were a lot of things stacked against us and it was pretty rough. However, by the next day, we were already talking about wanting the next gig and what we could do better. And like Peter says, if you are in it 100% all the way, it's part of the thing you take on, that yeah, you are going to fail at times. And it's horrible when it happens (laughs) but it's very important because it illuminates so many things.

So I find those personal struggles within the context of the group fascinating because there are so many different things happening simultaneously from an individual and collective standpoint and how it can impact the success of the group and the music. There are so many variables and it's an amazing process. You can prepare as much as you want as individuals or as a group, but when you go on stage, you throw the dice and don't know what it's going to be. That's riveting and whether the people that come to the performance know the music or not, it doesn't really matter because nothing else is quite the same artistically and it's an intense human experience. It's an unusual and special art form because of that and it can be realized by anybody that is watching and listening.

JM: I don't know how you guys feel about this but no matter how confident I might feel; if I start to analyze things while improvising, I'm in trouble. Because if I think something is not going to work, it will not work no matter what I do. It becomes an up hill struggle all of the time. It's like the centipede that tries to think of which foot comes next and then it cannot move. But if I can just realize that I don't have much control over what is going on even though I'm doing the best I can, then that's it! At the end, somebody else can analyze it.

Paal Nilssen-Love: It's a feeling and should feel as if the music is playing you.

JM: I don't give it that much credit.

(All laugh!)

PNL: You try not to become too mental about the music and give it the distance it needs. It's a very special feeling.

JM: I don't think that we could approach it any other way than like there is no tomorrow. We have to do that at the highest level we can and it's unconceivable to do it any other way.

PB: Yeah, I'm with you.

PNL: You give it 100% and don't want to wake up the next day thinking that you could have done it better.

LP: How important is humility to the creative process?

KV: When you care about the people you work, you are constantly confronted with what you can and cannot do. You become aware of what your limits are and what you need to do to break through those limits and that's a humbling experience and if it's not, then you are not really being true to yourself. It's like confronting yourself in the mirror and you have to try and assess that on some level.

LP: Do you ever get a sense that your music may not be for the people of this time period?

JM: No, I don't even think about such a thing. This is our time period and all the rest of it is a bunch of bullshit. I mean, it's not music for the future or the past. This is the time we have.

LP: But is the music too "now?" Sometimes people can more easily understand something after they have had time to assess it in the same sense that history is more readily understood when it's looked back upon.

KV: Well, it definitely seems that mainstream society eventually catches up with what people are expressing that is happening today in real time. But I also agree with what Joe says 100%. The music is about right now but it usually ends up being a cliche and considered avant-garde because people are so living in the past. They are not thinking and only dealing with those things that they are told about. Thelonious Monk wasn't even accepted until the end of his life.

PB: Our music is vibrant and doesn't belong to the media cake but that doesn't mean that we don't have our own importance and our own audiences. We just have to work to find them but people have to work at finding us too. It's a process. I mean, do we want to be a part of that media cake? I doubt it. I don't want it anymore. I want to be left alone to work on my music and I'm able to find my audience and I think that what comes later is not so interesting. But we are always able to find people to work with and even when we only see each other a couple of times a year, we try to make the best out of the situation and that's a wonderful thing.

My painter friends always say, "Oh man, why did you move to this terrible music? Look at us, we are doing big exhibitions in New York and we make money." I know some of them quite well and they are fucking millionaires or professors and I sometimes get a bit jealous.

(All laugh!)

But just for two seconds. I then see what I have and that's really the best thing that you can have. It's working together and creating something together. That's a great feeling and if that works, you can be happy. It's a very good thing.

LP: The late author Edward Said, said that music just might be the final resistance to the acculturation and the commodification of everything.
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