Waldo's Gift: Capturing the Moment

Luke Seabright By

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AAJ: Just the trio rather than what?

AEW: On other weeks we often have guests who augment the trio. We also do rework nights where we rearrange the music of producers or composers that we like and turn it into templates for improvisation. They've been great because we've had to learn loads of new music. We've done rework nights of Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Flying Lotus , and that's totally informed our sound. So when it comes to that first Wednesday of the month, that's when we really share pure improvisation between us.

HS: It's become a sort of playground, a safe environment in which we can test ourselves. If you're on a big stage, you don't necessarily want to be going into extremely experimental territory where you can't anticipate the results.

AAJ: You're currently touring for Improvisations. Now that you've got an album with named tracks, are they templates for songs?

AEW: No we never played them again. It's somechat counter-intuitive but what excited a lot of the people coming to see us is that you're not going to see the same set again. That gives a real uniqueness to every single night. Of course, this also adds an extra layer of challenge because, since we have no template, we try to make our improvisations compositionally coherent. For instance, as one of the melodic instruments, I might be saying to myself that I need to be remembering and developing themes. We need to try to make a piece that's a composition as well as having the spontaneity of improvisation. That's been one of the big challenges of this music.

HS: Since the start of this year, we've started treating our sets more like DJ sets. Rather than stopping and starting between pieces, we try to have one complete flow and make a one hour or hour and a half continuous set. The piece might slow down, start changing vibe, then build up and head off into a different direction in one long interconnected journey.

JV: We're very conscious that, depending on how you look at it, you could say our shows are just three guys mindlessly splurging out on stage, but we really want it to be about that connection to the moment. We often explain that concept at the start of the gig. We'll say that we're going to try something now and we want you the audience to accompany us. We're expressing ourselves, connecting to this moment and we want you guys to do the same. It's almost a form of group meditation and we're just a vehicle.

AAJ: A key dimension to improvised music, especially group improvisation, is communication and interplay. It's about being responsive to your partners on stage through active listening. How have you felt that evolve as you've been going through this process?

JV: Going back to the start, we would often shout to each other when we wanted to do something different. At this stage, things were new, we didn't really understand each other's playing, so if you wanted to go quiet, the best way was to shout 'QUIET.' But now it feels a lot more intuitive, although you'll actually hear us shouting at some points in the album. We've never taken a formal approach to non-verbal communication, like Kneebody for example, where the trumpet might play a certain rhythm and that means guitar solo, or drums drop out, something like that. We've never gone that far in creating a language. It's more of an intuitive process where for instance, I know that I can play a certain drum fill and that Harry will respond in a certain way. It comes back to habituation. As we said previously, the most exciting parts of a gig are the moments when we're really on new turf, that's where the most energy probably comes from.

HS: In a way it's a lot like language. If you're improvising with people that you play with regularly, it's a lot like talking to your mates. There's a fluidity and ease about it. We're very luck to be able to play so many gigs together and develop that, not that many bands have that opportunity.

AAJ: Where does your name come from?

JV: Do you know the producer Hudson Mohawke? He released a mixtape called Hudson's Heaters, in 2006 I think, and on that mixtape is a track called "Waldo's gift." It's amazing. Actually, it kind of sums us up, it's got guitars in it, big dirty bass and wonky drums so maybe in a way we've come full circle with it.

HS: That track is actually a reference to a song by Velvet Underground called "The Gift" which mentions a guy called Waldo. We just found this out, we didn't know about this.

AAJ: What do you have to say about the musical ecosystem you're in at the moment, the Bristol scene, what's it like?

AEW: It's more scenes than a scene. There are pockets of different things going on. Bristol isn't very big, but it has this feeling of being big when you see how many artists and creatives are living there. I'm still discovering new bands that I've never heard of, who are based in some corner of Bristol that I'm not familiar with. We've managed to carve a niche for ourselves in a particular scene that gravitates around the Gallimaufry. And we've kind of come up at the same time as a band called Snazzback, that also has a residency there on Thursdays. They've been making waves as well. There's been a lot of momentum in the last two years.

HS: Outside the Gallimaufry, there are also bands like Ishmael Ensemble who've been very successful, and another band called Hippo that we know really well. We put all our stuff out through a collective called Astral Tusk. Bristol is very closely knit, and has a disproportionately large musical community for such a small city. It's the kind of place where you just walk down the street and bump into people you know. You don't really get that in London. It's a great place to cultivate creativity. The cost of living isn't nowhere near as high as in London so you have more time to spend on creative output.

AEW: If you want to start a band, really shape it and get somewhere with it, it's kind of the ideal place. London is a big, chaotic, competitive place. Your opportunities are far greater but the one bane of that is that it can be difficult to really focus on one project.

AAJ: Maybe it's too early to be talking about the next thing, but are you already looking in a new direction?

JV: The Improvisations tour is coming to an end. We're thinking about recording some new stuff which isn't improvised and doing studio work again. It's been such a pleasure doing an improvised show and taking it around the UK. Because we've been doing it a lot in Bristol so people have gotten used to it, but then bringing it to a new place and feeding off that energy as an audience discovers it for the first time, like in the music video, that's been wonderful. However the next step is exploring compositional work and using that as a starting point for improv. Many things in the pipeline, but it's still early days!
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