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Twelve Artist Statements #10 | Ken Vandermark - musician & composer

Twelve Artist Statements #10

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1) “People ask what the avant-garde is and whether it’s finished. It isn’t. There will always be one. The avant-garde is flexibility of mind and it follows like day the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without the avant-garde nothing would get invented.”

-John Cage, “Diary; How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse),” from The New York Schools of Music and Visual Arts (New York/London: Routledge, 2002), edited by Steven Johnson, pg. 128.

2) I think the ’70s were a bad period for jazz.

“I think it was a period when it was best to be busy doing your own thing, because you couldn’t count on any community support. It was a very tough time, yet glorious. That was when we did the research that was necessary to refine what we did in the ’60s, the breakthrough period, a revolutionary period in jazz. The ’70s was the time you couldn’t continue what you did, you had to make it go into a more modern direction in a more acceptable way. What we had found was too chaotic, we had to start shaping it.”

If you can describe it to me, what ways did you personally find to shape your music?

“Composition! By finding the appropriate structures to contain the type of improvisational material that we had discovered. What Monk had was the appropriate containers. He wrote the lines that made the guys sound good and that they liked to play. They developed a language and improvisation came naturally out of that material and it was a coherent whole. That was what I was after.”

-Steve Lacy: Conversations (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), edited by Jason
Weiss, pg. 136.

3) “You have to set up a formal structure, it makes the sculpture interesting. If we hang new material on old forms it’s boring.”

-Richard Serra, from “Monumental Scale In A Crystal Palace,” by Steven Erlanger, International Herald Tribune, Thursday, May 8, 2008, pg. 22.

4) “Treasure variety for its own sake… not from a lamentable failure of thought that accepts all beliefs on the absurd rationale that disagreement must imply disrespect. Excellence is a range of differences, not a spot. Each location on the range can be occupied by an excellent or an inadequate representative- and we must struggle for excellence at each of these varied locations. In a society driven, often unconsciously, to impose a uniform mediocrity upon a former richness of excellences… an understanding and defense of full ranges as natural reality might help to preserve the rich raw material of any evolving system: variation.”

-Steven Jay Gould, from The New York Schools of Music and Visual Arts (New York/London: Routledge, 2002), edited by Steven Johnson, pg. 135.

5) “One can never experience art through descriptions. Explanations and analyses are at best an intellectual preparation. They may, however, encourage one to make a direct contact with works of art.”

-The New Vision, Fundamentals of Bauhaus Design, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), by László Moholy-Nagy, pg. 9.

6) “After about a year or so of playing completely free,” he says, “the music started to sound the same every night. And then it was no longer free. That’s when we had to start making another revolution.” In retrospect, he categorizes the work after ‘hermetic free’ into two sequential types: ‘post-free’- which began to put fences up in the music, to “groom” the total improvisation- and eventually ‘poly-free.’ “The C major scale came right back. I thought I’d never see it again. But when it came back it was wide open with possibilities. We started adding melodies, written things, modes, rhythms. Sometimes it was free, and sometimes it was free not to be free.”

-Steve Lacy: Conversations (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), edited by Jason
Weiss, pg. 189.

7) “It is many years now since painting freed itself from the constraints of pure representation and description and from academic rules. Painters responded to the world- the completely different world- in which they found themselves, while music was still fitting itself into arbitrary patterns called forms, and following obsolete rules.”

-Edgard Varèse, from The New York Schools of Music and Visual Arts (New York/London: Routledge, 2002), edited by Steven Johnson, pg. 2.

8) “But Kline’s greatest efforts were always engaged in pictorial problems, rather than the pursuit of perfection. He was not at all interested in pursuing a style toward the dead-end of expertise. When problems did not exist, he created them.”

-Art Chronicles 1954-1966 (New York: George Braziller, 1990), by Frank O’Hara, pg. 46.

9) “For a while I came under the spell of John Cage and, whilst there’s undoubtedly something refreshing about ‘allowing sounds to be themselves,’ it soon became clear that for improvisation to make sense, sounds must be put to work.”

-John Butcher, from his liner notes to, “Fixations (14)- solo saxophone improvisations 1997-2000,” (Emanem 4045, 2001).

10) “For any music’s future, you don’t go to the devices, you don’t go to the procedures, you go to the attitude. And you do not find your own attitude; that’s what you inherit. I’m not my own man. I’m a compilation of all the important people in my life. I once had a seven-hour conversation with Boulez; unknown to him, it affected my life. I admire his attitude. Varese’s attitude. Wolpe’s attitude. Cage’s attitude. I spent one afternoon with Beckett; it will be with me forever. Not his work; not his commitment; not his marvelous face, but his attitude.”

-Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews And Lectures 1964-1987 (London: Hyphen Press), edited by Chris Villars, pg. 94.

11) “Being correct is never the point.”

-Robert Rauschenberg, from “Robert Rauschenberg, Prolific American Artist,” by Michael Kimmelman, International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, May 14, 2008, pg. 4.

12) “Do you know what Picasso said when asked why he left Cubism? ‘Because,’ he answered, ‘I wanted to be a painter. I didn’t want to be a Cubist.'”

-Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews And Lectures 1964-1987 (London: Hyphen Press), edited by Chris Villars, pg. 121.