Interview with Ken Vandermark, Andrew Morgan and David Ryan

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DR: This is quite common in free improvisation isn’t it? Whereby different playing situations becomes part of the music itself. I’m thinking of somebody like Derek Bailey, who formalised this with his ‘Company’ sessions of pairing improvisers together almost at random. You mentioned ‘narrative structure’ earlier today, and said that you felt Bailey remained a narrative improviser. I was intrigued by this…

KV: From my perspective there is a big difference between the improvising that comes out of the history of jazz and its transformations into what it is now, and other forms of improvised music. One thing is the importance placed upon the soloist. In Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, for example, when Johnny Hodges took his solo, he was the focal point. So Ellington was writing for specific soloists, specific improvisers he knew, which makes jazz so unique.
Music that is completely improvised, the improvisation is again the focal point. But the thing that is different about that improvisation versus a music that has open parameters, is that the goal is that narrative is important – bringing the listener from one point to another, that becomes a narrative structure. That is very different from the kinds of improvisation in, say, new music ensembles, where the emphasis is on sounds not that narrative structure. Feldman talks about ‘not pushing sounds around’ …but improvisers from this background really like to shove them around and push them towards different sets of communication. So that narrative is, to my ears, is a key to that history which separates it from other musics…

Audience Member: For the purpose of this project that you two have developed so far, I was wondering, Andrew if you have built a freedom into your part, and Ken, if knowing Andrew’s compositions creates a specific response on your part?

AM: There are lots of textures created that are notated in such a way that don’t allow them to happen exactly the same way, but still give the classical players the information to do what they do well: what notes to play, when to play, when not to play…everything is written in a modular fashion, eight blocks in this instance, and we’ve arranged an order late last night. So, there is some preconception, but of a flexible nature.

KV: I think Andrew’s music has instances where the lines are composed but the rates in which they are played aren’t…for example, in a part where I play along … what it produces is that the four instrumentalists, when they get to certain places in their lines, they creates surprises vertically, because horizontally – as it moves along – it is independent, but as it moves it creates new situations. And because that is fluid it affects what I do, if it’s dense and close, I may be very open and vice versa. There’s also a piece where the ensemble are directed to follow certain motifs I may make improvisationally. So they’re making pools sifted out of what I’m making. Sampling in a way. For me, my goal has been not to remember as much as possible. I’ve taken notes about the notes, so to speak…in terms of what the character of the pieces actually are. But I’m trying to hear for the first time as much as I can. That is my role in this, to be spontaneous, and I’m taking it as seriously as possible.

DR: OK, we have run out of time, and we have a very strong line–up in the first half: Evan Parker, John Russell, Philip Wachsmann, and Ken…but we’ll just take a very short two minute break…[To KV and AM] Thanks. [applause]

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