on life, music etc beyond mainstream

Wenn man dieses Interview aufmerksam liest, findet man, denke ich, den einen und anderen Zugang zu der Welt dieses Solo-Piano-Albums, das Manfred Eicher produziert hat. Craig Taborn verbindet in seinem Spiel so viele Polaritäten: das Schroffe und das Zärtliche, das Maschinelle und das Organische. Sein Spiel ist ungeheuer reich, in den Details, in dem langen Atem einer Improvisation, in der Ausführung der Ideen, und doch von allem Zierat bereinigt: sowas entspringt aus dem Geist der Askese, da öffnen sich die wildesten Blüten! (thanks to Craig Taborn for doing this transatlantic interview!)
 Avenging Angel
Michael Engelbrecht: I´ve read that these pieces evolve from small motives or units of sound (you had or had not prepared) – is it true that you have a kind of small seed for a piece, or is there a bit more conceptionally going on before?

Craig Taborn: The improvisations can germinate from a variety of places. Sometimes it may be from some specific choice of motive or gesture but it also may be some extra-musical idea like an image or a verbal phrase or concept. I may arrive at these before the piece begins or I may simply settle on something after the music has already begun. But for the most part I try to remain true to the initial idea of a specific piece in some way once it is begun as long as it is rendering musically engaging things. But if it is not yielding good things I will abandon the idea without any remorse.

Michael: Paul Bley once told me that his playing with long silences and decays on the classic solo piano album “Open, To Love” came from his experimenting with early synthesizers. What is your fascination with these vey spacey moments and notes vanishing into air… especially on the piece “Diamond Turning Angel?

Craig: I did not know this about “Open, to Love”. I think that my awareness of and engagement with sound has a root in my early and continuing involvement with electronic music. I began working with synthesizers almost at the same time as I began learning piano and these two things have always influenced each other in my music. Primarily I think i have always started my music making from the sound and any other considerations exist within a larger conception of sound. For me even very minimal pieces like DIAMOND TURNING DREAM are actually quite full of activity and detail but that information exists within the sound itself. Only through paying close attention to the complex of sounds inside of each note can one enter that special world. The silences and space allow for this more careful exploration of the tones.

Michael: The title track   has a very special kind of groove: it is not a Jarrett-like „singing groove“ (he can do a lot out of a few notes if he´s not playing Body and Soul), it nearly has a kind of machine-like quality. This is  interesting, because as a listener I´m not hanging on to a dreamy trace-like repetitive figure, but to a very muscular hard-core groove.

Craig: Well for me the groove exists underneath all of the other things that make those kind of repetitive things work. It is something that emerges not really from the repetition (although this is a part of the tracing) but is about the placement and intention of each iteration of a repetitive figure. But I use repetitions in two different ways and both are in evidence in this album. One is to get a kind of machine-like stasis happening, where the repetition really implies non-development. And the other is a real „groove“ that grows around itself and has a feeling of motion and purpose. But the difference between these two things is all in the intention and not so much in the execution. It is about locking in and then deciding how much force or purpose with which to imbue each note, and then adding subtle variations if you are trying to work the groove. “Avenging Angel” has a definite sense of purpose to it in it’s groove, but there is also a bit of a more rigorous posture. I guess my interest in some electronic music as well as my long listening to metal and hardcore music have influences on my idea of where these kind of things can go and what they can evoke.

Michael: Manfred Eicher told me that, in his opinion, this seems to be a step forward in solo-piano-playing, going away from certain romantic cliches. Was it a part of your vision before the recording to be not trapped by certan old ways of „romanticism“? And how did you prevent something from being a too-sweet ballad, maybe looking at the beautiful „ballad“ “True Life Near”?

Craig: The music just comes out of how I am making and hearing sounds. I had no consideration at all for whether the music was sounding „romantic“ or not. I think ultimately everything extends from my engagement with the material. I am not not trying to „perform“ this music in any demonstrative way. There is not really an agenda in terms of either demonstrating certain technical concepts or abilities or to perform emotions at the piano. I am just trying to realize the music I am hearing as truthfully as possible and this precludes the idea of performing it with a point of view´or an emotional agenda.

Michael: Was the title „True Life Near“ an invention of the moment after listening to the song?

Craig: I am not actually sure where this title came from. I did not decide the titles at the time of recording and they are often the result of some kind of  obscure divinatory process. But I really don’t remember where specifically I arrive at the title.

Michael: Manfred Eicher listened to my night show some weeks ago, and he liked it ,  when I played „True Life is Near“ after a piece of Sylvian´s new album „Died In The Wool“…

Craig: Nice that you played that after some Sylvian – i have been a fan of his music for quite some time.

Michael: There are people who mention that one can hear – in your piano solo playing – an influence of Olivier Messiaen. I have a friend who is a big fan of the French composer. I know his bird call piano music, but, concerning those bird music tracks, his ideas are more interesting than the music. So can you shed a light on this reference in your new album?

Craig: I have listened to and freely draw influence from many musics and composers in improvising. Certainly Messiaen is an influencing composer for a variety of reasons. Primarily he is instructive in ways of creating a personal language of design and process. Because he so well documented his ideas it is easy to see how one can take inspiration from certain sources and concretize that inspiration into a musical syntax. And then there is the fact that many of his approaches are derived from and lend themselves to improvisations. Messiaen was part of the great French improvising organ tradition and this is a very advanced improvising tradition. So there are many things one can draw upon in Messiaen to fuel music making. However much of this influence has been a part of my own music making for so long it is often hard to disentangle that from all the other influences and from my own original ideas. So I am never actively seeking to mimic him or anyone else, but at the piano and in certain moments there are processes, specifically harmonic and melodic ones, that are certainly closely related to him.

Michael: When you play a piece like “This Voice Says So”: has there – again – been a small idea at the beginning, a compositional sketch, or what is the „story“ behind this piece?

Craig: “This Voice Says So”  is a completely improvised piece that very specifically uses a very small idea- just a few notes- and develops rather slavish around this material. The form of the piece is arrived at in real time. But every note in the piece relates very closely to the initial idea (i forget what the germ was specifically but one can hear it returning again and again). This is probably the most clear example of this kind of improvising on the album as it stays very close to the root material throughout the piece.

Michael: There are some „wild“, boppish pieces, with angular notes, wild cascades. Do you like this, from time to time, „attacking the notes“ and yet not losing control about key elements of a composition?

Craig: I have a fairly broad palate in terms of approaches and certainly there are many times that I go for more aggressive and „wooly“ things. And often keeping control of the compositional elements is not even a consideration.I like irrational and unhinged gestures as well in my playing. I think the AVENGING ANGEL album is in many ways an exploration of one process but it is by no means the only process i engage in in improvising. So some of the pieces betray some of my other musical interests as well.

Michael:  Coming to the sequence of the album: “The Broad Day King” really opens up the field; it seems to contain – in a nutshell – some of the stylistic elements of the whole album. And then, the piece “This Is How You Disappear”, the closing track has a perfect title for an ending piece. You do also have the impresssion that the sequencing of the tracks adds to the quality of the whole album?

Craig: Sequencing is always a major part of how music is ultimately perceived. I think in this day and age an album sequence is a strong suggestion for the narrative of an album. Because it is so easy for people to make their own sequences, it is not so much an issue to decide the absolute. But certainly it gives a strong impression of an identity to an album to sequence it with intelligence and intent. The AVENGING ANGEL sequence owes mostly to Manfred Eicher’s artistry. At the time of listening and deciding pieces and programming I was fairly well spent from having recorded the day before and I relied entirely on his sensibility in this regard.

Michael: Sometimes I´m surprised that some of it, the more abstract stuff, touches me emotionally, though I would – there – only expect my brain doing some exercises….

Craig: Thank you… The musical intention behind most of the events on the album are the same, to invite close listening and greater awareness. This is true of the more dense and energetic pieces as it is of the slower contemplative ones. For me the differences between them are merely of perceived density but it functions the same way. So while the slow pieces may more easily yield a space to hear sounds closely that awareness can be carried over to more dense context as well. By repeated listening I think one’s awareness of the sound world can grow to the point where it is possible to perceive these more dense pieces in the same way as one perceives the slow ones. Once this happens it is easier to connect oneself to that music as opposed to just hearing information pass. Extending this idea I have found that in our living environment seemingly dissonant and complex sound-fields (like in those found in an urban context) cease to be as annoying and actually can become quite interesting and pleasurable environments. The thing that has to change is one’s awareness of and ability to process the sound information. But in the end being able to tune in in this way ultimately can make everyday life a little more interesting and exciting. But it is also improtant to be able to tune in to the quiet spaces in the same way because they are actually often as full of activity. I guess just always „tuning in“ is the ultimate goal.

Thank you for listening!

This entry was posted on Samstag, 11. Juni 2011 and is filed under "Blog, Gute Musik, Musik aus 2011". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. Poschlost:

    Vielen Dank an beide Beteiligten für dieses erhellende Interview und Gratulation an alle Beteiligten für dieses herausragende Werk der improvisierten Musik, der Klavier-Solo-Improvisation und der Aufnahmetechnik! Ich glaube, auf der ECM-Site fällt in diesem Zusammenhang der Begriff „Transparenz“. Wenn ich nur ein Wort hätte, um diese CD zu charakterisieren, wäre es das, oder vielleicht „luzid“. Auch hier gilt das wieder für die Musik ebenso wie für die Aufnahme. Im Unterschied zu vielen anderen Solo-Improvisationen finde ich diese auch auffallend „nicht-explorativ“, will sagen, es könnte sich um notierte, neue E-Musik handeln, wenn nicht zu jedem Zeitpunkt die improvisatorische Spannung aufrecht erhalten würde. Interessanterweise habe ich mir auch gleich die Frage gestellt, ob dies eigentlich „romantische“ Musik sei. Letztlich eine unwichtige Frage, aber mir fiel beim Hören die Formulierung „skelettierte Romantik“ ein (erinnerte mich an Satie und Shostakovichs Preludien und Fugen). Was ja irgendwie auch zur Transparenz passt.

  2. Michael Engelbrecht:

    ECM Press office: The press is responding excitedly to “Avenging Angel”. In UK newspaper The Guardian, John Fordham writes: “Taborn’s genius (there’s no other word for it) makes a world of whispered, wide-spaced figures, ringing overtones, evaporating echoes and glowering contrapuntal cascades as absorbing as if he were playing bebop’s greatest hits. Some pieces slowly evolve as sporadically tapped treble notes ring out against quietly jagged chords, some are keyboard-sweeping torrents in which jazz phrases deviously lurk and wriggle, some foreground high sounds struck so hard that the aim seems to be to purge them of tonality, while others do the opposite and lose themselves in subtleties of texture, echo and harmonics.”

    Taborn is the subject of a large feature article by Florian Keller in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, which concludes with an ovation for the solo album: “The recording speaks, in its multi-voiced and refreshingly stubborn way, of a spontaneous impulse to which Taborn, with his highly complex melodic-harmonic-rhythmic improvising, remains faithful. He is never groping in the dark here. Each piece takes off from a clearly-perceived motive or atmosphere developed through improvising. In this way Taborn sees, to quote Roland Barthes on the ascetic’s path, a whole landscape in a single bean.”

    In France, Vincent Bessières is equally enthusiastic in the pages of Jazz News: “This first solo album leads the way with its minimalistic almost ascetic approach where improvisation blends into real-time composing. Without pretense or artifice Taborn confronts the challenge of the solo album with a mental rigour and an awareness of form, with courage, even. He avoids the obvious and any hint of self-indulgence. Far from being an ‘inner journey’ or an opportunity to display virtuosity, his approach liberates spaces in which, by working the details, beginning from a note, a rhythm, the pianist builds a work whose resonance and purity thrills with its commitment and with the strength of its simple beauty.”

  3. Jochen Siemer:

    Die kreativen Pfade der Askese: in einem Kapitel von Robert M. Pirsigs Roman ZEN UND DIE KUNST EIN MOTORAD ZU WARTEN, stellt der Protagonist – von Beruf Lehrer – seinen Schülern die Aufgabe, einen Aufsatz über das der Schule gegenüberliegende Haus zu schreiben. Am nächsten Tag kommen die Schüler mit leeren Heften und hängenden Köpfen zurück, denn ihnen fiel dazu nichts ein.
    „Ok, dann beginnt eben mit einem Backstein am linken, obersten Fenstersims und geht von da aus weiter …“ Am nächsten Tag bestürmen die Schüler den Lehrer aufgeregt: „Bitte, könnten wir noch länger Zeit für diesen Aufsatz haben – uns fällt zuviel dazu ein!“

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