on life, music etc beyond mainstream

you have searched the Manafonistas for ‘ interview with steve tibbetts’.


The Guitar (1) – I have a Martin 12-string that my father gave to me. (…) It’s an old guitar, now. It has a peculiar internal resonance, as though it has a small concert hall inside of it. I try to bring that quality out by stringing the guitar in double courses. In other words, instead of stringing the 4 lower strings with octave courses, I string them in unison. It makes it a lot harder to play, but with double courses I can draw out overtones if I’m willing to really physically engage the strings.


The favourite guitarists? It’s not a discovery often made, no matter how much guitar music hits your ears. Neil Young, wizard – electric. Ralph Towner, wizard – acoustic. Yes. And when I heard Steve Tibbetts for the first time, it was a revelation: Northern Song (1981) followed by Safe Journey (1984). All those singular albums, among them Big Map Idea (1989) and The Fall Of Us All (1994). 

I’ve been returning ever since. Always returning.

Tibbetts‘ albums only appear sporadically. You wait in anticipation for the next one. Some very interesting side projects pop up on other labels along the way, while in the meantime ECM always offer a kind of constant companionship. (It’s worth noting here that Northern Song was the only album produced by Manfred Eicher – no introduction necessary.)

A unique sound-world created from St. Paul, Minnesota. A guitar sound you recognise after seconds, never formula. The thrill comes from just listening, and letting  go. And now, LIFE OF. Steve Tibbetts, Marc Anderson, Michelle Kinney, the inner circle. What made me quite so addicted to this music? Honestly I’ll never really know. This confession of not-knowing puts a bigger smile on my face than evocative pictures of distant worlds. 



Michael Engelbrecht: Steve, at first, this photo with the turkeys … a walk through the woods?


Steve Tibbetts: This is my back yard in Minnesota.The turkeys arrive around 9 in the morning and cluster outside, gobbling. They are out there right now, talking to each other. There is a bird feeder above them, hanging off of a balcony, so they scratch around in the snow and leaves looking for bird food. The turkeys are quite tame, and they associate our bipedal primate family with food, so they sometimes come running and making sounds when they hear the back door open. Sometimes rival gangs of turkeys go to war in our back yard. It is really something to see and hear. At those time their raptor past is revealed. 


Michael Engelbrecht: LIFE OF is vintage Tibbetts, all compositions are credited to you, I think, for the first time ever. It is more on the quiet side, like NATURAL CAUSES, but with its own darknesses and edges.


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, it’s of a piece with the last album. They’re relatives. 


The Guitar (2) – The frets on my guitar are worn almost flat. There are some tiny intonation issues and places where strings buzz against frets. I took the twelve-string to Ron at St. Paul Guitar repair. He looked the guitar over. He picked up the guitar and sighted down the fretboard. He said, “The frets are flat. There might be some buzzing or intonation issues. Do you like the way it sounds?” I said, “I love the way it sounds.” He handed the guitar back over the counter to me and said, “Then I won’t fix it for you.”


Michael Engelbrecht: Looking at the titles, they seem like a collection of people from your life and times. What made you combine the pieces with certain names?


Steve Tibbetts: A lot of the songs have a similar feeling to them. I let them cross-pollinate. In order to more easily distinguish them I gave them names a few years ago, and I used the names of friends and family.  Some of those names started influencing the music.  It was a little spooky, but I played along with the process. Some names have more than one reference in my family. For instance, there are several women named „Alice,“ two named „Joel,“ and so on. One of the Joels died last year, another is still living. This sort of thing can give the music a peculiar resonance. „Half of ‚Joel‘ died,“ I might think to myself. This is typical of the managed insanity inherent in the artistic process. It is good to use any upwelling of meaning and emotion you can find, but you have to maintain due diligence and stay sane. 


Michael Engelbrecht: „Life of Carol“ – is there a story?


Steve Tibbetts: No story, I’m afraid. It’s just another guitar circling, circling.  


The Guitar (3) – I try to play the guitar for one or two hours before recording. Something needs warming up. Maybe the back of the twelve-string needs to be physically warmed up, or my fingertips need a certain pliability. At some point the guitar settles down and the little concert hall inside opens for business. I like the physicality of playing 12-string. I don’t use a pick. If I’m drifting off to sleep at night and feel my fingertips throbbing I know I had a good day.


Michael Engelbrecht: There‘s a kind of discreet tension between some more introspective moods, carefully developed dynamics – and the haunting picture on the cover with the „army of cats“. 


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, just open up the back door at the right time of day and you’ll see turkeys and ghosts waiting and staring. 



Michael Engelbrecht: Are you making use of meditation or other tools to stimulate creativity?


Steve Tibbetts: The process of creativity is really hard to talk about: where does creativity come from? How does artistic vision and inspiration arise? It is a nearly tangible experience when inspiration finally does come to visit, but it’s still very ephemeral and vapor-like.  To go one step further and talk about a meditative influence on the creative process would be a bridge too far, I think. One can only speculate. An interesting thing however: sometimes an apparent spiritual or creative awakening is not at all meditative or serene in its manifestation. Look at „A Love Supreme“ or, especially, „The Inner Mounting Flame.“ There’s a kind of violence there that seems exactly right. Be leery of anyone who speaks with authority about practices of meditation and their impact on the creative process. Be afraid, be very afraid.  


Michael Engelbrecht: The music seems to be more centered around sound and texture than around melodies, for example. It seems to circle around an invisible center …


Steve Tibbetts: Part of that is my being easily satisfied with circular musical logic. When I worked in Southeast Asia I got used to music that didn’t really go anywhere. It always folded back on itself and it seemed right that it did so. I wish I could compose a piece of music with real changes and progression but I don’t really know how to.  


Michael Engelbrecht: Your love for your acoustic 12-string guitar is a life long affair. It is a familiar sound that never gets too familiar …


Steve Tibbetts: I remember an interview many years ago with Nana Vasconcelos where he talked about the berimbau which is, as you know, a 1-stringed instrument – a bow, a wire, a stick and a shaker. He said he found new sounds every day on the instrument. I feel the same way about this 12-string. There’s always something new, or something old that refines itself. I can’t take credit for a good sounding instrument.  


Michael Engelbrecht: There‘ s such a special balance between the rhythmic parts of the music and the drone fields (of sampled sounds, Michelle‘s cello sounds etc.) Remember Miles Davis, in his electric period 69-75, also had, inside the whirlpool of energy, those stop-and-go passages inside the music. Of course it is a very distant parallel, but in your pieces here, one can also observe a lot of moments where the music seems to hold its breath, stand still, before moving on, and back again …


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, I have a copy of „Get Up With It“ at the studio; „Rated X.“ Badal Roy plays tabla. I think that may have been more Teo Maceo than Miles. It’s always special when a great artist works with a visionary producer.  


Mixing – The small concert hall in the guitar encouraged me to seek out a large concert hall to mix the album in. The Macalaster College music department kindly let me bivouac in their concert hall for an evening. I set up two pairs of mics: one in the center of the hall, and one pair in back. It worked well to allow a room’s ambience to settle around the piano and percussion. The natural acoustics of the hall helped the guitar settle into the piano.



Michael Engelbrecht: Apropos piano, you have played that instrument on „Natural Causes“ for the first time. Was the reason for that to keep the spirit of the beginner awake who has, according to Zen teaching, at times more fresh choices than the highly virtuoso & professional „approach“?


Steve Tibbetts: I just wanted to be able to read music a little bit. I read a review of a book about Bach’s „Musical Offering.“ As I recall, the book titled „Evening In The Palace Of Reason“ concerns a challenge from the King of Prussia to Bach. The King presented Bach a theme, a melody, and tasked him with improvising a fugue from it. Bach took up the challenge and played a 3-voiced fugue. The King’s request to create a six-part fugue ex tempore could not be fulfilled by Bach, because the Royal Theme was too difficult for that. The „Musical Offering“ contains a 6-part fugue, elaborated on desk. When I read that, I thought, „Even if I saw the music I wouldn’t be able to understand what Bach had done.“ I wanted to understand. So I began studying with Susana Pinto and she taught me Bartok‘s „Mikrokosmos“ and Bach’s „Inventions.“


Michael Engelbrecht: I keep circling, too, a bit. Listening to „Life Of“ you can easily feel something brooding, some darkness, a certain twilight zone. Is the origin for these sensations unknown – or somehow graspable? Echoes from all those „stranger things“ you experienced in Asia?


Steve Tibbetts: There is sometimes a sort of credulous enthusiasm to believe in „stranger things“, as you say, especially in Asia. Nonetheless there does seem to be a certain permeability to the fabric of reality in some places in the world. A friend of mine called it „thinness.“ You can look for that in music and art as well. You listen and there is a quiet collapse of duality, self and other. This might sound terribly exotic or over-thought, but if you watch your mind when you listen to music you might witness a kind of melting.



Michael Engelbrecht: After all these years, you and the percussionist at your side, Marc Anderson, did develop a kind of „secret language“ in the studio, not always easy to understand for people you start working with. But Michele Kinney is long enough part of your „inner circle“, I think.


Steve Tibbetts: No secret codes. Michelle can make her cello sound like a distant electric guitar feeding back through a Marshall amp. Tony Iommi-style.


Michael Engelbrecht: Haha, echoes from Bach and Black Sabbath within a minute. Now, Steve, living in Minnesota: did you follow those cold winter chills that were part of the three seasons of „Fargo“ (I love them!), and the original movie by the Coen brothers? Do you have a favourite TV series at the moment?


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, there is definitely a Minnesota way of being that I have grown to love. Very Norwegian, taciturn, reserved. I moved here from Wisconsin in 1972 and this is my home now. I like the way people are here, and I like the devotion to arts, education, and the liberal politics of this state. Some great political figures have come from Minnesota: Al Franken, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy, and especially Paul Wellstone. And, mhmm, Favorite TV series: politics and the Scandinavia mindset probably figure into my enjoyment of „Okkupert.“


Michael Engelbrecht: I know you have quite a big ECM collection. What was the last discovery or re-discovery inside the new or old ECM releases? I personally re-discovered that wonderful Shankar album „Vision“ with Jan Garbarek and Palle Mikkelborg. When I played it on air, the needle died a slow death and added weird distortions to Garbarek‘s high notes.


Steve Tibbetts: I don’t have to re-discover the first 300 albums in the ECM catalog; I’ve never really left them! I have „Dis“ on now, as I write this. Brooding, dark, just the way we like it.


Michael Engelbrecht: Wow – this is a lovely synchronicity. Yesterday, on the day you wrote this, I felt the urgent need to listen to an ancient ECM recording, I haven’t heard in years and that didn’t leave my turntable for weeks when it had been released deep in the last century. „Witchi-Tai-To“ from the Jan Garbarek-Bobo Stenson quartet. On the opening track, the Carla Bley-composition „Air“, his sopranino sounds sharp like a tool for cracking ice. Listening to that record now, I‘m still stunned, and not so much on memory lane. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Steve!


The End – I still think in terms of albums, even in terms of album sides. I lined up the songs, left to right, and worked with the running order until it seemed to hang together or make some sort of story. I played the ending of every song with the beginning of every other song until a plot started to reveal itself (this is what happens when you work alone—musical plots reveal themselves). Here’s how it ends: The kids went to college. Their parents were sad for a little while, then fine. Ellen lived and is in remission. Grandma died. Grandpa was sad. Everyone else lived as happily ever after as could be expected.


The End (2) – The texts about the guitar, the mixing process, and „the end“ were taken from Steve Tibbetts’ Life Of-page. Steve’s landscape photo belongs to the „thin places of the world“ he’s talking about, and is from Ramagrama, near Lumbini, 2015. This assembly is a truely manafonistic work: thanks to „Joey“ Siemer for fighting the devil in the details, and his sensitive, delicate and tactful design that allows linear and non-linear reading. Thanks to Ian McCartney for giving my small introduction the right groove and sharpness. Thanks to my late English teacher Dr. Egon Werlich who inspired my love for English language and culture (I still have in mind what he told us about the Beatles song „When I’m Sixty-Four“ – and I never got a better introduction to the works of Samuel Beckett (on an existential level, no smart-ass knowledge). Thanks to Hans-Dieter Klinger for cross-checking the Bach anecdote – Steve asked for this. Hans Dieter, former music teacher, once invited Keith Jarrett to play a solo concert in his school in Kronach (German hinterland), and still remembers well how carefully Manfred Eicher had placed the microphones. A week later music history was in the making – The Köln Concert happened! And, to be circling one more time: thank you for LIFE OF, Steve – „Where-am-I-music“ of a rare kind!

2021 29 Jan

Mental note of a radio night (for Steve T.)

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By circumstance, the „Klanghorizonte“ of Feb. 20 will start at 2.05 a.m. Two hours with recent and forthcoming releases, two hours of time traveling. Stefan Schneider‘s „Mapstation“ album will be extensively featured, with excerpts from an interesting interview. Another album, strongly linked with the first big lockdown, is Mats Eilertsen‘s solo bass work „Solitude Central“. As is Sleaford Mod‘s „Spare Ribs“. Aside from being a visceral comment on English politics and hipocrisy of Boris J (the man who wants to end the BBC as a voice of the people) and his small-minded inner circle, their songs go also back to survival strategies in a rather rough childhood. Ray Davies would certainly like the duo’s take on their own „Muswell Hilbilly“ memories. Fife genius James Yorkston will join  the circle of the first hour with two songs from his brilliant teamwork with The Second Hand Orchestra, and contribute some insights into these tracks („you chose the happy songs, Michael“, he said with a smile). A duo from Austin, Texas, named „Trees Speak“, strangely connected to the krautrock era,  and Elephant9, Norwegian‘s inventive take on the golden times of „fusion jazz“,  will complete the first fifty-five minutes, or, if time is running too fast, get their shining appearance a bit later, along with Joe Lovano’s Trio Tapestry, Brian Eno‘s „Rams“-soundtrack, Jakob Bro‘s trio with Arve Henriksen and Jorge Rossy, a Finnish piano player‘s solo committed to Russian painter Kandinsky, the Tindersticks (guests of the night since their famous second album), Mats Gustafsson‘s awesome Fire! – and poems by Dana Ranga and Martina Weber, from their recent books „Cosmos!“ and „Häuser, komplett aus Licht“. The hours three & four are full to the brim with time travel activities – one is centered around two albums  of Italian „re-packager“ of avant and pop flair, Tiziano Popoli, and  the penultimate hour contains a thoughtful „mix-tape“ set in motion by memories on the music of the late David Darling. In April, two months later, the „close-up“ hour of the „Klanghorizonte“, in the middle of the night, is booked out with some well-chosen ECM-works of the cello player with producer Manfred Eicher between 1979 and 2000. Now it‘s time for another Sylt walk, way up north, „Weststrand“. Steve Tibbetts knows this island very well.

It‘s a wild thing, and never loses its grip. Recorded in tiny spots, jazz clubs, lofts, real studios, private rooms (at least so it seems),  it‘s overflowing with that sense of adventure that has been part of the best jazz in an around  Chicago since the early days of the AACM. In no way giving history lessons, it all comes down to a breathing, never-ending line of searching, finding, celebrating. Junius Paul‘s ISM is extraordinary in the way it sounds, too – no high end studio perfection required when an idea has a room, and the room is sparsely equipped. The lesson: make an empty room dance! (M.E.)
We find ourselves, in the words of the late, great chronicler of Los Angeles and other mysterious worlds Harlan Ellison, „face-down in Gloria Swanson’s swimming pool“. Paradise was always a trap. The American dream is a fiction containing all the wrong truths. Arthur Conan Doyle once posed „The Final Question“: David Thomas has devoted his artistic life to answering with a final solution. (Ed Whitelock, in his brilliant PopMatters-review on the stunning late work by Pere Ubu, „The Long Goodbye“)
„Oh bliss! As a long term Crimson fan (I bought their original album on the day it was released back in 1768… well it does seem an incredibly long time ago)“  (Mark Sheckelford‘s  funny time traveling accident)










      1. Arve Henriksen: The Timeless Nowhere (Box)
      2. Underworld: Drift (Box)
      3. Thom Yorke: Anima 
      4. Joe Lovano: Trio Tapestry (use the word opus magnum carefully, use it here!)
      5. Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
      6. Lankum: The Lifelong Day (ear-piercing Irish drone folk)
      7. Wilco: Ode To Joy 
      8. Nick Cave: Ghosteen 
      9. Rabbia / Petrella / Aarset: Lost River (no way to get over a sense of wonder)
      10. Oren Ambarchi: Simian Angel (the art of the invisible guitar, and other apparitions)
      11. Sunno)): Life Metal (you want it primordial?)
      12. Lana del Ray: Norman Fucking Rockwell („This is a record that won’t win Jan Reetze’s sympathies, what can I do, I love it. Most of Norman Fucking Rockwell exists in some timeless, catgut-strewn place where 3am bar pianos and washes of keyboards serve as the tear-stained mat under Del Rey’s glass slipper of a voice – until, that is, a song such as Cinnamon Girl suddenly unspools an unexpectedly long, lyrical instrumental coda, in an electronic-tinged echo of Young’s famous meandering.“)
      13. Junius Paul: Ism („a hypnotic double shot of low-end groove adventurism“)
      14. Rustin Man: Drift Code
      15. Brittany Howard: Jamie (her sharpest cocktail yet of folk, blues, gospel, jazz and soul, pure flow of passion in a raw and experimental setting)
      16. Will Burns & Hannah Peel: Chalk Hill Blue (search this blog for excellent translations of some of Will‘s poems by Martina and Astrid!)
      17. Lambchop: This (is what I said)
      18. Leonard Cohen: Thanks For The Dance (if it is an artefact, it‘s purely authentic, love and loss all around, who needs fucking entertainment)
      19. Torn / Berne / Smith: Sun of Goldfinger (sound goes round, enter tribal drums and gritty alto saxophone, drums  add a modern swing touch soon, electric guitar in glooming mode, no fireworks in the opening minutes, more the clearing of a field, a jungle feel, life on all niches and corners, call it swirling around. The alto goes for a long ride, not the leader of the pack, a textural thing in the wilderness, turbulence code red. The guitar is changing dialects, the lion doesn‘t sleep tonight, fair warning.)
      20. Louis Sclavis: Characters On A Wall 
      21. Hilliard Ensemble / Jan Garbarek: Remember Me, My Dear (ghost music of highest order!)
      22. Lee Perry: Rainford (& dub twin Heavy Rain)
      23. Pan American: A Son (introspection, space, and Shenondoah)
      24. Areni Agbabian: Bloom 
      25. Ingrid Laubrock & Aki Takase: Kasumi
      26. A Winged Victory for the Sullen: The Undivided Five
      27. Lumen Drones: Umbra
      28. Tinariwen: Amadjar 
      29. Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse: Colorado 
      30. Swans: Leaving Meaning
      31. Ethan Iverson w/ Tom Harrell: Common Practice (i swear black and blue, these standards fly high and higher)
      32. Matmos: Plastic Anniversary (restlessly inventive for decades)
      33. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (in the wake of legendary Impulse recordings from the 70‘s)
      34. Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Marvin Gaye sends his warmest greetings from the tower of song)
      35. Kit Downes: Dreamlife of Debris
      36. Mats Eilertsen: Reveries and Revelations
      37. Purple Mountains: dito (funny, profound, and ultimately heartbreaking)
      38. Aldous Harding: Designer (meticulously executed, and eerie nonetheless)
      39. Big Thief: U.F.O.F. 
      40. Pere Ubu: The Long Goodbye (you might want to watch Elliott Gould in that Altman/Chandler-movie afterwards)







    ONE  –  Brian Eno w/ Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno: Apollo – Atmospheres & Soundtracks (Extended Edition – the classic one, and a new album of the same trio, nearly as stunning as the one from the golden days of Ambient Music, can‘t remember of another group reunion after 35 years – the soundtrack definitely has a life of its own, but the recently remastered blu ray version of the film the music was made for, Al Reinert‘s „For All Mankind“ (with extraordinary extras),  is just another mind-blowing experience) / TWO – The Beatles:  Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Edition (Deluxe Box Set) / THREE –  Mark Hollis: Mark Hollis (vinyl remaster –  The album was cut over several months with a pair of mics set in the centre of the studio’s live room. Sessions occurred around them, the musicians seated in different parts of the stereo picture to give the impression they’d played together simultaneously. Sonically, Mark Hollis is nearperfect, yet pockmarked with alluring human flaws; soundboxes creak and knock, bows clatter on strings, reeds squeak. Despite there being no electronic instruments, on The Gift there’s a sound like very high feedback, possibly a wind instrument, and on Inside Looking Out, something keeping the tempo is heard in the background for a little while, perhaps bleeding through headphones. These ‘mistakes’ were allowed to remain.) – FOUR – V.A. – Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 (an audio feng shui guaranteed to spark joy) / FIVE  – Michael Rother: Solo (Box Set) / SIX   – Don Cherry: Brown Rice (vinyl only) / SEVEN – Prefab Sprout: I Trawl The Megahertz / EIGHT    – Eberhard Weber: The Following Morning (one of many highlights of 50 reissues from 50 years of ECM) / NINE  –  Phil Manzanera: Diamond Head (from ex-Roxies, still-Roxies and no-Roxies comes a pure delight of heartwarming pop-charades, the missing link between Canterbury lightness and prog rock ambition, or, in the words of Mr. Manzanera: “The things I wanted to do are all there; the little cameos like the dance number, the three minute type guitar instrumental, the classical number. Certain of the songs were written with suitable people in mind and eventually it all came off.”)  / TEN –  Frank Harris & Maria Marquez: Echoes (vinyl only – we‘re in the middle of the 80‘s here, with a strange amalgam  of avant-pop and electronic experimentation. Imagine synthetic soul and traditional folk melodies, this album contains exotic moods, singalongs and sophistication,  poignant melancholia, farmyard field recordings throughout, Venezuelan vibes with a surreal twist, and even traces of sultry lovers rock.) /  ELEVEN   – Mahavishnu Orchestra: Birds Of Fire (Speakers Corner vinyl remaster) – („When the needle drops on the title tune, soon after three assertive gong strikes announce it, which soon explodes in a maelstrom of sound, uninitiated listeners might run for the exits. Stick with it, though, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most passionate and tight ensemble playing on record.“) /  TWELVE – Jimmy Campbell: Half-Baked (from the label with the vertigo-inducing logo, came an album, at the beginning of the 70’s that was a strange mixture  of baroque instrumentation, a singing ego on the verge of falling apart, and a series of dreams about life’s losses in a time when everybody seemed to be a winner. Of course, the album is a deeply buried treasure. it can still be found on Discogs.) /  THIRTEEN – King Crimson: In The Court Of The Crimson King (another 50th anniversary edition with an unsurpassable surround mix)  /  FOURTEEN The Kinks: Arthur (50th Anniversary Edition, the full package)

    (In the first half of 2020, an early Jon Hassell classic will be reissued, on vinyl and DL at first, Jon Hassell‘s „Vernal Equinox“. I met the guy in Kristiansand, Arnaud, who has already listened to it and who was impressed by the improvement of the sound quality. Funny enough, later this year, he has been responsible for the installations of sound and vision of Sophie Turner‘s wedding in a castle in deep Provence, ah, she‘s better known with her name Sansa Stark from „Game of Thrones“. Small, wide world.)



    Afterglow, part 1 (starring Bill C , Carla B, Mark N,  Michael R, Sasha M, Will B, and Lankum from Ireland)


    (1) – “I was aware of Bill Callahan through Smog and that, but I think these latest records that he’s done are amazing. They’re quite abstract in a way, it’s really quite something, the lyrics are really good but the music is also really imaginative and the song structures are quite weird. He definitely doesn’t stick to the pop song structure that I was talking about earlier on, but it is melodic, it’s not atonal or anything. His records have a natural, very close sound, but it isn’t straight folk or anything like that, the instruments are acoustic but then he goes off into these different realms. I think the latest record, that I’m just trying to get my head around at the moment, continues that. He’s really thought of it as an album, it’s a double and it’s split up into four sides, and I know that when he was letting people know about it they released a side at a time, so it’s conceived as those four or five songs sitting together as a suite. It’s the best record I’ve heard in ages.“ (Jarvis Cocker on Bill Callahan‘s album)

    (In February 2020, an album will come out at  Jazzland Recordings that will find many friends here, the second duo album by Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, purely instrumental! And, still living for music after 50 years of ECM, Manfred Eicher was talking to me, fully excited, about his recent production of another Carla Bley Trio album in Lugano – a pure solo work of Jon Balke will also be prepared for release, surely a joy for those who were stunned, for good reasons, when listening to „Warp“ in 2016.) 


    (2) – „Throughout Lankum‘s The Lifelong Day, drones reign supreme, whether it’s Ian Lynch’s uilleann pipes on The Young People or Radie Peat’s magnetically creaking harmonium or bayan accordion on The Wild Rover. Make no mistake: this is as deep a seam as anything ever mined by Gorecki in his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs or by Bonnie “Prince” Billy in I See a Darkness. In a strange way it‘s a companion album to a work that sounds totally different, but also offers a bath in deep melancholia: Framed by two brief dulcimer instrumentals, Pan American‘s „A Son“ most resembles „a folk time-capsule from an alternate dimension, where June Tabor and Brian Eno formed a Depression-era, well, Roxy Music. Songs about trains, family troubles and fading memories are delivered in Nelson’s quiet whisper-sing style, amidst a spare assembly of unfussy guitar and muted electronics. The direct confessional tone is countered by the untethered and timeless feel of the recording, delivering slow, steady laments that are fading like a box of old Polaroids.“


    (3)  –  „Eine Radiostunde mit Rother“


    (4) – “The old paths, the old buildings, the sight of a chalk hill blue or a greater butterfly orchid at the Ragpits – we don’t need these things for nostalgia, or for some sentimental reverie, we need them for the depth of life they summon, and to live through the world in all its wild abundance and richness, however small. To cultivate our own story-making of the earth as all that it can and should be.”  (Will Burns on Chalk Hill Blue) 


    (5) – Every once in a while there comes along an old-fashioned, experimental song album that is overflowing with ideas and melodies, nevertheless focussed and carefully assembled up to the tiniest details, at the same time extremely relaxed (close to an ancient J. J. Cale vibe), with a broad palette of rare sounds and a stunning theatre of voices (mainly from the man himself) – altogether a wonderfully performed manual in getting lost, though always linked to a deeply human agenda of our existence. Rustin Man‘s „Drift Code“ is such a work. Paul Webb has learned some reverberating lessons in the nights and months of Talk Talk‘s „Spirit of Eden“ recording sessions, and following an old tradition from the likes of Scott Walker and Robert Wyatt, he‘s not hesitating to nearly disappear for many years (after his marvelous expedition of „Out of Season“ with Beth Gibbons), risking dust from the history books, just waiting for the music to finally fall into place (exuding an energetically pure and primordial atmosphere, nothing less). Drift Code“ may be the perfect album for those armchair travelers who love to listen to albums from start to end, with a knack for the strangeness of things they only think they know about.


    (6) –  my photo of the year („Brimming With Life“ –  „Abbey Road 50 Exhibition, Liverpool, Autumn 2019“; „She came  in through the bathroom window“)





    Afterglow, part 2  (starring Richard Williams, Ernst Augustin, Rupert Thomson, Arve Henriksen‘s treasure grove,  and Michael Caine in Vienna)


    (1) No heroes, no masters, no gods.  No one is chosen, elitism is fuck. All saints, what else. But, well, thinking of my breakfast with Englishman Richard Williams in Kristiansand, one of the „true hero journalists“ of my youth, that I would call a honour. (Like it was a honour to get everlasting lessons for life from my English teacher Dr. Egon Werlich.) Richard Williams followed many routes in his life, the latest leading up to his forthcoming book „A Race with Love and Death: The Story of Richard Seaman“. In his book „The Blue Moment“, Arve Henriksen receives much more than just some honorary mention. Circles closing.


    (2) No more heroes, right, so I have to add another one, one of my favourite German writers who passed away lately, nearly blind, aged 92 – I do well remember  his mystery house in  Munique.  The living room looked like a ship‘s cabin from a Jules Verne novel, well designed by a man rooted in the tradition of fantastic realism. He didn‘t come from Homer and Cervantes (one has to be a fully equipped idiot like Peter Handke to fuel such self-images), Ernst Augustin came from Hirschberg, Riesengebirge. 

    So waren wir Kinder der ‚Ostzone‘, wir kannten keinen Kafka, nicht einmal beim Namen. James Joyce, ein Krimineller? Oder Qualitätsangabe für Teesorten, die nicht zu haben waren. Kenntnis der Moderne beschränkte sich auf ‚Busse wandert aus‘ (1927), antiquarisch bei Petzolt & Dröge in der Bahnhofstraße. Aber immer mit der Sehnsucht im Herzen auf nächtlichen Nebelgängen im verhangenen Wismar.“

    Ernst Augustin had another job in real life, a psychiatrist, working in Afghanistan in days before we were born, and later on in Schwabing.  If I have to pick out three novels – here they are: „Eastend“, „Raumlicht – Der Fall Evenlyne B“, and „Der amerikanische Traum“. One is a love story with a suicidal attempt, and a magic trip to London, one is the fictional and not-so-fictional story of healing a case of schizophrenia (in real life he married her), and one is about dreaming, fleshing out a whole life that is about to end way too early. Circles closing again.


    (3) Speaking of love in war times, one of the most fascinating novels I read this year (aside with Jamie Lee Burke‘s „Dunkler Sommer“, Peter Heller‘s „Der Fluss“, Patti Smith’s „Year Of The Monkey“, and Olga Tokarczuk‘s „Unrast“), was Rupert Thomson‘s „Never Anyone But You“, which was released, as German translation, and beautifully translated, with the same title, in the „Secession Verlag“. Interesting, I wanted to read this book very slowly (knowing that after the first pages) –  in contrast to my reading routines to always sink into a book without distraction, I read it (in parts) while putting on Michael Rother‘s early solo albums, and always drifted between reading OR listening, respectively reading AND listening.  Would probably  have worked with „Music For Films“ or „Apollo“, too. „Hello, darkness, my old friend“. Circles opening.


    (4) „The Timeless Nowhere“ ist eine vier neue Werke umfassende Kiste voller Wunder, ohne Plunder – Arve Henriksen-Musik ist kein „groove monster“, sie ist ein „mood monster“, und, um es mit den Worten eines alten Kinderbuches (war es ein Kinderbuch?) von Franz Hohler zu sagen: „Glück, mein Glück, rück näher ein Stück!“ Und wie sagte es John Berger in einem posthum veröffentlichten Buch so trefflich: „Meaning and mystery are inseparable, and neither can exist without the passing of time“. Das dürfte, egal, wie paradox es erscheint, auch für das „Zeitlose Nirgendwo“ gelten. Verblüffend, man bekommt das Teil nur als „limited vinyl edition“, den vier Langspielplatten sind zwei Cds beigefügt, welche die Musik ebenfalls enthalten. Die Pressqualität, das Design, alles hervorragend, und John Potters liner notes (jawohl, der, der mal beim Hilliard Ensemble war), eine helle Freude.

    In other words:  The Timeless Nowhere is a box full of wonders, complete with four new works, and, to say it in the words of an old children ’s book (was it a children‘ s book?) By Franz Hohler: „Luck, my luck, come back a little closer!“ „Glück, mein Glück, rück näher ein Stück!“ And as John Berger said in a posthumously published book, „Meaning and mystery are inseparable, and can not exist without the passing of time.“ Regardless of how paradoxical it may seem, this also applies to „The Timeless Nowhere“. 


  1. (5) – I listened to „Simian Angel“ for the first time at the end of August, on headphones – all windows directed to the vast nothingness of the universe that possibly hosts no god, no other life. But creepy objects like black holes and brown dwarfs. Heaven seems to be the most lonesome place, where nothing really happens, at least from the point of view of gardening and Japanese tea ceremonies. Well, of course, we had the moon landing, and we do have the astral space music of Sun Ra. Our dreams anyway. Strange enough, we can still feel peace (in harmony) when looking at the night sky. And here we are in company of Oren Ambarchi‘s fantastic album, two long compositions that, in a sophisticated  way, defy definitions, limits, opening a constant feel of joy and wonder, kling and klang. A touch of kosmische music here and there. His guitar sounds like a synth, and an organ, most of the time, and when he plays what sounds like a piano (and is again, made with his guitar – a special treatment really!), you might feel, for a moment, a „Music For Airports“-vibe – just another illusion, up, up, and away, with the blink of an eye. His partner is Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, and when he starts on berimbau at the beginning of vinyl‘s second side, you are in wonderland. Yes, I thought, for another sequence of seconds, of Nana Vasconcelos‘s famous (or not so famous) solo album „Nana Vasconcelos“, the one with violins and violas coming completely out of nowhere, and knowing about Oren‘s passion for a lot of ECM records, I‘m quite sure he might have had a similar memory, for a moment. The music is crossing area after area, you are not able to, and surely not keen on marking a spot. All exit signs on! The earth is never solid, and even the percussion is an invocation of ego-less drifting in the windmills of your mind. Not all riddles solved, be sure.





  1. (6) And here  comes my song of the year (number two is Aldous Harding’s „The Barrel“), and I‘m quite sure it will never receive its karaoke treatment –  S T A R, from Underworld. Taking the Ahlberg’s classic children’s story „Each, Peach, Pear, Plum“ as it’s base, Karl Hyde launches into a tumbling, stream of consciousness list of celebrities in random situations. Like the very best Underworld tracks, it quickly needles its way into the subconscious where it sits, waiting to come out when you least expect it.


    Each, Peach, Pear, Plum
    I spy Tom Thumb
    Tom Thumb in the wood
    I spy Robin Hood
    Robin Hood in the cellar
    I spy Cinderella
    Cinderella at the ball
    I spy Henry Hall
    Henry Hall in his house
    I spy Mickey Mouse
    Mickey Mouse in his cradle
    I spy Betty Grable
    Betty Grable is a star

    Each, Peach, Clean Shoes
    I spy Tom Cruise
    Tom Cruise in the bay
    I spy Dr Dre
    Dr Dre on the Towy
    I –spy David Bowie
    David Bowie in the ring
    I spy Dr King
    Dr King on the tele
    I spy Mary Shelley
    Mary Shelley in a drama
    I spy Dalai Lama
    Dalai Lama is a star

    Each, Peach, Cheek Bones
    I spy Tom Jones
    Tom Jones down in Peckham
    I spy David Beckham
    David Beckham on the train
    I spy Michael Caine
    Michael Caine in Vienna
    I spy Ayrton Senna
    Ayrton Senna on his step
    I spy Johnny Depp
    Johnny Depp in the dark
    I spy Rosa Parks
    Rosa Parks is a star

    Each, Peach, Red Car
    I spy Lao Tzu
    Lao Tzu long gone
    I spy Barry John
    Barry John with his shirt on
    I spy Richard Burton
    Richard Burton with a book
    I spy Captain Hook
    Captain Hook with a chalice
    I spy Calvin Harris
    Calvin Harris interstellar
    I spy Helen Keller
    Helen Keller is a star

    Each, Peach, Tinfoil
    I spy Danny Boyle
    Danny Boyle made my summer
    I spy Joe Strummer
    Joe Strummer up in heaven
    I spy Nye Bevan
    Nye Bevan at the top
    I spy Iggy Pop
    Iggy Pop at the wheel
    I spy John Peel
    John Peel double decker
    I spy Sally Becker
    Sally Becker is a star




Paul Webb sass in seinem Arbeitszimmer (nicht im Heimstudio, das man sich in dem Video zu dem Song VANISHING HEART zu Gemüte führen kann), ich wurde ihm über das Berliner Büro von Domino zugeschaltet, und befragte ihn zu dem Album, das 2018 mein Album des Jahres geworden wäre. Das  muss man sich mal vorstellen, dass sein letztes Opus schon sechzehn Jahre zurückliegt, es war sein erster Auftritt als Rustin Man, an der Seite von Beth Gibbons. OUT OF SEASON hiess es, und nun erscheint am 1. Februar der Zweitling, bei dem das einstige Mitglied von Talk Talk (bei SPIRIT OF EDEN war er noch dabei) das Singen selbst übernommen hat. Und Paul Webb, heute 56 Lenze jung, singt in so vielen Facetten, dass erste Hörer des Albums, wie er mir erzählte, mehrere Stimmen vermutet hatten. Auch Robert Wyatt, was, in manchen Passagen, ein hinreissender Zufall und keine Absicht ist. Sein absoluter Favorit von Robert ist DONDESTAN, in einer alten Jazzthetikausgabe kann man mein langes, erstes Interview mit Wyatt finden, genau zu diesem Werk, das so herrlich entwurzelt und schwebend ist, trotz manch mitgeliefertem politischem Blues. Paul spricht klar, klug und in einem flotten Fluss, der Dialekt gefällt mir. Das ist also die Sprechstimme hinter den Liedern, die mich über den Horizont blasen. Ganz am Ende fragte ich ihn nach einem Lieblingsalbum aus jüngster Zeit, aber da ist er gar nicht auf der Höhe, will sich schlicht keinen Einflüssen aussetzen, die ihn in modische Fettnäpfchen treten lassen, er fühlt sich anscheinend in alten Platten aus den Vierziger und Fünfziger Jahren mehr zuhause. Fragen Sie ihn mal nach den Mills Brothers! Die erstaunlichsten Abseitigkeiten erwarten einen auf DRIFT CODE, und das Cover ist die Eintrittskarte. Dabei ist das Album ein Füllhorn an Melodien, überraschenden Wendungen, und, ja,  „homegrown“. Schliesslich gaben wir uns doch beide jeweils ein Album jüngeren Datums mit auf den Weg – kein Wunder, dass meine Empfehlung eine uralte verwitterte Gitarre ins Spiel brachte, und seine eine Stimme, die völlig aus der Zeit gefallen scheint. Er notierte sich LIFE OF von Steve Tibbetts, und ich mir FAITHFUL FAIRY HARMONY von der auf dem obigen Foto abgebildeten Josephine Foster. 


2018 6 Jul

Conversations with Aby (1)

Filed under: Blog | RSS 2.0 | TB | Tags:  4 Comments

Multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, lover of free improvisation, and music therapist Aby Vulliamy takes a long look back to first musical revelations and „non-musical“ sounds from an old clock in the hallway to birdsong. She gives  insights in her love and learning of instruments, and how someone encouraged her to trust her voice to sing. I really  didn‘t know much about her musical life when I first contacted her. Simply being fascinated with her viola and rare vocal contributions on the last two installments of Bill Wells‘ fabulous National Jazz Trio of Scotland (Bill has a knack for special voices!), and reading about her therapeutic activities, this was enough for me: a starting point. 

The diversity of her musical activities goes way beyond the viola and vocal moments on Bill‘s albums, but sometimes a small snippet, the bending of a note, are enough for stopping you in the tracks. I would be very surprised if she didn‘t have David Darling‘s „Cello“ or the early albums of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra in her record collection. Also, I do think (after our first „conversation“), she must certainly be in love with Kate Bush’s song „Mrs. Bartolozzi“ – and, talking about ancient, worn-out instruments, she followed the link leading to  my recent interview with Steve Tibbetts –  and „Life Of“ will soon have another listener in Glasgow. 

Aby Vulliamy also thinks back  of growing up in Hull. A town that I only know from the history of lucid dreaming. Psychologist Keith Hearne made his famous discovery concerning ocular-signaling from the lucid dream state on the morning of 12th April 1975, at Hull University’s sleep-laboratory. He communicated the data, and other examples, to Professor Allan Rechtschaffen of Chicago University. Much later, Stephen LaBerge, at Stanford, produced similar work.  In following conversations  I will (and do write this with a big smile) try to raise her  interest in the subject. By the way, when these conversations will come to an end, her debut album will  have been released, in October, on Karaoke Kalk. 



  1. One record or two that put a spell on you and made you feel this music will accompany you for a long time.


I remember hearing Keith Jarrett’s Koln concert for the first time maybe in my late teens, and just being blown away by the fluency and energy of his piano improvisation. Someone made me a cassette tape of it, and I kept it for about 15 years until my tape player broke. It’s the only music I could ever listen to whilst writing essays or reports – somehow although I loved it, it didn’t distract me like all other music did, it helped give me momentum and energy and focus. I remember listening to a Charles Ives piece years later and finding some of it familiar, and realising that Jarrett references it in his Koln concert, and I’m sure there are many other references in there too.

Abdullah Ibrahim’s Water from an Ancient Well has accompanied me for a long time too. My dad once said the trombone sounds like a bull elephant and it often makes me tearful when I hear it. Also Ibrahim’s duo as Dollar Brand with Johnny Dyani (Good News From Africa) will stay with me throughout my life, I’ve no doubt; it’s their liberated vocals and intuitive connection with each other, I love it.


  1. What was the 1st non-musical sound experience in childhood that had a deep emotional impact?


I’m not sure there is such a thing as a non-musical sound experience? Everything can be viewed through a ‘musical lense’, it’s just whether it’s received as such by the listener.  People say to me ‘I’ve not got a musical bone in my body’ but we’ve all got a pulse, we’ve got a unique tone of voice and particular pitch range, we have a natural walking pace etc. All communication is based on the elements of music; rhythm, tempo, timbre, melody, pitch contour etc. We are all musical beings.

Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells used the clicking of a car indicator as the opening sound which dictates the rhythm and pace of the first track on their brilliant 2nd album, The Most Important Place in the World. We had a beautiful old grandfather clock (since stolen) in our hallway when I was growing up, and it’s background ticking and hourly chime structured my childhood, making me feel safe. I would always be subdividing the rhythms in my head, or practicing 3 beats over 2 etc.

There must be millions of examples of ‘non-musical’ sounds being incorporated into music, or inspiring composition. Washing machines are musical; I often find myself humming harmonies or singing along to the drone of the washing machine. I can often hear different frequencies the more I listen to simple drones. Birdsong is of course music, it has plenty melody and repetitive rhythmic patterns, although birds don’t get any publishing rights. I love Messiaen’s crazy birdsong inspired organ pieces, and of course Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending. Melodies from birdsong feature in loads of folk music.


  1. How did your private surroundings (the town you grew up in, family, friends) inspire your love for music?


I grew up in Hull. Its a very special place, home to some beautiful people. But it gets so much bad press and has some terrible statistics in terms of life expectancy, teen pregnancy, addiction problems, poverty etc. It’s the end of the line, and I think it’s quite hard to get bands to include Hull on their tour schedule, although Paul Jackson of the very special Adelphi Club has single-handedly changed the lives of many local music-lovers and musicians by persuading a fabulous array of touring bands to make the detour to Hull.

Music was escapism for me. I grew up in a very busy household with my 3 brothers and 1 sister and many visitors. I was shy and quiet and not assertive, but when I was practicing my Khachaturian on the piano I was like a different person! I loved the Russian composers, they’re wild and intense. My piano teacher used to enter me into the competitive music festival, at the magnificent and overbearing Hull City Halls, which seems like a terrible idea (music as competition?!?) but in fact I think it helped me a great deal with performance anxiety – I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Now, music is a social thing for me and it has been the way I’ve made new friends in each new city I’ve moved to. I need to play – after water, food, shelter, love – I’d soon go mad if I didn’t play music.

My mum and dad are music lovers but not musicians themselves. All 5 of us siblings played instruments at various points; 2 brothers played double bass, one played cello, my sister played clarinet, and we had the piano too. What a fabulous ensemble that would have been! But we never played altogether, sadly. My sister and I did some duets far too occasionally, which was always a treat to me.

My dad’s dad was a brilliant pianist and I inherited his beautiful faded black baby grand piano when he died. I feel sad I never became accomplished and confident enough to play the wild Rachmaninov duets that he wishfully shoved in front of me when I visited him.

My mum, despite having 4 other kids and a household to run and studying for a degree etc etc, would sometimes spend her precious time sitting beside me whilst I practiced the piano, coz she knew that it helped me stay focused and motivated, so she did it despite all the other demands on her attention. A gentle, quiet but incredibly powerful and generous gift.


  1. Tell me about your main instruments. Love at first sight, just classical training? And, a propos  viola, a special  record that made you fall for it? Just let your thoughts flow, I keep quiet, in listening mode:)…


Piano is really my main instrument. All of the songs on my upcoming album were written on the piano, although there are several short viola ‘interludes’ on there too. I had my first piano lessons aged 4, with a music student we referred to as ‘Julie Fingers’, who charged 50p per lesson.

I started on the violin when I was 7, and was given free lessons at school, on a borrowed instrument. I soon switched to the viola. It suits me so much better; it’s deeper, more mellow and rich to my ears. The violin and viola sit so close to the player’s ear, and can sound so jarringly tinny and reedy there; too many high frequencies for my sensitive ears. The viola suits my personality much better than the violin. In orchestral music it’s often hard to discern the viola, you only notice us when we screw up. But we have a really important role to play, supportive and containing; the fabulous Swiss band I play with, Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp XXL recently played a gig without me, and the band leader said it felt out of tune without the viola! Its often the glue that holds parts together, quietly but enrichingly.



My parents bought me my viola when I was about 10, and my mum kept apologising, fearful that I would experience it as a pressure and expectation. I love that viola so much! I still use the same one, and though I’m often surrounded by musicians who’s instruments cost 10’s of £1000’s more than mine, I feel safe and solid with my trusty old viola. It’s like an extension of my body- it’s getting a bit old and battered but it’s strong and resilient and full of instinctive memories.

I think at first I just went along with the music lessons I was offered, but didn’t initially feel very moved by the music, strangely. People were encouraging, and I knew I was lucky to get free lessons at school, so I kept going with it. I’m gutted that nearly all music services in British schools have to be paid for now, so that learning an instrument is only for children with families who have spare money. I believe that the opportunity to learn an instrument as a child is one of the most powerful and influential experiences available; it could be key to solving some of the major societal problems we face; intergenerational poverty, unemployment, demoralisation, depression and addiction. The Big Noise project which is now well-established in some of the most deprived communities of Scotland (based on the Venezualan El Systema model) has far-reaching goals and some amazing statistics and research showing how the discipline, team-work, mutual responsibility, co-operation, shared purpose of music-making have a huge influence on positive development in terms of self-worth, self-awareness and social conscience. At the same time, making music is a form of self-expression and communication that can process feelings that are otherwise too strong and disturbing, and can provide an intimacy that it is hard for some people to access using just words. Learning music enhances so many crucial skills; academic (particularly maths) and life skills such as self-esteem and communication skills, it’s crazy to deny children this. For the tricky teenagers, that I work with as a Music Therapist, music can be a form of expression far more powerful than words – a place where they can feel heard and understood and accepted and valued for who they are.

I started with classical music on both piano and viola. Although I know how lucky I am for the opportunity to learn classically, I sometimes regretted the limitations of a purely classical training, when, aged 17 or so, I began to make music with my friends who had taught themselves to play guitar, bass, drums, and I lacked their confident spontaneity, intuition and creativity. It took time to gain confidence to stop relying on the safety net of music notation and theory, and to just listen and trust my instincts in response. Now I’m very grateful to have both, the theory, reasonable technical knowledge, and instinct/sponteneity.

I think I was 13 when I joined the City of Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra. I remember sitting at the back of the viola section, going through the motions and not feeling very connected to the parts I was playing, when suddenly the 100-piece choir began to sing behind me. My hair stood on end, I felt the force of their voices, my whole body vibrating, the feeling of being part of something immensely powerful. I think this was the first time I was wholly physically and emotionally moved (blown away) by music. I wish I could remember which piece we were playing – I’ve got a terrible memory! I know Verdi’s Requiem has given me the same overwhelming feeling since.

My dad got into jazz when I was a young teen, so having provided the obvious musical foundations of a 70’s child (Bob Dylan, the Incredible String Band, Bonzo Dog Dooda Band, Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits (almost exclusively male line-ups I now realise) he then began playing Abdullah Ibraham and Keith Jarrett as previously mentioned, Brotherhood of Breath, Dudu Pakwana, John Surman, Annie Whitehead, District Six, Jessica Williams, Colloseum (Tanglewood 64 – I played that when I was in labour with my first daughter. I love men singing, and in this case they’re using their voices as instruments, just ‘bah’ing the melody – it’s ace) etc etc. Brilliant stuff.



I also loved Funk/Northern Soul in my later teens. I joined my first band at 18, playing folky-style viola over guitar-based songs sung and played by my friend Shelley’s dad and his pal. Also a funk ensemble with me and my teenage friends as the rhythm section (I played ‘the Beast’ a ridiculously heavy old electric organ) and my friend’s Social Worker parents as the horn front line. We initially called ourselves ‚The Funkateers’, but decided to add an extra prefix every time we played a gig; we got as far as ‘the Almighty Allstar Funkateers coz gigs were hard to find in Hull and it was time for the younger generation to buzz off to university. And now I’ve come full circle, playing in another (much better) band making tongue-in-cheek claims of superpowers since the ‘Tout Puissant’ of Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp translates as Almighty (All Powerful). It is a very powerful band, the music moves people psychologically and physically, but the power to connect and move is in it’s collectivism and shared emotion, not a reference to a higher being.

The violinists / violists that influenced me are perhaps obvious; my dad subtly introduced me to Stefan Grapelli and although I loved listening to him, it never occurred to me that if I practiced hard enough I should eventually be able to play over changes fluently (Grapelli-style was unachievable but I could definitely improve my fluency). I wish I’d started practicing that earlier, because I’m still not fluent and confident over changes, and there’s no excuse really. My dad also pointed me towards Billy Bang, the ganster-turned-jazz violinist, who’s self-taught style of jazz improvisation was absolutely liberating and unique. I don’t understand why it’s still so unusual to include improvising strings in jazz front lines, they can add such different textures and sounds to the same old wall of saxophones that so many band leaders opt for. Saxophones are beautiful, but why not add something a bit different?!

John Cale (and Velvet Underground) and Laurie Anderson were a revelation and stopped me from wishing I’d learnt a funkier instrument than the viola – their music was immediately accessible for me, and although massively inspired and unique, didn’t feel technically out of my reach. More recently the free-improvising violist Mark Feldman is an obvious person to pick out, and my good friend and improvising mentor, Seth Bennett’s double bass playing is a massive source of inspiration.

I love free improvisation. I know some people find it too disturbing and un-nerving, and I was the same at first (I thought of it as musical masturbation – a self-indulgent exposure in front of an audience), but now it’s free improvisation that makes me feel most alive, to listen to and to perform. The spontaneity, fluidity, the emotional roller-coaster of intensity and dynamics (volume, speed, texture) makes for breath-taking unpredictability, moving through tension and resolution (or non-resolution!), tenderness and aggression, beauty and ‘ugliness’- it’s absolutely liberating. Stephen Nachmaninov writes really beautifully about free improvisation in his book Free Play. Good free improvisation is the ultimate music for me, though I love a lot of differet genres and I fully understand that it takes time to learn how to access and enjoy free improvisation.

In relation to some of the free improvisation I love, the piano-based songs on my upcoming album are very conventional!

When I moved to Glasgow, Scotland, in 2004 it was amazing how quickly people began inviting me to play. I knew only my partner George Murray (trombonist) when I moved up there, but Daniel Padden and Peter Nicholson (The One Ensemble), Chris Hladowski (Scatter, Nalle, The Family Elan), Hanna Tuulikki (Nalle), Bill Wells (NJTOS) and Stevie Jones (Sound of Yell) welcomed me with huge generosity and facilitated many brilliant learning opportunities for me. It’s such fertile and open-minded creativity that thrives up there – people inspire and nurture each others’ musicality with such generosity. There is such potent possibility to jump between genres (and therefore to stretch yourself and learn more). I wonder if it was partly because as a viola player I inherently offer something slightly different to the proliferation of traditional/folk violinists in Scotland. I played in indie, pop, jazz, folk, free-improvisation ensembles, and I did music for theatre/dance, performance art etc and I learnt tonnes.



In Glasgow I also began singing, having always been far too self-conscious to open my mouth- I was too shy and easily embarrassed. It was Hanna Tuulikki who cajoled me into singing with her trio Nalle with Chris Hladowski in 2005/6. I was terrified at first but she insisted and I’m so glad she did. She’d kneel on the floor with me, our thighs touching, sometimes using walkie-talkies to distort the sound, often letting her voice slide fractionally below or above my pitch to create oscillations between us that disorientated and connected us at the same time. It was precarious and exciting.

Not long after that, with his National Jazz Trio of Scotland, Bill Wells began rearranging traditional jazz and folk songs and writing original songs, often leaving the voice brutally exposed, and often at the very bottom of my vocal range, where it’s hard to get a sound out at all, let alone to control the sound of my voice. These were utterly terrifying gigs where my knees shook as much as my voice wobbled. Often the lyrics were devastating and I feared it (and I, as a nervous wreck) would be just too much for the audience to cope with; too raw and fragile and exposed. I’ve learnt that some material is supposed to feel precarious, it wouldn’t work if I could sing it confidently, and audiences generally cope!

I’m well aware of how extremely lucky I am, to have had opportunities to learn several instruments (including lessons on piano, viola and flute), and to have met so many beautiful generous talented musicians who’ve shared musical space and skills and opportunities with me, stretching me and inspiring me to learn more, take more risks, experiment more. For a long time I thought I couldn’t self-generate music; that I was dependent on other musicians to initiate and give me something to respond to and that my main skill was my ability absorb whatever was thrown at me, and come up with creative ideas in response. It took me by surprise when my piano-based songs emerged, and although I’m really proud of finally producing my own material I’m also keen to convey that my new album is not the whole of me, and there is lots more very different stuff to come in the not-too-distant future.


Big Map Idea, the sixth Tibbetts album, is a set of hypnotic compositions with dreamy depth and texture, quieter than most of the other Tibbetts/Anderson compositions, but with not nearly as much quiet introspective space as Tibbetts‘ third album, Northern Song. To some, this might have a darker mood than others, but I find it a refreshing and enjoyable set of tracks.

„Black Mountain Side“ begins the album, it’s a significant improvement of the Jimmy Page track first heard on Led Zeppelin’s first album (although I love the way it works as a lead-in to „Communication Breakdown“ on that earlier album). As usual, the percussion here and throughout Big Map Idea is top-shelf. The ensuing tracks are largely based on excellent percussion and acoustic or subtle electric guitar layers.

Part of an interview of Tibbetts by Michael Engelbrecht included in the liner notes of the CD describe Tibbetts use of sounds from the natural environment: „There are a lot of possibilities in sound; possibilities of boredom and of entertainment, there are possibilities of sound actually tapping into your memory and uncovering something with potential, with energy. sounds unlock a flood of emotions … So you can go into the field, into the arena, out into the world with a tape recorder looking for sounds with coherent harmonic content, good rhythmic content, or emotional content. When you bring these sounds back into the studio and record them on to one track of your recorder, those sounds will inform the music you’re making around them: An emotional situation will inform the music. You can use these sounds as a skeleton, as a scaffolding for a piece of music, as a mold for a piece of clay. In the end, if necessary, you can pull the sound away and let the music exist on its own.“ He later adds he and Marc arrived at this approach because they „were bored with recording in the studio.“

5 brilliant TIBBETTS albums:

– Safe Journey
– Full Moon Dogs
– Big Map Idea
– Northern Song
– Natural Causes

And, well, in fact there are 6 fantastic ones (the other ones are „only“ good):

– A Man About A Horse

Hi Michael!  All well, and heading to Tibet.  Fun!  Still pursuing the Dream Yoga you introduced me to in a bar in Dortmund many years ago, no success yet!  Photo is from Kailash, 2009.

Here’s a review I like:

Compilation: Acoustibbets/Elektrobitts/Exotibbets by Steve Tibbetts. So I got a cover letter from Tibbets, saying he’d mastered this 3-CD set from analogue tapes of his 12 CDs and he didn’t know what he was going to do with it. Well, how about selling it and receiving remuneration for your jaw-dropping artistry? I know, I know. In 2011, only Wall Street deserves remuneration for the great service it provides to mankind. Brilliant, one-of-a-kind guitarist/composers should starve with the rest of us. Even so, I think that if the Ventures had gone to the Himalayas right after they first heard Dick Dale, and if they’d learned to play instruments made from dried yak intestines stretched over the femurs of Abominable Snowmen, and then contemplated Miles Davis’ navel for 20 years in a mountain monastery…if all that, then they could have been Steve Tibbetts, and Steve Tibbetts could have had a big hit with“Walk Don’t Run.”



2009 Kailash north face / -Lott

At one stage in the making of his fantastic album „Natural Causes“, Tibbetts included an acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Villanova Junction” in his track list, but ultimately felt it didn’t fit the album’s flow. The orphaned track has since been posted by Steve on YouTube, and can still be heard there.

The journey towards ‘a result’ on “Natural Causes” was, as Tibbetts freely admits, a halting one. The artist’s final assessment: “I have a real fondness for the whole thing, similar to a fondness you’d have for a three-legged cat you’d adopted. You don’t drive your kids to the pet store with the intention of buying a three legged cat, but if one hobbles up to your door and you feed it, you might eventually grow fonder of that cat than a regular four-legged one. It’s like that.”

Hier ist das „virtuelle Interview“, das ich mit Steve Tibbetts anlässlich seines Albums „Natural Causes“ machte.  Er sitzt daheim in seinem Studio, liest meine Fragen,  und erzählt.

Tibbetts Interview (mp3)

Guitar Triggers-02 (mp3)

2014 7 Mai

Soon here: „LIFE OF“

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An interview with Steve Tibbetts (to be posted on May 15).

The record (ECM) will be out on May 18. 


Once upon a time, in fact, after the release of his last album called „Natural Causes“, Sean Kutzko wrote: „I’ve noticed a curious trend with me whenever Steve Tibbetts releases a new CD: I immediately freak out at the news, order it as soon as possible, and then wait for it to arrive without trying to learn any more about the release. When it finally arrives, there is a very conscious period of time when I hold it in my hands and wonder just what I’m going to get. It’s kind of like in baseball, when the runner rounds third and you realize there’s going to be a play at the plate. There’s a very fun couple of seconds where you know you’re going to see something exciting but you don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out. I love that about Steve’s CDs.

The other thing I’ve learned since Big Map Idea was not to make any initial reviews on the CD. Whether acoustic or electric, Steve’s music is exceptionally rich. It takes time to digest. Natural Causes is a definite shift from The Fall Of Us All. Yet the album is pure Steve; No track drove this point home to me more than „Chandogra.“ At :18 into the piece, as the acoustic guitar sets the theme, there is a two-note wisp of haunting guitar that definitively sets the mood as Tibbettsian. The rest of the piece features the mood of Marc Anderson’s frame drums, cymbals and other incidentals coupled with Steve’s thumb piano and stream-of-consciousness lines and hammer-ons. There is no other duet that has such a signature like Tibbetts and Anderson. Like Northern Song, there’s a lot of space between the notes here. It’s beautiful; enjoy it several times, and you will come to see that nobody else could have possibly made such a recording as this.“


In Erinnerung an den Pariser Schlangenclub aus Julio Cortazars „Rayuela – Himmel und Hölle“, ein Roman, so unvergesslich die Lektüre anno 1982, dass ich noch heute ab und zu im dritten Arrondissement auftauche, mit der „Lady In Satin“ von Billie Holiday und „Alone In San Francisco“ von Thelonious Monk in der Papiertüte – neben all dem Mate, und einem im Jardin de Luxembourg frisch gepflückten Blumenstrauss für die Maga. I surrender, dear.

Wäre ich in diesen kalten Tagen in Helsinki und würde ihn gut kennen, wäre die Wohnung dieses finnischen Pianisten eine meiner ersten Anlaufstellen. In seinem Wohnzimmer steht ein Konzertflügel, ein Steinway & Sons B211, 1969 angefertigt in New York. Mit und ohne ein Maqiano (hat er selbst gebastelt) und andere Präparierungen entstand dort eine meiner Lieblingspianosoloalben des 21. Jahrhunderts, „Impressions, Improvisations And Compositions“.


Ozella Records ist bekannt für audiophile Schätze, und dies ist mein Favorit von allen Alben, die je bei Ozella, der Firma von Dagobert Böhm, erschienen sind. Ich möchte die Platte hier gar nicht en detail vorstellen. Eine überragende Abbildung des Klaviersounds (die Zeit, dass „home recordings“ für „lofi“ statt für „hifi“ standen, ist schon länger vorbei). Und auch wenn ich der Pressung nur eine glatte 2 gebe (dead quiet ist schon was anderes, aber die eine oder andere Knisterrille ist mir völlig schnuppe), würde ich der Musik eine 10 geben, und dem Klangerleben (Sound) eine 11. (So machen die das etwa bei Analog Planet, wo man unendlich viele Plattenkritiken von Vinylophilen wie Mark Smotroff und Michael Fremer findet – 11 ist das absolute, selten vergebene Maximum, nur für den Sound, wie gesagt, bei der Musikbewertung ist 10 die einsame Höhe.)


So viele Besprechungen von Kari Ikonens Meisterstück aus dem Jahre 2020 finden sich gar nicht, aber es würde mich wundern, wenn irgendjemand aus der Kritikergilde weniger als 8, 9, oder 10 aus dem Hut holen würde. Mann muss solche Bewertereien auch gar nicht so ernst nehmen, aber als Anregung taugen sie allemal, und die Leser dieser Zeilen haben gewiss bestimmte Lieblingskritiker, auf deren Meinung man sich oft verlassen kann, weil man über die Jahre gemeinsame Wellenlängen und dergleichen ausfindig gemacht hat. Übrigens: Kandinskys Bild „Blue“ von 1922, ein Ausschnitt davon, ziert das gatefold-Cover. Ob Kari wohl auch Farben sehen kann, wenn er Klänge hört, wäre eine Frage meines Interviews gewesen.




Etwas, das mich an dem Album komplett fasziniert, dass es keine Sekunde und kein Stück gibt, das mir nicht zusagt, dass ich für überflüssig oder Beiwerk halte. Springlebendig, atonal, sowieso melodisch auch, lyrisch, experimentell, monkisch, verwegen, lustvoll, verträumt, Haken schlagend, aus den Ärmeln geschüttelt, laut und leise, kunterbunt, wild und hochkonzentiert, all das und vieles andere noch, 
könnte auf der Rallye der freien Assoziationen aufsteigen und Wortblasen ratzfatz zum Platzen bringen. Einfach versinken, am besten sprachlos – darauf breche ich es mal runter, als freundliche Losung des Augenblicks. Fernab eines bloss virtuos inszenierten Ohrenkitzels, ist das schlicht und ergreifend „deep stuff“. Viel weniger zerebral, als erste Reflexe nahelegen.


Und wenn wir schon (spiele mit!) dabei sind, den Koffer für die kommende Inselreise zu packen – ((wähle deine ganz persönliche „desert island“ – es kann Langeoog sein, ein Eiland im Indischen Ozean, weiss der Kuckuck wo, und es gibt in deiner Unterkunft einen „record player“ von VPI Industries Inc. und, ähem, (die Spielregel, der Kick fürs Stöbern auf dem Dachboden), für diese vier (!) Wochen darfst du lediglich fünf Schallplatten mitnehmen, reine Solo- oder Duoaufnahmen, das Piano muss, akustisch oder elektrisch bei allen Fünfen dabei sein)). Hier, zur Vervollständigung meines „Quintetts“, das Meer ringsum, und alles, zum „Versinken“ (es geht nicht um einen Kanon, allein um eine Momentaufnahme, eine atemraubende Liste, die in einer Woche, in einem Jahr wieder ganz anders aussehen könnte): Dollar Brand Duo (with Johnny Dyani – Good News  From Africa (Enja) /// Art Lande with Jan Garbarek: Red Lanta (ECM) /// Archie Shepp & Mal Waldron: Left Alone Revisited (Enja) /// Keith Jarrett & Jack DeJohnette: Ruta & Daitya (ECM). So weit, so gut.


Da Spielregeln stets etwas Begrenzendes haben, gibt es, Überraschung, Augenzwinkern incl., einen „Ausreisser“, eine „wild card“, eine sechste Platte (gern auch ein Doppelalbum), das aus der Reihe fällt, mit oder ohne Klavier. Meine „Nummer Sechs“ wäre Steve Tibbetts: Life of (ECM). – (one of these albums, the name „desert island record“ could‘ve been coined for. The minor quibble: the vinyl still has to be pressed. If that is not going to happen, Farid El Atrache‘s Nagham Fi Hayati would do the trick in the windmills of my mind.)


The first „5+1 piano solo / duo lists of magic“ that arrive in my email till Sunday evening, will probably be posted here ( – and don‘t forget the name of the island. P.S. Kaum schliesse ich die Seite, begegnet mir ein neuer Text von Jo, und folgendes Zitat von Dietmar Kamper springt mir entgegen: „Das Leben lebt nicht. Man muss zaubern können.“ 


Two years ago our summer-long trip to the United States was cancelled by higher forces — which is probably the key reason I started being seriously interested in – and have been buying – different Californian wines for the past two years. Now I go to supermarkets here in the American West, and there are so many fascinating wines on the shelves! I’d like to taste them all, but there are just too many! Most of them I have never seen in Europe.

Before I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago, two different people (musicians) independently of each other suggested I try to arrange to meet two Oregon musicians — David Rothenberg said I have to meet bass player Glen Moore in the far south of Arizona (in the small village Arivaca, a mere handful of miles from the Mexican border, see images above), and Brian Whistler pitched the idea of visiting Paul McCandless who lives less than 20 minutes away from him in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. Having spend several hours with Ralph Towner last year in Berlin, I felt this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet all (surviving) original members of the band Oregon within one year and talk to all of them about their early (and also their later) years. I don’t know that anyone has done that… Ralph and Glen, friends since 1959, have not talked with each other since Glen left the band in 2014. 

On top of all this, after Steve Tibbetts has suggested to me several times that I have to meet and talk to Hans Wendl, one of the earliest people that worked for ECM (from when he was just 16 years old, in 1969, until 1985), I drove from the Mexican border to Californian wine region Sonoma via Bishop, CA, where Hans has moved a few years ago — after having lived in Berkeley since his departure from ECM. We sat down in his backyard and he shared all kinds of amazing insights, until three in the morning — among other things that he was driving the band on Oregon’s first European tour in 1974 — and obviously, everyone was quite moved by remembering those early years. Glen even brought me a recent recording of Oregon’s 1974 concert in Bremen, a tape they had kept in the vault for almost 50 years, recorded in the Sendesaal, where I just filmed and took photos of two very ECM recordings. According to Glen, this is the band at their best, and like everyone else he spoke about those years with Collin Walcott only with the nicest words. (Photos of Inyo Mountains, where Hans Wendl lives, and from a hike at the Sonoma coast with Brian Whistler, below.)



As chance would have it, I found a bunch of old Oregon records in a Phoenix record store — in amazing shape and for the best prices, so I just had to buy several of them. I asked three different Manafonistas for their suggestions, and Michael, Brian and Hans-Dieter each named their favorites — each named pretty much the same records, only in different order. Brian and Hans-Dieter also provided me with long and detailed comments sharing their deep appreciation of the whole Oregon discography, and Brian on top played me music from the whole McCandless catalogue throughout the day, to prepare me for my meeting with Paul in Healdsburg. On the way there we drive through a beautiful wine region (wine that I later also was offered by my friends in Berkeley), and in general I learned a lot about Brian’s 70 years in California and the Sonoma region in particular. (Tom Waits also has been living in the next town — in the other direction, though — and it’s apparently not that unusual to see him around there.)

Paul McCandless, whom Brian and I went to see together, as Brian has known his and Oregon’s music since their earliest albums, also was in a talkative mood; even though, due to his health, he talks in a rather low voice and somewhat slower that powerhouse octogenarian Glen Moore. On Paul’s CD shelf I spotted lots of interesting music, The Surgeon Of The Nightsky Restores Dead Things By The Power Of Sound, among others, which I believed to be the one Jon Hassell album I never heard (not being aware of the collaboration album with Bluescreen, Dressing For Pleasure), and when I mentioned this, Paul just gave me the CD. Funny to now have a rare Jon Hassell album as a souvenir from a visit to Paul McCandless‘ living room.

As the final stop (so far) on my interview tour across the West, I then went to see Lee Townsend – in his psychology practice in Berkeley. Having studied psychology in his early years, Lee not only went back to this profession after 30 years in the music industry (while still producing a couple of albums each year, Bill Frisell’s mostly), but also shared a lot of knowledgeable insight into his formative years working for ECM during a significant part of the 1980s.  It will take a bit of time, but I will be honored to share those interviews with all of you once they have been edited properly.  


(The final photo is from Big Sur, inspiration for Charles Lloyd’s Notes from Big Sur, and Bill Frisell’s Big Sur.)

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