I had a gig in the summer of 2010 with Jeff Kaiser at the Jazz Station, a gem of a venue in Eugene, Oregon’s music scene. I played the first set, Jeff played the second and Brian McWhorter played the third, running into the venue directly after playing the offstage trumpet part in an Oregon Bach Festival concert.
Two hours before, Jeff and I set up a pair of speakers in the back of the room, then created a four channel sound system using the house’s regular main speakers and a mixer. For those not familiar with what this means, this is a surround-sound system, one that allows sound to be “placed” not just to the left or right, as with a typical stereo sound system, but the sound can be moved all around the audience, from front to back and left to right. Our brains compare the slight differences in volume and frequency content in the sounds received by our ears, and from that can deduce where sound is coming from in relation to our heads. So, in Jeff’s improvisation, he is able to manipulate the position of the sounds he is generating, by changing the level of sound coming out of a particular speaker in relation to the others, so that they appear to move around the listener.
The great thing about this was not really the technical sophistication. (In fact, those other two speakers were very old, bulky speakers from the early 80’s that we borrowed from a friend.) The great thing was that we were able to do this because of informal nature of this particular venue and type of concert we were producing. The speakers were placed around a group of about 25 chairs, so this set-up was intended for a very small audience, and the resulting experience was incredibly intimate and unique. The only other place most people are used to experiencing surround sound systems at the movie theatre. The moving sounds of car crashes and explosions in your typical action movie are certainly sonically dazzling, but the experience isn’t generally an “intimate” one when shared with a large audience of popcorn-eating and soda-spilling movie fans in a big, Hollywood movie theatre, far different from the hushed and attentive audience that we would play to that night.
Something I really liked about Jeff’s set, and about his music in general, was that he used a huge variety of sounds in a free-flowing and spontaneous manner. His trumpet playing and electronics are so naturally connected that one never hears him struggling with his “buttons” as can often be the case with computer music, especially improvised computer music. The result is that the music moves naturally from one idea to the next without any sort of clumsiness. I hear an ease and freedom in his music that I believe comes from its ability to constantly reinvent itself. Jeff has an incredibly well developed palette of sounds that he uses when performing with his laptop, and that concert we played together was no exception.
I wanted to ask Jeff about his development as a trumpet player who uses electronics, and also, building on the topics discussed with Brian McWhorter, about the state the trumpet as it is right now. Something striking to me was that Jeff is very grounded in the tradition of what he is doing. I later was looking up on YouTube the musicians he was talking about, listening to their playing and discovering even more of a tradition for contemporary improvised music on the trumpet than I was familiar with. This has been one of my favorite things about doing these interviews. I’ve learned so much, and I’m very happy to pass it on to others.
Jeff talks about “not thinking too much” about the tradition while he is performing. This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t made a long study of the music through listening to hours and hours of recordings and performances. Developed over many years, his approach is one that honors the best of the tradition: spontaneity, creativity and authenticity are the most important values. We also talked about the state of trumpet playing today and what got us here, the biological implications of surprise in music, the social nature of the improvised music scene and Jeff’s personal history with electronic processing in improvised music.
Jeff’s latest release is “Harvesting Metadata” by KaiBorg, Jeff’s duo with David Borgo. Here excerpts at http://www.pfmentum.com/PFMCD058.html.
Jeff Kaiser is a trumpet player, composer, conductor, and music technologist living in La Jolla, California.
While maintaining an active professional career, Jeff is also a music PhD student in Integrative Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Focusing on improvisation and emergent technology, Jeff has a primary specialty of critical studies and secondary of ethnomusicology. Jeff also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Composition from Westmont College and a Master of Music in Choral and Orchestral Conducting from Azusa Pacific University.
Jeff has played professionally with many different groups and individuals on television, film, radio, and in concert halls throughout the United States and abroad. Artists he has played with include Eugene Chadbourne, Michael Vlatkovich, Brad Dutz, Jim Connolly, The Motor Totemist Guild, Headless Household, The Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, The Los Angeles Trumpet Quartet, The Kreative Orchestra of Los Angeles, as well as his own ensembles including his large group The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet, The Choir Boys (with Andrew Pask), The Desert Fathers (with Gregory Taylor), KaiBorg (with David Borgo) and his duo with Tom McNalley (ZUGZWANG) which played at the Festival of New Trumpet (FONT) in New York. Television trumpet performance credits include the HBO series Deadwood. Recent film performances include The Cave.
He is the recipient of numerous grants, honors and awards. An active member of the artist community in Ventura, California before moving to La Jolla, he is a fourteen-time recipient of the Individual Artist Fellowship from the City of Ventura (beginning in 1990) and a three-time recipient of the Forum of the Arts Grant administered by the Ventura County Museum of History and Art. He is also the recipient of ten ASCAP Plus Awards. In addition to the awards, he has received critical praise in the Los Angeles Times, Cadence Magazine, The Wire, Signal-to-Noise, L.A. Weekly and numerous other print and web publications throughout the world.
He is also the founder and owner of the pfMENTUM record label and Angry Vegan Records, both currently growing stronger and adding to their catalogs regularly.
Douglas Detrick: What do you think about the idea of the “trumpet renaissance”? Everything is changing: there are so many cultural changes going on now, and its all affecting performance practice, in every field. So, what’s different about the trumpet is that we’re seeing a lot of people that are playing the trumpet in a new way. I’m thinking of guys like Nate Wooley and Peter Evans and other players who are developing similar ideas. That’s what brings the question to mind.
Jeff Kaiser: The trumpet is such a special instrument because of the specific physical investment required to play it. All instruments take time and practice to excel at, but the trumpet takes a focused time investment just to be ok at it, let alone to do it well. So, just the sheer investment of time makes it interesting. It does seem to be that more trumpet players are doing this kind of music. In the mid 90’s when I came out with my first album, there was Greg Kelly, Axel Doerner…these were the people that would be mentioned when I would get reviewed. Bill Dixon, of course, was always pushing…and Herb Robertson. But with [people specializing] in the noisier thing there was Axel [Doerner], Greg Kelley and Franz Hautzinger, of course, in Austria.
I’m not so sure that I would call it a Trumpet Revolution, or a Renaissance, as I would say it’s just a change in the way music is being made. Music is becoming more a social act than a professional act, which it usually is in most cultures. I think there was a period of time here in the US that if you weren’t playing professionally than you just shouldn’t play. An amateur was disrespected. “Amateur” was a term of disrespect, where as in many other cultures everybody is just making music and doing it. So, I think that what you and I are doing with the more experimental stuff actually has more in common with Irish traditional music practice than it does with Western experimental music practice, with the European art music tradition, in that we’ll travel all over the place to play a concert to, you know, fifteen or twenty people.
DD: What other similarities are there? Besides the amateur aspect of it…
JK: When I use the term “amateur” I don’t mean the skill level. I just mean a person who does it because he loves it. The social aspect is the commonality, and that’s what drives so many traditional musics that are still being made today. I have a friend in my program that specializes in Irish traditional music. I’ve always liked what he was doing, and then he came and heard what I was doing and thought it was crazy. The first concert he went to he thought it was insane, that I couldn’t even play the trumpet. Like, how did I get into a PhD program, right? [Laughs]
But then we started talking about what we do and it’s really similar. When he travels, he’s looking for a session at a pub where he can sit in and play with people. And it’s the same way when so many of us tour. A great trombone player, Mike Vlatkovich is trying to put together a tour, he’s been trying to put together this tour for a while, and he’s amazed at how many venues don’t even respond to him. He’ll send them a traditional press packet and CDs, and his music is amazing, you know, glorious, but they never get back to him. However, if it’s somebody he knows, that has a venue, you know, they get back to him.
The social thing has taken over the idea of professionalism I think, in terms of what we do. So, I think that’s what feeds this whole idea of the trumpet renaissance, where you don’t have to sound like Jens [Lindemann] or Maurice Andre or any of those guys, you can be creative and have your own voice. So, it’s more of a creativity renaissance. We’re taking control, instead of this idea of a canon that we have to imitate and perpetuate, and hopefully become a part of. That was a goal of so many musicians of previous generations.
Those ideologies were all present, and now there’s something different. We make music because it makes us happy! [Laughs] We get to hang out with people that have similar ideas, similar tastes. It’s a whole different ballpark. I’d much prefer doing pub gigs, and art gallery gigs than doing concert hall gigs. I’m lucky enough that I get to do both pretty regularly, but I actually prefer low-key environments. The fact that we could go into the Jazz Station [A non-profit music venue in Eugene, OR] and set up an ambisonic sound system… I’ve gotten to do that a few times, but before it was in a multi-million dollar hall at UC San Diego, which was a lot of fun, but I really enjoy the small audience, feeling connected to them and seeing people I know out there and people I don’t know out there hanging out and chatting. The wall between the artist and the audience is still being perpetuated in academic environments. That’s something that the new wave is breaking down.
DD: You mean the separation between the audience and the performers?
JK: Yeah, the idea of the “lone genius.” You know, that’s part of the deal too. Sure, modernism gave us a lot of great art, but it also created this myth of the lone genius that we were all supposed to compare ourselves to. These were great musicians and some wonderful people (and also some not so wonderful people that were great musicians)…but we don’t have to do that any more, we realize art isn’t about the lone genius. So, it’s great. What great freedom! I used to put in a Harmon mute, and people used to say, “Who do you think you are? Miles [Davis]?” Because he was the genius, that everybody would compare to.
DD: Brian McWhorter and I were talking about the idea that this music has come into its own as a tradition and is its own scene. People don’t think of it anymore as a reaction to jazz or to avant-garde concert music either. What do you think about that? Not that it’s more sophisticated…or, maybe it is. What do you think?
JK: It’s just different. There is sophistication to all music when done well. However, there is this idea of canonizing certain kinds of sophistication. Like New Complexity, i.e., if it’s complex, then it’s sophisticated. When the idea of the “lower case” emerged, [meaning the idea of lower case “a” as in art as opposed to the concept of “Art”.] I definitely saw that as a reaction. The scene in San Francisco was very fragmented around these ideas. There were the guys that played notes and the guys that didn’t play notes. So, when we did concerts there in the early 90’s, late 80’s, there were strong ideas about what should be done and what shouldn’t be done. I think that’s less so in the newer generation of people that are pursuing this kind of music. I don’t see it as much as a reaction now, though perhaps its birth was in reaction. Now it’s definitely its own thing.
I like the idea of “Emergence”: The scientific concept that something can emerge from a complex environment but not be a replica of that environment; it can be its own thing. So, I think the scene is “emergent” in that sense. It’s pretty hip. And it’s all over; you know what it’s like. I do gigs from Bakersfield to Madison, WI, from Santa Fe to Eugene, there are always gigs. To me it’s awesome. It’s absolutely fulfilling.
So, I wouldn’t see the current scene as a reaction, but certainly, the birthing process involved a reaction. There certainly are ideologues out there. I heard a recent lecture—by someone who will remain nameless—that’s still perpetuating the idea, a very lower case idea, that you can’t play notes; it has to be something other than notes. But I want to do it all: I want to play notes and noise, small sounds and big sounds, I want to play loud and soft, fast and slow and everywhere in between.
DD: Could you explain what you mean by “lower case”?
JK: The lower case musicians emerged in the early to mid 90’s. I was just playing with some guys who called themselves lower case. They meant focusing only on small sounds that, in the Western art music tradition, would be called “extended techniques.” I don’t believe in the idea of extended techniques: It’s all just technique. It’s all trumpet, in the case of what we do. The idea of extended technique is again creating these false divisions of things that can be used against us; these power structures and hierarchies. So, the lower case players, at least the ones that I’ve played with, were into usually small sounds and alternatives to playing notes.
DD: Are we talking about trumpet players here?
JK: Trumpet players and everything else, a whole scene. Many wind players, string players, non-traditional instrument players, people that were making their own instruments. It’s great stuff. I think it’s fantastic. I hope I don’t sound disparaging about it. To me, it’s just too regimented with these walls.
I was lucky; I was working with guys like John Fumo and Rob Blakeslee, trumpet players in the LA area that had a very broad idea of what it mean to be a trumpet player. They would make hissy, small sounds and then squeal out high notes. And that’s more common now. But back then it was much less common. People would freak out.
DD: I’m wondering if you think that the changes in the landscape of the music world affect trumpet players in a different way than other musicians?
JK: I would say that trumpet players in general were slow to opt-in to the whole electronic thing. We’ve had guys in the 60’s, like Nat Adderley, who hooked a Varitone onto his trumpet in 1967. Don Ellis around that time was using an Echoplex and ring modulators. And then Miles in ’70, ’71 was using the wah-wah pedal. So there’s that, but in general they’ve been slow to opt-in to using new technology. There was, and still is, a lot of “purist” feeling. I wouldn’t say it affects us any more than other people, other than, perhaps, a lack of openness to doing anything to the “pure” sound. We’re so indoctrinated into the idea that there is “the” sound: a single trumpet sound that you should get. So, the idea of altering it and messing with it can be seen as bad. I’ve run across that a lot. I think teachers are more hip now, but when I was a student anything but the “orchestral sound” was bad. So, I had to work on that and there was no freedom with my teachers. I know a lot of guys in my generation were that way until we were introduced to guys like Bill Dixon and [Wadada] Leo Smith.
DD: I find myself trying to use more subjective language when I’m talking about sound. Rather than saying that’s a good sound or a bad sound, I say that’s a brilliant sound or that’s a dark sound.
JK: Those terms are a little more open, but at the same time, they don’t offer something solid for the young student to grasp onto. So I think sometimes teachers just say “Oh, that’s good, do that!” when the student is working on getting a sound, and they don’t even mean that its good in the absolute sense, they’re just trying to be encouraging. Terms like “dull,” “bright,” those are good terms, but ill-defined. Timbre is still an indescribable thing. We know what pitch is, we know what loud and soft is, but timbre is all understood through metaphor.
Note: At this point Jeff and I moved to another café to continue the conversation. An event had started at the café at which we were sitting. When we sat down in the second café, we picked up the conversation going back to the idea of the new musical climate’s effect on trumpet players in particular.
DD: We were talking about if the changes in the way music is being made and recorded today affects trumpet players differently than other musicians.
JK: Right. Its so funny, my immediate reaction now is to say yes, in sort of a way, because a trumpet recorded on a $400 microphone might not sound as good as say…when we listen to recordings of Louis Armstrong, or Miles Davis and, oh my god…the microphones they were using! In this day and age, when a trumpet player records on a microphone in his living room on a decent, mid-level microphone, versus a nice Royer in an acoustically controlled environment… Its’ going to be that way with any acoustic instrument. So, I think it does affect acoustic players more than other people. You can create drumbeats in your living room because you’re using pre-existing samples and its okay. But we, as acoustic musicians, still require space if we want the instrument to sound in certain ways. That said, there’s still the other side. If you’re doing all air and noises and close mic’ing you can record in your living room, but not if you want big open sounds. So, we’re still limited in that way. We still require a good acoustic space to record certain things.
I’ve recorded some stuff in my living room. I did a trio with a bass player from San Diego and we recorded a bunch of that in my living room, everything was close mic’d. I don’t think that trumpet players are affected differently, but we are affected in the same way as other acoustic players in that we need a good sounding space to get a well-recorded sound in certain situations.
DD: What are the ideas behind using electronics for you as a performer? Why did you get into it and what keeps you coming back to it?
JK: The first reason that I got into it, and I hate to say this, but it was all about volume. I was playing with a lot of electric guitarists and electric bassists like Steuart Liebig and G.E. Stinson. Those were the guys that I wanted to play with and a microphone alone was interesting, and I could do all the close-mic’d noisy sounds, but I also wanted to be able to get some sound going. That was why I first got into electronics. I’d been using them for a long time on my own. But it was more because I was a guitar player and had played in rock bands: I had pedals and I had a microphone, so I plugged my microphone into the pedals. But in the late 80’s, it became more a more a part of what I was doing. By the mid-90’s I was fully immersed in pedal technology and trumpet stuff.
DD: When did you start using Max/MSP?
(Max/MSP is a computer-based audio processing program that allows the performer to design his own processing system. It can replace an entire set of pedal based processors and also allow a customized user interface.)
JK: I started using Max in 2006, not that long ago. I was on tour in London…I have a paper about this with my buddy Andrew Pask, its called “How I Lost 150 Pounds Thanks to Max/MSP.” We were on tour and we were opening for Evan Parker at the Red Rose, and my ring modulator wasn’t working for some reason and Andrew just had his laptop and plugged it in and it worked. So, that was why: hauling the stuff around on planes, trains and automobiles with all the cables and stuff… So, I started using Max and a laptop in 2006. At first, I was just modeling my pedals, but now I do a lot more with other sound manipulation including spatialization. [The placement of a sound in a typical Left-Right stereo field, or in a surround sound field.]
The first reason, with the modern reincarnation, in the 90’s, of what I’m doing was about volume. But, when I’d play gigs with Vinny Golia he would show up 17 horns, I mean literally, maybe more sometimes, and I had a trumpet and a flugelhorn and that was about it. I just wanted more variety of sounds and more force of sound. Vinny is a big, loud player, also with amazing subtlety and everything else, but when he gets going, it’s loud.
Timbral manipulation, so I could get variety, was important playing with multi-instrumentalists like Vinny. Then I became increasingly intrigued with the idea of spatialization and moving the sound around. That became very important to me. It’s funny because it alienates certain people; they feel the sound is disconnected from the instrument. I don’t see it as disconnected though, which is really strange. People say it’s a disembodied sound, but I still see it as an extension of my body: It’s a sound that I’m moving around, just beyond the physical coordinates of my body.
DD: There were, in the gig that we played, several times that I jumped. There were several times we went from silence to really loud sounds very quickly.
JK: I don’t want to reduce it all to just cognitive science stuff, but there’s this guy David Huron who wrote a book called Sweet Anticipation. I had a chance to hang with him and he was lecturing at our school. I was the guy driving him around, making sure that he got to where he needed to be. So, we had some long talks about this. His book is about the idea that when we hear something that surprises us that its like a warning to us, and it releases a rush of hormones over our amygdala creating a physical response to the surprise. Then there is another part of the brain that clamps down on that and tells us that everything is okay. So, there is the immediate fight-or-flight response, and then the shutting down of that response. The contrast between those—how big the response was initially, then how hard the brain clamped down on that response—is a contrast of valence. And he would say, and I hope I’m not misquoting his book, but that this contrast is attached to the experience of the sublime. So, he creates this biological view of the sublime.
I had a military jet crash near my neighborhood about a year and a half ago. If he had ejected two seconds earlier I would have been dead. I’m on a hill, and the plane crashed about 200 feet down from where I am, and he took out someone’s house. I was in the shower at the time, and I had just the most terrifying experience. The thing blew up and he ejected overhead. It sounded like a garbage truck overhead because metal was rattling. I can honestly say that I felt the fight-or-flight response as I’ve never felt it before and I was scared like crazy. So, I think about that in small doses in the music. I did a concert about a week later with a trombone player and we actually tried to evoke the same sense of the plane with close-mic’d rumbly noises with just mic’d acoustic horns, no laptops.
So, there are the hormones over the amygdala, the clampdown, but I don’t think that’s everything: I think we have the ability to think about it. We’re not just reactive creatures.
DD: There’s a suspension of disbelief.
JK: Yeah, we can sit back and enjoy the physical response because we know the roaring dinosaur in the movie isn’t going to eat us, or that the plane’s not going to crash into us. At a concert, we can enjoy that range of experiences if we let go of it. But we can’t if we have to hold to other ways of thinking about it.
Though, I actually don’t even think about it until afterwards. These words I’m using are constructions after the fact. In the moment, I do things that I like musically, and then afterwards I’ll think about it. I hate to reduce things to pure biology because we interact with the world too. What is startling to one person is not startling to another person.
DD: There were people at our concert who were, maybe not waiting just for the surprise to come, but certainly enjoying it when it did. Maybe half the people would flinch, then the other half would just smile: “Oh, Kaiser’s just playing loud again.”
JK: I do like loud, too. We talk about feeling it, literally. We hear in different ways. One of those ways is called the vestibular system. The vibrations are not coming to us directly through our ears; we are hearing these vibrations as they hit our body. That only happens at a certain level of dBs. That’s why people like rock concerts.
DD: It’s literally a different experience.
JK: So, people that only play soft—and that’s fine—are not having that experience. Sometimes I want to have that experience.
DD: I’m wondering how you personally address the tradition of the instrument from the broadest perspective possibly including the hunting horn, the classical history of the instrument, and the tradition of Bill Dixon and players like him. Is it something you think about at all?
JK: You know, I used to think about it consciously. Sometimes after the fact, but I would think about how I am part of a lineage, I am learning from a line of trumpet players that has gone before me. What have I learned from different ones? I started out on gospel and classical paths, but I found a lot of resistance personally. I just wasn’t digging it. Then I was pointed towards the more experimental practices, eventually ending up listening to Lester Bowie and Herb Robertson. Those were the first guys that I was really listening to that were really pushing it. And then discovering Bill Dixon and some of the LA guys that were doing this music was significant.
The idea of the whole trumpet history…it’s an interesting question, and it’s kind of difficult because I think that we can’t help but be a part of it whether we like it or not: because it’s built into the object itself, the trumpet affords, even prescribes that we behave in a certain way. It tells us how to hold it, so we’re going to be holding it in the same, or similar, way that these other people have, we’re going to use our lips in a similar fashion: so the object itself has agency. It tells us to behave in a historical fashion. So, even though I don’t play like Maurice Andre, even though I’ve practiced the hell out of the Torelli trumpet concerto, or Hummel and the Haydn [trumpet concertos]… I don’t consciously think about it so much any more, at least I haven’t recently. I see myself as part of a certain tradition. If when I look at who inspires me to do what I do, I just don’t see it as much in the classical world. I look more to African-American creative practice, I see Bubber Miley as my first big influence. Talk about an experimental trumpet player! All of Duke Ellington’s trumpet players were so unique.
I’d have to think about this question some more, but when I do look back at the history of the trumpet, I do see a path, I see a lineage, and its coming more through the Bubber Miley’s than the Maurice Andre’s, or whoever it was that were the early classical trumpet virtuosi. Like Vacchiano…
DD: Or Herbert L. Clarke.
JK: Yes, and I practiced that stuff. I wanted to be good at it, the Herbert L. Clarke stuff and the Arban’s stuff, and I did solo festivals when I was in high school, and I still love that music. But, for me sound was something I was more interested in.
I keep thinking about Bubber Miley. When I listen back to those recordings, I hear someone who’s really connected to the instrument: the instrument is connected to him, it’s not something separate. When you hear Clarke, it’s like a Cartesian Mind-Body split. The mind is controlling the body which does this amazing finger technique stuff, instead of this view of the embodied mind, where the body is the mind, where the body is connected.
DD: There does seem to be a thread there. If there is a dividing line, it’s whether or not people are letting their body do something and seeing what happens. It really is more of an experiment, where the outcome is not known, allowing that element into the performance, allowing that to be a part of your technique or not.
JK: It goes back to beginning of this with the idea of emergence. How many times have you been surprised by what you do at a show? That’s the joy of what we’re doing. I wonder how many times Herbert L. Clarke was surprised. It’s a different type of thing. Some music is working at taking all the surprise out of it for the performer. When you’re doing the Carnival of Venice, you might try to do a little twist, something a little different, but you’re spending so much time preparing, that when you go in front of an audience there’s not going to be a surprise. You’re trying to get rid of that. People in the experimental tradition welcome that surprise on stage.
DD: It seems that it’s built into an experimental players embouchure, this idea of not knowing what’s going to happen. They seem to go hand in hand. To go for some of these other sounds, they aren’t as sure, they aren’t as cut and dried, they’re not as predictable.
JK: And the other night you played the first set and you were doing some stuff and I thought, “Oh, I gotta try that.” We both do a thing where we blow restricted air through the horn…I’m not even sure how to describe it, but we’re restricting the air at the embouchure, but blowing it through the horn and getting this almost white noise kind of sound. However, you were also adding some tongue or throat movement in there, and I said, “I got to try that.” So, I got on stage and I tried it.
So, that’s the kind of thing I’m interested in: a lineage that has room for true experimentation.
DD: What do you think is the value of that kind of experimentation for the audience?
Some people are really drawn to it, and some people, obviously, are not. For the people that are, what do you think is the draw of seeing somebody in that act of experimentation and discovery?
JK: There are so many metaphors that experimental musicians have used that I get tired of, like: “It’s like watching us perform on a trapeze without a net.” I get tired of those kinds of metaphors. But, I’ll see what I can come up with. [Laughs]
I think that these are the people that sit back and when the surprise hits: they smile. I think it would be interesting to see—with people that go to these concerts where there is experimentation taking place on stage—how it relates to how their lives are. We have this cliché of what a traditional classical music concert attendee’s life looks like… We don’t want to essentialize or stereotype anybody, but it would be interesting to see how these people [who are interested in experimental music] interact with life. There are people that value the process of improvisation, like George Lewis who says that improvisation is the ubiquity of everyday life. I think they recognize it in their life and they want it in their music too, this sense of having things be made, and being spontaneous.
DD: It’s interesting, I was just thinking about gardening, how it is often a process of discovery, you never know what is going to happen. For me, at my level of gardening, [Laughs] I’m surprised if anything comes out of the ground at all.
JK: But something usually does though, right?
DD: Yeah, but it doesn’t usually look very good. But, you know, it’s tasty and there’s a little bit of fruit, anyway. I like taking my chances with it, and there are other people that do too.
JK: Roger Reynolds at UC San Diego did a piece a few years back, I don’t remember what it was called, but he actually gave the audience potentiometers [a twistable knob that sends a signal that is a certain percentage of a total potential signal.] that they would turn to tell how much they liked certain sections of music. Then they would attempt to quantify what an audience would like from that information. I’m not sure if we can really quantify the audience’s experience in that way. I think we can make some gross assumptions, like people come to experimental concerts because they want to hear something different. They want to be challenged and they want music that is going to provoke and stimulate thought and dialogue.
DD: This type of experiment seems to be interesting because it is so inconclusive. There is quite a lot you can say, but you still can’t answer the question definitively.
JK: The science there is still so coarse. Using a single potentiometer to represent a complex experience…we’d need to do a lot more than that. It’s hard to quantify what we do, and it’s hard to quantify what the audience is doing. They are participants, as you know. Anyone who performs on stage knows how important the audience is. You can usually tell when people hate it or like it, and it can have an effect, one way or the other, on what you are doing.
I’ve actually been booed and hissed at, which was stimulating as well. [Laughs] It was a film festival in Isla Vista some years ago. I was playing through the theatre sound system and I thought it was going really well. I’d done a soundtrack to this movie and I thought it was awesome, and then I heard a sound and it was an entire two rows of people that were booing and hissing. And then they got up and left and filled out response cards telling me how bad I was, how hiring guys like Jeff Kaiser was giving the festival a bad name. I still have the response cards, I want to make t-shirts out of them one of these days.
It’s important to find appropriate audiences for what we do, and not to try to be evangelists or proselytizers. That’s a fight I don’t want to fight any more. Like going to a traditional jazz venue on a night where people are expecting to hear traditional jazz and then doing what I do. I like to be somewhat respectful.
It’s different now than it was ten for fifteen years ago. There weren’t many venues then. I played a venue in Ventura where they literally threw beer bottles at us because they thought it was going to be country night. I felt like I was in the Blues Brothers! We were just shocked. It becomes a battle. Do we want to become evangelicals for the music? Or, do we just want it to develop organically? I had a friend get in a shouting match with an audience member once, and then Vinny Golia said “No, man, you have to woo them, you have to woo them into the fold.” That was about fifteen years ago. I’d say now we’re more into wooing. Wooing: that’s a funny word.