Interview Rogelio Periera Conde with Gerry Hemingway for Oro Molido magazine
(September 2008) to be published in January 2009 (hard copy).
Rogelio Periera Conde - On the concert you performed last July 30th 2008 at the Museo del Mar de Vigo, the audience could see how you adapted yourself to the parameters of silence, in which you resorted to precise exercises with drumsticks and hands on the cymbals.You used the drum set in a ritual, mystical way. Actually, the music that Jin Hi Kim produced out of the komungo was the reflection of a whole peaceful harmony which emanated all through the body, from head through stomach to the feet. A true spectacle on which Kim showed us a didactic and practical lesson on an instrument that has transcended time. It was a genuine exercise of meditation that made you abandon your habitual context, more prone to jazz, improvisation or electroacoustic music. It was a music between mysticism and sacredness which makes one go deeper into inner peace. Do you believe that Jin Hi Kim wants to convey, through concerts, a reflection on peace and harmony linked to cosmos?
Gerry Hemingway - Peace and harmony is likely a different experience for every listener. I can't imagine that the music may not take every listener to the same place. Is it not one of art's beauties that its definition is open to wherever the listener can meet it? I think it would be appropiate to differentiate your experience of the music with what this interview can so abley conduct; an investigation of how I would describe as a musician, the process, supporting techniques and content intended to be conveyed. My interaction with Jin is informed by a number of elements. Jin's pieces are mostly formal in their design and draw upon a number of traditional Korean musical structures such as the Sanjo style of Komungo. There are specific ways of interacting that I have come to understand since my first encounters with Jin and with playing with other masters of traditional Korean music.
I relate to Korean traditional music in a similar way that I relate to the music of the Mississippi Delta which is part of my personal root system, one of the idioms that I am connected to and which guides my choices in interaction. In my view I am not defined by one recording or project. To understand the breadth of my expressive pallette, it takes some submersion into my 35 year history of music making. One thing you will discover is that I am informed by many musics including many different musics of the world. I currently teach a lecture course in World Music History.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Your way of performing with the drum set is a factor that attracts the devoted listener of your music. The shadows of Chick Webb or Gene Krupa are truly present when you play your solos, with that wide gamut of harmonics created starting from sustained notes developed during long periods of time. In such a way you deepen in the techniques, gaining expresiveness. As regards Webb, I was impressed the way he played, in which his peculiar musical sense made him keep a tight relationship with silence. You have developed a technique in which you highlight these qualities. How do you see your musical evolution over time?
Gerry Hemingway - In keeping with the long line of innovators of whom Chick Webb is one of the pioneers. I find it interesting you hear a resonance of Chick Webb as he is a drummer for whom I hold a special regard. I hold that regard for many innovators in music and particularly in the craft of drumming. Chick Webb, for whom I have dedicated one of my solo works, was very significant as a soloist. Prior to his presence a solo of more than 1 or 2 bars length was not a consideration or possibility for drummers. Chick Webb figured out how to create a full length solo and keep the people dancing. But more importantly he showed so many who followed how articulate we could be with color and rhythm, and gave us a glimpse of expressivity from an instrument that had confined itself to propelling a finely tuned orchestra.
Rogelio Periera Conde - You are an artist which adapts to different formations which you maintain active over time. Always surrounded by good musicians in search of new sounds to surprise the listener. You develop creative music which shows and expresses the ability of the musicians which accompany you, giving free rein to a whole gamut of colours which stir uncontrolled emotions. How would you define the music you make?
Gerry Hemingway - Well I am not sure if I stir uncontrolled emotions, that might be more the purview of Bo Diddley or Hank Williams. I would be grateful if what I bring to the music is real for the listener, that would be huge. I think the prevailing definition for me is that I am listener when I play and hopefully that translates to the audience as an experience of comittment to uplifting the content of what transpires in the moment. That does not neccessarily limit the discussion to improvisation, could as well be applied to the interpretation of music as well.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Michel Wintsch and Frank Gratkowski are two musicians with whom you work habitually, where rock, jazz, improvisation... complement mutually in different manners. Do you feel completely at ease when musical intuition interacts among the members of the ensemble?
Gerry Hemingway - absolutely, these musicians and many others I work with embrace the whole gumbo. They see any option in improvising that services the collective success of whatever the music embraces. For a long time there seemed to be unspoken rules that it was wrong to include groove or periodocity or tonalism into the equation. As Inspector Clouseau so decivisely observed, 'not anymoore'.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Talking about this musical intuition, in 2002 the Between the Lines released the work "Songs", where some musicians, which regularly take part in parallel projects, collaborate with you. Do you use the voice as an instrument?.
Gerry Hemingway - Lisa (Sokolov) is many things including a singer who can function within the musical tapestry of instrumentalism that this project explores. This project was, however, much more than a reconstitution of my previous musical initiatives. I was on the one hand coming from a very straightforwad desire to write songs with lyrics.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Do you think that it is through songs where intensity is deepest as regards the individual memory at the moment of performing?
Gerry Hemingway - maybe not intensity but connection. You are however speaking of the 'moment of performing' and this project, save one occassion was not originally conceived as a performing project. It was sculpted from a slow assemblage of parts, one at a time, sometimes without a clear map of how it would all fit together. It was audio composition more traditionally termed "production'' in the manner of the way pop recordings are made. In my case it was not a choice but a mother of neccessity, as my budget was slim. I recorded each part wherever I could with whatever equipment I had at my disposal I used a slow, patient but very worthwhile editing approach and refinement to sculpt these works into what is presented in the recording. I do relate to lyrics, they are more direct and have a way of transporting us into particular related states of feeling.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Could you, please tell us about the relationship between music and language, and about the texts you might use as a starting point for a composition? Texts which suggest certain images? How do you perceive the aural/visual aspects of these pieces?
Gerry Hemingway - My setting of text's other than my own is limited to a few projects so far. I was commissioned by a Swedish organization, NYA Perspectiv to set several Swedish poems to a large ensemble. This is work that has never been released. I asked for a recording of the poems read in Swedish by the singer who would perform the commission, Lindha Svantesson, and for the text written in both Swedish and English. I also asked for examples of this particular singer's music so I could I could utilize her personal characteristics & vocabularies in my choices as a composer. I absorbed those ingredients and developed a clear instrumental accompaniment of the poems being 'read'. That is I gave the singer license to read the poem freely but in a relation she would create (she was an experienced improviser) to a setting I through-composed. Then I had her sound the poem in a more deconstructed format with precise orchestrations and directions. It fit with the poems and with the sound of Swedish text which more than anything directed my choices as a composer.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Another work which drew my attention is the one you devote to drum solos, under the title "Just Drums", which include contributions, I understand in duo format, with artists playing drum set and percussion. What was the aim of this project?
Gerry Hemingway - "Just Drums" is collection of 18 drummers doing solo works. No one plays together, they are all individual solos. The work I contributed is electro-acoustic, entitled "Kernal". I have a large body of solo work, four recordings to date, starting with the 1981 "Solo Works" an LP on my own label Auricle Records, "Tubworks" on Sound Aspects (88) and the two discs I did for Random Acoustics in the mid-nineties. I am currently completing recording a large body of new solo work some of which dates back to the late 90s. I am also working on a DVD film project that is centered around my solo work.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Exceptionally, the BassDrumBone project highlights the intuitive ability of three basic instruments which have always attracted your interest. The aural result is very much like listening to an orchestra. Three instrumentalists who involve strength, harmony and chromatism with a huge skill to develop timbre textures, within the frame of a post-contemporary practice, having memory as a raw material. What do you think is the main factor which makes this project an unexpected and innovative result?
Gerry Hemingway - The chemistry of its players and the desire amongst the three of us to keep it progressing. Each member of this trio has developed very interesting and somewhat different careers as band leaders and players in the music world. Each time we come together there is new information to share, so the dialogue remains lively and the interchange vital.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Whereas your quintet with Gratkowski, Wierbos, Sen and Driscoll is a stable formation since 2002, your quartet seems to find more difficulties of availability on the part of Ray Anderson and Mark Dresser, who are replaced occasionally by Herb Robertson and Mark Helias. With both formations you establish a constant quest of forms of expression through each one of the instrumentalists, where music fluctuates endlessly, surrounding the listener. You control even up to the minutest detail, until you reach what you are aiming at. What is the modus operandi of these two ensembles?
Gerry Hemingway - The quintet you first mentioned has accumulated very few opportunities to perform since the recording was made. The financial economy of our time (both in Europe and the US) makes it very difficult to support a tour of this project. The quartet however continues to perform mostly in the US and NY. The personnel has changed on each recording. Primarily I am performing at this juncture with the most recent formation (Herb Robertson, Ellery Eskelin, Mark Helias and myself) but from time to time, Mark Dresser and/or Ray perform. All these players are part of an extended family of musicians I have performed over a long period of time and will likely continue to do so until we turn to dust.
Rogelio Periera Conde - On the other hand, on your electroacoustic trio with Georg Graewe and Ernst Reijseger, you have released recently the cd "Clepton", a piece by Earl Howard, wizard of synthesizers, who has explored both analog and digital electronics on his compositions. How do you see your relationship with Graewe and Reijseger through all this period? What would you highlight about this latest work?
Gerry Hemingway - The trio with Georg and Ernst continues - we will tour next fall (09) in Europe, the quartet under Earl Howard's direction was a special project, one I helped make happen with an opportunity from the SWF radio of Baden-Baden. Earl is an old friend of mine I began working with in 1979 and someone I have sited throughout my career as an important influence on my work, particularly the electro-acoustic work. The 'Clepton' recording is to me very special, I finally feel it as a recording that does justice to the great work Earl is doing in live sampling, synthesis and electro-acoustic composition and improvisation. He is the classic musician's musician, highly regarded amongst his peers, really his work needs far more attention, and intelligent commentary and discussion and I think the Clepton piece should be given a very close inspection by writers who understand electronic music and/or care about its direction and depth. Earl is an exceptional gift to the evolution of musical language, the integration of electronics and acoustics and a passionate innovator of music and its possibilities.
Rogelio Periera Conde - With Earl Howard and Anthony Davis, you will have the opportunity of playing next September 28th. It will take place at the Roulette, New York. What do you expect from this concert? Will it be recorded for a future CD Release?
Gerry Hemingway - The concert, which happened three nights ago as I write this was in my opinion wonderful. The good news is that it will be available on Roulette TV in the not to distant future.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Another artist who uses analog synthesizers is Thomas Lehn, who has developed an interesting method for the performance of improvised music. He utilizes a controlled voltage synthesizer on which each processing of sound parameters passes through a tension control, which means that a single circuit controls the different tensions of the keys, the form of the notes, the speed of the keys, dynamics, etc. You have recorded three records where you explore regularly that frequency dynamics.
Your performances feature the interaction between electronic and acoustic instruments. How do you conceive all this with respect to time and space?
Gerry Hemingway - Earl has not used analog synthesis for a long time, since the mid 80s. His early works used the Serge Modular Music System, which I worked with as well in the early 80s. Thomas has never used anything but the Synthi, an analog synthesizer from the mid 60's, and has treated it like an acoustic instrument in developing it's performative possibilities. Unless you have really studied these kind of machines, then it is difficult to be conversant in just how the technologies work, but you are correct in that it uses control voltage to generate interaction amongst its components. Improvising with Thomas, as regards time and space, is no different than any other experience I have with other instrumentalists. Thomas is not working with preordained materials, he is able to be equally flexible in choosing his content in the moment. But perhaps I do not understand the direction of your question.
Rogelio Periera Conde - With John Butcher you started your collaborations around 2000, releasing since then two works and touring the USA, where you have got the chance of sharing experiences which have helped you to get deeper into the sensitivity of human beings. That capacity of transforming words into emotions is only achieved when there is a connection that makes you go forward through everyday troubles. Is in these moments when you achieve your maximum level of exploration at the moment of creation?
Again I am not all together sure where you are going with this question, but I will remark that being on the road with anyone for any distance has the possibility to offer a richer relationship musically and otherwise.
Rogelio Periera Conde - In recent times, you use, besides the drum set, other percussion instruments, specially when you play live. The kalimba is an instrument with metal sheets, played using at least two fingers of each hand. What does this instrument bring to your music?
My use of this instrument is very rare, I used it at one point with solo work where I processed it electronically, if you listen very carefully you'll find it on the solo work "Aivilik Rays". But it is a footnote at best in my arsenal of sound choices. The many variations of the thumb piano, particularly the ones from Mozambique and Zaire are wonderful instruments, are something I do listen to and enjoy, but not something for which I have developed any facility.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Continuing the subject of peculiar instruments, as to their timbre, I have to mention the BREW project. Along with the koto player Miya Masaoka and the double bassist Reggie Workman you have recorded a work, still unreleased, who is crying to reach the listeners, to be released on a record label without further delays. A splendid repertoire, that of BREW (some fragments in MP3 can be listened to via your web) where compositions and improvisations melt, provoking the listener towards a pleasant listening experience. Have you reached any negotiation as regards its release? Have you thought of releasing it by yourself, in CDr format?
Gerry Hemingway - I am in discussion with one label about it. I am also considering releasing it myself. Hopefully we can get it out before too long.
Rogelio Periera Conde - "Sideband a concert for three improvisers and orchestra" is one of your latest conductions. How did you carry out the selection of the musicians? Which of them would you highlight from the orchestra?
Gerry Hemingway - Its not a conduction, its a composition for a standard classical orchestra, with the improvisors as soloists. The writing for orchestra is through-composed and does not involve any improvisation or conduction whatsoever. The piece has not received my attention since its premiere at the California Institute of the Arts some years ago. I will return to it eventually and look for a situation where the piece could receive some more performances and possibly a recording. The trio of improvisors was originally conceived as Georg Graewe and Ernst Reijseger and myself, but its only peformance was with musical colleagues who were also in the faculty of Cal Arts, pianist David Rosenboom and harpist Anne LeBaron.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Butch Morris told us in an interview published on no. 1 of Oro Molido that "most people with whom I had worked on the conductions weren't improvisers". In fact, most of his conductions develop with musicians belonging to fields such as traditional music, flamenco, contemporary music. Is this your case when you perform your conductions?
Gerry Hemingway - as I said this work is not a conduction, and in my own work I rarely employ this approach.
Rogelio Periera Conde - I would like you to tell us about your experiences in workshops. Do you think it crucial to rehearse a piece prior to its public performance? Do you agree with the view that rehearsing is a sort of preparation in which one learns to incorporate the rules (of the game) during its performance, and one investigates the possibilities open by these rules?
Gerry Hemingway - Workshops and rehearsals are two different things to me. A workshop implies working with various skilled musicians on process oriented materials. A rehearsal implies preparing for a performance, which of course I do quite often. My own music for say my quintet or quartet, requires alot of preparation and time rehearsing. Quite often the musicians really need time to fully master the notated materials and have a feeling for the possibilities of how their own improvisational contributions will work.
Rogelio Periera Conde - What is your opinion about the improvised music being performed in Europe at this moment?
Gerry Hemingway - wonderful, as always. There are great players all over the world, so I am not so US or Euro centric on where the most important music being made is happening, I am just grateful that there are so many interesting players committed to working in music in this way.
Rogelio Periera Conde - Can you tell us about your forthcoming or future cd releases?
Gerry Hemingway - best to visit my website http://www.gerryhemingway.com to keep up on whats happening. The next big event is the release on Clean Feed of "Less is More" by the WHO trio (w/Michel Wintsch and Baenz Oester). I feel this CD is a real masterpiece, and a real zenith in the evolution of this great trio. We have plans to do much more performing in the next years so keep your eyes and ears out for this group. This recording has a wonderful sense of space in it. And there will be much more, I have been on a campaign this year to get much more documented and released and there are numerous projects emerging recently and soon to be completed. I thank all the listeners out there for your ongoing support and interest in the music.
Rogelio Periera Conde - What differences do you find between your way of playing music live (before an audience), and real time (played live in a recording studio?)
Gerry Hemingway - Live performance requires a sustained concentration and less conscious self-evaluation which differs from studio recording which features an often more intense level of physical and mental concentration done in often shorter bursts with a higher degree of real time critical analysis. Hence, in the latter, the need for additional takes. What I have stated is the cliché of this comparison. I have experienced what I described but I have I have had contrary experiences as well. Neither experience is, in my opinion, more valid than the other. Some musical situations are perhaps better suited to live than studio, but often these choices have more to do with practical considerations than musical ones. Live recordings are cheaper to make (most of the time) but riskier as there is not always the opportunity to improve the execution of a composition with an additional take.
Rogelio Periera Conde - In the live concerts, collaborating with other improvising musicians that you achieve your maximum level of exploration in the moment of creation?
Gerry Hemingway - yes and no, as regards the specific issue of exploration. In the recording Flex 27 of the GRH (Graewe/Reijseger/Hemingway) trio we first present on the recording a series of short works that were recorded without an audience (as a studio recording). Quite a few of these pieces were done like takes, refining and chrystalizing what came up in an initial spontaneous interaction. Sometimes even discussing a detail or two we wanted to keep or change. In this sense we explored more deeply than we could have live.
Rogelio Periera Conde - What did your interest in musique electroacoustic begin?
Gerry Hemingway - probably when I was introduced to electronic music by my older brother, Jim when I was around 10 years old. I used to play with Wollensack and tape recorders and other more cheesy audio tape decks when I was a kid. I was fascinated by the transformative effect of these machines. Later when I was deep in the psychedelic world, I was influenced by the experimentation of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, experimenting with tape loops on several machines at once. It went on from there, I have incorporated electronics in my music for some time. Though I never performed on analog synthesizers I sought out people who were developing these instruments as live performance instruments (Hal Freedman, Bob Ostertag and eventually Thomas Lehn).
Rogelio Periera Conde - Regarding acoustic sounds, most of your performances feature the interaction between various instruments. Thus, the amplification plays the main role in the distribution of the sounds through the speakers. How do you conceive all this with respect to time and space?
Gerry Hemingway - actually I more often perform completely acoustically unless the room demands some kind of additional projection. I strive to have physical proximity with whomever I play with. The closer one is physically tends to produce the most vibrant listening and interaction. When I use electronics I put the speakers in close proximity to my acoustic instrument to help blend the two pathways of sound, often blurring the sources so the mix is integrated.