Yves Citton Interview (1998)
The following is my reaction to a list of questions Yves Citton gave me following my performance in Pittsburg this past April (98). He teaches there at the university and has given the list to a variety of musicians. I found the list brought out some interesting issues so I have included it in it's entirety for you to peruse.
HISTORY AND TRADITIONS
I.1. When you are asked what kind of music you play, what is your answer? Is their a name you are happy with to label the type of music you create?
GH: It depends on who's asking, but most often I start out by saying that I am involved with jazz & improvised music. Then I tend to qualify that by talking about the large scope of my projects as a composer and performer. Jazz of course means one thing to one person and quite something else to the next, so often I ask what they call jazz. But if I had to pick a conventional category that was open enough to embrace the diversity of feelings and ideas I embrace I would say Jazz remains closest. Musique Actuelle, adoted by the Victoriaville festival is far more accurate, but not yet adopted by enough people to be considered a label.
I.2. Do you identify at all with the category of jazz? Do you see your work as rooted in the "jazz tradition"?
GH: I identify mostly with the category of jazz because I view it as a music that is inclusive of many points of view, parallel traditions and influences. That might not be the way Wynton Marsalis sees it, but culture will survive without his undue dominance in this regard. I suppose my music is rooted in the jazz tradition as long as you accept that, r&b and r&r are a part of that tradition.
I.3. Is it important for you to be rooted within one (or a mix of) specific tradition(s) : jazz, African music, Western music, serial composition, minimalism, etc.? Within which of these traditions do you believe your work should be understood?
GH:You can tease this issue many ways, as in one sense each of the "traditions" you mention have relevance to my musical pursuits and inspiration. One can certainly come from Western Classical music and find lots of kinship, same with African Music. I just hope wherever one is coming from that my music will be possible to enjoy.
I.4. If you had to name a half-dozen contemporary musicians with whom you feel a musical kinship, whom would you name?
GH: I am not sure what you mean by contemporary but i'll go with dead and alive: Duke Ellington, Mark Helias, John Coltrane, Anthony Davis, Habib Faye, Thelonious Monk, The Artist formerly known as Prince ( i know its a baker's half dozen)
I.5. If these musicians were to be grouped into a school or a movement, how would you define what they have in common?
GH:Each has managed to produce a music that I never tire of listening to, one from which I can come away inspired and motivated by. These are masters of detail, content and structure who have an innate sense of beauty in their work. Of course I could name many more.
I.6. And how would define the specificity of their contribution to the long term evolution of musical forms? In other words : if you look at our historical moment in the perspective of the past centuries, what do you think is unique (or simply important) in the musical movement(s) to which you belong?
GH: i think what is important is an uncontrived, honest music that speaks to our heart and our minds.
I.7. In reference to architecture, visual arts and ideological trends, our period has been characterized as "postmodern". Do you identify with this label? If so, what was, in your view, "modern" music, and what makes your music "post-modern"?
GH:I define post modern as the playful regurgitation of our ever present cultural milieu. I also think that any sense of what "modern" is or could be is obscured by a dominance of the post modern point of view. So perhaps modernism is a moot topic, but freshness and the willingness to explore new vocabulary and content is still alive and well, and I do relate to those who are making strides in that direction.
I.8. If not, do you see yourself as closer to the tradition of "modernist" art (Cubism, Webern, Joyce, etc.)?
GH: As I have just said, I don't feel we must restrain our defintion of modernism to earliar twentieth century icons.
PLAYING AND COMPOSING
II.1. Do you see yourself more as a composer or as a player? Do you feel these are two separate aspects of your work, or one inseparable whole?
GH:One inseperable whole for the most part. I am only just now creating a program of chamber music that will involve very little of my playing. Most everything to date has involved my performance on percussion.
II.2. Do you feel equally/less/more inventive and creative when you play a piece composed by someone else (a standard for example) than when you play your own compositions?
GH: I think there is always something to learn from other composers. By being a perfomer of their work I have a chance to reflect on their methods and ideas and to be involved in the process that encourages the merging of a performers unique gifts with that of a composer's musical vision. My feeling about any difference in terms of performing someone else's work as opposed to my own, is difficult to generalize, being fairly dependent on the given piece, the circumstance and the other performers.
II.3. Does it have any value to you that your listener be able to "whistle" parts of your pieces after s/he has heard it several times?
GH: ain't nothing like a good melody.
II.4. How do you negotiate the dialectics of improvisation (if the freedom to break boundaries is restricted, part of the genuine energy/creativity may be lost; if no boundaries are set, no specific form is created)?
GH: Since when is improvisation's genuineness affected by groundbreaking? I think sometimes the effort to seek newness becomes an impossible domain, mostly created by hyperbolists. Many feel that its all been done, its a matter of how you put it together. Really I think if there is any dialectic in improvisation it is how do you guide yourself and others in a way that makes the music happen for the majority of those willing to take part in the listening. This is mostly a subtle thing, one that often brews out of maturity, mutual inspirations and good sense of timing. Form is often lost when one of those elements aren't there. Of course its more than that, I've encompassed alot of qualties in the word maturity.
II.5. How self-conscious are you of the forms you use?
GH: Sometimes I am very deliberate, sometimes I'm recklessly intuitive and sometimes I am pruposefully devious in my attention to form.
(5)b Which role does a self-conscious reflection about forms play in your creation?
GH: just one of many
(5c) How often is your work triggered by elaborating concepts rather than sounds?
GH:If I read this right, I take it form or structure preceeds content. I do that sometimes. I sometimes verbalize in text my vision of the ideas I wish to develop. I think its valid as long as you can come up with the meat to flavor the stew.
III.1 Do you believe that the music you are playing can be heard/analyzed within the traditional parameters of melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.? Or does one need to develop a new set of parameters to appreciate it (I am thinking of less codified notions like tension, distortion, series, flux, field, sampling, parody, etc., i.e., aspects that aren't usually rendered by the usual system of musical notation)?
GH: Both methods of analysis are valid in my viewpoint and can overlap in their efforts to assess what in a work is of interest or hopefully inspiring to a listener. Increasing one's frame of reference is key to an appreciation of art in general. Even if one lacks a more scientific understanding of a given music, comparative content in other artforms, nature and life are sometimes even more illuminating as to the appreciation of a composers intent.
III.2. A long debate has developed over the past century to decide whether music was a "mimetic" art: do you feel your music "re-presents" something else than sounds (feelings, visions, ideas, states of things)?
GH: I appreciate and respect the domain of subjectivity. Many listeners come up to me after a performance with tales of their adventure via the music (each of them different). Isn't it wonderful! Do I sometimes intend a a particular feeling or story? Yes I do, but that does not invalidate a completely different experience for the listener. My intentions are only a means to an end of getting a sound that I hear, not a recipe for understanding the outcome. I think any debate about mimeticism must be looked at from this perspective
III2b If yes, what does it represent? If no, what is the role of the titles you choose to name your compositions? Don't they indicate some sort of "reference" from the music to something that is exterior to it?
GH: Titles are poetry, they might hint at an intention, they might suggest a clue to a composer's inspiration and sometimes I've observed them used as a guide to a listener's associations. For me it changes, titles pop up out of nowhere and demand to be attached to a piece. Sometimes a title is a effortful search for a glove that fits. In the case of "The Marmalade King" the titles were likened to the first line of a chapter that the music completed.
III.3. Another classical theory of music has portrayed it as a way to depict "a harmonious world", an ideal universe of perfect and pleasing proportions. In your musical creations, are you trying to produce an ideal beauty? Or are you rather trying to express struggles and imperfect states? In other words: do you intend to please your listener's ear, or to surprise it, or to challenge it?
GH: both, of course one man's silver is another man's gold. What I think is "beautiful" could be incoherent noise to another. But if I had to take a side on this discussion I would say that I tend toward what I feel is beautiful, a word I am not afraid to use. Since I am in the business of sound organization it is my intention to sculpt with great care something that I hope will be "listened" to in the years to come and not eventually filed under intellectual pablum.
III.4. I tend to believe that an essential aspect of 20th century art consists in opening the listener's/viewer's/reader's mind, in leading him/her to question his/her perceptive and evaluative habits. Do you see this "habit-breaking" function as essential, marginal, coincidental or irrelevant to your creative work?
GH: It is certainly relevant in the creative process. I regularly question my own process as it follows naturally that I wish that my music keep alert and aligned with my own interest in exploring real change in life. By that I mean that I have observed that music has given me a model which through years of work I have been able to keep vital and flexible. More lately I have been trying to bring this kind of discipline and creativity into my relationships with people, most notably my wife and son. I find this endlessly challenging.
IV.1. Would you say that your music is aimed mostly at making the listener "enjoy sounds", or would you say it aims (also) at making him/her "think"?
GH: I am interested and hopeful for engagement of the listener. I hope that there can be different ways in which that can happen each holding equal validity. Pure enjoyment wiith the sheer novelty of some of the sound material, or the swing of the melody or the energy of an interaction is a lovely thing. As well art that makes us consider our relationship to the world and to our life on this planet is also a gift.
IV.2. Do you hope that, after listening to your music, your listener will become a "better person"?
GH: I certainly intend a positive spirit, hopefully that finds a healthy niche in someone's being.
IV.3. If yes, in which way can you achieve this goal of transforming your listener (for the better)? In other words, how can (a certain type of) music help us develop a different perception of the world and of ourselves?
GH: Simply by being an example of spontaniety, which we all can lose touch touch with as we age and become socialized by a culture way out of touch the essence of humanity. Anyone who has had a child will know what I mean by that. Life should have a healthy balance of joy and sadness, music can bring us to a state where those feelings are awakened.
IV.4. Do you conceive of your musical output as articulated with a political agenda (in the broadest sense of the word "political", i.e., attempting to influence the manner in which the individuals interact within a given society)? If yes, can you briefly summarize the main features of this agenda?
GH: I don't have an agenda other than honesty. I hope what emerges out of the ruminations in my subconscious have some lasting value.
IV.5. What would you answer to the critics who might say that your music is "elitist" (because it is not consumed by "the masses")?
GH: Find me a distributor.
IV.6. How do you explain the fact that your audience is usually restricted to fairly limited circles (compared to those who listen to Kenny G or the Rolling Stones)? Do you see it as a constant phenomenon in the history of art? a failure of our educational system? the result of a conspiracy?
GH: Find me a distributor.
IV.7 What do you think musicians like you can do to enlarge the circle of their audience?
GH: Find me a distributor. Okay, Okay I'm being flippant. I actually am really working on a plan to move on up the food chain to a larger company, such as Blue Note, Atlantic, etc. I think there is a hunger for the kind of music my quartet can produce and so I am attempting to enlist the machinery as it stands to go for our brand of music making. Wish me luck.
V.1. Do you feel this market-driven society allows creators like yourself to develop their art? Do you believe that a consumerist mass-media society like ours can leave any viable place for original creativity?
GH: It's a tough row to hoe, with a lot of my creative energy going into the business of sustaining options to make things happen.
V.2. How would you compare the economics of creative music-making in the USA with the situation in Europe?
GH: Where in Europe there has been a more consistent availability of subsidy for the artist there is nothing left but ingenuity in the US of A. We tend to be the dog that wags the European tail, and now I see foreigner taxes are undoing the once unshakable civic support for culture in Europe.
V.3. There was a recent debate in Cadence Magazine about the role the States should (or should not) play in funding the Arts. What is your position on this issue? What would you say of taxes (for instance a 1% levied on any form of advertisement) designed to finance artistic endeavors like yours?
GH: I do believe that a governing order has a duty to help maintain a vital base of diverse art in our society. Things are so bad now that it is damn near impossible to maintain an art teacher at a public school and we are talking in my case, a fairly well locally funded one. Forget a music teacher. Talk about making the arts elitist, when the only way to offer a stimulating education to your child is to go to private schooling. Our children are left only with TV for any exposure to life outside their own.
V.4. If you had to propose one economico-political reform to create a better environment for the arts, what would it be?
GH: Revive the Title 7-10 programs, reinstitute the NEA, broaden it's artistic representatives and its support to individual artists, institute more community based cable programs on local arts activities for openers. Be sure that every public school involved it's local artists in their programs for all levels of public education. Make sure that the arts are ever present in the discussion of education and seek ways to integrate ideas that might be generated by artists and scientists (also a weak area in public education) into the discussion of general curriculum. More life time acheievement awards and/or living masters.
YC: Thank you so much for the time you took to answer this questionnaire.