BARRY GUY Double bass
MATS GUSTAFSSON Tenor & baritone saxophones, flute, fluteophone, french flageolet
The following interview took place in the studios of WNUR-FM, Evanston/Chicago,
on June 18, 1997. Barry Guy and Mats Gustafsson performed live on the
air on WNUR's jazz show, collaborating with percussionist Michael Zerang
and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and they then joined John Corbett for a
roundtable discussion of their work.
Barry Guy: I guess it goes back to '92,
"Solo '92". This was something that Mats and various other people
set up in Sweden, they organized this very, very interesting festival
where everybody had a half hour slot to do whatever they wanted. And as
well as playing their solo, they could bring other musicians in. It was
a marvelous experiment because there was this cross-referencing of musics
and meeting of a lot of people. We played, and the fireworks happened
within about one microsecond of meeting each other. It was the whole spatial
thing about the music, about where the music happens, how it happens,
the parameters were all in place. So it was an amazing, electrically charged
music right from the start. Since then, we've made every opportunity to
play together, whatever
JC: There are a lot of those parameters that you share, and some that you complement each other with, ones that are different. Mats, in interviews you've talked about energy and flow, and one thing that's clear in this relationship is the sense of shared interest in moving energies around and making things flow from one to another.
Mats Gustafsson: Yeah, I'm thinking of the word "phrase", like phrasing the energy. It's a lot about phrasing in time, sudden phrases, energy blasts. Energy and flow are important parameters for both of us, I think.
MG: Articulation, yes!
BG: It's how the music happens in the space. You're aware of various levels of energy. There's the possibility that you're hearing the slow thing, but you might not be playing it. So in fact you can step down to all sorts of levels to the slow, to the fast, to the ultrafast, to the ultrasoft, to the ultraloud. The thing is actually getting yourself on line to almost pre-hear it. This is the thing that my partner Maya Homburger and I sometimes talk about, the idea of osteophonic hearing, hearing through the bones. Your ears are in some ways your least efficient receptors, because they're stuck on the side of your face, on top of your head. But you have sound all around you, you have musicians all around, and your bones have cavities. So it's quite possibile that you're receiving lots of information long before it's actually gone through the little canals in there and into the brain. People always ask: How do you do that so quickly, how do you end up suddenly with the same note, or why do you end with a click? There's so many things going on in your head, the whole thing is making a conclusive direction. It's being aware of what's happening in the space and what's happening between you. This is why for me it's the most important music, because of the communication. It's a socialist music, if you like, because you are trusting each other, putting yourself out in the open completely, saying this is where the language is, this is how we exchange with each other. As long as you don't build barriers, this music is a prime example of how it can go. Perhaps all politicians should play free music.
JC: Seems unlikely at this point ... we have a saxophone playing president, but I'm not sure I'd want to hear him playing free music. The idea of "feeling it in your bones", it's a very interesting notion. The palpability of the music, the sense that, even as a listener, not participating except in the act of hearing the music, one is aware of a certain physicality. It's a very physical music for both of you, you move around a lot as performers, which is a challenge for you, Barry, since you've got this big slab of wood in front of you.
BG: People have asked: Why don't you stand still and play the damned thing? Well, I did that for many years in a symphony orchestra. But I've picked up a lot from working with dancers. The way energy is passed between bodies. I worked with Bob Cohan, who was previously with Martha Graham, so I was very familiar with Martha Graham technique. To see the way these dancers negotiated and articulated lifts and all the various movements, you could actually see them preparing energy, to make the lift seamless without falling over on each other. As I was playing on stage with them, I tried to understand what they were doing. I can't say the whole of my technique is based on dance, but there is an aspect of concentrating the energy to where you need it at the precise moment. It's allowing yourself to be prepared at all times to go between the big push and the ballet shoes up in the air. You're re-weighting your body to bring some of the sounds out. When Mats is playing the baritone, that's a big instrument as well, and actually to get those sounds to come out of the instrument, there's all this mechanism around the mouth and tongue and airflows, and it's obvious that some of those sounds wouldn't come out without the way you negotiate it physically. If you were standing there like a statue, it wouldn't work.
MG: Moving really helps. Free improvised music and quick things, it's very integrated for me. My movement is a really important part of the music it's music, as well. It's kind of interesting, 'cause I've also had this history of working with dancers since years back. And of course you get very inspired and pick up things.
BG: The bass is, as you say, a big instrument, but I try to make it as invisible as possible. It's a glorious slab of wood, a resonating box, and there's a lot to get out of it. If I can do my Zen thing and think of it as a grain of sand with very, very hard edges, you can actually feel the instrument, but in a minute form, so you're not thinking my god, there's this great lump of wood in front of me. If you can make that evaporate, it's a cliché, but it's the voice then. You're just using methods by which you can communicate.
JC: The word I think of when I think of this combination of motion and articulation is "gesture". It seems that, if you're thinking about some bowing technique or some blowing technique that requires you to move a certain way, the carry through, which you might not hear as a sound, but you heard it when it was being articulated as the sound, and it only sounded that way because the gesture would finish the way that it does, later. The beginnings and ends of gestures, which you might not hear, are important parts of the music. Like dampening certain strings in the piano, playing a run past them without sounding them, one gets a different attack than if one simply left that note out.
BG: That's a flow, there's an energy that's constant. You're perceiving something in between those notes, a different rhythmic feeling. It's a whole different relationship with the body.
JC: You're both soloists, as well, so that part of it applies to solo techniques, but it also applies to how you move energies between a player and another player in a space. That throws up a much more complex set of relationships and possibilities.
The day after this interview, Gustafsson and Guy extensively explored those relationships and possibilities, exchanging energies in an afternoon of recordings at AirWave Studios in Chicago. Listening back later, the duo felt a strong connection between the recordings they made that day and their trio disc with percussionist Raymond Strid, You Forget To Answer (Maya 9601), and therefore chose the title Frogging (as well as the Latinate frog-name track titles) in slippery reference to the frog-catching metaphor used in the trio record's liner notes.