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Volume 8 Issue 9 - June 2003

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(905)450-4334 Burlington 3180 Mainway Dr. (905)319-3330 Where the Music Begins. ,, om poser l. Jtlsodwo INTERVIEW WITH. JOHN OSWALD MAY2003 by Paul Steenhuisen Stan Brakhage got me going on that though- not Salvador Dali. ~TEENHUISEN: HowcJidyouget into free improvisation, and what do you like about it? OSWALD: I think improvising comes naturally out of an interest in c:ommunication between people, particularly conversation. What's intriguing about the dance and music improvisation I do is that it's more polyphonic than your average verbal conversation, which is usually taking turns-call and response. If you real- ly start contemplating the ideas that are both part of and behind most con- versations, it can seem much more polyphonic than it is in actuality. In both the improvised dance and music that I do they don't have an initial score to incite or control some sort of activity. Usually, it requires more It may seem obvious that music by a composer whose primary work is with recorded media will be found on CD. In the case of John Oswald however, actually obtaining that CD can sometimes be another story riddl~ with dull corporate legal ~- glings and artless proprietary issues. When his own label Fony wasn't able to ob~ all the necessary copyright pemnss1ons to release the 2-CD retrospective box set 69 plunderphonics %, it was "hijacked" by the Ameri- ~one i:ierson to be simultaneously can label Seeland, and can be found mvolved m making noise or movein what he calls "braver" record ment; _or by my analogy, making consu;ii::s- By press date, Empreintes versatJ.on. That complex kind of in- D1g1tales will have just released the terac~on and simultaneous activity is ~D of his one note piece Aparanthe- the thing that really fascinates me. s1, and shortly the sound art publisher - STEENHUISEN: lWult sort of Avatar will release their first DVD thought process is going on when entitled Moving Stills (Census Q), ' you 're playing? Oswald's almost entirely visual composition. Rather than simply review OSWALD: I think in the best of his recent discs, I found it most inter- times, thought processes that are by esting to listen to them, and then talk and large if not exclusively based on directly with him. language are shut down to a large ex- S te~t. There are visceral responses TEENHUISEN: To a large de- ~mg other sensory intake, and other gree your work implements technolo- mternal resporise mechanisms. gy, and therefore electridty. Salvador Dali once said that if you put him STEENHUISEN: ls it a type of in a jail cell in th.e dark, h.e 'd create deep listening and immediate reby closing his eyes and making col- SfJ!lnse, without obfascation? Being by · "mth.e~nment".? ours pressznghisfingerontohis ""-' 'eyeball. Without electridty, how wouklyou create? OSWALD: I have this interesting conundrum in that everything I'm doing professionally these days gets routed through computers - to create .sound, visual, and audio media, and to create scores for other musicians to p~ay. I balance this in my life by havmg what would nonnally be called "hobbies", doing improvised music in which I play an acoustic instrument, the saxophone, and a similar activity in dance called Contact improvisation. I've been doing these two things for well over a quarter of a century now. If all the computers broke down, I'd probably spend some more time playing the saxophone, and some more time dancing. But I think I'd find great appeal - as I do sometimes - in pressing my fingers on my eyeballs when they're closed. OSWALD: A moment for me is approximately a thirtieth of a second. Conveniently, it's also what they use as a frame rate in video. When you ~e things faster than that, dependmg on whether it's coming in your eyes or ears, things blend together in fii?nY ways. When you're dealing with articulation_ in music, it can break down to a hundredth of a second. So, let's say that a moment is between a thirtieth of a second and a hundredth of a second. Anything beyond that has to do with prediction and retrospection, things that are definitely involved in improvising too. I have a poo~ memory, so I perhaps toil more m moments than I would choose to if I had a different set of intellectual equipment. STEENHUISEN: In what context do you play your free improvisations? 18 www.thewholenote.com June 1 - Jufy 7 2003

Oswald by Oswald OSWALD: I play with the CCMC on a weekly basis in Toronto. Michael Snow is the remaining member from the founding of this group back in the early seventies. The most recent thing I've played was last weekend in John Zorn's ognize those dynamics and tend to encourage those things, the complex give and take of various elements. It's a bit like responding to your dreams. The same way a dream you've had the night before can flavour your whole day, even if you can't put your finger on the details of it. Keeping my foot in this improvised activity, ongoing, flavours everything else I do. It also gives me the opportunity just to play, which I find an invaluable part of composing. STEENHUISEN: Man Ray said, "To creaie is divine, and to reproduce is humi:Jn. "VWzere are you situated in that, artisticnlly? OSWALD: (iaughing) Eye Magazine said I was "a gaj-Jike being". What comes to mind from the Man game piece Cobra. That was a bit of Ray quote is that one of my prevalent an unusual case for me, accepting activities, the whole category of something other than a free playing 'plunderphonic' endeavours, comes situation. There are generally all ofout of reproduction~ it's completesorts of rules amongst improvisers, ly dependent upon recorded music. but they never seem to be agreed The image activity I'm also doing upon by the participants, either before · now, which entirely involves photoor after the event. The CCMC will graphing people, again is a reproducsometimes sit around before playing ing activity. The photographs are takand say, "We should.do this.' We en under fairly strict parameters and should do that." Inevitably, we never most of the creative activity happens do those things. I think it's Mike in after the photographs are taken, in particular who tends to make these post production. In a way it seems suggestions, but his personality being like it's parallel to the 'plunderphonic' what it is, he likes to set up rules in activity, where I'm taking familiar order to break them. So, quite likely, music. Now I'm taking familiar imifhe suggests something, it's the op- ages of people I know, and working posite of what's going to happen. with those. Hopefully, I can been STEENHUISEN: IDlat 's the refaseen as being human, as oppo~ to, let's say, inhuman, in this activity. I tion between your improvisations and your other composition worlc? don't have to make any claims for divinity. STEENHUISEN: IDiat's yourdefi- nition of 'plunderplwnics'? OSWALD: The sense of dynamics. ·I mean both temporal and spectra1 dynamics in improvisatory performance and the sense of the dynamics of momentum in improvisatory dance. Contact has a lot to do with people leaning on each other and wrestling, and I've to some extent intemalized that dynamic which influences the more sedentary activity of composing. When I'm working on music, it's jwdly ever in real time, it's usually the equivalent of drawing or painting. I spend a long time making something that can then be apparent in a short time. I don;t, as a rule, use any of the kinds of gestures that I use in real time improvised music in creating a composed piece of music. ldo, however, recognize those dynamics again in listening to them, which is an imi:}ortant part of my composing: the direct empirical reflection of what I'm doing. So, I rec- OSWALD: I should find the one I just wrote (shuffles through pa- pers) ... "'Plunderphonies' is a term I've coined to cover the counter-

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