Interviewed February 1999 (via e-mail) by Rob Young.
RY: You tend to describe the period in the 70s and 80s as a time of productive confusion - of styles, genres, and musical direction for a large number of composers/improvisors/rock and jazz and classical musicians. In your more recent commentaries on the state of music and your own position within it, you state that it's important to move on from this zone of slippage and move into something with more fixed boundaries. Why is it important, now, to resolve that earlier confusion?
RC: I think the piece you are referring to was something I wrote in 1990 called "A Musical Agenda For The 90s: Composer's Notebook". It was indeed a time of productive confusion for a large number of composers and musicans coming out of many musical contexts whose musical concerns, for a unique set of historical reasons, had reached a point of intersection. We could even play in each other's venues without raising any eyebrows whatsoever, it was wonderful. By 1990, this had become the norm in NY and I was beginning to be fed up with the lack of definition. I would walk into a space like the Kitchen and it would sometimes feel more like a variety show (a bit of improvised music, a bit of rap, a bit of rock- derived music, etc). I felt at the time that perhaps we could begin to redefine things again. It's ten years later now. I no longer feel this way. The music scene that I was part of in NY has largely disappeared, although happily the musicians themselves certainly haven't! And I think the musical boundaries that I was speaking of have redefined themselves quite nicely.
I also find that many of the most talented young composers and emerging musicians are tending to work in the fields of drum 'n' bass and Techstep. At least that's where most of the interesting new music I hear these days seems to be coming from. For the most part. These areas of music are very tightly defined. While it's possible to bend the definition of what drum 'n' bass or Techstep step is, if one takes it too far, its no longer within the style. Plenty of room for transgression there, eh? I mean, the minute one puts, for example, an electric trumpet, over a drum 'n' bass line, it ceases to be drum 'n' bass! Why is that? I've been interested in exploring this question. It turns into something completely different, I'm always amazed at how this is so.
We're at the end of the 90s; it's the turn of the century: I believe it's a good time for mixing everything we've learned in this century up as much as possible, so I remain completely in favour of positive musical confusion and am a firm advocate of musical cross-dressing.
RY: Reading through the material and essays on your Website, I wondered if you have always felt like an observer of contemporary (music) culture in parallel with your life as a composer, or whether this has come to the fore later on? Can it hamper your individual creativity to be constantly assessing one's place within the shifting land masses of late 20C music?
RC: I founded the music program at the Kitchen Center in New York in 1971 and was its music director throughout most of the 70s, making a living primarily as a concert producer. This enabled me to hear a lot of music and situated me ideally as an observer. I was more than an observer, though. I was a fan! I loved what I was hearing. I made my own music, as well, and eventually I found that producing other people's music interfered with my work as a touring musician and composer, so I had to stop. The last thing I produced was the New Music, New York Festival, which was the prototype the New Music America Festival was based on. After this point, I focused my concert producing skills on producing my own work.
On the other hand, just because I stopped producing concerts didn't mean that I lost interest in the work going on around me. I've never felt that I operated in a vacuum, I've always felt part of a group or a movement of some kind. So the work of my colleagues has always been important to me in that we're all working to advance the definition of what music can be in some way, each in our own fashion. The group that I was a part of in NY during the 80s consisted of Peter Gordon, Scott Johnson, Elliott Sharp, Arto Lindsay, Glenn Branca and John Zorn. We were coming from vastly different contexts, yet at one point we found ourselves playing in the same venues and that our interests somehow coincided. I've always found this kind of thing fascinating, attempting to define how our respective work was similar and how it was different.
There are times when it is important to completely let go of theoretical concerns and just make music, to let the unconscious mind, the "artist", as it were, take over. This is of course essential. But I think after one has created a body of work it's important to take a step back and have a look at it, to try to figure out what one has done. The French visual artist Daniel Buren wrote an interesting essay called "Three Texts". He talks about how words support the art and art supports the words. He said that while it's true that one can never completely succeed in describing art with words, it's somehow wildly important to try! I agree with him. So I keep an eye on what's going on around me and attempt to define myself in relation to what I see. It keeps me on my toes.
RY: The Downtown NYC scene which you describe from the 70s and 80s sounds like a fascinating place of fusion in many areas. Can you account for why (if at all) it has to some extent burnt out, and what took you to France? Does Paris offer anything like the same climate?
RC: I moved to France in 1988. I didn't move because I was unhappy with the music scene in NY. My guitar stuff was peaking at the time and I loved the scene there. The problem was that I was born and raised in Manhattan and I had simply lived there for too long. I'd be walking down First Avenue in the East Village and scenes would flash back to me from when I was 14 years old, I found it depressing and decided I needed a change. It wasn't the music scene I wanted to get away from, it was the actual scenery! I needed a change. I had married a French choreographer who wanted to move back to Paris, I thought that sounded like fun, so that's what we did. Boy, was it ever an adventure! I didn't even speak any French when I moved over here. Whew!
Almost as soon as I moved to France, I found that I missed my musical friends in NY. I couldn't consider moving back because of my scenery problem, but I'd play there quite often, it took people almost five years to even realise I had moved! I would make sure that I played there once or twice a year. It's still a great town, I didn't think the scene had burned out until there until only two years ago, although my friends who live there had been telling me horror stories for a bit longer than that.
I was shocked when I went back in 1996, things had really taken a turn for the worse. The coverage of interesting music of most kinds by the NY Times and Village Voice, which used to be quite good, had dropped significantly and the budget crunch for the arts was causing the funded places to fold up. That was the bad news. The good news was that the beginning of the 90s saw a musical revolution in Europe in the field of electronica. I would tune in to my local radio stations in Paris (Radio FG and Radio Nova) and hear amazing instrumental electronic music (ie no vocals, just amazing music!) from Aphex Twin, Neotropic, Atari Teenage Riot, Hedfunk and later from people like Mixmaster Morris, DJ Loik, DJ Vadim, Squarepusher and Photek. I was so used to NY being the leader in whatever new field of music happened to be interesting at any given moment in time, I was shocked to go back there in 1996 and find that the electronic scene was relatively tiny, with only a few people like DJ Olive & Spooky and the crew from SoundLab doing interesting stuff. It was the first time, since the Darmstadt school had its heydays in the 1950s really, where I felt that Europe was the true pioneer and leader in a field of music that I was vitally concerned with and actively a part of, and I realised that I was in the right place, no question. So yes, I think I'll stay in Europe, thank you. I still miss many of my friends in NY, though.
RY: How did you come to tune La Monte Young's piano? What did you learn from him? What was it that drew so many of you around his circle and that of Pandit Pran Nath in the early 70s? Do you think people managed to construct something solid from what was learnt?
RC: In 1971, I wanted to produce a concert of La Monte at the Kitchen, so I went over to his house to discuss this with him and he played me an early version of his piece, The Well Tuned Piano. I had worked my way through my student years by tuning pianos and harpsichords. I loved La Monte's piece but made a comment that, as a professional piano tuner, I thought his piano was a bit out of tune and that maybe I should tune it for him! La Monte thought this was very funny because he knew that I was trying to scam him for a way to study with him without paying. He was very generous and let me tune his piano in exchange for lessons.
I came to work with La Monte & Marian Zazeela from, I think, around 1971-73. During this period I sang in his group, the Theater of Eternal Music. Jon Hassell was on trumpet and Garrett List on trombone during this period. Terry Riley would drop in to sing when he was in town.
La Monte taught me how to tune in just intonation as well as his special way of tuning very small intervals, like 63/64 or the comma of Pythagoras, 83/84. Also higher intervals like 126/127. We would refer to these intervals as "keys" and I would tune a series of pitches in the "key" of 83 and another set of pitches in the key of 84. The difference in sound was almost felt rather than heard. All this influenced my work with electric guitar of course.
I should mention that before I ever played with La Monte, that I was doing concerts of long duration with Tony Conrad and Charlemagne Palestine. We had formed a trio at one point in the early 70s. One concert we did lasted ten hours. Charlemagne was singing in his Balinese style, Tony played violin and I played harmonium and transverse flute. It was heady stuff and it had a profound influence on my later work.
I don't say this to denigrate in any way the work I did with La Monte, I just want to make it perfectly clear that I love all of these guys, who were my role models. It was through my work with Charlemagne, Tony and La Monte that I broke out of the idea of a composer as a kind of dictator who tells musicians what to do and bosses them around. I mean, it's one way of composing, right? But it's certainly not the only way and I'd suspect of anyone who says it is as having fascist tendencies! Along with Terry Riley, it was Charlemagne, Tony and La Monte who turned me on to the idea of being a composer/performer in a real-time context, working with a group of musicians to arrive at ideas rather than sitting alone in a room at one's desk with pencil, eraser and manuscript paper.
I don't remember anymore exactly how I met Pandit Pran Nath, I think it was in 1970. I had read about him in the Village Voice and went to a concert at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Soho. It was Indian classical music in slow motion, I had never heard anything so beautiful in my life. He was offering classes at the time, which is how I came to study with him.
RY: You say the Ramones at CBGBs woke you up to the raw power of minimalist rock, and turned you onto the path that saw you play in groups like Arsenal for a while. Nowadays, of course, rock has its own traditions and techniques which are pretty much set in stone; were you aware of this at the time, or are those rules that have fossilised in the intervening decades? Is what you do with people like Martin Wheeler, Septile, Gary/Pat et al another type of process again, or do you see it as a continuation of the rock based work of the 70s and 80s?
RC: I agree that by the middle 70s the techniques of rock had become pretty much set in stone. It felt unapproachable, that one would have to study guitar for years before one could play in a rock band. Then Patti Smith came along. I knew Patti as a poet on the St Mark's poetry scene in the East Village before I ever knew of her as a rock musician. When she started playing at CBGBs, it was encouraging to a lot of us. We thought, if Patti can do it, maybe we can do it, too. I was living at the time on East 12th Street, it was in Alan Ginsberg's building. There were these strange guys I'd say hello to in the hallway all dressed in black and wearing shades. They turned out to be in Television! 1975 and 76 saw an opening up for people on the rock scene. Even non-musicians who were coming out of the poetry scene like Richard Hell and Patti Smith could play in rock bands making truly amazing music.
When I first heard The Ramones play, it was a revelation to me. I had never seen a rock band play live before (it was at CBGBs). I thought, "Hey, these guys are playing only three chords!" That might have been one or two more chords than I was using in my music at the time, but I could see the similarities and thought that maybe I had more in common with this music than I thought. So I borrowed a friend's Telecaster, learned how to play bar chords and solo a bit and joined a band. It was with Nina Canal, an art student from London, (who later formed Ut, released on the Blast First Label) and a bass player named Robert Appleton. We basically learned how to play our instruments together, played a couple of gigs, and then split up to join other groups.
After working pretty much as a rock musician in various groups for about a year, I felt I was ready to incorporate everything I was as a musician in a rock context, including my experience as a composer and a piano tuner. The result was Guitar Trio, which was composed in early 1977. It was for three electric guitars in special tunings, whose vocabulary consisted entirely of the overtones being generated by playing one chord on the guitar. It was an E minor 7. It was the first piece I made which I felt broke past my teachers and really reflected my individuality as a musician and composer.
My point is that a special set of circumstances had converged on the rock and art music scenes in NY which allowed musicians out of what then seemed like mutually exclusive contexts to mingle and merge in a way that hadn't really been possible before or since. People who were basically coming out of the rock scene like Robert Fripp were playing in places like the Kitchen, people coming out of a classical context where playing in rock clubs, jazz musicians like Oliver Lake and The Art Ensemble Of Chicago were playing in what before were considered bastions of classical music. There was a feeling back then of transgression and almost palpable danger present when these musicians crossed contexts. It ruffled feathers and was a cause of concern within the circles that were transgressed upon.
I don't see what I'm doing with the present set of musicians I am working with as a continuation of my interest in contextual issues. I'm not interested in contextual issues very much these days. I'm mainly interested in finding music that sounds fresh and that's fun to play trumpet with. That's all I care about, really.
RY: Is it possible to be a transgressive musician at this point in time? What are the lines still to be crossed? You say you have found a set of 'sound foundations' that work for you - can you define them, and would you say that everyone now has to define their own boundaries to cross or not?
RC: Yes, I think the boundaries have been redrawn since the time I wrote my essay in 1990 and that transgression, or at least a bending of definition is possible within genres, and certainly within the field of electronica. I must repeat, though, that the idea of "transgression" doesn't interest me so much today as it did in the late 70s. These days, I'm more interested in simply making music which expresses as fully as possible my wide range of interests.
In 1993, I decided to stop composing for guitar ensembles. I wanted to focus all my attention on electric trumpet and took up a collaboration with English composer Martin Wheeler.
My experience with Martin was the first time I collaborated with another composer, it worked out well. Also, for various astrological reasons, I felt it was time to open myself to other people's compositional ideas. Up to 1993, I had been spending weeks upon weeks in my studio by myself composing, I was getting tired of it. I wanted to breath some fresh air into my work by embracing the work of other musicians whose music I liked to play with.
By 1993, I was very pleased with the body of work I had made for various electric guitar ensembles, but I felt that I was starting to repeat myself, that my work was beginning to sound the same rather than continuing to grow. I'm mean, playing 14 years in a single musical style would seem like enough by any standard, wouldn't it? Also, there is a certain harmonic identity that my music from this period shares with the NY post-minimalists, it's a kind of dorian mode harmony with suspended 4th chords, one hears it a lot in Terry Riley and Philip Glass's early music. It's in a lot of my guitar music, too.
I never thought of this as a problem before because I am, after all, a New Yorker... and if I'm not a direct descendent of early minimalism, then no one is! But I'm at a point in my musical life where categories aren't so important to me as they were when I was in my twenties, I'm interested in so many different kinds of music. So I started working with other kinds of approaches by playing with musicians like Apache 61, DJ Loik, Jonathan Kane and DJ Elated System (of Septile), Gary Smith, or Pat Thomas, for example. I've put myself in a kind of compositional freefall by doing this. And now, as I'm coming out, I find my music is not the same at all as it used to be, which I think is a wonderful state of affairs!
RY: I'm interested in this duality of synthesis/amalgamation in sound versus hard drawn lines/sharp collage type aesthetics. Is this a distinct choice that has to be made by musicians/composers?
RC: It's a choice, of course. Amalgamation is harder to do well. You have to really know the music you're working with. And I don't mean just intellectually, I mean one has to be able to play it and to feel it in order for it to go through enough of a personal filter so that it morphs into something really new. I mean, it's one thing to superimpose styles or paste them together one after another in a collage. The result is a pastiche of ideas that can be interesting in that the contrast is ironic, or cynical, or surprising. But once the surprise has worn off, is it still interesting? I don't think so, not unless it has gone through what I call the composer's or musician's personal filter or voice. And if it has managed to do this then it isn't a collage anymore, it's an amalgamation or a true synthesis of ideas, stitched together so tightly that only the tiniest pair of critical scissors could pick the various ideas or components apart.
I consider the improvisations that I did with Pat and Gary to be amalgamous. Gary and I had many dinner table conversations about music and life before we ever played together. Pat, in addition to being an improvisor, has a deep love and understanding of drum 'n' bass, which is a love we both share. So when we walked into the studio and played together for the first time, it was a matter of the sum total of everyone's contributions being greater than what any one of us could produce by ourselves.
RY: You played your first trumpet gig on the day you bought your horn. Would that have sounded very different from the way you play now?
RC: I barely remember what I played on that first gig, I wish I had made a recording of it!
My history as a trumpet player has an evolution to it. I fell in love with the instrument in 1982 when I wrote a brass octet that came out on the Moers Music Label. Sinclair Acey, Ron Tooley and Olu Dara were on trumpet/cornet. I heard them play and decided to switch from guitar to trumpet. I had grown up playing wind instruments and found that I wanted to get back to playing something requiring respiration.
I found that the electric guitar was much too hard to play, it has all these frets, I could never figure out where to put my fingers. It was much too taxing on my poor brain, so I was really relieved to find that the trumpet only has three valves. You can get ten or 11 different pitches with the same fingering position, sometimes more, so it was a lot less to worry about. And there are only seven different possible fingering positions on trumpet. I had a friend who was playing in my guitar band who was getting his doctorate in baroque trumpet playing, I think this was in 83. He showed me how the classical guys played and I tried that for a while, but soon decided to abandon it. I wasn't interested in classical technique, I had already done that on other instruments. So I just practised blues scales in all 12 keys and at different tempos; I figured if practising like this was good enough for Charlie Parker, it was good enough for me!
After I moved to France, I hooked up with a trumpet player named Andrew Crocker, who has a great jazz group in Paris called Quartet Elan. Andrew turned me on to a technique taught by a French trumpetist of the old school, his name is Robert Picheureau, who died recently of old age. It's a way of playing trumpet that was used by a lot of players before the war, it turns out that Dizzy Gillespie was using the same technique. The technique is kind of about non-thinking, we just sort of feel the note and it comes out.
When I practise today, I play over standard era and bebop changes. So my technique on trumpet is coming entirely out of big band music and jazz. When I decided to come out of the closet as a trumpet player in 1993, I realised that I needed to work on what my individual "voice" was going to be on the instrument. What made the most sense at the time, since I was known primarily as an electric guitarist, was to arrive at a trumpet sound that would be as much as possible like a distorted electric guitar, so that's what I did.
RY: Can you expand on your statement about "compositions which tell a story to the listener, but somehow it is the listener's story"? Are the Hard Edge style pieces treated as works which give the listener space to move around? (As well as the trumpet)?
RC: I used that statement to describe Guitar Trio (1977) and Drastic Classicism (1982). Both of these pieces are incredibly rich in overtones and, depending on where you are sitting in the room, each listener literally hears something different. It's to do with the varying air pressure levels in the room one plays in. Also, there was a cultural aspect. What an art world audience might have heard as a radical new brand of minimalism, the rock audience we played for was hearing as pure unadulterated noise. Everyone heard the pieces in a different way. The Hard Edge group is much more specific about what it is saying. Remember, trumpet is a melodic instrument, not a harmonic one, the way guitar is, at least the way I played it back in the 70s. As soon as I articulate a melodic line on trumpet, the story gets much more specific.
RY: Are you still doing 'field work' in the area of electronica/drum 'n' bass as you did with Arsenal in the 70s? Is composing, for you, always field work, in fact? Do you ever feel cobwebbed by the rapidly updating/augmenting technology involved in creating electronic music?
RC: I don't feel I'm doing field work today, I simply feel that I'm playing with the music that I love. When I first worked with rock in 1976, I didn't have any experience playing popular music. I wanted to work as a composer using a rock instrumentation, but I didn't want to simply appropriate the instruments and do something shallow with them. So I had to do "field work" by actually learning to play the music and hanging out with the musicians and learning how they worked as well as adopting the lifestyle.
My relationship to electronica was very different. First of all, I'm not a classical composer/musician anymore since I've spent the majority of my working life as a musician playing in rock or jazz clubs. Contextual questions are no longer an issue for me, it's simply a matter, for me, of staying curious and interested, so I only work with music I like working with. If I get bored with what I'm working with, I won't hesitate to learn a new style that does interest me. As far as electronica goes, it makes complete sense that I'm attracted to it. I studied electronic music with Morton Subotnick and worked with the first Buchla synthesizer series in the late 60s when I was 15 years old. I put down electronic music in 1973 in order to get more into live music, but got back into it again when the Akai S900 was invented along with cheap Atari computers. I had been following rap, Detroit House music, Techno, Jungle, drum 'n' bass and Techstep step almost as soon as they came out, so my relationship to these styles has always been very close, certainly much closer than my relationship to rock was when I first approached it.
I first started playing trumpet with rap electronic rhythms around 1984, but I was in weird position. I was already a fully developed musician, but I had only been playing trumpet for a year when I got into rap rhythms. So I wasn't ready to play out on the instrument, even though I wanted to. So what I decided to do was keep my trumpet playing in the closet for the most part until I was ready on a technical level to come out. In the meantime, I continued to develop my work with electric guitars that I had started in 1977. But by 1993, I felt I was ready to make the switch over, so that's what I did.
RY: The first Neon release featured some pretty ball-busting horn playing - in fact you turned the trumpet into a massive elephantine blast of energy! The tracks on Hard Edge explore different subtleties and pressure levels on the instrument. Did making that specific album help you develop new approaches to playing, or would you describe it as a consolidation of your skills thus far?
RC: With Neon, I felt I accomplished what I wanted to do on trumpet, which was to develop and showcase a personal voice on the instrument. When I was playing guitar, I always wanted to play like the guitarist of Black Sabbath (Tony Iommi), but I could never quite arrive at it. I have less than average digital dexterity and I simply couldn't move my fingers fast enough or figure out where to put them on the guitar: and I tried, I tried really hard, it's one of the main reasons I switched to trumpet. As I was saying earlier, trumpet has only three valves and you can get at least ten pitches out of each fingering position, so this made things much easier for a guy like me. Since I didn't have to worry about the fingering so much, all I had to do was kind of "will" the notes to come out, and that's what would happen. So I arrived at a sound that was very much like a fuzzed out Tony Iommi, except it was on trumpet. It was really like a dream come true when I finally got the sound down. Another advantage is that on trumpet, you can get a 7th harmonic overtone in just intonation in the high register of the instrument. The 11th and 13th harmonics are also possible, I use them all the time in my playing. I love to work with the small intervals that define the difference between, for example, an equal tempered minor 7th and one that's in just intonation. It's a very beautiful interval, I'm surprised more trumpet players don't make use of it, but then, they're not many trumpet players who have also been piano tuners!
Making the Hard Edge album was a completely different story. I had accomplished what I originally set out to do on the Neon CD, which was to make the trumpet sound a bit like a guitar. For the Wire Edition CD, I wanted to achieve as much variety as possible in the playing I did, where some of the tracks would be open trumpet, some with mute, and some completely fuzzed out and distorted. However, another element came into play...
The Neon CD was a completely produced studio album. Martin and I spent three years working on it, trying many things, going through a long process or trial and error to come up with a sound we really liked. For the Wire CD, the producer, Trevor Manwaring, was pushing me to do something more spontaneous, for something almost approaching free improvisation.
Now, I've done a lot of free Improv in the past. At the start of the 70s I had played in Frederic Rzewski's NY version of MEV. This experience brought me into contact with many jazz musicians: Anthony Braxton, Karl Berger, Sam Rivers, Carla Bley, Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor. I started playing on the free jazz scene and even ended up playing guitar in a group with Keshavan Maslak, Charlie Moffett and his son Charnette. Loft jazz had become so pervasive in NY by the middle 70s, so by the time the punk rock explosion happened in 75/76, I decided to go off on my guitar band explorations. When free Improv came back into style with the Knitting Factory crew in the mid- 80s, I didn't take part in it because I felt I had already been there and done it. And in any case I was more interested in playing with electronic grooves.
So when Trevor suggested that I go into a studio with Gary Smith , Pat Thomas, Lou Ciccotelli and Gary Jeff and do a "first take" kind of approach, I was kind of nervous about this. But after an initial playing session in London with the musicians in question, I loosened up and decided to go for it. It's a different kind of sound than I would normally go for, and I ended up being very pleased with the result.
I had forgotten how much I like playing with live musicians, especially drums and bass. It was a real pleasure working with Lou and Gary Jeff, who were coming out of the band God/Ice as well as playing in Mass. Drum 'n' bass is all very well, but nothing replaces the energy of a live drummer and bass player on stage. I had almost forgotten this until I played with these guys.
RY: When you play/record with the Hard Edge group, do you feel like a leader on the instrument; is the music more of a conversation, or is it pure unchoked autonomy for everyone?
RC: Since I'm playing the only exclusively melodic instrument, and since it is, after all, my CD, I took on the band leader responsibilities for the group. I gave general indications for the kind of feeling and tempo I wanted for each of the tunes we recorded, after which the sessions became conversational in nature. I had listened to all of Gary Smith's records before going into the studio, so I knew his vocabulary pretty well in advance of playing with him. Same thing for Pat. Lou really surprised me with his versatility, I had only heard him in the context of Mass, I hadn't realised he had such a wide playing range, which I didn't hesitate to take full advantage of, I love working with powerful drummers like Lou. Gary Jeff has a kind of minimalist, bardo death- trance approach to playing bass which fits right in with my trumpet aesthetic, it was a match made in heaven as far as I was concerned.
On one of the pieces I asked Gary to play his characteristic stereo "wave" shape for the track called, appropriately enough, "Wave". As he was doing it, I unmuted my trumpet, closed my eyes, and pretended I was back in Hawaii during my surfing days. It was so cool. I really felt like I was on my surf board riding within a huge crescent shape while I was playing with Gary.
So to answer your question, I think if left to my own devices, I probably would have just played in my fuzzed-out trumpet playing style over primarily electronic grooves for the entire CD, but Trevor really encouraged me to broaden my horizons a bit and put more of my background as an improvisor into my playing. The CD has a more spontaneous sound as a result, even for the studio sessions that we did with Pat. I should mention at this point that we used two working methods in making the hard edge CD. Half of the music was recorded at the Moat Studio in Brixton with Gary, Pat, Lou Ciccotelli and Gary Jeff. These were essentially first-take structured improvisations. The other half of the CD consisted of Pat sending me his basic tracks, which he composed and which were of the drum 'n' bass variety and consisted of all the sounds on the track that weren't trumpet or electric guitar. Gary and I overdubbed our tracks at a later date. It made more sense doing things like this since there was more emphasis on the drum 'n' bass element for these tracks. In order to make sure the CD sounded unified, I approached my overdubbing pretty much the same way I approached the Moat sessions. Virtually everything I recorded was a first take. And the one tune I recorded that was a second take I ended up not using because my reaction was no longer spontaneous. The end result is that all the pieces on the CD sound like they belong together, rather than being a compilation of totally different things.
RY: Astrology seems to figure pretty large in your life - can you explain when this first became interesting to you and how you use it? Does it have any part to play in composition, or the substance of your music at all?
RC: My aunt and uncle were rather well known astrologers working in America, they had a column in the Daily News in NY for many years, which helped support their more serious activities. My uncle, Charles Jayne, predicted that a new planet would be discovered in 1975 near its own node, with an orbit of about fifty years. Chiron was found within four degrees of its south Node, only two years later than the predicted discovery time, and its orbital period was indeed 50 years. He was a heavyweight. I grew up around astrology and it kind of rubbed off on me. I believe that the natal chart is an expression of what the Soul desires to grow into, it's a useful map to look at from time to time when things become confused. It's a way of viewing the world, which is how I use it. I don't use it directly in music, although music certainly figures largely in my Uranus rising, Pisces mid-heaven chart! In my chart I have Saturn, which represents structure, sitting on Neptune, which symbolises the unconscious and music. Many composers, writers and artists have this aspect. It makes sense, when you think about it. Music is certainly a way of structuring the unconscious, especially the way I play. I'm not going to talk about it anymore, it gets too frightening!
RY: Can you comment on the working method that gave rise to Hard Edge? How did you find that gradual accumulative process of recording? You have other collaborations on the go, too, don't you (Kaffe, Apache?) - is this your favoured method right now, that alchemy of different personalities?
RC: Oops, I covered most of this, didn't I? I decided to start working with other people when transiting Saturn went into the upper hemisphere of my natal chart. The composer's art is a lonely one, I wanted to get back to being a musician, which is more sociable. There was another factor that influenced this decision as well...
During the 90s I was paying a mortgage off on the house I live in, which is in a suburb of Paris. I wanted to pay it off as soon as possible, so I accepted all kinds of commissions, mostly from dance and theatre companies, in order to make a lot of money so I could pay off the mortgage debt. Some of the stuff I did was really jive, like writing a version of Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610" for brass band and drums. The straw that broke the camel's back was when a choreographer asked me to do a cut-up in the style of Kathy Acker, but a musical version based on the work of Brahms. It was an interesting idea, but it was for full orchestra and took me nearly a year of working full time to complete. I kind of burned out on writing music in the traditional fashion after that point, I had spent too much time in front of my computer entering notes into Finale! After the piece was done, I got heavily back into playing trumpet and made a big effort to spend as little time as possible in front of my computer and as much time as possible playing trumpet live. My mortgage was paid up, I was ready to go!
RY: Do you still make a living as a composer? Are you still getting commissions, and what do people typically look to you to supply?
RC: Since 1996, I've made a career switch. From 1984 on, I was primarily a composer/conductor, and from 1989 on my band was exclusively the 100 guitars. I made my living from touring, commissions and royalties of various kinds. Since 1996, I don't accept commissions anymore unless they involve me playing trumpet, I just don't have the time or patience for anything else. And I've also been making the transition from my 100 guitar band to playing live in various contexts on trumpet. The transition has been a bit rough on my pocketbook, so I've had to take on a part time teaching gig here in Paris to make ends meet, but this is preferable to me because I need to be free to pursue whatever my current musical interests are without being overly concerned about their commercial potential. Things are coming together, though. I'm hoping to tour with the Hard Edge band and I have other projects in the works. The nice thing about being a trumpet player is that it allows me to work with interesting musicians. Besides my continuing work with Apache 61 and Martin Wheeler, I was on a Slip and Slide compilation called The French Underground with DJ Loik, who Catherine Piault of Crammed Disks hooked me up with. Paul Schütze and I have also been talking about getting together to play; Kaffe Matthews and I have a project in mind; something might be coming up with Bill Laswell as well, we'll see. I'm working on a little project with David Toop. It's all very exciting. And I'm doing what I like best, playing trumpet.
A feature based on the above interview appeared in The
Wire 182 (April 99) -
To visit The Wire's excellent homepage, which contains this transcript as well as many articles, links, and other items of interest to music lovers, click on THE WIRE Home Page.