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15 Questions to Los Angeles Electric 8

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Andy Nathan: Doing well in Santa Monica, California!
Ben Harbert: Just fine. It’s always a beautiful blue sky in Los Angeles, California.
Felix Salazar: Stressed out. I am at UCLA right now.
Philip Graulty: I’m very tired. I am working at UCLA.
JohnPaul Trotter: Wishing I were playing music! Substitute teaching on the far, far east side of Los Angeles!
Chelsea Green: At my home desk in Santa Monica listening to my roommate practice her cello.
Alexander Sack: Happy, in Lake View Terrace, in my studio.
Marc Nimoy: Vacationing in Hawaii!

What’s on your schedule right now?
Ben Harbert: Tackling a pile of papers, writing grants, practicing, and trying to find time to write my dissertation on music in American prisons.
Felix Salazar: Contemplating 4 weeks of no day work. Vacation or unemployment? Half empty, half full?
Philip Graulty: The World Festival of Sacred Music – Los Angeles. I am the Programs Coordinator for this event and until it is over, I simply can’t think of anything else.
Chelsea Green: Starting a business, writing a dissertation, learning new music, reading and cooking.
Marc Nimoy: Snorkeling, hiking, & planning my wedding. In the next few weeks I’ll be catching up at work/teaching from everything I missed while on vacation.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Andy Nathan: Seeing Kiss on TV.
Ben Harbert: Turning up my portable record player so loud that I couldn’t go back into my room to turn it off. What a predicament.
Felix Salazar: Listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks cover 80’s songs on my Fisher Price record player. Then forcing it to go backwards with my finger and getting scared at what I heard.
Philip Graulty: Sitting on the floor in my pajamas, listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller over and over again. I was so entranced by the music and that baby tiger on the record sleeve!
JohnPaul Trotter: Watching the films “La Bamba” and “Top Gun” and being so excited by the sounds!
Chelsea Green: Listening to my dad’s neglected LPs of Brahms and Bach while lying on the dining room shag carpet.
Alexander Sack: Seeing fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl, or hearing the rock band down the street from me when I was little … the latter had a very profound effect on me.
Marc Nimoy: My parents had seasonal classical music tickets to the Hollywood since before I was born, I remember attending the concerts but not any of the music that happened. Michael Jackson’s “Bad” was a pretty big deal. I also have the same record player & 80s chipmunks cover songs memory that Felix mentioned.

Was there a deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?
Ben Harbert: A friend of mine came to visit one summer after learning guitar that year. Watching him play air guitar to Van Halen made me think that there was some type of deeper knowledge that he had gained to the music that we loved. That led me into playing guitar and studying classical guitar wit Ben Bolt, who fostered my interest in both rock and classical music.
Felix Salazar: When I discovered Counterpoint. Realizing that playing Ode to Joy on classical guitar, meant having to play TWO melodic lines at once, changed my life. It was either counterpoint or join a gang.
Chelsea Green: When I gave up on the power of politics to change people in a fundamental and lasting way and realized that art could do those things better.
Alexander Sack: I think the deciding moment was seeing Ted Nugent on TV and him ranting about anybody wanting come play Rock n Roll with him is welcome. I decided I needed guitar lessons, so I could play with that crazy guy. I must have been about 9.

How satisfied are you with life as an artist?
Andy Nathan: No too well at the moment – I don’t have as much time as I would like to create.
Ben Harbert: Satisfied enough for now. I’m always grateful that I’m able to devote all my time to music related work. I think though that there must always linger some challenge and frustration or we never grow as musicians.
JohnPaul Trotter: Satisfaction is a strange thing for me, I never know I have it until its gone.
Chelsea Green: This lifestyle requires a daily, sometimes hourly, reassessment of what are, for me, two of the most important values: discipline and devotion. It’s a practice, a mirror, and sometimes, it gets too intense so I find myself wanting to shop or bake or camp to get my mind off of it.
Marc Nimoy: Strive for artistry in everything you do and satisfaction just happens on its own.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
Ben Harbert: There is an experience in which the outside world drops away and we return to it refreshed. Though it happens rarely, that’s what I look for. Performance works best for me when it’s natural, sometimes seeing my performances or getting feedback gives me a sense of self-awareness, but I rarely think of style. I try to simply get into the music and acknowledge that an audience is going to connect to bits and pieces of what I put out into their own whole—again, I’m speaking ideally.
JohnPaul Trotter: When the performer becomes transparent and the music comes alive. My approach is preparing myself enough so that I can leave notes behind as I perform and really try to communicate with the audience.
Chelsea Green: Ideally, an exceptional performance is when something at the heart of the composer’s intention is channeled in a fresh and intuitive way through the artist and connects with something relevant to the listener. The new question for me becomes, how do we really know that any of that occurred since so many isolated perspectives are at play? The answer then is, well, that hasn’t really stopped us from doing it, has it? As far as my approach to performing...not sure really, I’m still testing out new things.

How do you balance your personal emotions and the intentions of the composer in your interpretations?
Ben Harbert: The way I see it today, composers create a possible aesthetic world. Within that space, I try to understand the composer’s feelings that may have inspired the composition and relate my own world with the composer’s aesthetic world. This is the connection for me—connecting feelings. It’s less a process of communicating composer intent that allowing the piece to play me.
Felix Salazar: I can’t actually.
Chelsea Green: Balance has never been an aim for me in that process. I aim to constantly refresh my insight into the composer’s intentions and let those findings inspire my emotional/imaginative offerings.

In which way, would you say, is your cultural background reflected in your performances?
Andy Nathan: Being form Southern California, I see the stage as a place where one should have a complete package/show ready to perform. Presentation is very important.
Ben Harbert: Historically, American music has always balanced a rough simplicity with an industrious complexity. This eternal tension certainly informs the way that I approach whatever tradition of music I play. I also grew up overseas in Saudi Arabia. Exposure to Arab culture got me into Arab music, which has influences other music I do. That experience primed me for realizing that there is so much great music out there in the world.
Felix Salazar: From my upbringing I learned to not take anything for granted. The smallest things, the nuances, relationships, events, the guy sneezing in the back of the room... I appreciate them all. I try and take at least one positive thing from even the crummiest situations. ”Yes, it is a very bad strawberry shake, but look at what a pretty shade of pink it is!” So any performance is a good performance.
Philip Graulty: I try to be a musical sponge. I listen to everything I possibly can and soak it all in.
JohnPaul Trotter: I grew up in Virginia in a military family so the southern respect and humbleness is important to me. Respect for the performers, audience, and above all, the music.
Chelsea Green: What JohnPaul said is very true of him. He is always so humble... you would never know that he is the SHREDDER in our group!
Alexander Sack: I am a product of Southern California. Much diversity, lots of sound, and ELECTRIC GUITARS!

How would you describe and rate the scene for contemporary composition in the country you are currently living in?
Andy Nathan: Contemporary composition in the U.S. is below the commercial radar, so you can pretty much do what you want – you just wont get paid for it unless you put some serious thought toward business and marketing. I’d rate the music coming from American Universities as pretty low and the stuff coming from independent artists as pretty good.
Felix Salazar: Anything goes at this point in time. And that is great. Sure we don’t make that much money but hey, that’s what the day job is for.
Philip Graulty: I don’t think there really is a scene, per se. Global communication has allowed for so much instantaneous exposure that scenes come and go in an average of 1.5 seconds. The Baroque Period lasted 150 years. Can you imagine neo-classical post-modern minimalist avant-rock lasting that long?
Chelsea Green: I see a fair amount of composers working hard to develop a unique voice. I see a fair amount of players eager to perform new works. Something is brewing.

Do you consider it important that more young people care for contemporary composition? If so, how, do you think, could this be achieved?
Andy Nathan: I think young people should be educated in how to appreciate contemporary music. They naturally appreciate different sounds and people doing something interesting – some young people just need help understanding why contemporary music is interesting.
Ben Harbert: It’s critical. That’s one of the things that we try to work on. First, by selecting music that we believe is truly great music. Second, we explain the music either through program notes or spoken introduction. Third, we play it on electric guitars, which are more familiar to young people than most other instruments. Not that I think that we need to hold people’s hands through all new music, but a few positive introductions can open a door for a skeptic. Another important thing is to engage the community. I participated in John King’s Extreme Guitar Orchestra in which John led a massive guitar ensemble through guitar tablature. Guitarists like John, Marco Capelli, and Glenn Branca are great leaders who form ensembles that are held up by a few strong players and yet include students who end up having a positive experience with new music that relates to how they know to be musical. This happens in Javanese gamelan. Some instruments are for beginners and some for advanced players. The loud ones are the simplest and the quietest the most advanced. Everyone plays and the process of musical exploration is embodied in the very experience of playing in the group.
Philip Graulty: Yes, I think it is essential. We may look to the past for inspiration, but it is the present that moves us forward. Listen to your peers and learn from them. Challenge each other! Take for instance, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. The Beatles released Rubber Soul, which inspired Pet Sounds, which in turn inspired Sgt. Pepper’s.
Imagine if everyone did that! We’d be light years ahead of where we are now.
Alexander Sack: Contemporary Composition is such a loaded (compound) word. There are lots of reasons and mediums to make music now. Ultimately, people want to express something. Teaching young people to do that gives them a voice and empathy for other voices. Composition is the mental mechanics of making music, just as performance practices are the hand mechanics of making music. The main thing is to teach tolerance first in

How would you rate the importance of the Internet and new media for you personally?
Andy Nathan: Aside from the increased availability and lower cost of recording equipment, nothing has been as important for musicians as digital distribution. As a kid I dreamed of being able to hear music live from all over the world; now I can. It’s awesome.
Ben Harbert: I agree with Andy. I’d add that the Internet is a form of prosthesis—we can see what we couldn’t see, hear what we couldn’t hear, communicate with those we couldn’t before.
Felix Salazar: Yup, it sure opened everything up for me too. I love it. I wonder what is next?
Philip Graulty: Essential. I know what is next, and let me tell you, it’s going to be exciting
JohnPaul Trotter: As Philip said, essential. Not only from an informational standpoint but connecting with other groups/musicians/fans would be near impossible without it.
Chelsea Green: I believe what we have seen is just the beginning of technologies transformation of music and music culture. I can’t wait to see what is around the corner.
Alexander Sack: Education is attaining skills. Musicians with fine skills do well. There still must be intention, expression, and some ZING to make great art. When we have educated populations we have higher standards, and broader abilities to listen. Music sits beautifully on that statement. The more people are educated the more they expect. This makes demand for stronger artists
Marc Nimoy: As a programmer and electronic musician I spend a lot of time with it directly. New technologies arise initially to make new things possible, easier, & more convenient and all of that stuff is there especially for musicians which is great, but when these technologies in particular came along they also brought with it a whole new culture -- social, informational, & artistic.

What’s your view on the relationship between musical education and music?
Andy Nathan: As a music educator, I sense that all children are eager to experience the joy of music. My responsibility is to make music a life-long joy for them.
Ben Harbert: I believe that the two are inseparable. As an educator myself, I believe that we try to raise our students to a point where they are self-sufficient and see the world as their classroom. The goal is for us al to become peers, I suppose.
Felix Salazar: I believe as a performer and musician it is our responsibility to educate and communicate. We WILL be asked questions and we have to be knowledgeable enough to correctly answer them.
Philip Graulty: I too believe that the two are inseparable. Whether I am teaching, performing, or producing concerts, I am always educating someone. Most times, it’s myself! The great thing about music is that unlike most disciplines, you don’t have to understand it to enjoy it. You just have to sit back and listen.
JohnPaul Trotter: Education is essential for musical growth however education does is not limited to a classroom as Ben mentioned. Some “schools” make it a very technical and competitive experience, putting students at odds with each other. This is not the way anyone should be educated about music.
Chelsea Green: “If the white herons had no voice, they would be lost in the morning snow.” - Chiyo. This sentiment should be the primary concern of any music education institution. It is sometimes secondary at best and often completely lost in the snow.
Alexander Sack: Education is attaining skills. Musicians with fine skills do well. There still must be intention, expression, and some ZING to make great art. When we have educated populations we have higher standards, and broader abilities to listen. Music sits beautifully on that statement. The more people are educated the more they expect. This makes demand for stronger artists
Marc Nimoy: It comes and goes. I love the guitar but its just a vessel, the real relationship is with my experience of the music and my experience with the people I’m playing with/for.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
Andy Nathan: Bernhard Gunter, Giacinto Scelsi, Olivier Messiaen, Iancu Dumitrescu, Pierre Henry, Evan Parker, Arnold Dreyblatt.
Ben Harbert: No specific people, I suppose I would try to find music that might draw general audiences, meddle with it in some way—arrangement, put it in performance contexts, etc.—and then add other repertoire that connects to that piece. I like to show people the historical and cultural depth to music by allowing people to make connections to the unfamiliar.
Felix Salazar: Morton Feldman festival for sure!
Philip Graulty: I like challenge so I would produce a series of concerts that challenged the artists and the audience. I would definitely experiment with the boundaries and relationships of the performer and listener. I would create a labyrinth effect where the elements of surprise, anxiety, and anticipation are employed. It would be very interactive and organic.
JohnPaul Trotter: A good mixture of artists from near and far that will bring different elements to the table to help a nice cross-pollination of musical ideas.
Chelsea Green: I love chamber music. I would feature a variety of ensembles and eras.
Alexander Sack: A season of the Los Angeles Electric 8...and whatever guests tickle our fancy.

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
Andy Nathan: Catholic
Ben Harbert: Compared to many other instruments, the guitar is an ocean. So many styles have been played on the instrument in a relatively short amount of time. Add to that transcriptions and we are swimming in a diverse body of styles and repertoire. Rather than fight the tides, being able to explore the instrument from different angles inspires me. This art music focus on the electric guitar really makes me see the instrument in a fresh light. Having the benefit of seven other intelligent musicians talk about the way that the electric guitar adapts to art music simply multiplies that perspective by seven.
Felix Salazar: A rocket ship.
Philip Graulty: Love/hate. I am a perfectionist and am never satisfied with my guitars.
JohnPaul Trotter: Obsessive Compulsive
Chelsea Green: Symbiotic

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
Andy Nathan: I tried playing the Euphonium. Awful. I couldn’t stand the taste of the mouthpiece.
Ben Harbert: Started on the tenor saxophone, we were assigned instruments based on our performance on the recorder. Apparently the tenor sax was the lowest bar for instruments. Like Andy, I hated the mouthpiece. Thinking about it still makes my lower teeth want to retract into my gums. The deal-breaker for me was the spit-valve. Having an instrument that drooled was not my thing so I switched to the electric guitar before I heard John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, or Ornette Coleman. I have also studied Indian tabla and Middle Eastern ‘ud, both of which I play professionally. I have found that learning new instruments really enriches my understanding of the guitar. If a grant of mine comes through, I have a banjo on the way. We’ll see where that goes.
Felix Salazar: Many, many instruments. The guitar just happened to be the one that I spent more time practicing with because at the young age I started, it was the most fun! Plus I loved Metallica. Still do.
Philip Graulty: All sorts. Trumpet, cello, piano, guitarron, etc. I wasn’t very good at trumpet or cello so I think I’ll stick with fretted plucked instruments from now on. I really want a Tuvan doshpuluur.
JohnPaul Trotter: I started my musical career on the piano and played for 7 years. I enjoyed it but didn’t completely embrace it because I had no knowledge about how to create and improvise my own music on the piano. I also like to play harmonica when sitting in traffic!
Chelsea Green: Singing. Using the voice as an expressive tool is both daunting and rewarding. It has informed my guitar playing in myriad ways.
Marc Nimoy: I play a little bit of piano and have been involved in a few world music and percussion ensembles, I also perform using my laptop about as often as I perform on guitar.

Picture by Marc Nimoy

Los Angeles Electric 8 plays Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Braddock, Siegel, and Kohl (self-released) 2008

Los Angeles Electric 8

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