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15 Questions to Balmorhea

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
ROB: Hello. I feel well and rested. I am in my bedroom in Austin Texas.
MICHAEL: feeling good but a tad heavy as i just heard a man speak about slavery and human trafficking. please go to to learn more and take action. i am in my office/bedroom in austin, texas (eating cereal).

What’s on your schedule right now?
ROB: Right now I am a student and a part time intern at an Art Museum in Austin. We just got home from our first tour a few weeks ago and are recuperating and trying to gather ourselves and our music to make a new recording.
MICHAEL: we are getting ready to work on our new album and have hopes of doing some touring and doing a split in 2008 as well.    

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
ROB:  It will be next to impossible to choose a single artist so I can make a list: George Winston, Max Richter, Pullman, John Cage, Beethoven, Arvo Part, the music of my friends, and the sounds that surround me all day and night. I would not say that we are a part of a particular movement at this point, there are a number of like minded groups out there making a similar type of sound, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that is a movement.  I try to avoid genre distinctions, so if a had to give it a tradition I would say that it is “new music” coming from a mix of European classical music, American roots, ambient and folk, seasoned with our unique experience as 21st Century individuals. 
MICHAEL: this will be debated for as many eons as i have a heartbeat. i truly have a special place for several genres and specific composers/artists within each. to name a few... ian mackaye, morrissey, jeremy enigk, john mcentire, doug mccombs, jimmy lavalle, ludovico einaudi, marc byrd, yann tiersen... of course i could go on and on, but those are the main ones throughout the years.  it seems that there are sectors of music that fit together even within instrumental post-rock and even post-classical genres. i guess we would fit in there somewhere. i don't know if it matters all that much.      

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
ROB: I think there are two music scenes that are for the most part separate from one another. One is corporate bull filled with uninspiring, destructive, repetitive, self-centred slogans, and the other is independent. The independent scene seems to be thriving and full of creativity and life. It’s global and communal. I’m happy to be a part of the latter.
MICHAEL: i have to agree with rob. if you ever pick up a spin or rolling stone magazine, or turn on top 40 radio or mtv, it is appalling at the strange things that you will hear attempted to be called music. there is more bad music now than at any point in human history, but alas, there is also more good music as well. you can't be lazy and listen to good music. sometimes it finds you but most times you have to seek it and turn over some curious boulders and leaves.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
ROB:  Trying to combine and build off what has come before us to create something that people have never heard before.
MICHAEL: it was king solomon in ecclesiastes who said, "there is nothing new under the sun.." i agree with this. humans aren't 'creating' anything per se. as takagi masakatsu once said, "if you look very closely, these colors or movements are overflowing in the world - i am not expressing anything that isn't already there." there is just a "new" way of arranging things, shedding an altered shade of light from a forgotten angle so everything appears different and new.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
ROB: Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a Truck fifty miles an hour. Static between the stations. Rain. We want to capture and control these sounds, to use them not as "sound effects" recorded on film... Given four film phonographs, we can compose and perform a quartet for explosive motor, wind, heartbeat, and         landslide.“ -John Cage, from "The Future of Music: Credo"
MICHAEL: any piece of art or creative reactiveness is derived from an array of sources - paint, exposing light onto paper, metal, etc. - sound is just another element in this process, another set of stimuli.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
ROB:  Playing live, everything is pretty well planed out but I would say that there is improvisation in every piece. We also delineate certain parts of some songs for improvisation.
MICHAEL: i think if we had more time in a live set we could do more improvising. when we have had the time and improvised a little, it has been fun and refreshing. there are obvious times when structure and form have a higher priority over ambiguity. not that either are better or worse.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
ROB:  I think that a good live performance allows the listener to forget about his or her immediate surroundings and be taken to a new place, for us we hope that that place is somewhere where change and revelation can take place.
MICHAEL: when i am still talking about a performance a week later or find myself researching an artist straight away after a live show i know it has stirred me. it is saddening when an artist is playing as a task. i value a performance/performer so much more when it is out of true compassion for what moves them to be there making music in the first place. the poet adam zagajewski wrote in his poem, senza flash, "...and something unforeseen may happen then: hidden in smooth cotton, the heart stirs..." it is a truly significant thing if someone listening feels something beyond what a mere word or feeling could supplant.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border?
ROB: Not really. Often times art dwells in the realm of ideas and as long as an artist can talk about his or her work with confidence and feel themselves that what they are making is “music” then I see no reason to tell them that they are wrong. I might not choose to listen to it or even understand it, but that doesn’t make it not music.
MICHAEL: it is up to the listener. if i hear a 10 minute piece of garbly bird chirps and incessant crash cymbals, who am i to say it isn't a beautiful composition. i may not choose to listen to it, but that doesn't negate the term "music" to be applicable.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
ROB: I’m not sure.
MICHAEL: i would lean toward empty.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
ROB: I think that is up to the artist. With our music, we are not saying anything too specific about politics or society, but our views on politics, society and spirituality play a big part in how and what we express through our music.
MICHAEL: it is obvious that ian mackaye wasn't making music so he could be famous or attract the attention of press or the opposite sex. it is so important to be true to what you are convicted about. rumi said, "let the beauty of what you love be what you do." art and music always have and will facilitate movements. some for social justice soundtracks and some to remind us of youthful innocence. i am not sure one if more important than the other - they both serve important roles.    

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
ROB: False.  Our music requires no education, but education definitely helps if you are listening to music of other cultures generations or traditions.
MICHAEL: education may enhance or open new avenues of thoughts pertaining to music but i am against the notion that it is a necessity for appreciation.

Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
ROB:  I don’t think we should abolish copyright, copyright is a good thing, it gives people ownership of their intellectual property and it has allowed our society to progress and for individuals to survive off of their ideas alone as before copyright that was not possible. But, it’s all about money now; lots of people want simply to make the maximum amount of profit without a care in the world for genuine creativity. So I say use our material just as we will use the ideas of those we love and as long as we are not unfairly profiting from someone else’s art, then that sharing is good and in fact, it is that sharing that has allowed music and art to grow and expand into what they are today. 
MICHAEL: the abolition of copyright would indeed derail important systems but ideas such as creative commons are taking strides in a good direction. everybody is influenced by someone else and gets inspired for things from somebody that came before them. there is something incredible about creating something that is unique but quietly deep down there always will linger a hint of reminiscence.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
ROB: Ahh!  This would be a dream. I think the festival would be one day only, indoors in a concert house.  Here is the program.
1. Rachel’s
2. Gillian Welch
3. The Books
4. Ludovico Enaudi
5. Sigur-Ros
6. Kronos Quartet – playing something by Bartok (Quartet No. 5?) and Haydn and Philip Glass
7. Beethoven’s 9th
8. Arvo Part -  “Spiegel I’m Spiegel”
That would be a long day. I might change these choices tomorrow.
MICHAEL: it would have to retain a theme or feeling, like a season of weather. perhaps on a crisp-grey evening in a creaky old building with wonderful acoustics.
tim hecker ⁃ bexar bexar ⁃ colleen ⁃ hammock ⁃ max richter ⁃ yann tiersen ⁃ eluvium ⁃ ludovico einaudi   

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
ROB: Many many dreams, difficult for me to describe in words. Something that takes you somewhere that you don’t want to leave. Something that makes you want to change and cry and laugh.  
MICHAEL: rob put it well. it would be a sound that made the listener (and musician) want to alter their life or live differently than they previously had. like an alarm call. wake up. you are alive.
MICHAEL: thank you! you have been in front of the computer long enough today, go outside.

Balmorhea (2007)

Balmorhea at MySpace

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