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15 Questions to Graham Bowers

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Fine, thank you. I am at my home and work place on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.


What’s on your schedule right now?
Negotiating with a Digital Distribution company to get my work placed on the major MP3 sites so as to be available as digital downloads, in the hope that enough income can be generated to sustain a life-style where making music, painting and sculpture is the main focus.


What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I am not and never really have been involved in the music scene, so I cannot comment from an insiders’ point of view. I suppose there is a crisis, as I suspect there always has been one, (like every other walk of life), depending on whose viewpoint or opinion is being shouted the loudest at any given time. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t have thought that live music performances, and consequently the careers of musicians are suffering from the internet revolution. I can see, and have experienced first hand that real hands-on CD sales have diminished since the introduction of internet downloading and I suppose for a lot of unfortunate individuals this has resulted in a crisis, but for the industry as a whole I wouldn’t have thought so. Shouts and squeals of distress are often heard but how genuine and serious these are I haven’t got a clue.


What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?

My experience of the word ‘new’, is more often than not, a nuance of evolutionary development rather than revolutionary change. Life, in all its forms is an amazing product of physics, and each of us is a ‘cocktail’ of our ancestors, and depending on how one sets the scale, we are either a machine of incredible complexity or stupifyingly simple. Which ever way one looks at it, we, like every other form of life, are all made up of the same few elements that have combined and arranged into molecular patterns and combinations common to us all, consequently, if we stand back and take a macro-view on the responses to sound stimuli, we all ‘dance to the same tune’, if we take a micro-view, then we may discover that there are massive differences in our creativity and response…it is simply a matter of scale, nothing more, and nothing less. However our physical form can only function within very fine limits, and generally speaking, the term ‘new’ when applied to music is simply a rearrangement and presentation of what we already know, it can’t be anything else, as our physical mechanisms can only produce and receive what they do because we wouldn’t be what we are, or even be here, had the physics of our planet been different. All life forms are creatures of habit and order, and human beings are no exception to this, the systems and structures that have been laid down by generations of our fore-fathers, are as they are because of who and what we are.

My own particular view is from a standpoint of someone who has the ‘tiniest’ of tweaks in the ‘creativity package’ which results in a sensitivity to sound in an almost voyeuristic way when standing back and watching and listening to the ‘everyday’ world creating its plethora of sound and vision in a never ending symphony of being and doing. There are no man-made structures or rules that the sounds must conform to, but interestingly it is to a large extent, the product of man’s endeavours that produce this music of life, and it is in this area that I enjoy the discovery of ‘newness’, and as a painter on location will fill the sketch pad and rush back to the studio to work on the canvas and apply the paint in an attempt to re-create and capture the moment, I do the same with sound in the recording studio..


How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

I can only answer this question from a subjective and non-academic stance, as I haven’t had any formal musical education. The system of rules, regulations and applications completely pass me by and although I appreciate that the subject is a product of generations of human effort and concentrated interest it may as well belong to another branch of industry, serving and satisfying the public’s appetite with a product that conforms and falls within what would be considered an acceptable listening experience … and for that, as a listener and consumer, I am grateful.

As a ‘product producer’ I have an ever-so-slightly different approach; the gambit of sounds that eventually forms the overall composition, is sound and nothing more, whether it is intentionally or unintentionally produced on a musical instrument or the sound of the opening and closing dish-washer door, it all has a value and invariably sparks-off some form of emotive response that translates into the building of what could be called ‘composition’. It also works in reverse, where an idea for a ‘composition’ is in ‘stand-by’ mode and constantly on the ‘look-out’ for relevant material. The relationship between the raw material of sound and composition is no different for me than the paint, the canvas and the painting, but even more relevant is the root of all living relationships, that of amino acids and a fully formed sack of molecules that we call a human being.


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How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

An interesting and frustrating aspect of being asked a direct question forces one to think about thoughts, meanings, and opinions relating to matters that have not previously been analysed or given any serious thought.
All of my work is studio based, and the work I produce starts its life with no interest or consideration to musical conventions and generally grows organically to the point where it takes on the form of something more than its constituent parts…a composition.
In the course of this journey, there will have been sessions involving musical colleagues, who I have encouraged to improvise around a particular motif usually laid down by myself, with widely varying degrees of success, as it is usually something other than the musical competence, improvisation and interpretation that I am looking for. My experience, taking into account that I lead a very sheltered life and don’t get out much, is that for the most part, musicians can’t help but play within the parameters of their musical experience and education and generally get confused when asked to express an emotion on their instrument without playing an autonomic series of notes. Nevertheless there have been many exciting and artistically satisfying sessions, where ‘free form’ along with improvisational contributions has significantly added, and sometimes shaped the composition. So, returning to an earlier comment that all my work is studio based, I have the opportunity and privilege to shape, edit, or discard any recorded improvisational input with respect to that particular composition. All sessions, regardless of their success and apparent or non-apparent usefulness are saved filed and stored for possible use in a completely different context within future work.


How would you define the term “interpretation”?
With respect to music, the process of translating any form of conscious thought or emotion into a sound and vice-versa.


Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?
Whatever is appropriate at that moment in time within the work. 
The music I put together is an attempt to create an audio event that reflects or illustrates life and its relationship with the world, which invariably is simultaneously experiencing many levels of both, internal and external, mental and physical activity. There are events that we have a certain amount of control over, which co-exist, alongside, in conflict with, and complementary to, events that may, or may not, exert an influence.  So for me, there isn’t a problem with the use of ‘harmony’ and ‘dissonance’ together or simultaneously layered in the audio perspective as separate, individual or multiple entities.


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 – and if so, where?
I don’t have any problem with accepting that any form of sound put together in such a way as to form a composition or otherwise, be qualified as music. Borders are a subjective measure, like lines drawn in the sand, and only exist until an exceptionally high tide washes them away.


Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
Listening to music and the response is such a subjective experience, and although our aural sensitivities can generally categorise the genre of what is being listened to, there are going to be elements of that music, that could sit comfortably within other categories of ‘music’, as history as shown. Obviously the ‘words’ mean different things to different people, but for me, popular music and serious music are one and the same, in that they spring from the same source of mental activity, and depending on the strength and sensitivity of the content and composition, and the composer, they can be anywhere between, ephemeral sentimental ‘froth’ that momentarily influences the mood of the listener or deep thought provoking experiences that influence a life time.


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?
My opinion is that an artist can create and produce whatever they want, whatever their motivation. How their work is received by others is the ‘bench-mark of validity’ of this question.


True or false: People need to be educated about  music, before they can really appreciate it.
True and false, some do and some don’t … that may sound flippant but I believe it is the case. I am sure that an education in some instances is a life changing experience and on others it is a complete waste of time and effort..


True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
My own view on this is, I don’t subscribe to any money being doled out for any artistic activity, whether it be to a person or an institution. I don’t think that ‘artists’ are any different to any other working individual and see no reason for making a case for state subsidies. I believe they should all stand on their ‘own two feet’ and stand and fall by their own personal convictions, beliefs, aptitude and attitude, that they apply to their work.


You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
A list in no particular order;

Pina Bausch (Tanztheater Wuppertal) and her version of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ (a double treat, in terms of dance theatre at its best and the chance to hear an indelible and incredible piece of music)

A piece of ‘Commédia del arté’ performed by Theatre Complicité

A reformation of the original ‘Roxy Music’ performing material from their first album and finishing the set with ‘Virginia Plain’

A performance of Harrison Birtwhistle’s ‘Music for Wind and Percussion’ .

A 30 minute set by Neil Sedaka performing a selection of his songs over the last 50 years.

The Electro-acoustic work entitled ‘Cân’ by Dr Andrew Lewis of Bangor University.

A tribute to the late great Alex Harvey, (but I don’t know if it would be possible to find a performer who could reproduce his unique vocal style of phrasing and delivering the lyrical content that made him so special)


Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I don’t have such a dream.


Discography:
Of Mary's Blood (1996) Red Wharf
Transgression (1997) Red Wharf
Eternal Ghosts (1998) Red Wharf
Pilgrim (2005) Red Wharf

Homepage:
Graham Bowers / Red Wharf

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