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15 Questions to Glenn Bach

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello.  Fantastic here in Long Beach, California, and much more relaxed
now that the festival is over.

The was a great success. What can you tell us about your

My first appearance was with SLaB, featuring guitarist G.E. Stinson
and bassist Steuart Liebig.  Both are incredibly talented musicians, and
I am always honored to play with them.  Our performance was entirely
improvisational.  Later that week I joined Chicago sound artist and curator
John Kannenberg in a duo.  We improvised material for a
collaborative project, "Two Cities," which is based on visual, textual,
and sonic data collected on our respective walks to work.  We recorded
the session and hope to use the results for a full-length release.  I
also participated in the world premiere of the soundCommons Orchestra,
an ensemble of a dozen or so musicians working with electronics,
laptops, woodwinds, strings, and duduk.  The musicians had never
performed together in this configuration, and, with no rehearsals, the
performance was entirely improvised.  In order to get everyone
warmed up and attuned to each other, we started with a basic piece I
wrote that selects members from the orchestra to perform in rotating
arrangements of solos and duos--the results were wildly successful.  The
fear of large group improvisations is the standard train wreck that
often occurs, but we largely avoided it--the musicians were very
respectful of each other, and spent as much time listening as trying to
be heard.

On a more general level: What constitutes a good live show in your
opinion? What's your approach to performing on stage?

For me, there are so many different answers to this question, since I
appreciate and enjoy so many different types of live music.  Some of my
favorite shows have been sitting quietly and listening to someone spin
records.  One of the inspirations for this festival, and my house
concert series that preceded it, was a great night of quiet music
presented by Josh Russell, who runs the Bremsstrahlung label and who now
lives in Austin, Texas.  My wife and I saw Philip Glass and his ensemble
perform Koyaanisqatsi at UCLA a few years ago.  Nels Cline and Gregg
Bendian performing Coltrane's "Interstellar Space" (on three different
occasions). Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Magnetic Fields, the Swans,
Low, etc., all great shows.

My own approach is to present my sounds as humbly and simply as
possible.  I perform with a laptop, so there isn't much to look at.
Laptop performances have been harshly criticized for their lack of
spectacle and their subversion of the aura of authentic performance, but
I believe that new approaches to sound/music making require new modes of
listening.  There is room for everyone on stage.  If you want to see and
hear the cause-and-effect of a musician performing with a traditional
instrument, we have that.  If you want to hear what someone has come up
with by manipulating the complexities of a digital glitch lasting a
fraction of a second, we have that as well.

You are also the festival's main organizer. What were your criteria
for choosing to invite a certain artist?

In curating the roster for the festival, I first turned to those artists
who performed at my house concert series: Steve Roden, Jeffrey Roden,
Marcos Fernandes, Aaron Ximm, and those who were still lined up in the
queue when I had to pull the plug on the series.  I also went outside my
own circle and tried to bring in others with whom I was unfamiliar but
whose work fit the festival's purpose.  Ideally I like working
with musicians I know and like as people, whose work I respect and
admire, and who share a similar appreciation of, and commitment to, a
quieter aesthetic.  While there were moments of crescendo and density
from some of the performers, the overall scope of the festival
celebrated a quieter, more intimate listening experience.

The fact that you're not asking for any entrance fees seems to
suggest that you're aiming for a varied audience, with a lot of
potential newbies to the scene. Correct?

All of the concerts were free because our financial sponsor, the Odyssey
Project at Cal State Long Beach, provided me with stipends for all of
the performers.  This freed us from having to worry about selling enough
tickets to get money to split among the performers.  One of the aims of
the Odyssey Project is to fund events of interest to students and the
campus community, so free admission helps us bring new music to members
of those communities who might not otherwise spend money to experience
something so unfamiliar to them.  We attracted the insiders, of course,
but even then we mixed things up by billing free improv musicians
with jazz/classical backgrounds (Emily Hay, Kris Tiner, Jeff Kaiser, for
example), with sound artists from the L.A. noise/sound underground
(Albert Ortega, kadet), and had their respective fans mingle a bit.
This happens quite a bit, actually, in the Los Angeles area, but we
brought a sense of critical mass to Long Beach (and in turn the campus
here), which often feels a bit out of the loop with Los Angeles to the
north and Orange County to the south.  Long Beach has an interesting
history of hot and cold spells of artistic fervor, and was
lucky to ride a particularly strong swell of activity and enthusiasm.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
Oh, too many, but if I had to pick one, John Coltrane, for his passion,
intensity, commitment, and constant quest for new ways of saying what he
had to say.  Before I knew anything about jazz (I still don't, really),
his music muscled its way past the know-it-all pretenses of my early
twenties and knocked the wind out of me.  I still haven’t recovered.

What's your view on the experimental music scene at present? Is
there a crisis?

WHICH experimental music scene?  There are too many to track, too many
to try to categorize or label.  Lots of people are doing lots of
incredible things with their music and their scenes, making things
happen, supporting each other's work.  Sure, there are instances of
insularity and territoriality, and sometimes an unwillingness to try new
things or let outsiders in.   In a city known for its car culture, it is
surprisingly difficult to get people out of the comfort of their homes
to drive down and see a show.  But, for the most part, the different
scenes are healthy and active, either underground or flirting with the
mainstream.  Many music enthusiasts, especially the younger generation
(I just turned forty recently) who have grown up with cell phones and
the internet, are not willing to wait for cool things to happen or
interesting shows to come to them; they instant-message their buddies
and get some people together and make it happen for themselves.  I don't
see any crisis other than a glut of too many things going on, too many
shows, too many CDs and CD-Rs to sift through.  A crisis of quantity
overload, too much noise in the signal.  Others, however, might count
that as a positive.

Multimedia: A solution to all problems or a curse?
It depends entirely on the context.  As a poet, I still believe in the
power of the printed word, plaintext on white paper.  As a visual artist
I work with graphite pencils.  Sure, I use the computer to type, I use
Photoshop and Dreamweaver for my website, and I use various types of
digital audio software for my sound work, but I am not a slave to any of
it (except for e-mail! Yikes!).  I appreciate and support the efforts of
those musicians/composers/sound artists who incorporate new technologies
into their work, but I also enjoy the simplicity and power of a muted
trumpet, or the long reverberating sustain of a chord Jeffrey Roden
strums on his barely amplified, un-effected bass.

Some feel there is no need to record albums any more, that there is
no such thing as genuinely "new" music. What do you tell them?

I think this is a shortsighted view of human creativity.  If you think
there is nothing new that can come out of folk music, for example,
listen to Devendra Banhart.  I think people are still trying to cope
with the impact of the overwhelming amount of cultural information we
experience today.  I can see how someone might complain about the dearth
of new, interesting music with so much mediocre stuff inundating our
senses.  The ease and affordability of music-making tools have given the
layperson the power of music recording and distribution that was once
reserved for a professional elite, so naturally we are seeing these new
ground rules play out.  Time will tell.  The good stuff will stick
around.  We may not have as many commonalities in our top tens as
earlier generations, but people will keep the music they like in
rotation on their iPods, and ignore the stuff they do not like.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
This is a tough question.  I am not a trained musician, and I know only
very rudimentary concepts in music theory, so my inroad to music-making
and performance was as a DJ, as "selector."  I soon began isolating
smaller and smaller segments and organizing sounds in more complex
arrangements.  The act of sampling, made much easier with contemporary
digital audio software, has allowed me to explore the micro-sonic
interstices of brief sound samples and artifacts.  So, while I hesitate
to call myself a composer, I have spent a lot of time organizing sounds
into groupings and patterns, structuring "compositions" as a visual
artist might arrange a collage.  I also record sounds from the real
world and re-present them, and my background as a photographer naturally
helps me in this new role as phonographer.

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal
emotions into the music he plays.

It depends on the artist.  In my early days as a poet and painter I was
very much interested in the confessional mode, expressing the emotional
state of my status as a young man in the world.  Now that I'm older and
happily married, I am not as interested in talking about myself or
expressing personal emotions.  In my current poetry project I explore a
more complex process of rooting out meanings and associations through
found poetry and remixed texts.  I certainly appreciate an emotional
musical performance, but I'm just as happy with a more ambient, abstract

True or false: "Music is my first love."
False.  Reading was my first big discovery, and then drawing.  My
creativity is grounded in the visual and verbal.  I did not really
listen to music until I was out of grade school, and not until high
school did music really start stirring things up for me.  I love it now,
but I cannot say it would be my first choice if I was forced to pick one
mode of creativity.

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they
can really appreciate it.

Music education is certainly helpful, but definitely not necessary to
appreciate music.  While I would love to know more about the intricacies
of classical music, particularly the work of my namesake, I can still
appreciate the beauty of a chamber quartet.  I don't understand all of
the theory underpinning jazz improvisation, but when Coltrane returns to
a song's theme after an unbelievable, wrenching solo, the chills are
very real.  A percentage of the audience to was
unfamiliar with the specific types of music being showcased, but many of
them came up to me during intermissions to say they were glad to be
exposed to these new sounds.

What's your favourite CD at the moment?

I listen to music primarily at work, and so I drag and drop MP3s all day
long.  I listen to a lot of dub, old-school ska and Jamaican soul,
underground hip hop.  I always go back to Songs:Ohia, Tarwater, Pan
American, Cat Power, the very first Cowboy Junkies album ("Whites Off
Earth Now!").  The recent Nick Cave album is incredible.  Loren Connors
(with our without his middle name) is always a good listen.  Recently a
lot of Miles Davis, particularly with his classic quintet before he
brought out the funk.  I could listen to Feldman's "Rothko Chapel" all
day long.

What's up for you after the festival?

Go offline for a few days!  Spend more time with my poetry project, read
more.  Drive down to Laguna Beach with my wife and enjoy fish tacos at
Wahoo's, sit on the beach and listen to the waves and watch the
shorebirds flitter at the shorebreak.

Blind Contour


Glenn Bach

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