RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Interview with Jeffrey Roden

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
home in my office / studio in los angeles and very excited about the work and having a release out on new albion.

What’s on your schedule at the moment?
right now i am focusing on two separate activities. i am doing my best to present the “seeds of happiness” to as many people as possible and i have started the final composing stage of the music for “seeds of happiness” part three. i have completed 23 sketches that will either become the music for the “seeds of happiness” part three or they will join the other cast offs in a forlorn stack of might have beens. i changed my method of composition when i began composing the “seeds of happiness” part one. i began to sketch a lot of thematic material without concern for the outcome. this allowed me to go back to refine and arrange all the sketch material as a whole body of work. it gives the work an overall continuity and allows me to sketch freely without bogging down in the infinite details that emerge in the final composition and arrangement stages. i am happy making the differentiation between composing and sketching and keeping them as separate activities.

Follow-Ups are often a difficult affair: How do you see “Part 2”, as a remake, a sequel or as something in the same vein, but with a meaning of its own?
i do not see part two as a sequel or a follow up. it is strictly an extension of part one. i will continue to compose music for the solo electric bass as long as i can find interesting settings to present the bass in and as long as the playing challenges my ability as a musician. since playing this way is trying and difficult, i suspect it will be a very long while before that happens.

Even though the new album again took some time to complete, I had the impression from our correspondence that “Seeds of Happiness Part 2” was an easier birth than “Part 1”. How do you see that yourself?
that was a very astute observation by you, tobias. part two was easier because i had part one as a template and i felt very good about the way part one sounded. so much depends on one’s faith in the materials and the conceptual aspects of the music. with this confidence, there is no sense of questioning or doubt within the composing and that expedites the whole process of writing. also, because of the amount of time it took to get to the actual recording of part one started, i was able to develop a variety of new techniques for playing the bass which eliminated some confusion in the fingerings and made everything easier and smoother on part two.

How important was it for the finished album that the same production team (Steve Roden and John Potoker) were on board again?
one word will suffice here: essential. john potoker is an absolute master of his craft and the sonic quality of the recordings is evidence of that. he also sets up a studio vibe which is calm, professional, and centered around the artist. during the recording sessions, there was a total focus on capturing my performances and during the mix downs, the same attention was paid to finding the overall sound of the music. i think it was john’s ability to create a great workspace that allowed me to record all of the music for both parts in less that two full days in the studio, and that includes all the overdubs. steve roden is usually ahead of me in knowing where my work is going. he handles all the mixing and other producer-type decisions in the studio. he has the unbelievable ability of knowing what is the rightness in whatever he is doing. i am sure i have mentioned to you that he has subtly or sometimes overtly pushed me to work with the bass by itself and has often encouraged me to play solo.

I also had the impression, that while “Part 1” had a certain undercurrent of tension running underneath the warm bass lines, “Part 2” sounds more relaxed. Would you say that you were in a more placid frame of mind while recording it compared to the first session?
i suppose the answer is the proverbial yes and no. yes because the day i recorded part two was a day of effortless playing and i felt that almost anything i wanted to do was possible. no because i knew that this recording would determine whether or not the record would be released on new albion. there was some pressure there!

After listening for the first time I thought of how much closer you got to your goal of allowing the music to breathe organically and not to panic if that meant leaving spaces of silence between two notes. Would you say you have gained confidence in this respect over the last few years?
many things have led to this suspension of time and trust in silence. i have begun listening to composers like morton feldman and other “minimalists”, i have discarded for the most part the notion of transitions in my composing, and i have been able to shed the last vestiges of my interest in overly complicated playing. i understand now how silence becomes an element of the fabric of the work, and i hope that the drama of the pace of the work never descends into melodrama. i told loren chasse this about it: “i am happiest when the bass ceases to be a bass and becomes instead the producer of tones that enables the listener to exist in a separate perfect world for a period of time.”

Was the entire material finished when you entered the studio or was there still room for improvisation and new elements?
part two had no solos, and all the music was composed before i went into the studio. that being said, i frequently changed the rhythm, phrasing, and tempo of the pieces as they were being recorded. when i play the bass i only hear the bass, and in a sense I am only marginally aware of what i am playing. if i am not in that state, then usually either steve or i know that the music is not quite as it should be. so even though the music is composed, it appears as if it is improvised because i am playing it without thinking of the composition. it arrives on it own terms.

To me, each of the new pieces has a very distinct and unique mood to it. Is that an aspect of how you approach composing (from a mood-point of view)? Or would you say that other factors come in first?
i never think about mood when i am composing or performing. my goal is to let the notes and feelings find their own expression and to stand back from any effort to control them. it is a little hokey to say “oh i am the conduit”, but when the work is going well either as a composer or musician, this is how it is. the moods develop from the notes and the bass speaking and the listeners’ willingness to submerge themselves in the sound that the notes and the bass bring to them. i make no conscious effort to impact that.

A (slightly adapted) quote I suddenly thought of when listening to “Part 2”: “An artist must practise a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with his hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere”. Can you relate to that statement?
absolutely a true statement. the failure to heed this brings us the academic and dry music which sounds interesting before hearing and never fails to leave us unmoved and empty afterwards. i have often been unaware of what i have played until hearing it back when it has been recorded. i believe a musician practices and studies so that he or she may be completely empty of all thought and fear at the moment that the notes are created. you have to be able to suspend all sense of time and knowledge and simply hear the notes as they are being formed and propelled out into the world. if you think, then the work is filled with your thoughts and this is not the kind of music i am interested in making.

I also had to think of Japanese pencil drawings, with their fine, minimal yet highly expressive lines. As you carefully selected the cover artwork yourself:Are paintings an influence to your music?
lately i have been quietly berating myself for not taking more time to explore the visual arts. it is really quite embarrassing, especially as i spend so much time with steve roden. steve recently composed a piece to accompany the rothko exhibition at moca in los angeles and standing in front of the rothkos was the cause of a great shivering inside of me. the potency and power of the paintings caused me to want to step into them; there was like a magnetic pull toward the canvas. i had similar experiences last year in italy, feeling the infinite nature and power of the religious art that i saw. i have a picture of one of the life size mary statues in my studio to remind of this feeling. i hope that my work will begin to operate on this same level of affecting the listener as a whole rather than the separate elements of music, i.e., theme, dynamics, rhythm, etc.

From the overall packaging, the careful booklet text and the inclusion of the entire “Part 1” on this rerelease, it seems as though your relationship with Albion Records was a very cooperative one. Correct?
well, again, it is like a dream to be on this label. i see my name on the list of artists and am never quite sure it is real. once foster reed agreed to release the record, the whole assembling the record process was effortless. the designer of the cd booklet, john choe, designed a package that is a wonderful expression of the music within. everything about the whole experience with foster and new albion has been great. the choice of the cover art, the inclusion of the poem that i wrote, the photos - these were all foster’s ideas and i could not be happier with the outcome.

Why did you, in the end, decide to give the pieces titles, instead of leaving the mere numerical system? How did you decide upon them?
foster thought that using the theme numbers would be confusing, especially since there were twenty six of them. after thinking it through i realized he was right. i sat in bed and listened to the same piece over and over again until the title appeared. some of titles relate to the feeling that i had in the studio while recording and some of them relate to my spiritual life. really my work is always a kind of worship. the titles reflect that better than the numbers.

Actually, when listening to the new album I thought how great it would be of this could be an ongoing series documenting different stages of your life, while at the same time depicting the diverse sound qualities of the bass. Is there any chance of a “Seeds of Happiness Part 3”?
as i mentioned, part three is well underway and should be completed in the next couple of months. once it is finished, i will probably start to work on some ensemble music. the music for the solo electric bass is fundamental because while i enjoy composing, playing the bass is what gives my life meaning and its deepest joy.

On your homepage you state that “perfection is possible”. How close have you come to that state with the new album?
as far as i know, only miles davis’ “sketches of spain” is perfect. i am hopefully working on my own perfect record. the “seeds of happiness” is as close as i have come so far. maybe it is as perfect as i was capable of in the moment of its conception, or it has fewer of the imperfections that have tortured me about my work in the past. the beauty of the recording made such a difference, as my ear was not constantly being jarred out of the moment by sonic issues. i have not yet made my perfect record. it is there, though and i continue to hold my hands up and reach for it.

Mary Anne's Dream (The Big Tree) 1994
Songs for Susan (The Big Tree) 1995
The Floor of the Forest (The Big Tree) 1998
Seeds of Happiness Part 1 (The Big Tree) 2005
Seeds of Happiness Part 1&2 (New Albion) 2007

Jeffrey Roden

Related articles

LP Feature/ Minus Pilots: "Superior Proof of Cinema"
Monochromatic depth: You have to ...
CD Feature/ Christian Weber: "Wacheturm Solo"
An intruiging display of benign ...
15 Questions to Juan Matos Capote
One of the great developments ...
15 Questions to Anla Courtis
For many artists in the ...
15 Questions to Andreas Usenbenz/Nobile/Sonovo
It is the quest of ...
15 Questions to Jair-Rôhm Parker Wells
Some things you only realize ...
CD Feature/ Jeffrey Roden: "Seeds of Happiness"
Roden has refused to succumb ...
CD Feature/ Guido Ponzini: "Twilight Town"
Makes the Chapman stick sound ...
15 Questions to Trip Wamsley
Trip doesn't give much about ...
15 Questions to Z'EV
It was about time some ...
Quiet and Free
Grundik and Slava have a ...
Metropolitan Music
Jeffrey Roden goes live again
CD Feature: Jeffrey Roden: "Seeds of Happiness Part 1"
Let the music do the ...
15 Questions to Jeffrey Roden
Some artists seem to want ...

Partner sites