"Three great trio improvisations recorded in December 2011 at a church in the City of London. Beautiful, spacious, yet at times tense music."-Another Timbre
"Interview with Tisha Mukarji
First of all could you tell us something about your background: how you came to music, and to improvisation in particular?
I started with the piano at an early age, and soon after the point when I could sit properly on a bench without the aid of a phone book, and with the encouragement of my piano teacher, I went on to start a classical training. My arrival into experimental music (since in retrospect I see it as a musical journey) has followed a rather circuitous path.
I was always curious about how the piano works and excited when the piano tuner came to visit. Later I reflected that pianists, compared to other musicians, are the most removed from their instruments and have little, if any, knowledge of how the piano works. So this gap pushed me to pursue an apprenticeship with a piano tuner.
So now I had some knowledge of fooling around inside the piano and one day in a practice room someone who had overheard me mentioned John Cage and from that day onwards I pursued independently a study of Cage and his contemporaries.
At that point in my life I was moving around a bit, and had landed in Damascus where I was trying to find people to make music with. One thing led to another and I met up with the people from Irtijal (The Free Improv Festival in Lebanon): Sharif and Christine Sehnaoui, and Mazen Kerbaj in Beirut.
I think they were in their fourth year of the festival and they invited me to come and play. It was a great meeting and since Damascus isn't far, I went on quite a few musical trips to Beirut to meet and listen, play and enjoy their company, as well as the other players who were present there.
So I definitely see my time in Beirut as an entry into this improv scene, one that opened up a lot of other meetings. The second kind of defining improv moment was when I left Damascus for Lisbon and met and played with Ernesto Rodrigues....but that's another story.
A compact version of this would be that I started listening to and reading about contemporary music and then met practitioners, which was an important point because personal study needed to be activated by encounters with improvisers (who actually all had different sorts of musical backgrounds).
I hadn't realised that you'd entered the improv scene through such a circuitous route. It's great that a scene that is so marginal (geographically, not musically) was able to kickstart your interest in improvisation. And now, just a few years down the line, you're based in Berlin, which is like Improv Capital. That must be quite a contrast.
Yes it's a bit strange when I think of it, but then again it fits me. It couldn't have been any other way. I had this practice room at the French Institute in Damascus and I was working on music and improvising with very limited access to what other people were doing, and then I met Mazen and we talked about concrete music (which I was very interested in at the time) and he introduced me to the rest of the "crew", and although they were mostly self-taught musicians and really coming from a jazz scene so to speak, we were all excited about the possibilities of practising music and playing music differently. I think this story really highlights one of the beauties of a community that goes across borders. Today if I were to go to Tokyo or Brno I would be connected to a group of people through this music. Another historical parallel would be the Fluxus movement, which perhaps was one of the first truly international communities of artists, musicians, poets and so on.
As for Berlin, it's true it is an "Improv capital" but strangely enough I hardly ever play with people here, perhaps only once or twice a year...go figure. But I certainly do soak up the concerts. It was a necessary move for me as a musician, an artist, and just someone who wanted to stand still for a moment without falling into isolation. I'm very happy I don't have to travel so much now to meet people or listen to concerts.
That's interesting because I was talking to another musician recently who moved to Berlin a few years ago, expecting to be really active and busy, but actually found it quite difficult to fit in and build connections with the hundreds of other improvising and experimental musicians there. Perhaps sometimes- or for some people - it's easier to work productively in smaller communities: Barcelona, Beirut, Bueonos Aires or Boston rather than Berlin.
Anyway, we should be talking about 'outwash': of course I know that you've worked with Angharad before, but what about Dimitra? How did you come to meet and work with her?
I met with Dimitra two years ago. She was in Berlin for some days and Lucio Capece was organising a haus konzerte and asked me to play. I think the set up was Dimitra, Robin Hayward, Lucio and myself....it was a nice gig. During the evening I started to talk with Dimitra and invited her to come and do a recording session with me. Actually at that moment I was recording some material and working on unbalanced in (unbalanced out). So I had this space free and thought it would be nice to do a duo....
I would say that this is a typical Berlin kind of meeting between musicians. You contact people for a coffee and well why not a little session of playing....
OK, so what about Angharad. I know that you'd played together a bit before you produced 'Endspace', but how and when did you two meet up, and why did you decide to work together more?
I think this was in 2006 - although I first met Angharad when I played in the LMC Festival in 2005 - but it was on my second trip to London (Mark Wastell had invited me to join him in a quartet for 2 concerts) that I met Angharad and also gave her a copy of a self-released solo CD called Short Pieces. This was May 2006, I believe.
The idea of recording together was Angharad's. I think she liked my CD and wanted to try something out, so I said I'd come to London for the LMC festival that year for a visit and that we should combine the trip with some recording days. Sebastian Lexer was also quite important since he organised a space at Goldsmith's and all the recording set up, which was brilliant.
That was the first day of recording and playing together as a duo - later the same day we also recorded a quintet with Nikos Veliotis, Rhodri Davies, and Andrea Neumann, which was fun - lots of strings...
I don't think that the decision was made to really go for a record together at that time, everything was still quite open. But then a few months later Angharad invited me to play in a trio with her and Andrea Neumann so that allowed us to play again, and I think at that point it was becoming clear that we had two languages that combined well together, and also that we both were happy with a playing style that left a lot of space to one another, and left a space open for sounds to develop.
Following this,we decided to meet again in a few months to do a second recording session, out of which came Endspace.
You talk about a playing style 'that left a lot of space to one another, and left a space open for sounds to develop'. That's a pretty good description of both 'Endspace' and 'Outwash'. There's a quality of openness and a relaxed feel to the music in both albums. But do you find any significant differences in style or feel between the two?
Hmm...you know I had played both with Dimitra and Angharad separately so I felt quite relaxed doing the recording. It's true that at some moments I felt completely in sync with Angharad and it was rather like our duo plus a guest, but as the session continued I think we went somewhere else. With Angharad I have developed, or rather we have developed, an understanding of each other's music which creates a certain freedom of playing. It's a freedom not to make music or not to play so much, to allow sounds to decay.
The trio gave me more space in the sense that the pieces didn't have to be so compact. With Endspace I felt that our playing (and the way we edited it) had a lot to do with punctuation and phrases, whereas with Outwash I think it's more about sentences. There's more time taken to follow through musical ideas. I think the structure and playing on Outwash has a lot more fluidity to it; there are hardly any breaks or sudden changes in it, although there are shifts. Perhaps this is inherent in having three voices- I'm not sure."-Another Timbre
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At The Squid's Ear!
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lowercase, micro-improv, sound improv
European Improv, Free Jazz & Related
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