Degenerate Art Ensemble Interview
Nella mia graduatoria del tutto personale e soggettiva delle migliori "scoperte" musicali degli ultimi anni i DAE occupano uno dei primissimi posti. A me ignoti sino a pochi mesi or sono (ahimŤ!, ...Ť brutto rendersi conto della propria ignoranza...) mi sono letteralmente innamorato degli scampoli di musica ascoltabili sul loro sito (http://www.degenerateartensemble.com/) che grande arte, scrittura eccezionale, avanguardia colta, musica varia ricca di influenze R.I.O., Jazz, classiche, etno-nipponiche,... mai fine a sŤ stessa, costantemente ispirata, sempre compositivamente "presente", anche nei momenti di apparente rarefazione.
Non rinuncerei a nessuno degli otto titoli disponibili, e nessuno di voi, malati terminali del medesimo morbo progressivo che mi divora, dovrebbe fare altrimenti! ...assolutamente indispensabili.
1) Tell us a brief history of the band (influences, previous bands, the beginning, experiences,...)
Joshua Khol: We started working together in the early 90's as The Young Composers Collective. At that time we were a fairly changing group of composers and musicians. Haruko Nishimura and I were the only current members in that first group. We had assembled a 17 piece orchestra and we were performing in rock clubs. Good old sweaty grunge rock clubs, but with full orchestra and a healthy dose of performance art. There were a few dancers and other wild performers that were joining us for these early shows. We did some really fun stuff. In one show I transcribed a 1950's Japanese "enka" song (a style of Japanese 40's-60's music that takes traditional singing styles and puts it together with 1950's modern orchestra) and Haruko and I went around to all of the Japanese kareoke bars in Seattle to find a great Japanese singer - and we found this wonderful woman. She got the full hairstyle, kimono, everything and we played this fabulous song and she performed with us there at the OK Hotel (a famous grunge dive at the time).
Another dancer/performing artists Saiko Kobayashi was performing with us also at the time, she would do crazy improvisations - along with musicians (among them Eyvind Kang) - and a huge number of other great people.
We even had a Gamelan composer in the group, and he'd bring the gongs. It was really something and we ALWAYS sold those shows out. During that time, Haruko, who had been our pianist at the time, became totally obsessed with the performance art and dance elements in these shows. She gradually started to do more and more performing as a dancer/performer and eventually, she quit the piano all together. She only played piano on our first two albums ("The Young Composers Collective" and "Metropolis"). To this day, she wont touch the piano. From that time on, Haruko spent years traveling the US and Europe studying "Butoh" dance with Japanese masters.
Out of these early shows, we were asked to collaborate with a Seattle based Outdoor Movies organization. They were planning a HUGE free outdoor cinema event in the summer of 1996. For this we composed a full score to Fritz Lang's 1926 classic Metropolis. This was a huge huge undertaking, and the entire 17 piece orchestra score was performed live to an outdoor audience of 10,000 people on Seattle's Lake Union.
They had built a 20 foot high screen on the old industrial gas factory and set up an orchestra stage. This event was a big visibility thing for us and led to many opportunities. I should say here that the recording "Metropolis" is NOT set up to be viewed with the movie.
We took the scenes out of order for the CD in order to make it more enjoyable listening. It is made to be a listening album, and not to be put together with the film. We do have a recording of the live performance with a video of the film, but we haven't released that yet. Around the same time, we started creating a stream of large scale dance-theater projects based first on Japanese ghost tales ('Yokai' - two tracks recorded on The Young Composers Collective), and then Haruko started creating surreal stories of her own. Rinko (Unit Circle Rekkids), Razor Stitch (Degenerate Recordings) and Scream!Liondogs (Degenerate Recordings) are all soundtracks to dance-theater projects.
We always recorded and put them together with listening in mind - so they all do stand alone as albums. To get an idea of what these projects were like on stage, its probably best to go to our website and look at the photographs. Those three shows in particular were quite dark and haunting. Rinko was the story of a girl ghost child trapped in a future apocalypse where there is only one living mutant of a human being. Razor Stitch took place in a Laboratory where the main characters were creatures undergoing behavior experiments. Scream!LionDogs was based on a murder that took place here in the Northwest US, where an asian-american teenager was killed by neo-nazi skinheads. Some of the music that came out of Scream!LionDogs had a more of a rocking band sound. And that was what inspired us to put together a set of rocking band music to play in rock clubs. We reduced the number of musicians from 17 down to 9 (mostly for the sake of touring) and came up with the music that makes up the album Lookaway Popeye.
Around the same time, Haruko and I started working with the San Francisco based dance company "InkBoat" led by choreographer Shinichi Koga - and including the musicians from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. With InkBoat, we did a series of residencies and performances in Germany, and that was the start of our working in Europe. Following the first InkBoat project, we arranged our first shows in Berlin. For the next few years, we came back to Europe and in 2004 we toured 40 cities across Netherlands, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. During that time we recorded and released The Bastress - also with the 9 piece big band. In 2005, DAE took another big change. We reduced the number of members down to 4 for a tour and a series of dance performances. In the same year we also presented a concert in Seattle for 45 piece orchestra. The following year we created the show Cuckoo Crow (you can see video clips from this on our website), and an album of the same name. The key artists on Cuckoo Crow were long time DAE member (for 12 years) Josh Stewart, Jherek Bischoff, Haruko Nishimura and myself. The album was brilliantly produced by engineer Robb Kunz.
2) In your composition there are many different styles mixed together with originality, which is the"formula" that you use to do that?
Joshua Khol: Everything we do, we try to do it with instinct. Not to plan "Im going to mix this with that". Just go with the feeling of that moment. I think it is influenced by doing music with performance/dance and film in some way. You never know what will work until you try all of your ideas. You might think "hmm... a big marching band could work great here." And it might. Or might not. But you try it. You think in terms of what works. Not just a good idea. Because some ideas seem like a great idea. But then you try it and it sucks. So The key, I think is to stay true to your instincts AND be honest when you sit back and listen. Your ear and your heart will tell you if it makes good music or not. You use every tool and imagination you've got.
3) Which role have in your music minimalism and improvisation?
Joshua Khol: Minimalism does not really play much of a role. Perhaps some of the sounds of minimalism have found their way into our music as part of a larger pallet. In Rinko for example, there is a track that seems kind of minimalist, but I think that is coincidental. Improvisation has been a really important part of our work. Not so much in the final product, but in the development of our work (particularly for the dance work). I could say that about 95% of the music on all of our albums is note by note composed. But there are many places where solos are taken (much like in jazz) or other places where a texture or soundscape came to us out of improvisation. Often we will find an idea from improvisation and then figure out how to recreate it and keep it. Sometimes it is fun to compose a part that sounds like an improvisation but it isnt. Like the song "Bastress" on the album Bastress has a viola and sax "solo" that is completely composed. It sounds like an improvisation, but there are two people playing it together. So it has this strange effect of telepathy.
4) During the live performances does your music change a lot?
Joshua Khol: Our music changes very little during performance. By the time we hit the stage, our music is very intricately worked out.
5) In your last record the vocal parts have a dominant role, don't you think that this choice could penalize the music a little bit?
Joshua Khol: We really consciously have focused on "songs" lately. That is a deliberate choice. It is a kind of challenge actually. With "experimental music" there is often a tendency to be very intellectual, very smart. But with songs with human voice, you have to really just express something real. Yes the instrumentation takes a bit less prominent role, but I think the soul of the music really speaks loudly. For me as a composer, I find writing a "Song" with voice is the most challenging thing. Not because of any technical reasons, but because your soul and your expression is laid more bare for anyone to see. You cant hide when a human voice is there. In some sense, the instrumentation has to be simplified in order for the voice to come out strong. Especially in a song driven album like Cuckoo Crow. On the Bastress, Haruko's voice was more like one of the 9 instruments. But with Crow we wanted to create something extremely intimate. Like someone whispering into your ear. There was something very liberating in having a voice in the music. We are currently writing the songs that will make up our next album, and I'm thinking about this relationship between instrumental and song. Im definately not finished with songs. But I also have a urge to start writing some big instrumental or even orchestral stuff in the near future. Part of what Degenerate Art Ensemble is all about is taking each new project as a challenge. A challenge to do things that we have never done before in a way that we have never done before. Thats what keeps our music evolving and changing. You can see that if you listen to all the albums in a row. There is a clear aesthetic through all of them, but they are all finding that aesthetic through completely different angles.
6) Who is your typical fan?
Joshua Khol: Our fans are:
1) experimental music junkies.
2)dance and performance art fans
3)indie music people who are love something totally
different, but still not too difficult to connect to
4)far out punks
7) Are there other bands that you find close to your style?
Joshua Khol: Honestly no. There are some elements of our music that are in common with other groups, but as a big picture, no. You could say there is some brotherhood with groups like The Ex, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, Cinematic Orchestra... but hard to say.
8) Are there possibilities to see DAE playing live in Europe in the next future?
Joshua Khol: We have toured in Europe 5 times. The last time was in July of 2007. We played at the huge world music festival in Rudolstadt Germany. We would love to come back soon, perhaps 2009.
9) Which kind of music are you listening now?
Joshua Khol: Me personally: Cee-Lo Green is my current obsession. He is so damn outrageous and puts out such a positive energy in his music. Playfull and imaginative. Also Will Oldem (Bonnie Prince Billy) - his voice just really gets to me. Last year I was obsessed with Joanna Newsom's album "Y's". An amazing orchestral album. Really a classic.
10) What about the future of the band?
Joshua Khol: Right now we are working on a new album to be recorded in May and released in September. This is going to be something very different. We are working on lots of touring possibilities. We are doing our next big multi-media project in March of 2009. This will be very intensely music oriented with Haruko as a solo dancer and singer.
11) Do you want to add something?
Joshua Khol: For some reason we have been getting a lot of CD orders from Italy recently... we don't know why. Do you know????