I am just on my way home from ten days in Sweden. I was invited over by Thomas Olsson as part of the music education IB Expo. Also along for the journey were guitarist Henry Kaiser, drummer Morgan Ågren and the Swedish group Midaircondo.
We basically set up camp in Varberg in this fantastic hotel and traveled out to different cities each day. The hotel was probably the nicest place I have ever stayed. Not because it was a fancy place – it wasn’t. But it was just right. Small nice rooms, open buffet for breakfast 6-10am and for dinner 6-10pm. It had a wonderful open dining area around the entire main floor. There was a whiskey bar and smoking room. And the ‘special sauce’ on the place was a bathhouse on the first floor that was a remake of Lenin’s favorites bathhouse in St. Petersburg. More than a wee bit strange to have busts and photos of Lenin all over the place, but it was very, very nice being down there. See the photos:
So we would get up, have breakfast, and then head off to various other cities where we would meet with groups of musicians or aspiring producers and filmmakers. Each of would usually take a one and half hour slot and we would work through the whole day with the participants.
The first day began with Henry, and he had me come up and improvise with him along to video footage of his underwater diving operations in Antarctica. Henry has been doing “under the south pole” diving for scientific research for years (see video).
Then Midaircondo played and spoke. Lisa and Lisen are singers and players (bass flute, clarinet) as well as heavy electronic manipulators. They would build up loops and sounds of their voices and instruments and improvise all sorts of landscapes. I have no idea what they had to say about their work, as it was all in Swedish. But they were extremely charming and the participants were incredibly engaged.
When it was my turn I performed with this large percussion ensemble. I had sent them a score of TU’s piece “Absinthe”. These folks learned it and worked out an arrangement. So we worked our way through the piece – trying different ideas and them getting used to my fangled way of giving cues. It was blast. There were probably about 6 or 8 marimba players, several hand drummers and an accordionist! We rocked pretty hard and played through the piece for about 30 or 40 minutes.
Then I spoke about working towards your personal creative voice and took questions.
Up next was Morgan who blew the house down playing along to some backing guitar parts by Meshuggah’s guitar player. Then he got Henry and I to come and play with him. Pretty cool, though I have no idea whether we were any good!
Morgan takes a Walk
- - -
The next day I took the train to Lunds and played and spoke to a group of aspiring music producers. This was extremely rewarding as they had so many great questions and I found a nice flow of giving information, accessing my experience and hearing their concerns and questions about music and the musical life. I also, finally, pieced together some gaps in my equipment programming and playing. I have a relatively new live setup and was, also, using this week to get some of it together. So today I performed solo with some new kind of delay concepts I am playing around with. I think it was pretty cool.
Next up was Midaircondo who performed even stronger today.
Neither Morgan nor Henry were with us today. They went elsewhere. Morgan was off smashing drums at another music school and Henry was speaking to different film schools.
- - -
On Wednesday, we were back in the general area of Varberg, but in a much larger concert hall that is part of a music school. Henry and I played again but without video. Then Henry did some improvising with the Midaircondo. This time the girls were just using some kind of circuit board box that made squawks and beeps. Very fun.
I got up and performed solo again. Based on my track “The Cruelest Month”.
Then the percussionists joined me again for Absinthe. Then more speaking. These participants were much younger than any we had had before – maybe 15-18 years old. And they were extremely shy. In fact, I couldn’t even get anyone to ask a question. And since I had no agenda, I had nothing to say. So I just kept assaulting them with questions until someone responded. Funnily enough one woman said that it was hard for her to speak as she was so overwhelmed by the experience of the music. So I grilled into her to explain. Basically, what we uncovered was that the rhythms in Absinthe were so strong, and unusual, for her that she had a hard time processing it all. We even whittled it down to the four bars of five break before the return to the head. I had the percussionists come out and we talked through that section. And, I had to agree that it was a very strange rhythm!
Then I had Morgan come out and play through Absinthe with all of us. This was fantastic. It was so rewarding to hear the percussionists say how much different it felt playing the piece with Morgan. Yeah, his feel is great. To sit inside that feel is a remarkably different experience from not having him. This, in a way, sums up my advice to young players, especially rock players: find a drummer with a great feel and play as much as possible with them.
Absinthe with Morgan Agren and Swedish Percussionists (& one accordionist)
- - -
Thursday, day number four and our final day, had us driving to the IB studios. The plan was that Henry and I would take musicians through a coaching session while Morgan went elsewhere and wailed on his drums. However we had until 4pm before our sessions began, so we decided to do some recording first.
So, into the studio, mic up the drums, plug in the guitars and we had a quick hour and half to do some playing. We got our sounds together relatively quickly and began. A few quick takes later and Henry had us doing a bunch of endings. This was a great idea, as with many improves it isn’t easy to carve an ending. Well, now we have about a dozen. Then more playing before Morgan had to leave. So Henry and I did a few things just as a duo. This was quite unusual as Henry and I have such different approaches, not just to our instruments, to how we shape sound. I have no idea whether any of it was good or not – that wasn’t the mind frame I was in. We will all be going through the audio this week and see what’s there.
Henry in the studio
- - -
Then we shifted in coaching mode.
Henry took half the group, about 6, and I took the other half. This was pretty interesting as the only coaching I have done before is in a one-to-one context. To be honest, I am not so sure how comfortable I would be doing this, myself, in a group context. The reason being that sometimes very intimate personal details come up when dealing with people’s strategies, aims and obstacles. But everything went very smoothly, and as good as can be expected with only a short amount of time to work together.
I spent some time explaining to each group how I work and how I view the creative process. All the different hats that you need to wear and how each stage needs to have it’s own space. Space that doesn’t get intruded upon by the other stages. And how you need to work through the whole process several times in order for full confidence to be built.
The R&D stage
The Forming stage
The Production stage
At least this is how I see it at the moment. No doubt, further work will refine things.
Then we began discussing the various works of the folks present. How they feel stuck, or not. Where their passions lie and more.
I think it was rewarding for everyone.
- - -
Friday we said goodbye to the IB Expo. Morgan and I flew back to Stockhom and made plans for our show the next day.
Saturday was the big gig of the week. Morgan and I were joined by Mats (Morgan’s longtime musical collaborator), Gustaf (Meshuggah bass player), Sebastian on electric cello, and Mamadou (singer and dancer from Senegal).
We played in, what turned out to be, a very famous venue. Now called Melloclub, it used to be The Golden Circle. So many people played here that the list is crazy. But two big notables were The Beatles and Ornette Colman, who’s recording with his trio “Live at The Golden Circle” was, obviously, made in this place.
I think it was a good gig. Hard to know very much as I was totally pre-occupied with taking care of business. Meaning keeping track of which improv comes when and which sounds to use and just overall blending with everyone. There were definitely some high points. Like when Mamadou was onstage, basically. He and Morgan and I did two pieces together as a trio, which was fantastic. Very uplifting having this full-on African voice calling out the music. And occasionally throughout the show, even in some of the most abstract sections, he would jump out onto the stage and just start dancing.
I will be adding more video here, as I get it edited.
Gig in Stockholm – opening piece: