the autointerview

               Ir/rational music is a useful pun to describe what I try to manifest in my
               I would invariably and eventually be asked Well, just what kind of music do
               you make?  This question might be asked after having heard me or before.  To
               me, it was the music that I do.  At the time I moved to New York City in
               1979, I began to clarify how to explain and categorize  it - a process not only
               of focussing my own processes and concerns but of separating them from the
               surrounding genres and movements.
               Certain elements of sound and process were clearly manifest as overriding
               concerns in my work. I also had a very clear notion of what it
               wasnt: I felt no resonance with the academics - I used rock instrumentation
               and dynamics and tended to play in clubs and lofts but my own music wasnUt
               considered rock by most who heard it. It definitely wasnt jazz although filled
               with improvisation.  Even with improvisation as a vital and major element,
               structure and syntax were always prime considerations. Sometimes I used
               elements of motoric repetition (inspired by funk and rock and non-Western
               musics) and accretive or phasing processes,  but I knew that it was not
               minimalism (especially given the socio-cultural milieu of the Minimalists - the
               Soho 70s) nor did it carry the baggage of  socialist realism or  the
               appropriation and irony of  post-modernism. As I scanned the list of isms, I
               deleted them.
               The solo concerts were always the most concentrated and truest representations
               of what I did and the essence lay somewhere within them.  I decided in
               December1980 to release on my zOaR label  a cassette of excerpts of solo gigs
               from the previous year and decided on the title Ir/Rational Music - a title
               that would include this cassette,  a series of future solo releases, and a
               general description of  my approach to composition.
               ir (an IRresistable pun) - the acoustics of sound in space and in the ear and its
               connection to the to perceptual engine: the overtone series, difference tones, 
               feedback, volume effects, <define melody>, <define groove>.
               the rational: structure and order, algorithms of use and process, formal 
               systems of organization, social and genre context, cross-reference.
               overall - the ir/rational - chaos, intuition, the tangential.
               Non-linear improvisation is an essential part of ir/rational music -
               improvisation brings the music to life; it transforms the static into the
               dynamic; the individual effector in the sonic flux.
               The band CARBON was first conceived in April 1983 to be an anti-silicon sound:
               earthy, jagged, pulsing, and direct. It emerged from work on the fringes of the
               early hardcore and improv scenes with my band I/S/M and with The Hi-Sheriffs of
               Blue and Mofungo.   Powered from the bottom by Jonathan Kanes monster drums
               and Rick Browns hammered bass and steel drum and fueled mostly by rage and
               amphetamines, the band made an ugly blur of sound at our first gig, THE SPEED
               TRIALS Festival (captured in the track YKK
               KYTYD on the Homestead SpeedTrials  compilation.) Personnel shifted in the
               ensuing months and  Marie Pilar entered the picture to sing, scream, yammer,
               and to play the slab and David Lintoneventually replaced Kane on drums plus
               metal percussion.
               The slab - homemade horizontal bass with four strings, movable bridge (to
               yield different tuning ratios), and pickups at each end with separate outputs
               (to yield stereo fields). The pantar -  a steel top from a large storage drum
               fitted with tuning pegs for four strings plus a domed cymbal serving as a
               bridge, amplified by contact mike and with a sound not unlike a tamboura
               crossed with a dumpster.  The violinoid is a violin neck mounted on a solid
               wooden body with guitar tuners, a metal bridge, and picku
               ups on either side of the bridge.]
               In the Fall of 1983 my growing disenchantment with Rthe Downtown scene and my
               own work and personal life led to a seven-month hiatus  from  music.  I felt
               that CARBON had become a reactionary band - not in the notion of anti-
               progressive but in that that music was too-much filled with anger;  too-much
               in reaction to external events.  I was disgusted with the insular, smug and
               predictable music of the scene.  At this same time, I completely lost patience
               with the sacred totems of post-modernism: appropriation,
               deconstruction, and irony; and found myself attracted to mathematical
               studies that had been put aside for some years - especially that of the
               Fibonacci series and the geometry of the Golden Section.
               The Fibonacci series is a number series generated by summing a number and its
               predecessor, beginning with (0,1).  Thus, (0,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144 . . ).
               The average of the ratios of adjacent numbers in the series forms the proportion
               known historically as the Golden Section, PHI (1.61803...).  PHI has been
               employed for millenia in architecture and art and reveals itself in nature as the
               logarithm representing the spiral found in such places as galactic form and
               construction, the cochlea of the
               ear, the shape of the DNA molecule, and growth patterns of flower petals,
               seedcones, ramhorns, and the shell of the chambered nautilus.]
               One cold night in March, having eaten a supper of psylocybin mushrooms, I set
               out to explore the ratios of the Fibonacci series.  In so doing, I found that
               certain ratios of adjacent Fibonacci numbers coincided with ratios of just-
               intoned intervals.  I translated these ratios to a tuning on electric guitar
               with 1/1=C and restricted myself to playing only the open strings and overtones
               using various picking and tapping techniques.  The intervals from low->high
               were C(1/1)  Ab (8/5)  CU (2/1)  GU (3/2)  AU
               (5/3) and CS (3/1).    I was astounded at the results -  liquid harmonic
               melodies pouring off the strings.  It was just after midnight when I began
               playing, sunrise when I stopped.  The results were so encouraging that I
               decided to dig in deeper with a number of strategies for utilization of the
               Fibonacci series.  Besides the primary approach of harmonic tuning, these
               included mapping the ratios to rhythms and to proportions for structures. In
               addition, the ratios were applied to various other instruments,
               including bowed strings (a natural), saxophones (because I played them) and
               trombones (because I liked that instruments purity of tone and the relative
               ease of producing overtones, its ability in the wrong hands to produce an
               astounding array of onomotopoetic sounds,  its relation to the dijeridu and
               the ragdung, its pedal tones, and its essential simplicity.)
               Over the course of the next two months, I composed the cores for six pieces
               that were fleshed out in rehearsals at the basement of One Morton  (aka Studio
               Henry) and in one concert at Plugg, Giorgio Gomelskys loft on 24th street. I
               wanted to fuse the old math and the natural overtone series with sounds and
               techniques from many of the non-European musics that I loved and learned from
               and the extended techniques and sounds and rhythms of the urban life.  The band
               included Linton, Mark Miller, and Charles
               Noyes on a variety of drums and percussion instruments, plus Lesli Dalaba on
               trumpet. I played an old Hohner doubleneck guitar/bass that I had rebuilt,
               soprano sax, bass clarinet, sopranino clarinet, trombone, and voice.  We soon
               went to Martin Bisis studio in Brooklyn to record the pieces that became the
               album CARBON.
               The next phase consisted of building a performing band and a repertoire. The
               band clarified into a loose pool of players who knew the vocabulary and
               syntax of the pieces and my approach to the why  of them.  CARBON varied in
               size from a duet with Bobby Previte to the nine musicians required to perform
               MARCO POLOS ARGALI. In 1985, I became aware of the fractal geometry of
               Benoit Mandelbrot through an article in Scientific American  and became
               increasingly excited by it. I felt a resonance with Mandelb
               brotUs mapping of mathematical functions to forms and phenomena from nature
               including turbulence, chaos, and seeming randomness and felt that my approach
               to music was also a mapping of these forms and phenomena.  Exploring on my
               computer the many regions of an iterated Julia set, I felt that I was looking
               at a picture of time - not linear at all but jagged, reticulated, and looping.
               With the album FRACTAL (1986), I set out to construct  pieces based on various
               aspects of fractal geometry. Each piece had
               shifting elements of structure and guided improvisation, layers of interlocked
               order and chaos.  I looked to the math for catalysis, inspiration, and
               allusion - I was not interested in generating tables of fractals to construct
               musical material - too mechanistic, too academic.  At this time, I also began
               using a MIDI converter on the guitar-half of my doubleneck to drive a sampler.
               By sampling sounds, processes,  and phrases produced through the extended
               techniques that were to form the sonic cores of
               compositions and from the various homemades, an additional reflexive and
               recursive element could be layered into the mix as well as greatly extending my
               timbral range.
               LARYNX was the piece that prompted the next manifestation of the band.
               Commissioned  by Brooklyn Academy of Musics NEXT WAVE Festival and performed
               Nov. 13-14, 1987,  LARYNX was composed for a 13-member version of CARBON
               including the Soldier String Quartet, four drummers, and four musicians
               doubling brass instruments and slabs and pantars.  LARYNX is analogy: the
               orchestra as throat.  It follows as corollary to the throat as orchestra:
               throat-singing as practiced by the Arctic Inuit and the khoomei  singing
               of Siberia and Mongolia, as well as by related jawharp techniques found
               throughout the world.  The natural overtone series is the melodic core of much
               of these musics and of much of LARYNX.   The Fibonacci series was used to
               generate tunings, rhythms, and melodic/harmonic material as well as shape
               general structural proportions.   I wanted the music to dance on the always-
               changing boundary between a structural geometry derived from the Fibonacci
               series and a fractal geometry of turbulence, chaos, and
               disorder.  The explicitly-ordered materials are embedded in a dense flux of
               multiple processes - layers of micro-melodies and micro-rhythms, dense cross-
               talk between the players.  With each transformation, new landscapes and new
               processes emerge.
               LARYNX is constructed in six major sections with five interludes.
               The opening and closing use all four drummers: Bobby Previte, Charles Noyes,
               Samm Bennett, David Linton; the remaining sections each feature one, with the
               others playing slabs or samples.  Each drummer has developed a unique sound and
               vocabulary; I enjoy the contrast between them as well as their understanding of
               my compositional syntax.  This applies to all of the musicians in CARBON who
               are given instructions of varying degrees
               ecificity in the different sections (ranging from exact rhythms, notes, or
               playing techniques to more general notions of density and texture.)  The same
               processing algorithms are mapped into each section, cross-referencing them
               while yielding radically different sonic results.  One is transported (via the
               interludes) into each section - the terrain is different yet the functional
               identity of process is the same (an analogy from topology applies: a torus is a
               torus is a torus.)  The interludes form a cycle
               of their own while connecting the cycle of main sections.  The first interlude
               is brass and brass samples, the second -  pantars, the third - the string
               quartet, the fourth - slabs, the fifth - the doubleneck alone.
               On instrumentation: All string instruments were tuned to the Just ratios
               of 1/1, 3/2, 8/5, and 5/3 (translating to C, G, Ab, and A.)  Throughout the
               piece, string instruments were predominantly played using only open strings or
               their overtones  while brass instruments used open pedal tones of these notes
               and their overtones.  There are, however, a number of places in LARYNX, where
               the players are called upon to use the variety of their own idiosyncratic
               extended sound-production techniques, well ou
               any Rsystem.S  ]
               After LARYNX, I wanted to return to a small band-format  and assembled Samm
               Bennett on drums, percussion, sampler;  Linton on drums and tapes; and electric
               harpist Zeena Parkins (doubling on slab and keyboard).  All players had a huge
               timbral range - anyone in the group could deal the woofer frequencies or the
               tweeters, beats, melodies, or pure noise.  This group played a few versions of
               the extended piece JUMPCUT and a number of short pieces, issued as DATACIDE in
               1989. The focus was on song-forms, each
               defined by widely varied parameters.
               Personnel went into flux again and the European touring band in 1990-91 included
               Parkins, bassist Marc Sloan, samplist David Weinstein, and BLIND IDIOT GOD
               drummer Ted Epstein.  For these tours we were joined by Bachir Attar, the
               leader of the Master Musicians of Jahjouka, on rhaita, guimbri, and flute. The
               CARBON sets were filled with 3- and 4-minute blasts - the sets with Bachir were
               pulsing psychedelia, a mythical locus halfway between NY and Morocco. Around
               this same time, I was asked to be part of a 
               new klezmer compilation being produced by Edek Bartz and Albert Misek (who
               perform as Geduldig and Thimann) for an Austrian label.  I adapted a 17th
               century melody for a version of CARBON consisting of Epstein on drums and metal
               and Mark Feldman on violin and baritone violin. I played bass clarinet, soprano
               sax, and the doubleneck and came up with STETL METL, the sound of CARBON as a
               For the next record, TOCSIN, Joseph Trump replaced Epstein on drums and the
               bands groove deepened. TOCSIN  was mostly song-structures with very little
               formality - I had decided that CARBON should not hew to any specific agenda
               but should be the carrier of many mutant strains. Central to the bands sound
               was the use of extended timbres - sometimes to orchestrate a melodic or
               harmonic idea, sometime to function as the entire sonic hook.  To todays ears,
               a pungent sound can function just as a catchy me
               melody or lyric refrain once did.
               SERRATE (May91) and ABSTRACT REPRESSIONISM (Feb92) extended CARBON
               again to ORCHESTRA CARBON.  SERRATE used pairs of instruments: strings, brass,
               samplers, guitars, bass and slab and based on processes of fragmentation,
               decay, and violent change.   ABSTRACT REPRESSIONISM was written for eight
               string players, drums/electronic percussion, and the doubleneck and reprised
               many of the processes at work in my string pieces but recast for low-budget
               The personnel of the TOCSIN band continues to work together even though all the
               members pursue their own musical visions in various projects and bands. We
               recorded the songs for TRUTHTABLE in September of 1992 after a few weeks of
               rehearsal and sample programming.  KJ brought her cyberblues-from-hell vocals
               to two numbers.  The songs were recorded live in one or two takes with
               overdubbing for vocals and some solos plus SoundTools to edit and process the
               mixes.  In some cases, SoundTools was used to creat
               the new songs from fragments using: a few bars each of a few drum grooves; odd
               sounds from everyone else sampled, sequenced, and twisted; the whole thing re-
               mixed and edited.
               It was a happy coincidence that Paul Dunkel (Associate Conductor of the
               American Composers Orchestra) contacted me in January 1986 about a commissioned
               piece for the orchestra at the same time that I had been thinking about
               applying my Fibonacci-series work to an ensemble of strings, essentially re-
               orchestrating ideas evolved on the guitar.  In its original conception, the
               piece RE/ITERATIONS, was to be a concerto of sorts, with percussionists Robert
               Previte and Charles Noyes (and myself on doubleneck guit
               tarbass) improvising along with the structure as performed by the orchestra (14
               violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 2 contrabasses.)  Its only performance was at
               Merkin Hall, NYC in June 1986 revealing both possibilities and problems. At the
               same time, another useful coincidence - David Soldier had formed the Soldier
               String Quartet and asked me for a piece: I decided to re-orchestrate RE/
               ITERATIONS for quartet - TESSALATION ROW was the result.
               Both pieces use the Fibonacci series to generate tunings, rhythms, and forms.
               All pitches are played on open strings (tuned to 1/1, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5) or
               overtones of those open strings.  The modules in the score contain information
               on the various operations to be performed and give exact rhythmic, timing, and
               pitch information.  There are times when the players can vary the overtone
               melodies and timbres in a section.  I was very concerned with identity - the
               ability of sonic flux and internal detail to vary
               greatly without destroying the perceived essence and proportional shape of the
               Perhaps the greatest problem with the full-orchestra version of RE/ITERATIONS
               was amplification - or the lack of.  It just was not to be.  The orchestra was
               not overly receptive to any composition that required retuning instruments and
               retuning score-reading skills and they were even less receptive to the idea of
               amplifying their instruments and/or playing with an electric guitarist and not
               just one, but, two drummers!  They appeared onstage with their ears overflowing
               with fluffy white cotton. One first
               violinist was heard remarking, RWhy didnUt he just ask us to stomp on our
               violins?S - a rather tempting notion in the highly-unlikely event that  I am
               ever commissioned again by ACO.
               Unfortunately, the density and transients produced by electric guitar (even a
               Just-intoned one) and drums would mask the delicate Rghost instrumentsS
               produced by the difference-tone effects of even well-amplified strings;  in
               performance, our incredible restraint in the desire to produce transparency of
               sound backfired and just resulted in a bloodless simulacrum of the piece as
               intended.  Even in the controlled situation of the recording studio, the
               subtleties of the strings were masked by the guitar and
               drums and the final version committed to disc consisted of strings only: six
               violins, three violas, three cellos, and two contrabasses; a virtual chamber
               orchestra produced by overdubbing the SSQ three times with contrabass added on
               two of the dubs.  The instruments were recorded acoustically as well as with
               contact mikes through RTube Screamers,S distortion devices that enhanced the
               production of even harmonics.   The multiple tracks of acoustically miked and
               direct electronic sounds combine to give the
               effect of a much larger ensemble.
               Also recorded at this session were DIGITAL, DIURNAL, and RINGTOSS. First is a
               re-orchestration of music played on prepared guitar.  The instruments are
               prepared with flat strips of spring steel woven through the strings near the
               bridge which have piezo contact microphones on them.  There are six unison
               rhythms serving as connection points.  Players improvise rhythms, always
               tapping on the strings with the fingers of both hands.  The only requirement is
               that things groove.   The combined effect of the
               preparation, tapping, and amplification is that of a mega-mbira.  The best
               performance of the piece is still the original; a good version was performed by
               the Smith Quartet at the London Musicians Collective Experimental Music
               Festival in May 1993.
               HAMMER ANVIL STIRRUP is an algorithmic piece commissioned by the 1988 Ultra
               Music Meeting in Pori, Finland for the Avanti String Quartet.  The piece is
               based on core rhythm and melodic materials which are used by the players
               explicitly as foreground, as background for a variety of  operations (including
               timbral transformation over a repetitive groove, difference-tone droning, pop-
               outs as a way of manifesting improvisational cross-talk simultaneously with
               the other core processes, and superimposed metric
               modulation) and as source material  for improvising.
               My next string pieces were written during January 1991 as the Gulf War unfolded -
               there was no conscious link to the horror show unfolding on the tube,  but . . .
               SHAPESHIFTERS could serve as a soundtrack to a vampire or were-creature film
               (were-humans?).  The key elements are hocketing and a melody that creates a
               spliny thicket of verticality when the players throw the unison out of phase.
               Improvisation rears its ugly head in the form of pop-outs over given material.
               TWISTMAP uses a large proportion
               of through-composed cores to guide the quartet  overland through rough terrain.
               More hocketing, overtone grooving, explicit melodies appearing and evaporating,
               improvised solo features, some open looping, and once again, IDENTITY: the
               internal detail can change greatly from performance to performance while the
               overall structure and identifying characteristics of the piece remain the same.
               At the end of 1991 I began using SoundTools on a Mac iix. The first project was
               CRYPTID FRAGMENTS.  Margaret Parkins (cello) and Sara Parkins (violin) were
               digitally recorded performing a series of core sounds and shapes.  The sounds
               were dumped into the computer for editing and then subjected to a series of
               processing strategies where the raw string sounds were transformed: samples in
               the computer could be expanded or compressed in time, transposed (sometimes by
               five octaves), reversed, chopped, merged,
               and radically equalized. Samples could then be brought back to the analog
               domain for further processing (delays, ambience, modulation) and then returned
               to the computer for more of the same. Eventually, the material was filtered down
               to four sections.  It appeared on the Extreme disc CRYPTID FRAGMENTS along with
               a live version of TWISTMAP, a version of SHAPESHIFTERS with the quartetUs sound
               processed using the Buchla Thunder to control a multi-effects device, and UMBRA
               (for Thunder-controlled sampler and
               cello in a guided improvisation played by Michelle Kinney.)


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