Originally published at:

http://www.pointofdeparture.org/

What’s New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker

http://www.pointofdeparture.org/PoD23/PoD23WhatsNew.html

What’s New? is an email roundtable that draws together persons of diverse backgrounds to discuss the issues shaping jazz and constituent experimental musics in the early 21st Century.
The panelists for this roundtable include:
Coat Cooke, a Vancouver-based composer, saxophonist and organizer. As the founder and leader of NOW Orchestra, Cooke has toured Canada, the USA and Europe performing in major festivals in Berlin, Lisbon and Chicago. He also administers the NOW CD label, whose first five releases are discussed in this issue’s Ezz-thetics column by Stuart Broomer. As a composer, Cooke has written for dance, film, and spoken word, and for configurations from solo piano to large ensembles. His collaborations include work with George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith, Roscoe Mitchell, Butch Morris, and most recently with Marilyn Crispell. He also leads the Coat Cooke Trio and Meta 5, and co-leads Direct Current with bassist David Chokroun. More information about Coat Cooke can be accessed at: www.coatcooke.com.
Vinny Golia, a Los Angeles-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and bandleader. Golia has led ensembles ranging in size from duos to his 37-piece Large Ensemble throughout Europe, Japan and North America. He has won numerous awards as a composer, including grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, The Lila Wallace Commissioning Program, The California Arts Council, Meet the Composer, Clausen Foundation of the Arts, Funds for U.S. Artists and the American Composers Forum. Golia founded Nine Winds in 1977; the label now has over 120 recordings by West Coast artists, including the bulk of Golia’s extensive discography. A former Regent’s Lecturer at the University of California at San Diego, Golia is currently on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts. For more information, visit: www.ninewinds.com.

Michael Vlatkovich, a Los Angeles-based trombonist, composer, and arranger. A St. Louis native, Vlatkovich was a scholarship student at the St. Louis Institute of Music; his fellow students included Hamiett Bluett, Julius Hemphill, and Oliver Lake. In addition to leading his own diverse ensembles, Vlatkovich has performed with a wide array of artists, spanning singers like Peggy Lee and Bryan Adams and jazz artists including Bobby Bradford, Rob Blakeslee, and Rich Halley. The trombonist has also performed on sound tracks for a variety of television and film projects including the acclaimed John Cassavettes’ film The Tempest. In 1981, Vlatkovich formed Thankyou Records in order to document his music, as well as that of his collaborators. In addition to leading his own ensembles, and co-leading Transvalue with poet Charles Britt, Vlatkovich is also a regular member with the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble and Rob Blakeslee Quartet. More information can be found at: michaelvlatkovich.wordpress.com.

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Bill Shoemaker: Creative musicians up and down the West Coast of North America have been as determinedly DIY as any on the planet. Each of you has spent years learning the necessary skills to perform and record your music. Generally, you have faced the same hurdles as other musicians throughout the world; but, there are undoubtedly there are issues you have confronted that are region or city specific. Which of them have been most salient in your work as musicians and builders of communities?

Vinny Golia: Ok, well first thank you for calling us “artists and builders of communities.”  To answer your question I think that here in Los Angeles we face an intense lack of interest in our music and encounter constant ridicule from a fair amount of older musicians who dismiss us as having no knowledge of the history of music or say we are unable to play our instruments, even that compositionally we are involved in formless exercises, (here I will also say there are a number of older musicians who do support the music or have an interest in what it is we do, but the majority do not). The press here is non-existent at the moment and there’s a lack of venues that will invite us to play let alone pay us to appear. The recording industry is in flux so any labels based here in L.A. are cool and distant to any of our needs.  Lastly, a large number of recording studios which could house larger ensembles have closed, making the price of recording large ensembles playing live out of financial reach to most normal musicians/bandleaders and the existing labels want us to conform to their standards of complacency.  On top of all this is the fact that our city is geographically spread out and there’s no reliable public transportation, which prevents a solid fan base.  These are some of the problems with our home city, Los Angeles.
So to answer these questions, a number of us have now played or composed in so many settings here in LA, from movie scores to contemporary composition, that we are now considered “real” musicians or composers as we have performed often as invited guests by other established composers, and other ensemble leaders of more traditional musics. In terms of recording we start our own labels and attach the more open-minded interests we have to the label profile. We create music in venues we discover, create or infiltrate as players of other forms of music.  As for the press, we make our presence known throughout the world by our recordings, our performances globally, and appearances in other press outlets through the Internet and international press. We make people here feel that we are part of a very burgeoning music scene, which is multi-directional. The valiant few that act as presenters look for venues that will support specific geographic areas like the west side, i.e.; Venice, Santa Monica, or Pasadena and Orange County and try to present on days when the other presenters are dark. Lastly, we nurture new upcoming musicians and artists interested in what we do as the elders before us nurture us. Oh, yes we also play out of town as much as possible.

Michael Vlatkovich: This question has been really difficult for me to answer. I don’t know what to write. It is hard to perform the type of music I choose to do. What I mean by that statement, is that it is technically difficult. It demands a certain competency and it also can be difficult to find a venue interested. The ironic thing is that my music isn’t very strange. There is a strong prejudice against this music by educators and musicians. I don’t know that it would have been any different in another large metropolitan area. You need to figure out what it is that you wish to do and then find like-minded people. In some areas of the world, there wouldn’t be many, possibly none. One needs to find some sort of support and encouragement in the beginning. You also need to learn how to be creative and express your vision.
In Los Angeles, there are a number of like-minded individuals. I slowly over time found them and they found me. It is a diverse community with varying degrees of support in terms of available venue/series and audiences. Do the musicians support the series as audience members? I would have to say no. Do the press/writers support the musicians and venues? That answer would be no as well. There is a small audience, but they can’t come to everything. There are a few supportive writers and like the audience they can’t write about everything either. I do my music because that’s what I do. In a bigger city like Los Angeles, what I do can be done. That’s why I’m here.
Even though the communities’ style/sound may be different, we all do wish to cultivate an audience and often work together towards that goal. Some cities may be better at it than others?

Coat Cooke: First of all, it seems to me that we have a lot more in common that not. We all have difficulty with adequate financial resources, building audiences, dissemination of the music, cultivating venues and so on.
That being said, I would say the primary determining factor in Vancouver’s creative music scene over the last thirty odd years has been our geographical isolation. Without access to other populated centers in close proximity, players on Canada’s west coast have tended to be comparatively insulated musically.
We have found difficulties in accessing the west coast American cities because of restrictive work permit/immigration policies and limited access to other significant population centers in Canada because of geographical distance and the costs related to this. This has worked for us and against us, and this has spurred us to work closely as a small, resourceful and motivated group.
For our growth, besides recordings, we have collaborated with artists from around the world. This dates back to my first experiences in Vancouver that included artists like Karl Hans Berger, Günter Christmann, Roscoe Mitchell and fellow panelist Vinny Golia, and continues to this day with collaborations with Nicole Mitchell, John Oswald and Amina Claudine Myers. Having the opportunity to share the music with great artists like this has been critical for our collective development in the oral tradition that we have in improvised music.
This kind of intermittent but regular exposure has been part of the recipe that has stimulated our scene to develop a Canadian west coast musical identity that is unique. This has come from our scene’s players working extensively together in all sorts of combinations in various projects over a long period of time. I think that because of the individuals in our neck of the woods, we have developed our own take on these streams. We’ve been influenced in the way many centers have been by American improvised music tradition, world musics (this seems to be kind of a dated term now), European improvisation tradition, contemporary music, electronics, various technologies etc.

Shoemaker: There are vibrant traditions of dance, poetry, film and video, painting and sculpture with West Coast identities. Perhaps it is a function of distance, but back East, you rarely hear about inter-disciplinary collaborations between musicians like yourselves and artists working in other areas. How have this type of collaborations shaped your aesthetic?

Golia: That’s very funny as I teach a class at California Institute of the Arts with dancer/choreographer Kathy Carbone about this very subject. I think you do hear about these collaborations but only in the world of the collaborative art form. For example when I composed/performed the music for King Lear and Macbeth the theatre world and its critics were extremely happy to converse about the process of collaboration, but within the music writing community there was a dead silence, or the old stand-by, “well that’s not Jazz” or “that’s not classical music” so our music communities heard nothing about these collaborations. The same scenario goes for the work I have done with dancers and writers/poets, the film and other theatre work etcetera.
I want to digress for one minute and confront this part about “back east”. Art has no geographical boundaries let alone the man made boundaries of topography. The reason you do not hear about anything we do back east is that people who write about our chosen art forms decide to ignore us. If this were not the case Coat Cooke’s work with the Edam Dance company or the others he has worked with in Vancouver would be held as models for collaboration, or my work with director Travis Preston and the Center for New Media would be everyday knowledge.   I ‘m sorry but I find this “east coast west coast” thing rather boring especially since most of the people out here on the west coast doing this music are from somewhere else, and most of the people on the east coast are from out here. I read a lot and in books about our music I do not see the names of John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Claude Ranger, Horace Tapscott, Rich Halley, Rob Blakeslee, etc., let alone my own name or any of the other panelists. What about Joey Sellars, Michael Sessions, Linda Hill, Roberto Miranda, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs?  Does everyone really think nothing is happening on a well-populated area of land over three thousand miles long?  Can all these people be so east coast centric? We are playing all the time and in many cases stronger (creatively, intensity, concentration) than musicians from many other well publicized areas in the US. We deserve to have some respect and attention. People may find out about us when we leave the planet but I am not going out without a fight. I think our music is wonderful and our collaborations very strong.
One other aspect of this has been the advent of the laptop, making electro acoustic music and performance art a very viable way to incorporate other mediums into our music, although it isolates the musician from the audience and the writers. As for informing our aesthetic, anytime you can transfer your ideas from one media to another it gives you the chance to see yourself and what you do through different eyes.  The viewpoint becomes a new vista opening up wellsprings of creative juices and endless possibilities. You also became more aware of the flow of arts in time and motion. It’s as if you see in another dimension or you really add a dimension of time and space to the concepts being worked on.
There was a time in the arts when we were all very connected but for our generation of artists there’s a disconnect; however I strongly think that will change soon.
So calming down about the press or rather non press coverage of our inter-disciplinary work, I will concentrate on the question; Dance, Writing, and Visual art in regards to inter-disciplinary collaborations. As I said before this is an area which caused me to leave working only in visual arts in the 70′s i.e.; painting, drawing, laser beams etc, and start to incorporate music and sound as my primary artistic focus.
Working with Dance opens up fantastic vistas for transmuting sound into movement. I think my past training as a visual artist really helps in this arena as I can react to movement very quickly and my interest in improvisation makes my responses almost instantaneous. I am also adding in this medium by the training in visual arts which helps me to see line, movement and motion. So by using dance collaboration as an addition to the traditional music experience an artist can come out with a more quick thinking linear approach which can be applied to many other music improvisation settings. There are also coloristic and compositional approaches that help change the way a person composes which adds another dimension their pure sound experiences.
The approaches you take with live theatre are quite different, here you have to concentrate on not being in the way of the actors emotions and direction, so the musical emphasis is on dynamics and pushing the action gently and not as interactive as in the dance experience, this is perfect training for interactions with singers for example and is quite like playing classical music to me. It’s an analogy I use a lot.
With poets and writers the attention and intent is to comment and interact but not overpower with sound, slightly a different way of playing than all the other mediums. Many like the=2 0interaction of sound with their presentations. Some people who use words have develop stylist approaches where they do not speak, in these areas one is more drawn to interaction with the visuals as opposed to sound, which brings us to the word of visual art, an immense field which currently has myriads of stylistic approaches, video interactions, overlays, light environments, action painters, interactive set design etc. Here you can reverse the traditional roles, and create aural soundscapes that the visuals can interact in or even reverse these roles in which sound becomes more prominent.
These approaches of other mediums create an expansion of technical abilities of course but also inform your conceptual space as the artist is dealing with rhythm, shape, form and color in much more interactive methods especially more than in the traditional roles of music. Again the collaborations of interdisciplinary work lead one to be much more open and inclusive to alternate forms of thinking and this always leads to an expansion of technique and form. Here again we have to confront the traditional ways of thinking about what we do and who we are as artists, not just musicians and composers, but true artists able to adapt to our surroundings.

Vlatkovich: Poetry is the collaboration which I most frequently participate. I’ve been collaborating since 1980 with Chuck Britt and since the ’90′s with Mark Weber and Dottie Grossman. All three are different and thought provoking. I approach each differently and my hope is that it comes out that way.
I would gladly collaborate with other disciplines if asked. I think the problem sometimes can be that the disciplines are isolated from one another and it takes some effort to search out possible collaborators. Maybe these comments will be seen by someone interested? I think we three are interested. Until and unless an individual really explores our work/history, it can’t be known what we really do. We are all complex and diverse individuals, a superficial approach is inadequate.
Vinny really says it well. I will defer to him. I feel exactly the same way.

Cooke: Upon reflection, I would say that my involvement with inter-disciplinary collaborations has impacted my work and interest fairly significantly. On Canada’s west coast there is a long-standing tradition of musical collaboration with other media. One of the early and most outstanding examples that I became aware of from my first experiences here is the work of musician/visual artist/writer Al Neil. Al’s work and his kind of exploration has been in the air here long before I arrived and I am certain that I picked up on that and has been integral to stimulating the interest that I’ve felt in collaboration.
I’ve been involved with working with west coast spoken word artists going back to the 1970s with writers like Gerry Gilbert and Jamie Reed through Kedrick James, John Sobol, Alex Ferguson and Sherri-D Wilson. The work with writers has involved working with set text and improvising with it as well as creating composed musical structures (that usually involve improvisation as well). These explorations have also included full on improvised music and word performances, both live and recorded. These word/music adventures have always had their challenges to investigate. One of the prime directives to be aware of for the music to work effectively with words – neither can be subservient to the other. This is a delicate balance that takes a fair amount of negotiation either through discussion or rehearsal or performance process. It is easy for the music to dominate the words, and it is easy for the music in being deferential to the words, to losing their strength. I’ve found this an exciting and very valuable area of collaboration to explore, as it applies to any kind of collaboration.
There is a wealth of visual stimulation to be inspired by also, from the amazing drummer/painter Gregg Simpson, to the creative video mixer Krista Lomax, to performing live soundtrack for film with Stefan Smulovitz’ Eye of Newt ensemble. With all of these artists I get pushed to find different ways to have the necessary musical conversations to communicate in these relationships that I feel compelled to seek out.
Perhaps the most developed of these collaborations has been with dancers.
I’ve worked with dancers since the early 1980s and most notably with choreographer/improviser Peter Bingham and his contact improvising world of EDAM Dance. This relationship, and the process of exploring improvisation in the dance realm has informed my way of musical thinking about relationship; in the music itself, with other media, in my personal relationships and in my life in general. I’ve found the process of verbally analyzing improvisation that Peter and others like Nancy Stark-Smith, Andrew Harwood, Marc Boivin, Chris Aiken, and many others explore, has really impacted how I communicate with other musicians and the way I research improvisation with my colleagues. In working with these dancers, the process involved creating scores to improvise on and then to discuss how effective we were at achieving our goals. We would then create another iteration of the score and repeat the discussion and the process. There would be dancers or musicians designated to sit out and be the objective eyes and ears to give feedback so that we would have feedback from “inside” the improv and from the “outside”. This was quite a revelation to me as prior to this most musicians that I’ve improvised with just wanted to “do it” not talk about it or analyze it. It has been very helpful for me in getting to other places in my improvising. The work has also involved work with improvisation and composed work with choreographed movement. This, of course, includes different processes as well in the development of the work.
All of this kind of inter-disciplinary work has informed my creative life.

Shoemaker: The creative music universe has totally changed in the decades you’ve been active. The micro market for this music has become a nano market. Venues, labels and magazines seem to fold on an almost daily basis. Efforts to create a new audience for the music seems perpetually stuck in first gear. Sisyphus at least had the advantage of going up the same hill over and over; but, the hill for creative musicians seems to get steeper and steeper. What, in the face of all this, sustains your commitment?

Vlatkovich: In a way, it’s very much like the joke. What does a jazz musician do after winning the lottery? Continue doing what he had been doing until the money runs out.

For me, I have never pursued this path with the goal of fame and fortune. I do what it is that I do exclusively for me, no one else. I am attempting to please me, no one else. I am attempting to explore and express “my being” through this medium of music. I refrain from using the word emotions/feelings because I don’t think it is completely accurate or comprehensive enough. I am attempting to create my world outside myself with music. What motivates this intense desire is somewhat of a mystery I suppose; it’s not unlike an addiction really. It is quite honestly the only reason I exist. I exist to express myself and no one can express my view as satisfactorily as me. There is nothing for me that is as gratifying and fulfilling as creatively expressing a moment in time (past/present/future) from my unique perspective. What is fascinating and I guess shouldn’t be surprising, is that I find others that relate to what it is that I do. That is not to say they interpret the symbols in the same way, but they do receive some sort of benefit from the work or works. They relate in their own way as I have related in my own way to others’ self expressions.

I am continually fascinated by the rejection of teachers of the young regarding this music. Because of their biases and prejudices, they assume the children will feel the same way as they do.  The young are curious, inquisitive, INTERESTED. Sound organized in a different way. Sounds created by instruments often times unfamiliar. Sounds that evoke pictures, emotions, etc… I am suggesting small doses of creative music.  I agree that a lengthy concert would be too much, but small doses would expand greatly the horizon of the young. They, actually everyone, should be stimulated and introduced to different musics.

There is a similar situation with venues. No one knows better than I, that there are venues that would be appropriate and venues that are not. Because the potential listeners don’t have easy access to this sort of music, it becomes more of the responsibility of the venue and performer to help engage this potential listener. Regularity is crucial in developing and nurturing an audience.

Another easy method to expand and enlarge an audience would be to have music instructors encourage their students to go to these venues. Experience live music. Experience the interaction. Unfortunately, as with the teachers of the young, these instructors also have their biases and prejudices. Often in today’s society, the commercialism/marketing is so oppressive society succumbs to the prescribed conclusions. The instructors buy into this as well. The music biz tells them who is hot. Creative thought is discouraged. My hope would be for society to think more about choices and investigate/explore the possibility of the many choices not considered. I thought that was the purpose of education/ instruction?

I never want to tell the listener how to listen, or for that matter why to listen. It is important that the listener find their meaning in the music. I can’t do that for them. Connecting /finding an audience, your audience, will always be difficult. We all need to take responsibility for making the connection happen.

Golia: All the things that you have mentioned in your question have always been part of our existence on the west coast since I joined the music scene here years ago. These things actually do not matter, at least in talking for myself because of these reasons; few of these labels and magazines actually pay much attention to the vibrant and multi faceted ongoing music scene that exists out here, most of us have created our own labels so we can control what happens with our music, and as for the audience we have always tried to create new venues and expand the potential listener base. I do feel we need to address the concerns of transmitting our music through various new outlets like cable television, internet streaming, MySpace, etc. and link with other20geographic areas with like minded people through these mediums.

Out here because of the distances and isolation, we have all had to create our own impetus to create and search for other creative souls to realize our dreams, currently I find great joy in performing with a lot of the younger musicians I have been introduced to and I think this is one aspect of sustaining the commitment and community of our music. Our traditions are aural and the stories of the elders need to be passed on, as they were to us. I have no problem being inspired by these young creative souls around me, what they see as their future and how they are responding to these challenges and their love of music. Together we all search for new ways to present and preserve this music art form which we love so much. As far as the “hill” in your question, it truly is a wondrous thing to climb against the odds and present a work that challenges your own ideas, the ideas and ideals of others, as we express ourselves and our thoughts through sound using the mind, body and spirit.

Also I think it’s just not just the creative music universe but the total music universe that is changing and with new forms of technologies and thought processes we are confronted with adapting and evolving it is essential to our existence as musicians and artists to observe and adapt. The hills are getting steeper but the rewards become greater when you accomplish your goals confronted with these great odds. If we are to be considered as explorers and innovators in our fields then we must explore of course, but remember to come back and give our community the fruits of our explorations. It is also our task to stay open minded about the possibilities life presents to us and how we will included these discoveries in our existence on this planet in this lifetime. I think this is another important issue as there are many camps of musical direction at the moment.

So the main thing for us is to remain true to our original love of music and sound, humble and respectful to the presentation of our work. The rest doesn’t really matter as we have a gift and a duty to fulfill its use.

Cooke: The factors that sustain my commitment are essentially very personal ones. Over the last thirty five years, one of the great gifts that I have that helps me sustain is the perspective over this reasonable period of time of my growth as a player and as a person. I can see where I come from, how my generation fits in the continuum of history, and how the succeeding generations of players takes from the past and builds a personal process and story to contribute to the growth and development of our common continuum. This perspective helps me see our battle for meaning, clarity and community. The great commonality that we share gives me a great sense of connection with my mentors and those that follow my generation.

This kind of perspective makes it easier to understand the struggles of musical and personal growth, and to have the patience to appreciate and understand the gift of the work that we do and the milieu that we are honored to be a part of. The logistics of making a living, sharing our work in a crowded marketplace, having an artistic relevance at this point in time, and in a larger sense, of being part of the solution and not the problem are really daunting as you so eloquently describe in your question, but the importance and the responsibility of walking this path make my life incredibly meaningful.

My involvement in the creative work that I’ve done my whole adult life has led me to want to live a meaningful, productive, and useful life. I want to contribute work that provokes and stimulates me and others to want to be as alive as possible.

Another of the great fortunes that sustains my commitment, are the creative relationships and friendships that I have with the many extraordinary people that I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from. The different perspectives and processes I have come into contact with have helped me to explore areas that have made my journey through all of this a far richer one. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with dancers, poets and visual artists as well as musicians/composers/improvisers of every stripe.

Over time, my experience has included many intoxicating successes and many failures. The successes are very affirming and exhilarating, but the failures have been what have made me have to reflect and regroup and encourage me to question my thoughts and actions much more vigorously.

I would say that I resonate with sound. It simply touches something in me that nothing else does. It’s the sound, the process of making music, the personal connections that come from the collaborations, the opportunity to express myself in a deeply personal way, and the ability to connect with anyone that will listen that help me want to stay committed to what I do.

POET'S MOUTH

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