What is Rhythmajik, and how did you become affiliated with it?
How did I become affiliated with it? I wrote the book with that title (Rhythmajik: Practical Uses of Number, Rhythm and Sound). It was published in 1992 by Temple Press, who went out of business in 1993 (along with scores of other UK small presses when the person warehousing their stock sold it all off and flew the coop). Since 2001 I’ve been giving it away for free online.
On the theoretical side, Rhythmajik sets out a system allowing one to harness the grammar and semantics of number to the service of rhythm and sound and proportion, and apply the results to their chosen field of interest. On the practical side, as a purely mental discipline, it is about developing and exercising the ability to focus ones’ intention.
How (if at all) is your music associated with, or influenced by, the teachings of Rhythmajik?
Rhythmajik is not a teaching per se. It’s more a presentation of the principles of a process. It can be adapted to the needs of the person, who might be applying the aspects of those principles that correspond to the particular work they are engaged in.
Personally, my work with sound is influenced by my relationship with elemental phenomena and energies, and the processes through-and-by which that relationship were developed formed the core of what was presented in the book.
You recently scored a work entitled “No Time, but the Presence”, which was commissioned by the Phoenix Ensemble of Basel. How long had you been working on this?
The piece was commissioned in December 2009. As of May of 2010, I began working on it sporadically up until April 2011, when I sent the scores off to the ensemble. This working process was: compose some, let it sit, come back to it with ‘fresh mind & ears’ etc. This process was quite contra to how I work. For example, when I’m compositing a sound work with the computer, I work solidly on it from when I start to when I finish (sleep, cooking and eating excepted).
Was there any particular intention behind the piece?
There was a very particular intention, which was to produce a scored (rather than graphic etc) piece that might produce something approaching a music that might hopefully be possibly referred to as “lovely”.
Last year you began working on Visual and Sound poetry again. What inspired you to move back into this field?
It was a convergence of two things. The first was that in Iuly of 2009 I was contacted by Jaochim Nordwall (iDEAL recordings) who asked if I would be interested in releasing some things on cassette. Seeing as the sound poetry works I was doing in the 1970s were produced and documented with cassette, this seemed the most non-arbitrary material to release in that format. So this got me listening to all of it while I was making the transfers, and I got a bit nostalgic. So that was what I proposed to him: a release of all the sound poetry performances from 1976-84. So it’s been two years now, and it’s settling into the typical alpine black salamander gestation cycle. So hopefully it will be typical, and should come out by Sept 2012.
Second was that, in 2010, I began to work on producing video pieces. So when thinking about what to use for sound, I decided to start doing some new work with voice (and some text) source. Then I did some internet searching for Visual Poetry, and discovered that for some time now that term has been taken over by portions of the Photoshop’ digital imaging community as the designation for their work.
So as one of the last ones standing in the visual and sound poetry genre, I thought it was high time I got back to it – but now, rather than just presenting 2d visual separate from audio sound poetry, I could now combine them. I’m quite happy with this development.
How significant do you consider the environmental factors (time, location, audience) during your performances? Do these have an impact on your composition process, too?
Totally significant! In fact, I don’t consider my performances as solos at all. In practice I’m up there as part of a sextet embodying the unique inter-reactions between: me, the instruments, the physical space, the particular time, the geographic location and the energies of the audience. Most importantly, I don’t actually consider the majority of my performances as “music” per se, but more as orchestrations of: rhythmic acoustic phenomena (instruments and physical space), elemental (time and location) and biological (audience) energies. So taking me as the constant then, a change in any of the other five aspects will result in a totally different performance.
To maybe make it a little clearer: in a performance, I am listening to each of the five other aspects in the exact same way as I would listening if I was playing with five other people, and in the past I have referred to this listening as ‘telempathy’ – a cross between telepathy and empathising. However, if I was playing with five other people, I would most decidedly be playing music which I am most decidedly not, when it’s just me and the five aspects. And another way of looking at it – which relates to the following question – I use the same techniques of accompaniment that I have honed over the last 45+ years in this process. That is; I am using the instruments to accompany the physical space, time, location and audience energies.
You’ve collaborated with a wide variety of experimental musicians. Is it always easy to find ways in which to incorporate your sounds into the contributions of others (or vice versa)?
Well first off, I don’t consider any of the musicians I work with as experimenters. They (and myself for that matter) do any ‘experimenting’ (who, what, where, when, why and how that may be) in their ‘kitchen’ on their own time, as it were, and then bring the results to the table.
In terms of incorporation, to amplify a bit my previous reference to accompaniment, to me that is the high art of the musician. There’s an old phrase that delineates this: dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
Do you consider there to be “optimum” environments in which your music is best realised?
Well, if one is intent on generating acoustic phenomena, then the more resonant the space, the more resounding the sound. So optimum would be the rare space with true echo, and not just natural reverb.
Do you have any expectations of your upcoming performance at Cafe Oto?
I guess that would depend on what one’s definition of expectation would be. Performing is pretty much how I make my living – it’s my ‘day job’. So, and not meaning to be flippant, my expectation is to just go to work and take care of business.
What’s next for yourself and your music?
Putting one foot in front of the other, 1440 minutes at a time.
Cafe Oto website – http://www.cafeoto.co.uk/zev-sylvia-hallett-katsura-yamauchi.shtm
Small But Perfectly Formed website – http://smabpf.blogspot.com/