Chris Weisman's "Camp Studio" Interview with Kurt Rosenwinkel - (Email Interview April 2008)
"sometimes all i have are the goblin doors."
"It is the continued fate of the new to be misunderstood by some in exact proportion to the intensified comprehensibility it provides to others." Charles Bernstein
CW: I cannot believe the states you have been in. States where such an endless stream of perfectly-executed-dancing-tricking lines ricocheting til exact and felt-earlier stops can flow so unencumbered by any resistance but the sweetness of a certain friction. Like you're winning an entire chess game with every phrase. You must be so happy sometimes.?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: the sweetness of a certain friction- it's bliss. those are moments of dissolution, among the few happiest of my life, if you can say "happy"; a word i have never related to. i don't think trees are happy. but i believe they feel the bliss of a certain friction.
CW: Have you heard of Roldan Gobes? No? I will tell you 2 things about him besides his name: His lips are purple and his homeland is cloudy. What would you guess his guitar playing is like?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: Roldan has a tone that's just like jeff beck and the music is like jeff beck's song "where were you" but with lots of percussion.
his music is floating and the forms are atmospheric- earthly atmosphere- familiar and tangible: clouds and wind. hot and blustery evenings in a tropical sea town you get the winds story unobstructed as it passes in its element over your island. it passes fast but static, untroubled by earthly rhythms even though they are there. his music is like that: there's lots of percussion and rhythm, but the song floats above like the wind over the earth.
CW: How apocalyptic are your beliefs and guesses about what will happen politically and environmentally in the next few years on a global scale?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: in the geopolitical sphere i am pretty apocalyptic about the fate of America. i believe that it, as a whole, is degenerating quickly, and will eventually collapse, probably sooner than later, like in the next 15-30 years. environmentally its also easy to see catastrophe looming around the corner. the farther into the future i look the more apocalyptic the vision is. but in the next few years i feel like we'll be fine. politically i am relieved to have cause for optimism in Barack Obama. it's a merciful change of pace, so i am hoping he gets in and changes some of my entrenched pessimism about issues outside the purely American political sphere. in other words i hope he gets to DO something as president.
Beatles or Stones?
Cats or Dogs?
Star Wars, Empire, or Jedi?
Favorite Beatles song (currently)?
Favorite Beatle (currently)?
And what age are you picturing him at (like which era of clothes and hair and stuff)?
CW: My favorite solo of all time is your acoustic guitar/voice solo on "Number Ten" on Enemies. Do you know right away what I'm talking about? That it's one of your most important recorded solos? Is that the Stella? It sounds so strong it could be composed but I think I can hear it's unfolding in real time, something in the way your voice has little pickups that aren't on the instrument. The outro playing is great too but that solo stands alone as one of your most powerful and concise moments for me.
Kurt Rosenwinkel: i know which solo you are talking about. i never felt good about that solo in particular for some reason. that is the stella, the magical tenor guitar that gets banged around through all of this mad life. i am surprised someone would focus on that solo. different strokes....
CW: Wow! Let's augment this one with what YOU consider your favorite recorded solo (you soloing).?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: i think my best recorded solo might be something off of the new one- maybe chords.
CW: I consider Seamus Blake's The Call an important early document of your playing, up there with East Coast Love Affair for me. What do you remember about the session(s)? Where did they take place? What was the vibe like socially?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: I remember recording The Call. i thought Seamus' tunes were great on that record. a lot of those he wrote while we were living together in Boston, so i remember him writing them. i was going through an interesting time musically right then. i was feeling rhythmic blasts cutting across the music diagonally, like speaking in tongues, rhythmic tongues. and i had this sound happening then which was partly from a boss pitch/delay pedal with the delay on the smallest amount and the wet/dry knob all the way wet. i used that also later on songs like Use of Light and the Cloister from the album Deep Song. I think we recorded that at RPM studios if i'm not mistaken. i remember rehearsing at Kevin Hayes apartment on Carroll street. I always felt like the underdog around that time because my reading wasn't so good and it took me a while to get things together. i would feel pressure because i would be the one fucking up and everyone else would have it together. not anymore ;-). but i remember really enjoying playing with Bill Stewart. the vibe was very cool, everybody doing their thing, enjoying what everyone else was doing.
CW: I believe the future of music will have a lot to do with "scales" and "chords" that have 3 (or more) notes chromatically right next to each other (although maybe not voiced that way) and that when it comes to pass, this music won't sound any more dissonant to people than our music does now. This change (I think these pitch collections are still deemed unusable by most musicians) will require more importance to be placed on voicing and the register of given pitches, maybe the future will even have scales with some pitches you can only play in a certain octave. I know all this stuff has/is already happened/happening but I'm imagining it more mainstream like taught to Jazz students and used more-or-less normally in Rock or Pop or whatever (all these genre distinctions are bound to dissolve too of course although probably just into new genre distinctions). I feel like I heard you leaning this way talking about Schoenberg and Hip Hop in a Heartcore interview and I know that you use some chords like this. What do you think?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: I agree these sounds will come to popular music someday. they have been a part of western classical music for almost a hundred years! that kind of harmony is now beginning to become part of the common jazz vocabulary, although it definitely ain't easy. over the past year i have been messing around with a certain scale: A, Bb, C#, D, E, F, G#. i got it from a Ted Greene workshop video on YouTube. it has those three chromatic notes in it. when i started working with it, voicing it in chords, i realized it was the scale that's mostly used in Flamenco music- the "gypsy scale". I love flamenco music- Camaron de la Isla, Tomatito, Paco de Lucia. it's a beautiful scale. check it out in chords. I just want to say one thing about my relationship to these kinds of things. this area is on a high intellectual level, which is fine. but i just want people to know that i am not interested in these things because i enjoy contemplating them intellectually. i'm not a braniac. for me discussions like this one usually come from the need to learn how to play my own music; that my music has this stuff in it naturally and it moves me to learn about it on an intellectual and practical level. my music is not intellectual. that's my most hated comment from writers, etc. they really don't get it at all if they think that. i try to make my music as simple as it can be, always. There are some moments in my songs that have a chord that one needs to use octave specific scales to play over. that "chord tones" only sound good in the bottom register and a completely different scale emerges at the top like a flower. you were so right in your vision blog about us that Mark takes these moments and constructs whole approaches to music out of them. and also true that sometimes he comes out with stuff like this and i have no fucking idea what he is doing, i just stand there and enjoy it. you should see some of his charts- there will be a chord that i have written that has something strange in it and he will have scribbled in tiny writing three or four other related chords, and maybe a scale or two spelled out. and all of those things have the word "or" written between them! you were right about a lot of things, a lot of deep things.
but its a curious moment to realize that a chord or progression has this octave dependent scale phenomenon going on. there's a new song of mine called undercover that has this going on on almost every chord. what i learned is that sometimes polychords are indeed octave dependent scales, and other times it's just one sound super-imposed onto another sound, and the soloist or melody player can ignore the bottom chord and just play over the regular scale that goes with the super-imposed chord. there are true polychords and then there are true super-impositions. mark has a very beautiful and mysterious song that is the best example of these octave dependent scales i can think of. it's called "7 Points" and it's on his record "Dharma Days". Mark is super advanced in this area in particular. you were also right about him that he will start in one scale (the scale of the chord) and go through some permutations that morph into a different scale as he changes register. so your ear follows what he's doing and gets tricked into thinking that he's still consonant, until the moment when it resolves to a really high note or really low note and you realize he has gone so far away from where the rest of the music is harmonically.
CW: There's the music that's happening in "real" venues, the official spaces where we imagine our most important musical moments as a culture taking place. But haven't we learned from the "Outsiders" and the real underground that's always rushing below the "Underground" (so freely flowing! so vital! icy purifying water) that possibly the most amazing shit is happening in somebody's apartment a few blocks away and nobody knows about it? The best music I've ever heard has been jams (some planned, some spontaneous) in houses, and this music lives best just in the memory (unrecorded otherwise) and serves as a secret wealth, a reserve of spiritual fuel for operating out in the world of the day. What "unofficial" session stands out for you as a great and deep moment in your life?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: i love what this question points to: that there are moments of music so profound and that can happen anywhere. there are two deeply affecting moments i would like to share. the first is when i was at a friends house and i heard a beautiful modern classical orchestral piece being played over the radio. i went into the room where it was and listened to the most incredible music i had ever heard, it went on for about 20-30 minutes. only afterwards did i realize that two radios were playing different music at the same time, and i was hearing it as one piece of pure genius.
there have been many amazing moments in private jam sessions and parties through my life, but the other time i'd like to relate i was alone playing the piano. i was playing and at a certain point i felt something take over and begin to play its own music. i stopped actively doing anything and i just watched and listened as this music was unfolding in front of my eyes. i saw spirits running back and forth across the keys, using my hands to make an impression in the material world through music. the music that came out was like a symphony. that's how i remember it. but all the while it was happening i knew i would never remember any of it because it was going by so fast and there was so much detail and what i recognized as perfect form. when it was finished i just sat there for a long time, feeling this heart-yearning mix of rapture and sadness, and what i guess would be called humility- that music of far greater power was possible when your self can dissolve and not think that it's you that makes music.
one of the ways i see music is as this comet that flies around the universe. sometimes it swoops down, other times it is nearer or farther. and on rare occasions it picks you up and takes you up and you fly with it on a journey only it knows how to make; showing you things. and we humans? only passengers, or mediums- like we are the magic pill that music takes- it digests us and we dissolve like an alka-seltzer. that is what music needs to become real, to manifest- a human dissolution pill. to feel music from the inside out and feel myself dissolve into nothingness was i think the deepest thing i have ever experienced. i can count the times this has happened on two hands in my life- being possessed like this. and i think that is very lucky.
CW: So you put loads of dub-style reverb just on that one drum on that one part of Chords on your new album. It is the only such Production Event in nearly two hours of music. I feel like you're breaking a rule almost and I love it, plus the drumming is already suggesting that soundworld. Were you laughing when you did that? Do you know what kind of laughing I mean?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: i wouldn't mind if i had done that, but actually the dub style reverb is coming from my lapel microphone. i put that reverb on my voice live and the mic was picking up the drums at that point, so that's how it sounded at the gig too.
CW: You anticipated this question with your answer before last: Do you believe in God or at least a real Spirit Realm? Have you heard Keith Jarrett's "Spirits"? If you have, or even if you haven't, do you believe it to at least in part be New Jersey Native American Spirits channelling their energy through Keith? How into Keith are you?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: i am certain that there is a real spirit realm. it has been the revelations and literal signs from this realm that have given my life its coherency and made clear the lessons i need to learn to move forward. there is really nothing of value in my life that hasn't come in some recognizable way from this world. so my prayers and aspirations are to the universe and the organization of forces within it. that there is a universal intelligence is a matter of experience for me, and can always be demonstrated when the meditation is true. answers come in startlingly literal ways. i know that separation is an illusion and we are all part of a net sum. analogy and visualization are the best ways to describe and apprehend esoteric reality. one thing i used to do and still do sometimes is to imagine that the vibrations of music are changing the spiritual or vibrational (same thing) reality of the space i am in. i would see a sea of pluses and minuses in the room and go about changing the minuses to pluses. negativity to positivity. i understand the role of the drummer who cleanses the space before a shamanistic ritual. it makes sense from an energetic point of view.
as for Keith, i love his music and i am sure he is in touch with the power of universal intelligence. he is gifted and has a channel.
CW: I loved/love Dharma Days! When is Mark Turner going to make another awesome record? Is he teaching somewhere? You guys are the best and it was depressing when you respectively got dropped (is that how it went down?) even though it's obvious the big labels are demented and dying dinosaurs, it still must have sucked. Yes? No?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: It was good to be able to experience being on a major label. it provided valuable windows into how it all works (and doesn't work). it was a good way to build an audience too. but Warner Brothers always tried to make Mark something he wasn't. their marketing people tried to make him look a certain stylized way and tried to promote a commercial image of him, which ended up being much less powerful than if they embraced the qualities he actually has. but besides that they did let him do his own music for the most part, so he was able to make those great records.
i hope he records again soon but at the moment he is not really pursuing his own recording career. he doesn't have a manager or a band. i guess "Fly" is kind of fulfilling that role for him now. but yeah he really has a powerful approach in his band that is different from him in my band, when it's exclusively his own music it's a different world.
i don't think he's teaching anywhere although he may be an adjunct to the New School, which means any student can say they want lessons with Mark Turner and they arrange it privately but the school pays for it.
yes we both did eventually get dropped. me after 4 albums, Mark after 4 as well i think. that's what happens in a crumbling industry. i am happy to be on my own now making records. i can do what i want and i can make some money from it too, unlike being on a label. there was an adjustment period trying to figure out how to release records again, but now i think we have figured out how to do it, at least one way to do it, and i am looking forward to putting out more than one record every 2-3 years....
CW: You've sent me two songs with lyrics and you singing ("time machine" and "end to end") that I won't do the disservice of trying categorize or even describe. I'll just say for the reader that they are an awesome dream come true for me, I've always felt their potential in your wordless compositions and solos. Are you intending to release an album of this material hopefully soon? Will you play shows with this stuff? Do you know Syd Barrett's The Pink Floyd or his solo material?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: i know that syd barrett was an original member of Pink Floyd and he did a lot of acid but not much else of the man. i think i have probably heard The Madcap Laughs but it would have been in my teenage years and i don't remember. i do like Floyd a lot though. i have the notion of making a record of my songs that have lyrics. i have been writing more like that recently, and recording the songs in my studio. when i have enough material i will make an album of it and put it out.
CW: The sooner the better! Some believe the LSD stuff has been exaggerated, that it was mostly just an early-20s blooming of latent mental illness in the psychedelic era. Check out Floyd's 1st The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and Madcap again, plus the song Opel. He is the secret father of the future of Jazz Guitar and you are the 1st full receiver. He was the 1st explicit Sci-Fi guitarist. You will always hear Surf Music again. Zhivago's descents and ascents owe something to Astronomy Domine and Intersteller Overdrive, something fucking awesome. Listen to Madcap and then to time machine, focusing on lyrics, way of unfolding, eliding, even tone. All loose conjecture of course.
My friend Chris V.V.V.B. told me he heard Larry Grenadier take a solo on a Mike Stern record (this was in the early 90s) and it shot him (Chris) into this whole like Irish Leprechaun World, and that's what made him learn Jazz on the Double Bass. It seems like you probably know the Leprechauns. Like you've found peculiar feel-zones and worlds in the corners of what the insensitive listener might just label (and potentially dismiss) as Jazz, you discover little Goblin doors in what most people would just see as a regular hill.?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: sometimes all i have are the goblin doors. i realized today while riding my bike that if i could make something good, music, that would be really meaningful beyond my life, that i would run my bike into an oncoming car and obliterate myself if that's what it took. i would do that for it.
i think that fact might make it difficult for me to find stability or happiness but i know it's true.
in outer space it's either lasers or free float. guidance. thrusters are so byzantine; crude. they won't ever get you where you need to go. ok maybe in a spacecraft but that's just a very crude analogy for the space travel we do as human beings. in our minds. who hasn't been afraid of the dimensions there? humanity seeks comfort but also gets used to wider circles of knowledge, little by little over eons. i feel like i have lived eons. what else would you call it when some of the lives you have lived are like postcards or dreams. sometimes i can't tell the difference between dream and memory. time seems ancient even in my own memory. just as ancient as anything. egypt. my own personal fictions. my lived life is a personal fiction. ancient egypt is just as close or far, really to my thoughts, to my dreams, to my memories. past life experiences? hell yes! even within my living brain!!
i haven't really got a fucking clue who i am. anyway, knowing is over. starting is learning. i don't want to be someone who knows.
to go from a person who doesn't know to a person who knows is a test. when you are young you are in a position of not knowing relative to everything in life. the natural orientation is towards the unknown as someone who doesn't know. in order to grow in any art form you have to adopt this position. later when you become the one who knows, relative to a younger generation, there is the risk of thinking that you know relative to your own art. orienting yourself towards your art as someone who knows will disable your ability to grow. music has no questions that we can answer. it is we who ask the questions and music which answers.
CW: I realized years ago that there is always a chord shape (sometimes something I've played before, sometimes not, just a visual image) in my mind that I would play if I were to pick up a guitar at that moment. Sometimes it will stay the same until it is realized and sometimes it will change. Right now it is (low to high): G (low E string 3rd fret 3rd finger), Eb (D string 1st fret 1st finger), A (Gstring 2nd fret 2nd finger), B (open B string). Would you leave us with a chord?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: let's make it a 2 chord progression. first your chord- G, Eb, A, B. then this chord: C# (A string, 3rd finger), E, A#, B, E.
thanks for the interview, it's been a pleasure. an important pleasure.-k