Thollem McDonas Interview (part 3/3)
Bringing the music everywhere, like you do, is something that I really appreciate and also consider full of political values, but I noticed a sentence in your biography that says “I play for people, and everyone else”… what you mean exactly?
It’s kind of a wordplay, were “everyone else” become the animals, the birds, the world…
And are you interested in letting the “outside world” come in your music? Have you ever used field recordings?
I have some, but not very much. I feel there is so many people really focused on that I don’t want… just touch it.
I respect those but I’m not that interested in having “a soundscape” along with my music.
Most of my recordings are done live, even the Debussy’s recordings: it was done in a museum and you can hear the traffic nearby, or children playing across the street, birds singing just outside the windows… and I love it, I really like to hear the enviroment were the concert was!
Of course there are other places where you don’t want to hear other sounds, like Tsigoti studio.
I noticed another world in your biography, “eccentriclect”: is it referred to the style or to the attitude, or both?
Both, for me style and attitude are not separated. It comes from “eccentric” that means that you’re approaching something without pre-ordering any rules, and “eclectic” meaning that you draw from many different sources.
I’m not interested in putting my music into any particular label, any particular genre, but at the same time I think is important to be able to give to audience, readers, listeners venues owners and festival organisers a quick way to describe your own music.
Recording, live gigs, publishing: do you manage everything by yourself?
Well… overall yes.
Labels publishing my recordings are involved in a variety of ways, depending on the label. ESP for instance is very active in promoting our album and dates.
For my tours concerts are arranged in a variety of ways… I’ve been doing a long enough now so that I’m returning to places where I’ve been, I’ve many friends that are musicians or organisers, it’s pretty easy… also there are some people who are able to set up a bunch of dates in a particular region, and then I get “calls” from festivals… but I manage everything by myself, I’m the one who decides where I’m going to play, when I’m going to do it, how I get from one place to the next and so on.
Are you active as a performer in other projects? I think mainly to the Naked Future project with Arrington De Dionyso…
Yes, there is a variety of projects where I’ve been invited to perform, also rock band, like Zdrastvootie… but mainly I work with other improvisers.
So you play from the solo piano to the orchestra, and this year you also guide an orchestra, the Estamos Ensemble, talk us about it.
It’s a group that I put together, half mexican musicians, half from the US.
It’s 8 people plus me, not really a full orchestra but an ensemble. I’m involved as a musician and as artistic director, meaning that I’m responsible for a lot of things other members are not! I put this together as a part of a larger network developing right now called “The Americans Comprovisers Network” and this is to help to bridge the borders between all of the americans, from Canada to Terra Del Fuego.
I travel all around the States and it’s very rare to find improvisers or composers or noise and avantgarde musicians coming from Mexico to play concerts, and very few americans go to Mexico as well, it’s very strange. It’s much closer to get to Mexico City from San Francisco rather than going to New York, but the border is very strong and is very difficult from mexicans to come. So, I realised that this was absurd and it needed to be more interchange across the border.
This ensemble met a couple of months ago for the first time and spent two days recording. We will do a two or three weeks tour in the States, another tour in Mexico, and for the following year my idea is to hand off my artistic director duties to a mexican musician who will then choose a whole new ensemble. It means for each one involved to meet people, to meet their counterparts across the border, make connections and make it easier to tour and collaborate on both sides of the border, so next year we will make new people come in and let the network grow…
I read that you choose mainly multinstrumentalists for this ensemble.
Yes, I wanted to have an ensemble as small as possible in order to be financially able to tour but at the same time to have the biggest possible variety of “timbres” with 9 people. I was also looking for a variety based on both man and women, young and older and so on… It’s really an ensemble that incorporates variety in a lot of ways.
A fully recombining possibilities.
Exactly, as much as possible!
Almost on the opposite side now, the duo approach, how about when the other one is playing a piano as well, like in Noble Art released with Nicola Guazzaloca?
That was difficult for both of us and we both knew it wold have been difficult going into it, because we use to play along with instruments with other timbres, with different limitations and different possibilities than a piano, so the roles are more defined and clear…
But we found that it was not as difficult as we thought it would be… I think that two pianos can really roar, they can make so much noise, and we had a great time making noise together!
But is the piano duo something that you practiced during your classical studies?
Yes for sure, but in a very different way than improvisation! You play two pianos, Brahms for instance, and you play the notes that are written there and fit these parts together in a particular way, respectfully of the time and place when it was written and personal role and so on…
We make spontaneous music, in the moment, responsible to ourselves, to each other, to the audience. That’s it…
Never thought to compose something?
I don’t compose very much and I rarely write anything down anyway. I’m not that interested in spending the time to sit and write.
Probably, for the next Tsigoti album our plan is to have the Nipozzano piano played by all four of us at the same time! But not on the keyboard but the whole parts of the piano, there’s all kind of great sounds… and for me this is a type of composition!
What about this new album? When is it planned? Will it come out for ESP again?
I don’t know if ESP is going to release it, they asked to be first to hear it, and I said OK of course! I mean we’re all very very happy to be on ESP, it’s a really incredible label…
We will be touring in May, there are a lot of dates…
How do you feel about this?
I’m excited about it! For many reasons: I’m the singer and I don’t really speak Italian so I’m singing in English all the time and we’ve only performed in Italy and obviously I know have Italians have always heard english songs but it’d much different to sing in a country where English is the native language and people understand the nuances of the lyrics… but also I’m very excited to bring these guys to the States…
One last question, as I’m quite interested in the way you use words, I think that wordplay is a key to understand your work. Do you have a writing activity besides music?
I wrote poetry and short stories, self-distributed, with photocopies…
OK Thollem, I’m really gratefull for this interview, it was a nice talk… I’m sorry for my English…
Thank you Miki, I’m sorry for my Italian.