Episode 84      22 min 08 sec
Music masters: improvisation as a research topic

Professional jazz musicians and research students Chris Hale and Paul Williamson pick up their instruments and speak about improvisational music as a focus of academic research. With guest host Katherine Smith.

"There's a very entrenched social context to Bach's making of music and he's a beautiful example which I think maybe we should return to because that's an example of the spirituality of music being completely embedded in those materials." - Chris Hale




           



Christopher Hale
Christopher Hale

Christopher Hale is emerging as one of the most distinctive instrumentalists in Australian improvised music.  The UK born performer/composer has been garnering rave reviews as one of the leaders of a new generation of Australian improvising musicians, and is widely recognised as one the country’s foremost exponents of the bass guitar.  His unique approach to the six-string acoustic bass is characterised by a highly developed and complex harmonic awareness, formidable rhythmic strength and a fluid and agile melodic sensibility, informed by an expansive range of influences, from flamenco and jazz to choro and Afro-Cuban music, electronica and rock, classical music, bluegrass and beyond. Hale lectures in jazz and improvised music at the Faculty of VCA and Music, and is completing his Masters of Music.

Paul Williamson
Paul Williamson

Paul Williamson built his reputation on the Australian jazz scene as an individual voice in trumpet and composition. As the leader of the Paul Williamson Sextet, Quintet, Quartet, and ‘By a Thread’ he has released six CD's. Paul has also been a regular performer at various Australian and International jazz festivals and workshops, including the Sligo Jazz Project in Ireland, and has toured U.K., France, Noumea, China, Ireland, and Germany.

Paul relocated to Dublin, Ireland in 2006, and was active on the Irish jazz scene playing with: Bill Carothers, Dave Liebman, Reggie Washington, Paul Wertico, Ronan Guilfoyle, David Lesprit, Lindsay Horner, Michael Buckley, Phil Ware Trio, Sean Carpio, Tommy Halferty Trio, Mike Neilson, Greg Felton, Richie Buckley, The Organics, Havana Son, Zoid, Swing and Co, Metier, Zrazy, The Dublin Jazz Orchestra, and the David Little Trio.

Returning to Melbourne, Australia in 2009, Williamson has continued a busy playing schedule including playing the Melbourne International Jazz Festival with Charlie Haden, the Stonnington Jazz festival with ‘Inside Out’.

As an educator, Paul is currently a sessional teacher at the Faculty of VCA and Music, and a lecturer at Monash University. Whilst residing in Ireland, Paul was a faculty member of the Jazz department at the Newpark Music Centre (an affiliate school of the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston) teaching the Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Performance Degree. Paul is also a regular member of the faculty for the Sligo International Jazz Project in Ireland.

Credits

Host: Katherine Smith
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel, Katherine Smith
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Russell Evans

On site improvisations by Christopher Hale and Paul Williamson
Excerpts from By A Thread (the CD) courtesy of Paul Williamson
By a Thread (the trio) comprises Paul Williamson, Geoff Hughes and James McLean

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Music masters: improvisation as a research topic

KATHERINE SMITH
Hello and welcome to Up Close, coming to you from the University of Melbourne in Australia.  I'm Katherine Smith and today we'll be hearing from two talented young musicians, Christopher Hale and Paul Williamson.  They are current and former postgraduate research students in the Faculty of The Victorian College of the Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne.  Chris and Paul aren't musicologists or graduate students using course work programs to hone their performance skills.  They are professional musicians who are using their masters programs to examine the creative processes at work in their music, as individuals and as ensemble musicians.
They're seeking insight, inspiration and creative stimulation.  Both are improvisation musicians and first up we'll hear from Christopher Hale who, when we spoke to him, was a masters student just starting out on his research journey.
[Music playing]
That was the music of Christopher Hale.  Welcome, Chris.

CHRISTOPHER HALE
Thank you, Katherine.

KATHERINE SMITH
So you play bass?

CHRISTOPHER HALE
That's right.

KATHERINE SMITH
You've been in bands, played in jazz forums.  What sorts of other experiences - musical experiences have you had?
CHRISTOPHER HALE
I grew up playing Brazilian music with a teacher here in Melbourne that ended up being a very formative time and style for me and that sort of took me through Afro-Cuban music that I ended up touring with some Cuban musicians as a teenager.  That also ended up being formative, not only musically but also being a young, middle class white guy touring with Cubans I learnt a lot about life and what I didn't want to be as well as what I did.

KATHERINE SMITH
That inspired your improvisation work?

CHRISTOPHER HALE
Absolutely.  As an improvising musicians there's a certain kind of omnivorous quality.  For me it gets to the heart of one's identity on an instrument.  
[Music playing]
Particularly as an improvising musician but I'm sure every other kind also has very reflective, often searching relationship with music.  The culture of self-development, the culture of practice, of constantly sort of examining and reflecting upon one's practice lends itself to a certain almost ferocity of examination.  It doesn't take long before that sort of examination transcends the instrument and starts becoming about everything that informs the instrument and it doesn't take long also that it starts to - you start examining the history of some of the ideas that you've been dealing with and we start examining the motivations behind other great musicians and in this way examining the - in depth the ideas and philosophies behind music and in this academic environment it's just a sort of formalisation of what I've been doing for a long time and I think - I'm sure most other improvising musicians do.
Music is one of the most ultimately human things we can do but at the same time there is - there's much about music with is ineffable, much about it which encourages our instinct for the luminous and for the spiritual in our lives.  The distinguishing between the physical substances of music, the materials if you like, and the spirituality of music, the effects of music.  To distinguish those things can immediately divide it and obviously the thing that follows directly from division is hierarchy and in turn politics.  One of the motivations for my research was that very idea of divorcing the spiritual from music as belonging to some other realm, whereas the material of music, the making of the music, the wood and the fingers and like the breath and the spit, those things belong in this sort of terrestrial world which in the discussion, that divided discussion, has become a secondary question.
In many modern sort of music circles and amongst modern musicians to discuss those materials of music reveals a certain kind of maybe pedantic nature because the real discussion is about the spirituality, whereas for me I don't really see a division and I'm trying to sort of examine ways that that division happens.  
[Music playing]
There's a very entrenched social context to Bach's making of music and he's a beautiful example which I think maybe we should return to because that's an example of the spirituality of music being completely embedded in those materials.

KATHERINE SMITH
When you hear musicians play Bach you can hear the physicality of the movement of the hand up and down.  

CHRISTOPHER HALE
That's right.

KATHERINE SMITH
There's a lot of action.

CHRISTOPHER HALE
The nature of Bach as a composer, I mean from accounts he identifies as a contrapuntist which I think is a - maybe pre-dates the notion of the composer as artist.  The contrapuntist is - someone embedded in the practice and art of creating counterpoint with tremendous architecture, tremendous kind of control.
[Music playing]

KATHERINE SMITH
In terms of having grown up in Australia is there any kind of spiritual entry point in Australian music that you feely strongly…

CHRISTOPHER HALE
The identity of playing improvised music in Australia is often a kind of elusive one.  Often times Australian culture is a difficult thing to define, I think particularly in modern times.  

KATHERINE SMITH
Yeah, just getting started I guess?

CHRISTOPHER HALE
Yeah, and particularly playing what's ostensibly grown out of an American art form but in my relationship with it, my processes with it, though it's born out of that tradition and everyone is very well informed about that, I mean is in dialogue with that tradition, it pays no overt homage necessarily to that.  I'm not thinking about replicating an American art form when I'm playing improvised music and I know nor are a lot of my colleagues and so in a way definitions like that is a divisive comparison.  It's only really possible in retrospect and it's only really possible from an outside point of view.
[Music playing]

KATHERINE SMITH
We've just been hearing from Chris Hale.  You're listening to Up Close, coming to you from the University of Melbourne in Australia.  I'm Katherine Smith.
[Music playing]
Paul Williamson is at the other end of the scholarly endeavour, having completed and submitted his Masters thesis at the end of 2009.  He's also currently teaching at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Music and he's been exploring how an individual musician expresses and maintains their individuality in a collective jazz ensemble.  

PAUL WILLIAMSON
Well, thanks Katherine for having me on the show.

KATHERINE SMITH
So for this research project, your masters research and thesis, you formed a band, right?  A purpose built band for this research.  In some ways By A Thread, your band, is a little bit like a laboratory for you to be working and exploring.  Tell us a little bit about the band, how it came together?

PAUL WILLIAMSON
Yeah, when the dissertation came up - I came up with some topics and then I started to think, well this is a performance based research and I thought, well why not tie it into my professional activities and also interests and I thought, well let's put an ensemble together to explore these things and that's where By A Thread came about.  

KATHERINE SMITH
What's the line up in By A Thread?

PAUL WILLIAMSON
It's drums, guitar and trumpet.  So…

KATHERINE SMITH
Are you on trumpet?

PAUL WILLIAMSON
Yeah, myself on trumpet and the unusual part I guess is the omission of a double bass or a bass.  Not having the bass there gives the group a little bit more freedom in the density of the music.  There's a lot more space and room I guess for interaction but also that takes out some of the stability and we all need to become more responsible for the different roles.  
[Music playing]
One of the great things about the project was the realisation that to develop a collective language, I've labelled it collective consciousness, one of the really important things is not just showing up on the gigs and playing music, it's all the things before and after the event, creating a rapport amongst the individuals, music and non-musical.  As the project went on we realised that there were some many good things happening and we were developing this rapport and therefore we decided to do a recording.
[Music playing]
I guess some of these processes maybe sound a little bit analytical but there is often a lot of preconceived kind of construction and thought processes that go into music which - not that the audience needs to know this but musicians also love to get to that point where they can arrive and have such a rapport with other human beings they don't know what's going to unfold as well.  This essence of spontaneity I guess which is also attached to improvisation and jazz and also an element of risk taking and a freshness to the music which excites musician to create music on a higher level.
[Music playing]

KATHERINE SMITH
You chose to compare your work a little bit with the work of the Miles Davis quintet.  Can you tell us a bit about that?  Which line up or all line ups?  

PAUL WILLIAMSON
Yeah.  Yeah.  

KATHERINE SMITH
Are they the gold standard for improvisation musicians?

PAUL WILLIAMSON
Yeah, you've hit it on the head there.  That's, for me anyway, in the tradition of jazz there's many groups but the one I chose to focus on was the 1960s quintet of Miles Davis and the reason I did that was that I guess I saw a parallel between the music that ensemble was pursuing and what I would like to pursue with an ensemble of my own which was they had a good basis in the tradition of jazz but they were also experimenting with trying to become a little bit more freer but free in the sense that they were just trying to loosen the parameters in order to have greater interaction and spontaneity and so that they could not always know exactly what was going to happen at the end of the - or during a performance which is something that I was keen to pursue with the ensemble.
[Music playing]

KATHERINE SMITH
So that was the tune, [In the] Aftermath from the CD By A Thread, also the name of the band.  Do you want to tell us a little bit about that song?

PAUL WILLIAMSON
So what we were really trying to achieve with that tune was within a set structure how can we then incorporate flexibility and looseness.  I didn't want it to be like the trumpet is always soloing and the guitar is always accompany me and so is the drums.  At any one point it was almost like we were all conversing together.
[Music playing]

KATHERINE SMITH
You've been listening to Paul Williamson and before that to Christopher Hale, current and former masters students in the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne.  Relevant links, a full transcript and more information on this episode can be found on our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  You can leave a comment on any of the Up Close episodes by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.  Up Close is brought to you by marketing and communications at the University of Melbourne, Australia.  Up Close is created and produced by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param.  Our audio engineer is Russell Evans, I'm Katherine Smith and until next time thank you for joining us.  Goodbye.  
[Music playing]
You've been listening to Up Close.  For more information visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Copyright 2010, the University of Melbourne.


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