Ten Questions with Taylor Ho Bynum

21 10 2008

Taylor Ho Bynum is a new music composer/trumpeter from New York.  Working frequently with some of NY’s finest (Tomas Fujiwara, Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone) and leading groups such as SpiderMonkey Strings and The Thirteenth Assembly, Ho Bynum always brings a unique approach to composition, and improvisation.  Also a frequent collaborator of Anthony Braxton’s, he has performed and recorded all over the world in any number of Braxton’s tone combinations.  He also co-runs the great Firehouse 12 Records with Nick Lloyd.  Readers of this blog will know Firehouse 12 because they released Tyshawn Sorey’s debut, which I gushed over awhile back.  He also keeps a great great blog (his busy schedule is making it hard to keep it up to date, but read the past and ask nicely and maybe it will blossom again.)

Look for his albums on Firehouse 12, 482 Music, and on his website.

1: What got you into creative/improvised music making, and what keeps you there?

When I was about 15, I started sitting in with a local university jazz ensemble that trombonist Bill Lowe taught in Boston. That dropped me headfirst into the joys of improvised music. When I was 18 I met Anthony Braxton and that sealed the deal. So really, I blame those two guys for leading me down this path. The profound spiritual satisfaction of the music making keeps me there (and balances out the general lack of fiscal rewards).

2: Breakthrough album(s) and Why?

Listening to Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way while walking home from high school one snowy night is probably the moment I knew somehow, I had to be involved with music for the rest of my life. Other catalytic recordings: John Coltrane A Love Supreme, Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland (particularly 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)), Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Charles Mingus Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Henry Threadgill Too Much Sugar for a Dime, Braxton’s Willisau Quartet, Charles Ives’ Holidays Symphony, Duke Ellington Far East Suite, Bartok’s String Quartets, and Prince Lovesexy.

3: How do other art disciplines affect your work?

Profoundly. My wife, Rachel Bernsen, is a dancer/choreographer, and our regular artistic discussions and collaborations are a major source of ideas and conceptual development. In general, I’ve been deeply affected by working with dance, particularly in embracing silence; by having the focus on another physical presence I learned how much stronger it can be not to play.

My sister, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, is a novelist. Her work in specific has been an immediate influence; I’ll be recording a piece using text from her first book, Madeleine is Sleeping, later this fall. In general, I am an avid reader, and being deep in a novel is a place of very happy creative engagement.

My brother-in-law, Dana Jackson, is a filmmaker. Working on his movies has forced me to balance my own experimental tendencies with the need for clear narrative, a balance that also informs my work outside of film scores.

One of my best friends is a painter, Nathan Boyer. We shared a studio for a few years, and have been trading ideas (again, often discussing that balance between experimentation and narrative and other such matters) since we were in high school. One of my favorite things to do while on tour in the afternoon before a gig is to zone out with some masterpiece in some great European museum.

4: Favorite Film(s)?

Too many to count, but mostly older ones. The list has got to include a lot of Kurosawa (Ran, Ikiru, Seven Samurai), old Kubrick (The Killing, Dr. Strangelove), Bogart (Big Sleep, Maltese Falcon, In a Lonely Place), film noir (The Third Man, Mulholland Drive), musicals (American in Paris, Top Hat), sci-fi/fantasy (Brazil, Spirited Away, Dark Crystal) and some classic comedy (Duck Soup, Modern Times, Monty Python and the Holy Grail). I just recently saw Kobayashi’s Harakiri starring Tatsuya Nakadai, which was fantastic.

5: Favorite Film Score(s)?

As a jazz guy at heart, I gotta say Asphalt Jungle (Duke) and Elevator to the Gallows (Miles). I also love some of the Kurosawa/Takamitsu collaborations and of course, the Hitchcock/Herrman stuff.

6: Favorite Fiction Reading?

Again, WAY too many to count, and I’m sure I’m leaving out some of my favorites. Ishmael Reed Mumbo Jumbo. Borges’ collected stories. Tolkien Lord of the Rings, Salman Rushdie Satanic Verses. Ellison Invisible Man. Haruki Murakami Wind Up Bird Chronicles. Iris Murdoch The Sea The Sea. Faulkner As I Lay Dying. Nabokov Lolita. Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse. Cervantes Don Quixote. Dostoyevsky Brothers Karamozov. Recently I’ve been digging into some African literature, both Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Wizard of the Crow were fantastic. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, may he rest in peace. The books of Daniel Pinkwater, Lloyd Alexander, and Susan Cooper were essential texts of my childhood, and I wish I could have read Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials when I was 10, but it was still fun at 30. And of course, my sister’s books, Madeleine is Sleeping and Ms. Hempel Chronicles.

7: Favorite Non-Fiction Reading?

I’m not a big non fiction reader, though I do read the New Yorker every week. However, my best friend Nick Thompson has been working on a book called The Hawk and the Dove, looking at fifty years of American foreign policy through the careers of George Kennan and Paul Nitze. I’ve been reading the drafts as he’s been working on that, and it is really fascinating, it’ll be released next year. Also, George Lewis’ new book on the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself, is a totally essential read for any new music fan.

8: Favorite Guilty Pleasure Music?

There’s really no music I feel guilty listening to. I am something of a Prince fanatic (not so much his new work, really the ‘80s stuff), but he’s a genius so no guilt there.

9: Favorite Under Rated Musician(s)?

I always got to push the Fully Celebrated Orchestra (saxophonist/composer Jim Hobbs, bassist Timo Shanko, drummer Django Carranza). I had a weekly gig with them in Boston for many years, and that band traveled to unique, intense and beautiful musical places. All three of those guys should be famous. And James Jabbo Ware and the Me We and Them Orchestra, that’s the group that showed me what a real big band composer and a real big band sounds like live, and they’ve been going strong for over thirty years.

10: Recommended Artist(s)/Shout Outs?

Duke Ellington. Yeah, he gets a lot of press, but he’s still underrated; to be that good for that long in that many ways is just impossible.

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23 10 2008
Avant Music News » Ten Questions with Taylor Ho Bynum

[…] Glowing Realm interviews THB. Taylor Ho Bynum is a new music composer/trumpeter from New York. Working frequently with some of NY’s finest (Tomas Fujiwara, Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone) and leading groups such as SpiderMonkey Strings and The Thirteenth Assembly, Ho Bynum always brings a unique approach to composition, and improvisation. Also a frequent collaborator of Anthony Braxton’s, he has performed and recorded all over the world in any number of Braxton’s tone combinations. He also co-runs the great Firehouse 12 Records with Nick Lloyd. Readers of this blog will know Firehouse 12 because they released Tyshawn Sorey’s debut, which I gushed over awhile back. He also keeps a great great blog (his busy schedule is making it hard to keep it up to date, but read the past and ask nicely and maybe it will blossom again.) Anthony Braxton, Paul Lansky, Sun Ra, William Parker […]

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