Ten Questions with Ken Vandermark

27 04 2010

Ken Vandermark is an experimental composer/reeds player living in Chicago, Il. His credits are too numerous to mention, but my favorites include his group the Vandermark 5, his work with Peter Brotzmann in Brotzmann’s Tentet, Territory Band, Powerhouse Sound (with fellow TQ alum Jeff Parker). He’s always on tour and always pushing his music in bold new directions. Truly one of my favorite musicians to follow (almost in a Grateful Dead kind of way). What started out as a great idea:

Me: “Hey Ken, we should do the interview on Twitter!”

Ken: “Sounds great!”

quickly collapsed when the realization hit that other people follow both of us, and the process was making the interview take longer and providing less information. I might try the Twitter thing again, but if so, limit it to a one day thing! Anyway, enjoy the interview and check out Ken’s Discography for some great new material, including releases with The Ex, The Frame Quartet, and a new duo album with Tim Daisy.

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

kenvandermark@glowsinthedark #1: I got into Jazz and Improvised Music by seeing it live all the time as a kid, my father took me to shows since I was 10.

kenvandermark@glowsinthedark #2: As I got older I wanted to hear more avant garde sounds- Joe Morris, Joe McPhee, Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Brotzmann, Kowald.

kenvandermark@glowsinthedark #3: Getting to work with some of the people who inspired me to play is a major force, keeping me driven to develop new work.

2: Breakthrough album(s) and Why?

kenvandermark@glowsinthedark I’d say that the 1st Vandermark Quartet album, Big Head Eddie was important, it made people outside of Chicago aware of us.

kenvandermark@glowsinthedark Meeting In Chicago w/Joe McPhee and Kent Kessler was significant, it was my 1st chance to work w/ an artist who shaped me.

kenvandermark@glowsinthedark Transatlantic Bridge by Territory Band-1 integrated my interests in American and European developments in Improvised Music.

3: How do other art disciplines affect your work?

I’d break the other arts and their influence on me into 3 main categories- film, painting, and Beckett.

Film has suggested ways to organize music with methods of cutting, montage, cross fades, etc.; building structures

that are not based on musical “conventions.” Painting, particularly by artists associated with the “New York School,”

has also suggested different ways to deal with form and content; in addition the discipline of these artists as they

faced ignorance and indifference has kept me focused on what I feel I need to do creatively, despite other people’s

opinions. And Beckett is about as focused as an artist can get. Plus, his editing process, getting to the crux of

communication, eliminating everything unnecessary, is something I need to keep learning from.

4: Favorite Film(s)?

“The Battleship Potemkin,” [Eisenstein]: Odessa Steps set the “rules” of editing, action, and visual organization for film.

“A Touch Of Evil,” [Welles]: hard to choose this over “Citizen Kane” (the other major film language “source”), but Welles’ use of sound and the camera in motion is still radical.

“A Clockwork Orange” [Kubrick]: perhaps my favorite director, his adaptation of Burgess’ novel is truly perfect.

“8 1/2” [Fellini]: film within a film structure about the creative act married to a Nina Rota score, bloody incredible.

“Seven Samurai” [Kurosawa]: hard to choose between so many great Kurosawa films, but this defines “kinetic.”

“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” [Leone]: this covers all bases- story, cinematography, soundtrack, acting, genre study.

5: Favorite Film Score(s)?

5 favorite scores: 1. “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” (Morricone); 2. “Duck You Sucker,” (Morricone); 3. “8 1/2,” (Rota); 4. “A Clockwork Orange,” (Carlos); 5. Carl Stalling’s music for the Warner Brothers cartoons.

6: Favorite Fiction Reading?

(sorry it’s taken a while): Favorite fiction writers are Beckett, Borges, Burroughs, Faulkner, Ellroy, JDenis Johnson.

7: Favorite Non-Fiction Reading?

Artists biographies and monographs: painters, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, writers.

8: Favorite Guilty Pleasure Music?

Funk and Reggae.

9: Favorite Under Rated Musician(s)?

Living: Ab Baars

Dead: Pee Wee Russell

10: Recommended Artist(s)/Shout Outs?

John Carter, Jimmy Giuffre, Don Cherry, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Magnus Broo, Paal Nilssen-Love, Håvard Wiik, Tim Daisy, Joe McPhee… How many would you like?

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