BD: When did you first become consciously aware of music?
HS: I grew up in a house where music was always playing, so I was hearing the jazz, classical music, opera and "world" music my parents listened to all the way back to when I was born. I was 2 years old when ĎRock Around The Clockí came out, and my parents had that single (along with some Elvis singles), so I was hearing rock music from its very beginnings too. However, I heard more more swing and jazz than anything else until I got my own radio when I was 7 and discovered KRLA, Los Angelesí seminal rock radio station.
GS: Thatís a tough one. I loved music as a kid, but Iím not sure if thatís what youíre asking. One day my Mom discovered that an easy way to keep me happy and quiet while she was cleaning was to sit me in front of the speakers and have me close my eyes and picture things in my head to the 1812 Overture, like the battle scenes and the aftermath. After that I insisted on going to sleep to that piece, every night, I guess I was about 3. I shared a room with my sister and one night she got sick of Tchaikovsky and asked if she could play some Beatles instead. So I went to sleep to "Revolver" for a few months after that, and any other Beatles she got her hands on. Other things trickled in, like Paul Revere and the Raiders or Buffalo Springfield. All my older siblings were heavily into music and I absorbed plenty of that. "Crazy World Of Arthur Brown" got soaked in pretty deeply that way, until I actually found the album again years later and renewed the process on my own. Ditto the first couple of Zeppelin albums, the first Quicksilver album, Love, Moody Blues "In Search of the Lost Chord", and a lot of other stuff. We spent a lot of time in the car too, and the radio was always on. The first album I got was "Days of Future Passed" by the Moody Blues, I was 8. I asked my parents for it and they said, "Wouldnít you rather have a toy?". No, I wanted the album. I listened to it as often as I could, but it didnít start a trend, not yet. I think around the end of 6th grade, I decided it was time to dive in, and thatís when I really started actively listening and seeking out music on my own. I started playing records on the living room console (the only turntable in the house) when no one was home to be disturbed by it. My cousinís boyfriend gave me a bunch of albums he didnít want anymore, one of them was an MCA sampler that had things from Virgil Fox Heavy Organ and "Blind Eye" off the first Wishbone Ash album, which Iíd heard a lot as a kid. I had a little box tape deck, and I borrowed my brotherís copy of "Atom Heart Mother" and taped it by sticking the recorder in front of one of the console speakers. I brought the tape to school and got permission to play it in class for the other kids, who all seemed to enjoy it. I saw "Phantom of the Paradise", got the soundtrack album, and played it over and over again. I brought a little transistor radio with an earplug to bed with me at night when I was supposed to be sleeping and hid under the covers with it. And then to cap it off, I got taken to see Yes at the Hollywood Bowl on the "Relayer" tour, and that did it, there was no turning back.
BD: Name some of the earliest albums in your collection that you feel had a significant influence and/or continue to have a significant influence on your work.
HS: Benny Goodmanís Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, Goodmanís original 12" recording of "Sing, Sing, Sing", Spike Jonesí "Cocktails for Two", Nathan Milsteinís recording of Tchaikovskyís Violin Concerto In D with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Carl Sandburg singing American Folk Songs, Theodore Bikel singing Jewish Folk Songs, The Sick Humor Of Lenny Bruce, Lenny Bruce, American. These were all records my parents had that I used to listen to on my own and were a huge influence. The first album I ever bought was Sandy Nelsonís "Let There Be Drums", when I was 8 or 9 years old, but by then I had already heard Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Jo Jones, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough and countless other swing drummers.
GS: Hmm...thereís stuff I heard a lot as a kid that later came to be a very significant influence on Jugalbandi, particularly the live Cream from "Wheels of Fire". "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida" by I. Ron Butterfly. "Larkís Tongues In Aspic", I got a very beat-up but playable copy and that one was a real flipper- get to the end of side one, flip it over, get to the end of side two, flip it over, get to the end of side one...And then I got "USA" and "Red". "Atom Heart Mother" and "Relayer". "Looking On" by the Move. "Wolf City" by Amon Duul II. "Diamond Head" by Phil Manzanera. "The Innermounting Flame" by Mahavishnu Orchestra. "Tyranny and Mutation" and "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees" by Blue Oyster Cult. "Here Come The Warm Jets" by Brian Eno. Fripp and Enoís "No Pussyfooting". Tangerine Dreamís "Rubycon". "Godbluff" by Van Der Graaf Generator. "Sunburst Finish" and "Axe Victim" by Be Bop Deluxe. The first Hawkwind album and "Hall of the Mountain Grill". And "A Saucerful Of Secrets" and "Ummagumma", thereís that Floyd influence again.
Everything Iíve just mentioned were things I owned and played religiously before my 15th birthday, before I owned an instrument. These are very deep influences for me. And there were later ones too, but these were some of the first. (If it seems like a lot, well...I ended up with a lot of records. Itís where all my money and most of my time went. Once upon a time you could get used records very cheap.)
BD: Talk about how you got into music, and a bit about your personal history with it.
GS: Aye, itís an oft repeated tale, but here goes, matey. I didnít really have any intention of getting into music. I loved it, but I wanted to be a filmmaker. Music was something I visualized to, not made, dig? Didnít think I had, or could ever have, any talent for it. But when I was 14 I had this very powerful dream, I suppose you could call it a vision. It was all symbolism and not particularly clear or intelligable. But when I woke up from it...itís hard to explain but something huge had happened to me. I didnít really understand it myself.
(There had been another dream with this kind of power and mystery to it, when I was 10. It had to do with a magical animal that attacked me, left me alive, and I went searching for it. When I woke up, I was obsessed with figuring it out, because it seemed very real in a way I couldnít explain. At the time, I didnít have the knowledge to identify it. As it turns out, nearly 20 years later I did. Itís an apparition that has been recorded worldwide, but seems to have had the greatest incidence in the UK.)
So what do you do with a mystery thatís of vital importance to you? You try to solve it. I started analyzing the hell out of this dream, and one of the things I noticed was that throughout the parts (it had multiple sections), there were suggestions of this area of land not far from where I lived. So I started going down there. It felt good to do, but it didnít bring any immediate answers. So I kept looking. Meanwhile all sorts of things in my life were getting shifted around by this...radical shift in viewpoint, letís say. If it had happened in the context of a religion, it could be called being born again; but it happened totally outside of any such context, at least in any obvious way. If it had been within some pre-existing social context, like Christianity, there would have been a framework for me to explain it in, and some support for the experience. In retrospect Iím very glad it didnít happen that way.
But at the time, it was really hard. Here I was having this life-changing thing happening, and I was having to keep it to myself and get on with my day-to-day life. And the whole time, Iím trying to figure this out and get back some sense of balance and dare I say it, normalcy. But for a long time I was really scattered, there was no focus. I hadnít figured it out yet.
And then one day I went down for a walk in this area that had appeared so often in the dream, and I found a discarded, cheap electric guitar half buried in the mud. It was basically destroyed, not only were the electronics ripped out of it but the headstock was cracked where it joined the neck. I didnít know enough about guitars at that time to realize that it couldnít be fixed. But then I picked this thing up and there was this inner sensation of the world just stopping for a second, and everything swinging suddenly into focus. And there was this sense that this was it, Iíd figured it out.
Now Iím a very contrary guy in my inner dialogues, and Iíve never been one to surrender to a seemingly ridiculous thought without a fight, no matter how rock-solid that sense of inner certainty was. And this was both ridiculous to me, and completely, but quietly, solid. It wasnít loud trumpets and the sky opening, it was just this sort of soft "click" as something that fit slid into place. But Iíd been raised not to believe in that, and to doubt my inner workings. This was a ridiculous thought because to me there was no way I could imagine myself as real guitarist, not like the ones I listened to. This doubt didnít hit me that strongly while I was out there, in fact I reveled in this "right" feeling for a few hours. Then I went home, and that elation went out the window. I discovered the guitar probably couldnít be fixed, and no one was going to spring for a guitar for me. So on the surface it seemed like Iíd had a few hours reverie and then come back to my senses. I tried for another few weeks, on and off, to get some help moving ahead with this, but it wasnít happening. So I played along and told myself, "See? Thereís no way youíre gonna be a guitarist". But there was this subtle undertone of certainty and even joy that just wouldnít go away.
Some time passed and one day I was over at my brotherís place playing his new drum kit. I came down ill with something while I was playing but kept going- I really connected with the instrument and just didnít want to stop. When I finally did, I practically collapsed on the couch but I did take the time to write in my little notebook about what Iíd just done and that I might have to look into drums a bit further, because from what I had done that afternoon, this was something I thought I could really do. Of course, the inner naysaying came back a bit- how would I afford drums, there was no way my parents were going to let me play them in the apartment, etc. After a while that gets to be a bummer so you just push all of it of your mind. I was spending the night over there and slept on the couch. I felt like crap. And in the middle of the night I woke up, but not completely- one of those half-sleep states where youíre paralyzed and canít move. And apparently sitting on the floor in front of me was the animal from that first dream back when I was 10. Very scary. It just sat there until it started to fade away and I fell back asleep again. Despite whatever physical or psychological explanations we can offer for this, it seemed to me a strong sign that I had really better look into playing drums. And for some reason, this time there wasnít the same resistance. I saved up and bought a snare drum, and shortly after that got a kit. And even my folks went along with it. I was very, very surprised but charged ahead.
About 9 months after I got my kit, Iíd come up with a bunch of songs, was playing with various musicians, and even though I was also singing by then, it was hard to get my melodic ideas across. Then one night I spent the night over at a friendís house and he had a guitar and let me fool around on it. The next morning I picked it up and started playing it again and he said "This is ridiculous. Youíre good. You need to get a guitar. Thatís it. Youíre getting a guitar. Today. Do you have $30?" I actually did have that saved. And he dragged me to Sears and we bought an acoustic for $30. I couldnít have done that when I first wanted one, I wasnít working. But now I was, I had the cash, so that was it. By the way, that guyís name was Vince Rutter. So Vince, wherever you are, thanks. After that it kind of all just fell together.
Yes, itís a long story, but itís not the usual "how I got into music" story, so it requires a little explaining.
The first band I was in was called Watcher, and I played drums, and I wrote about half the material, on which I sang lead while I drummed. When that disintegrated I participated in some jams that convinced me I could actually cut it as a guitarist, and I made the switch to doing that full time. About 6 months after Watcher split I formed Paper Bag with my brother, and over the 6 years of our existence we played hundreds of shows, recorded hundreds of hours of tape, and released 4 albums on SST. This whole time, I'd been recording solo stuff as well. In February of '88, while Paper Bag was still going, I wanted to get a composed music band together so I placed an ad for musicians in a local paper and Hyam answered. I pulled in George Radai to create Cold Sky, and we actually were playing from late '88 through 10/89. We eventually added a keyboardist, known only as Leon. By 10/89 Cold Sky became unworkable and morphed into Dog Neutral, which was about 75% improvised, and which featured a different bass player, Barry Kennedy. Dog Neutral was around from late December '89 to early '93, when I left. Eventually Hyam and I decided we worked too well together to stop and in late spring '93 we formed Jugalbandi. By summer of '93 though, my personal life ran into way too many brick walls in L.A. to continue staying there and in fall of that year I moved to Portland. I played drums with a horror punk band called Antiworld for a while. Then Hyam and I did "Retirement" through the mail, after which he came up for a visit in '99, which resuscitated Jugalbandi after 6 years. And we've been going since. We released 3 CDs of our 2000 sessions, then 2 CDs of our '99 sessions; and are currently releasing a series of 4 CDs from our '03 sessions.
In 2001, I started my own label, Phantom Airship Records, and started releasing old and new material, including 14 solo CDs (15 if you count the "Always" compilation), two collaboration CDs (with Chrissy Barr [Segal] and Eric Wallack), and a live concert CD by Cold Sky. I've also done 2 duets CDs with Bret Hart on his InstrumenTales label; a collaborative album called "Building" with Bret Hart, Eric Wallack, Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Ethan Sklar; and a track for Charles Rice Goff III's "Composition 3" CD. There are currently 4 solo CDs waiting to be finished, a whole list of collaborations waiting to get started, and a large batch of pieces to work on.
HS: My road to playing music was much more direct than Gregís. When I was 8 years old I was in Cub Scouts, and we went to a Scouting event where the kid who played Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy" (Keith Thibodeaux) was playing drums with a jazz group. This was the first time I had ever seen a set of drums in person, and it was absolutely 100% Ďlove at first sightí between me and the drumset. (The fact that it was a kid around my age playing them also must have made them seem more accessible to me, sort of saying "This isnít just for grown-ups, you can do this too".) From that moment on I just knew that I was going to be a drummer, and I really locked-in on the drum part of any music that I heard. If the music didnít have drums, I supplied a drum part for it in my head. My father bought me a pair of sticks and a practice pad when I was around 10 so I would stop banging on stuff around the house with kitchen utensils. By the time
I was 12 I was taking lessons, getting my hands and feet together. I would study every drummer who appeared on TV, and I constantly played air-drums. By the way, air-drumming was a tremendous help in getting my coordination together on the drumset. I would imagine myself sitting at a particular setup (usually whatever setup the drummer used on the music I was air-drumming along with) and then I would air-drum whatever the drummer on the record played. (Usually with sticks, but sometimes without.) I played-along with everything from Gene Krupa to The Beatles, The Doors, Cream, Hendrix, surf music, Sandy Nelson, even Buddy Rich, although it quickly became clear to me that Buddyís playing was on a whole other level from everybody elseís. This really helped me develop the muscular memory that is required to play the instrument. When I finally got my first drumset when I was 13, I was completely comfortable at it- the learning curve was heavily reduced in my favor. Air drumming also helped fine-tune my ear, since I had to decipher what all those drummers were playing in order to play along.
All through junior high and high school, every day I would get home from school, practice drums for 3 or 4 hours, have dinner and do my homework in the evening. (I was lucky to have very tolerant neighbors and a family that encouraged me to develop my talent.) I got in my first band when I was 14 and played in different ones all through junior high and high school, but they were all dreadful until my senior year in high school, when I formed a progressive jazz band with some friends. Although my playing wasnít very good (I have tapes of it that prove just how much I had yet to learn), the band had an adventurous spirit, playing stuff like Don Ellisí "Turkish Bath", a double-time version of "Sunshine Of Your Love" (in 7/4), and a jazz medly of "Thereís A Place For Us" (from West Side Story) and "We Gotta Get Outta This Place", as well as a few originals. Plus, I was in the orchestra, wind ensemble and 2 marching bands. Also, my senior year I was in a Music History class taught by a man who turned the class on to avant-garde classical music (Charles Ives, John Cage, Morton Subotnik, Arnold Schonberg and lots more). He had us do things like take reel-to-reel tape recorders and microphones around the school and record bits and pieces of sounds one after the other, then play the whole thing back and listen for the music that was made by the random combinations of sounds and rhythms. This really opened-up my ears. He assigned us homework to listen to a particular piece of music, with the admonition that we should "Listen loud, because this isnít background music, itís the main event, and it should occupy your full attention. If your parents complain, have them call me." (Not that I needed any encouragement to listen loud, believe me.) By this time I knew that playing music full-time was going to be my career, so I went to college as a music major, but quit after a year to move to Colorado and begin my 5 years as a road warrior. Ever since that day I saw Little Ricky it was never "I want to play drums", it was always "I must play drums". Greg mentions "the soft Ďclickí as if something slid into place"; for me that moment was more like having some part of myself that I never knew was missing returned to me. From that point on I wouldnít be whole without drumming.
When I was studying music in college I met some musicians who were from out-of-state. We formed a prog rock band (vocals, keyboards, flute & sax, bass, drums, named New World Music Society) and tried to gig around L.A. playing all original music. This was 1971 - 72, and the scene here was definitely NOT happening at that time. The clubs that flourished during the late 60s had all closed-down. The only gigs we got here in town were a live broadcast on KPFK and opening for and backing-up a soul singer named Marie Franklin at this little club somewhere on the west side. (Sounds crazy, but itís true.) I wish I had tapes of it. She was a terrific singer, but I can only imagine the train wreck my drumming must have caused when we played behind her.
The band (name changed to Infinite Silence) left L.A. in 1972 for greener pastures (literally and figuratively) in Colorado. They had a 3.2 beer law at that time so there were lots of places where 18 - 21 year-olds hung-out that wanted rock bands. But we soon learned that we needed to play cover songs if we wanted to gig steadily.
Over the next 5 years that band morphed a couple of times, changed its name to Pulse and moved its base from Colorado to Minnesota. We gigged pretty steadily but had no original material until Dez Dickerson joined in 1975 and we changed our name to Revolver. He brought a setís worth of original prog songs with him, which we integrated into our sets. The mix was probably 20% originals and 80% covers (Yes, Deep Purple, ELP, Queen, Jeff Beck, Grand Funk, Aerosmith, Hendrix, etc.). Although we worked fairly steadily, the original material really wasnít all that good, we werenít making much money and had no hopes of getting signed by a record company. I think this was getting to everyone in the band, and during 1977 things just got too tense between Dez and the rest of us, so the rest of us decided to break the band up. I was sick of freezing my ass off 7 months a year, so I moved back to So. Cal with just my drums and a bunch of debts. I realized the only way I could express myself was by playing original material. I also realized that prog rock was being killed by punk at that time, and there was no hope of ever getting signed by a label playing the kind of music that I needed to play. So I made the hardest decision Iíve ever had to make - to give-up playing music full time, get a straight job and do music on my own terms. Fortunately I loved audio equipment (still do), so Iíve been able to make a successful career for the past 30 years or so in the audio industry.
Thereís a big difference between my experience on the road and what bands do today. All through the period I was on the road we were expected to play 4 to 5 sets a night. Today most bands play one or two gigs a week, usually one set - maybe two hours a week in front of an audience. On average I was playing 15 hours a week in front of audiences. (Although to be fair, many of them were fewer than 100 people.) Needless to say, playing 4 to 5 hours a night in front of people for 5 years helped me get my shit together pretty damn fast, and I was very lucky to have that opportunity. I have tapes of those bands from the time we arrived in Colorado in 1972 through the time I left Minnesota in 1977, and I sound like two completely different drummers. The guy in 1972 had raw energy and was fearless, but he had no finesse or taste, and his groove wandered all over hell and back. The guy in 1977 had a solid groove, much more developed chops and the taste to know what to play where. I try to synthesize the best aspects of the playing of both those drummers into my playing with Jugalbandi.
BD: for H: (reflections on an observation) The presence of Ringo Starr in your 5 most important drum CDs; I think his work is severely underrated, and generally (and unjustifiably) sneered at and spat upon.
HS: Itís become fashionable for drummers to dismiss Ringoís drumming in general and his contribution to the Beatles music in particular, which is an indication of just how Ďclosed-earedí most drummers are. I think that Ringo is an extraordinarily original drummer. Before Ringo all rock drummers played ahead of the beat or squarely on top of it. Ringo was the first rock drummer who consistently layed-back behind the beat, which gave the Beatles music a much more solid groove than what came before it. An early example is his playing on their version of "Twist And Shout"; a later example would be his playing on the song "Sergeant Pepperís Lonely Heartís Club Band". This paved the way for heavy players like John Bonham. Another thing about Ringo is that he didnít just keep time - he played Ďdrum partsí that were more orchestral in their approach than most other drummers. "A Day In The Life", "I Am The Walrus", "Strawberry Fields", and "Tomorrow Never Knows" are examples that come to mind. And he was expert at changing textures between the verse and chorus. I could teach a semister-long class on Ringoís drumming and wouldnít run out of great lessons.
BD: for H: Did you approach the drums with your theories about the potential of the instrument already in place, out of the womb, so to speak, or did they develop over time spent playing in the "conventional" manner?
HS: I first fell in love with the drums when I was 8 years old and got my first sticks and practice pad when I was 10. From the very beginning I had this internal drum music going on inside me that was always more than just keeping time. Iíve always approached the drumset in a holistic way, rather than as a collection of individual instruments, so Iíve always had drum music inside me that involves the instrument as a whole. Even when I was young, while I was listening to rock or pop songs, in my head I would be hearing drum parts that were way, way more involved than what was on the recording. So I think that I was basically born with my approach to the drums. Over the years Iíve come to realize that my approach wouldnít be appropriate for song-oriented pop music (and I include just about all of rock music in this category), which is why I donít play that sort of music. It just doesnít interest me.
BD: Especially in the case of the IL1s, how do you guys know when you've reached the point where the piece is finished, the point where the statement is complete? Do these pieces come to an actual "close"? Is my impression that you cats do not generally create endings through digital surgery correct?
HS: We just feel it. Itís similar to having a verbal conversation with someone. At some point youíve both exhausted everything you have to say on the subject at that time and you stop talking about it. Some conversations are over in a few minutes while others can last much longer. The same is true in Jugalbandi. The key is to be able to recognize when youíve said all that you have to say, and this is where many musicians who play improvisational music have trouble. They donít listen to themselves while they play. They listen to whatís in their heads, but they donít listen to what theyíve actually played, so they tend to drone on and repeat themselves. (Think Grateful Dead.)
Pretty much all of the pieces Jugalbandi has recorded have come to "an actual close". The only Jugalbandi pieces that have endings created via editing are a couple of pieces that we had to cut short due to equipment problems. "Readiness", on ĎLaydown Deliveryí was cut short because my floor tom leg collapsed and the drum came crashing-into my leg, so I couldnít continue playing. But the first couple of minutes were so good that we included them and when I mastered the disc I added a rapid fade-out right when the drum collapsed. Other than that, your impression is correct: we donít create endings through audio surgery.
GS: If my memory is correct on this, I think over the 7 albums that are out now, weíve done one fade in (on "Erwin Park Jam") and one real fade out, where the piece continued after the fade ("Atomic Research") I personally donít consider "Readiness" a real fade-out. All we cut was the clattering as the drum collapsed, the piece did stop at that point. But we routinely cut out things like string noise or clattering sticks at the beginning or end of pieces, so that to me is no big deal, the music itself is all there. The creative ideas in each piece, the actual playing, is otherwise intact on everything and happened in real time exactly as you hear it on the CDs.
BD: I read about that incident - the drum collapsing at the end of "Readiness" - on the Jugalbandi site; my impression then, as it is now, is that you should have left it on the tape!; the piece was over anyway; it would have made for a great ending. On average, how much tape is left on the floor, how much material from a session does not make it to record?
HS: In the case of both the 2003 sessions and the 2000 sessions, right around 50% of what we performed ultimately made it onto the released CDs. The percentage of the 1999 sessions that made it to CD was much lower - probably only around 25% - but our goal for those sessions was different. In 2000 and 2003 we were creating all new music from the ground up, but in 1999 we wanted to get "definitive" versions of the material that we had been playing for the previous decade. So there were multiple versions of songs that didnít make the cut not because they werenít good, but because we only needed one version.
GS: I had originally thought about doing J99 as a 3 CD set, but there would have been a ton of repetition, very nearly 2 (or more) of everything. I do think all those versions are good, but youíd have to be pretty hardcore to want to hear them all, so I ended up agreeing with Hyam and going to 2 CDs. We still ended up with multiples of a few things, like MIRV Gryphon, Uncle Sun and Under The Bridge. But the versions are hugely different from each other, and in fact it was the J99 set that caused us to change the original IL classifications to make a designation for a piece that has a small composed section but is otherwise an IL1. Thatís true of a few of the multiples, particularly "Uncle Sun".
BD: Please talk about that compositional experiment, that took place between incarnations of Jugalbandi....."retirement"......any chance of it showing up on record in the future?
HS: After Greg moved to Portland I had the idea that we could still improvise music together without being physically in the same place at the same time. Since Greg had the only multi-track recorder at the time, I recorded a drum track and sent it to him. Without listening to it or even knowing anything about it except the title, Greg dubbed it and a guitar track together onto the multi-track. I think the results were quite good. My playing was extremely agressive and groove-oriented, while Gregís was sparse and etherial, creating a delicious counterpoint. We do have plans to release a "Classic Jugalbandi" CD containing recordings we made before Greg moved to Portland, and I know "Retirement" will be on it.
GS: Yeah, count on seeing that one out at some point, definitely. What was great about "Retirement" was that it was done totally blind and it still worked so well. I actually did my guitar track before Hyamís tape arrived, and dubbed his drums in after that without hearing how they worked together until I played it all back together for the first time. I was amazed, there was no way anyone would know we werenít in the room together, much less that weíd recorded the whole thing blind like that.
BD: How about the extent of experimentation with/manipulation of variables in the atmospheric conditions during the recording session, in relation to effects on the senses perception the interpretation the creative process...have you guys ever worked in complete darkness, for example? (I am spurred to inquire thus by an album - spontaneously generated in total darkness - called "Deep Listening", that had a very profound effect on me)
HS: Weíve never fooled-around with intentionally varying the physical conditions in order to affect what we play. Although I think playing in total darkness would be an interesting possibility, Iíve found that the more physically comfortable I am the better I can play, both in terms of my technique and my imagination. One thing for sure, we always need to be able to hear each other well. Greg and I always set-up facing each other so that we can hear well, and having visual communication allows us to connect more completely. Playing music with Greg definitely wouldnít be as much fun if we couldnít see each other while we were doing it.
GS: Yeah, I have to agree with that. I enjoy mood lighting when Iím playing but it can get in the way, especially with this kind of music. I not only have to see Hyam clearly, I need to see my gear clearly too, because it gets messed with a lot during the actual playing. The thing about both of us is that we have learned what it takes to produce these moods and can make the music to match regardless of what our surroundings look like while weíre working. But I like to think that listeners, who donít have to worry about any of this, will have fun with the music and listen to it under all sorts of conditions, mood lighting or total darkness definitely included.
BD: Were either of you familiar with the other's work, or existence, unbeknownst, before Cold Sky?
HS: Until I answered Gregís "musicians wanted" ad in February of 1988 neither of us knew anything about the otherís existence.
BD: (incidentally, Hyam, your drum solo on Master of Illusion, from the Cold Sky Live at Be-Bop Records 2/89 album, is incredible)
HS: Thanks for your kind words. What youíre hearing there is a drummerís first performance in front of an audience after an almost 12-year hiatus. I really love being on stage in front of an audience. Iíve played in front of audiences as large as 2,000 - 3,000 people, and I never get "stage fright". Iím always excited before I play, but as long as Iím confident that I know the material (or in the case of Jugalbandi, Iím confident that Greg and I can always pull-off a good performance, even if thereís not much Ďmagicí), Iím always eager to get out there. Not playing on stage is the thing I miss most about not drumming full-time. For me itís always been all about that real-time communication. Iíve always been a jazz musician at heart - the here-and-now is where itís at.
BD: What are you reading right now?
HS: I donít read fiction. Never been much interested in it (Greg and I diverge greatly here). Lately Iíve been reading a lot of material about professional sound system design (specifically on line arrays). Not for my job, but because I enjoy it. Iíve always loved sound (been an audiophile) and have always been fascinated by sounds and how theyíre produced and reproduced. Iíve always been interested in sound system design, on a small scale (like home audio systems) and a large scale (like touring sound systems).
GS: Iím working my way through a few things at once, I sometimes do that. Lessee... "Music of the Whole Earth" by David Reck; "The Concise Enyclopedia of Symbolism" by Jean Cassou; and an anthology of French Symbolist poetry. I only really get time to read while Iím eating, or sometimes late at night, so something with short entries or chapters usually works pretty well for me.
BD: Ever read "More Than Human" by Theodore Sturgeon? Both an inquiry and a suggestion simultaneously.
HS: Nope, but thanks for the suggestion.
GS: Itís been on my list of things to get for quite a while. Yet another reason to find me a copy. I donít buy as many books as I used to.
BD: How about the last really potent music you listened to?
HS: The live Led Zeppelin CD ("How The West Was Won") and DVD is probably the most "potent" live rock that has been released in the last decade or longer. Iím glad that people who never got to see them live can now have an idea of just how powerful and adventurous they were when they played live. The CD especially has some unbelievably strong music on it, and if there was ever any doubt about how important a drummer John Bonhan was, these recordings should put them to rest permanently. He changed drumming forever.
GS: "Oraison" by Olivier Messiaen. Itís an Ondes Martenot piece. Itís really something. Itís probably the last thing I heard that really inspired me directly.
BD: (reflections on an observation) It seems like releasing the entirety of an improvised creation requires a very strong discipline...
HS: What takes discipline is being willing to release something that may not be perfect. You have to approach improvised music holistically, and accept it for what it is. That means taking the glitches along with the magical moments. Not everything Greg and I play is worthy of releasing. In fact, some of it turns out to be pretty lame. Thatís the stuff we leave on the cutting room floor. Our average seems to be around 50%: half of what we record is good enough that we want others to hear it. When we decide what to release, we weigh each piece on its own and decide if thereís enough substance there to warrant including it in a release. If there is, then it goes out warts and all. Sometimes we play multiple versions of a piece and each one will be good, but for different reasons. This is why most of our CDs have pieces divided into "Part 1" and "Part 2".
GS: Getting to the point where you can do improvisations that are really satisfactory does require a very strong discipline, but maybe not fully of the type you might imagine. Hyamís right, one of the biggest problems is learning to accept the imperfections youíre going to be serving up with the high spots. But there is also learning everything you have to know to even pull this off in the first place. You might get lucky early on and do some good work, but to keep it up for any length of time, you have to really push yourself to keep it not only well performed but interesting. And thatís particularly difficult to do with just two people. Thatís why I look on certain of our pieces not just as good tracks but as achievments- because on that particular day, at that particular time, we were really, really on and did something which works superbly all the way through. I feel very good when I listen to something like the title track of "The View Is Better From The Top Of The Food Chain" and think, thatís an IL1, we pulled that one out of the air without so much as a word of discussion. Or the title track from "Night Crazy", same thing. I see those things as personal landmarks.