The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

My strange music

What distinguishes it from other musician's work: I always play at my
limits; I don't play what I know, but nearby areas, what I might extend
myself into, where I might fail. So it's not a question of comfort with
improvisation or instrument, but pushing past that to discomfort; at
times, everything falls apart. The limits of my ability are the limits of
my world. The limits are the limits of my body in its functioning, of
muscle memory, musical kludging. I played electric oud last night at the
benefit; I hadn't played it before the previous night (in fact I hadn't
played oud before the previous night). The instrument is fretless, of
course, with a fingerboard over two feet long that goes almost up to the
bridge. The pickup is piezo. So it was a gamble; I kludge on fretless,
look for fifths and consonance and proceed from them. It's harder with
chords. So playing it involves a problematic - what can be done with
limited recourse and recourses - what happens near the boundaries of
failure - how can one tunnel through them - how can one survive on the
other side? This is different than knowing what one's doing. Myk knows
what he's doing (I think!), has amazing sureness and grace on the lap
steel. Azure works with songs that are relatively fixed: there's constant
structure. I'm broken, playing broken, assembling, bricolage; instead of
lost in music, I'm lost in a thumb muscle that's not responding the way I
want it to. What to do? Skip the thumb, let other fingers take over, slow
things down. Go back after a while; try the thumb again. If it works, use
it sparingly. If not, try the fourth finger, for example. That partially-
flattened second is giving another problem; hit the octave (for example,
e' on d' octaved with the e two strings down: e/a/d'(e')), and work
backwards to the flattened second (i.e. between major and minor), which
might be checked by the minor third. Once that's down, construct a riff
that might help me remember the position later on (repeated complex
flurries of notes bury the problem, create rhythm and backup for Myk and
Azure). Argh! The thumb's fine, slight cramp in the right index finger;
try the third finger as replacement. For this reason, most of the time I
don't think of myself as a musician, but as a fraud; my music is fraud
music, in a neurotic world of its own. On the other hand, there are times
I feel I'm playing well, and I lose myself in the playing - only to smile,
and watch (as if from a distance), the smile break through everything, and
self-conscious- ness rules again. - this is a different recording
(line out, in the club) that may be clearer beauty shredding; the piece
sounds other than the first (there are no perfect recordings) (there is no
perfect music) (there are no musicians, in the sense that there are no
authors) (of course we're dreaming in the wrong direction) (rewind) (rewind)

Azure, voice; Myk, lap steel; Alan, electric saz, electric oud.

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