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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Sam Weinberg – the interview

Sam Weinberg. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Fotis Nikolakopoulos: Why play this kind of music? Why improvise? What does it mean to you? 

Sam Weinberg: I became interested in improvisation fairly early in my life, so I think I often take it for granted. Even though my primary practice has been improvising with people, I don't necessarily prize it over composition. I do think, though, that there are certain ecstatic moments of genuine human connection and transcendence that can only occur within improvised music. I'm fortunate to have experienced these things first hand as both a player and an audience member, and they have served to remind me of the true magic that can come from this activity. I am also interested in the process aspect of it – there are no smoke and mirrors with this type of music; the process of its creation of it and the creation itself are inextricable. This is a thrilling thing to witness and to participate in. To that end, the development of an improvisational language (its growth, changes, various branches of interests and holes to burrow your head in for a time) are of chief importance to me. Robert Morris had a big piece at the Leo Castelli Gallery that he called the "Continuous Project Altered Daily", and I often think that that's an apt way to think about growth of an improviser and how the various contexts shape and continuously alter the language, disposition, content of their work.

FN: Is improvisational music (not just jazz) important today? In what sense?

SW: It's hard to say if it's ever been "important", but I don't think that's really for me to say in one way or another as I can't say what "important" would mean in general, or for who. I do know, though, that it is important to a cadre of loyal and dogged fans around the world (as evidenced by, for instance, you, from Greece, wanting to do this interview with me). And of course there's a global community of musicians for whom improvised is their bread and butter, so of course it is important to them. But I'm not suffering from some delusion that leads me to believe that there's some massive "importance" to this stuff beyond the people who are interested in it or who find their way to it somehow. But such is the case for all art, and it seems like it has basically always been that way. I'm eternally grateful to every artist who did what they did (and do what they do), despite the large resistance or otherwise apathetic reception. I don't think that art is important to most people in any form, certainly not in a way that asks people to experience something beyond their phones. But it is world-making and momentous for those who do care...

FN: Tons of new releases on the internet every day. What differentiate the "good" from the "bad" stuff for you as a listener and an artist?

Well, I'm not sure the extent to which the torrent of new releases or the ease at which one can record and release an album, impacts aesthetic judgment from listeners. That is to say, there's always been good and bad music released, and it has been incumbent upon the listener to find the stuff which speaks to them. But to not get too mired in the debate, I think maybe it'd be more fruitful for me to list some things I've been listening to in the past couple weeks and people can make up their own mind about anything being good or not – John Coltrane from 1964/5, Tommy Wright III (and many other Memphis rappers), Evan Parker solo and with Parker/Guy/Lytton, Extra Life, Judee Sill, one song on the new Steve Lehman record, Olivia Block, Waza trumpet groups from Sudan, this long Vito Acconci narrative called "the Bristol Project", Nate Wooley "Syllables", US Maple "Sang Phat Editor", MBV "Loveless", Ruth Garbus' new one, Jason Lescalleet, field recordings from New Guinea, Radigue, the Cocteau Twins record "Blue Bell Knoll", Mahmoud Guinia, John Wiese, etc etc etc. I listen widely and often and don't think my omnivorous habits could've been quenched quite to the same degree as they are now. So for that I'm thankful.

FN: Playing for a bigger audience, at least trying to reach one: would you consider this a compromise?

SW: Malvolio said it best: "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them"

FN: The current political, financial and social situation in your country: how doe it affect you as a musician and in what ways?

SW: Clearly things are unwell here, and evidently throughout the world, too. The jingoism, racism, nationalism, and hatred seems to be pervasive throughout the world. These are heavy times, and it often feels like some sort of horrific simulation. The phrase "President Trump" still feels fictitious. I remember when Trump was elected there were all of these people talking about how art would get better or that somehow this would spur on some sort of renaissance. I haven't witnessed this, or if I have I haven't seen any tangible connection to art that's resonated with me and its overt political overtones. But this all recalls your earlier question about the importance of any of this in general – it is important for me to keep doing what I'm doing, so that I can make a sliver of sense for myself of this horribly convoluted and wretched lot we've cast for ourselves here. And I'm sure many of my peers agree with that. Having said that, and obsessive relationship with improvised music can feel maybe a bit silly in the face of autocracy, but I don't think the response to that is to make pedantic art which deals with the current political situation directly.