Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The way I used to do things

I've been listening to some old rehearsal cassettes and demos and whatnot, and my God, I used to be an animal. This is an unreleased track, a cover of an Albert Ayler tune, from my Origin of Species record— play this loud:

To most people it sounds very aggressive, and it is, but that is a specific effect. It's not just mindless bam-bam— I was also listening hard, playing the tune, and trying to make music, just like every other time I play with people.

I worked through a lot of shit this way— it put some things in my playing I couldn't get any other way. Like if someone was going to be an abstract expressionist painter, you would expect him make a lot of big messes and waste a lot of paint on the way to being good at it. You learn by throwing it out there and doing a lot of things and seeing what works and what doesn't work. You can't work out your thing in advance in linear order, and you can't avoid people ever thinking you've made a mistake.

You also can't be worrying too much about what's correct— what your drum teacher would say, or your band director, or the people who always come after you if you play a loud sound, or even people who you might like to call you for gigs. With this group we decided to give ourselves the freedom to play whatever we wanted, and that ours would be the only opinion that counted. What made it sound like something (some of it) was that we did a lot of listening— 70s Miles, Keith Jarrett's American quartet, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Bill Frisell, Sun Ra, delta blues, James Brown, all manner of African music— sub-Saharan and Moroccan. Anything with Charlie Haden on it. We were trying to do something good the way those things were good. I was certainly never thinking about anything to do with drum technique— except how it related to getting a sound— I was trying specifically to listen and not think about what I was playing on the drums.

I was pretty doctrinally committed to this way of playing for maybe 7-10 years; eventually I figured out that there were some limitations to it, and I decided to let some other things in and let my playing change, so I could be more deliberate when I wanted to. But there are a lot of things I can do that other good players can't do, because I did this.

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