David Tohir 12-January-2003 Angels Dancing in Virga - an artist's perspective

"It's all about making good sounds"

It is inevitable that when you create music, whether through composition or improvisation, someone will ask, "What are you trying to say?" I always find that a difficult question to answer. It is almost certainly asked by someone who simply wants to understand something that they find unfamiliar, and the only honest answer I can give is, "I'm not trying to say anything." I could, I suppose, resort to quoting John Cage, "I have nothing to say, and I am saying it," but that might be taken as being purposely obscure, even though that's not my intention. I simply think that music is a not a form of communication. It is, as my dear friend the late Barney Childs said, "all about making good sounds."

After some public school music instruction, I entered the school of music at a small liberal arts college in Southern California where, in my sophomore year, I joined the New Music Ensemble under the direction of Dr. Childs. It was at this point that all my existing notions about music were challenged and eventually superseded. That music needn't be about anything was immensely freeing and, ironically, led to my being able to be much more expressive in my playing. Many of the works we performed in the ensemble relied heavily on indeterminant methods, calling on more input from the performer in regard to the pieces' outcome than for written out pieces. So rewarding was this that it led several of the members into the world of improvisation.

Improvisation has been for the last 20 years almost my exclusive musical endeavour and is the most difficult and rewarding type of music I've performed. Unlike composed music, the audience (the recording engineer, in the case of a recorded project I suppose) is present at the instant of creation. Even on a CD such as this one, the listener is hearing a document of that event only altered by (at least here) very small amounts of editing. Some will find this exciting, some will find it uncomfortable. For the listener who is accustomed to listening to rock or more traditional jazz musics, the lack of a rhythm section on all but two of the tracks here can prove to be an obstacle. We all tend, I think, to recoil from music that is completely unfamiliar to us, as it is the associative shortcuts of the familiar conventions that make it possible for us to "make sense" of what we are hearing. In the case of improvisation, at least in the way that I and most of the people I work with approach it, there are also conventions at work, though they may be difficult for the new listener to discern. These conventions may not follow traditional notions of melody, harmony, rhythm, structure, and form (though all of these elements do exist in a well executed improv), but I don't think a discriminating listener would find them out of reach.

Angels Dancing in Virga is a collection documenting many of the improvisations I've participated in using an instrument developed by Scott Vance and myself called the backbone. It is, simply put, a trombone with a pickup at one end and a speaker at the other, creating a feedback loop. With the use of various effects pedals, manipulations of the slide, and introduction of sound by the player into the instrument, a wide range of sound is possible. The CD is made up of recordings, both in a studio & on the stage, spanning several years and involving many line-ups. The titles should suggest nothing, as they were all added after the fact. The pieces were created with nothing more in mind than making good sounds. It is in this light that it should be listened to.

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