Jean Martin composes music for film, TV, theatre and performance. He is also a writer and lecturer at University of Brighton

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Terry Riley

interviewed at Guildhall School of Music, London on 22.10.98
by Jean Martin

JM: Was La Monte Young's minimalism a reaction to an overcomplex music at the time?

R: No. It wasn’t really a reaction. It was his viewpoint what was going on. His early pieces were even serial. They were 12-tone pieces, but they use very long tones instead of having music of short durations. He’d use notes that each note allows 15 or 20 seconds. They were serialised often - his early works.

JM: Was the impulse to live the music?

R: Yes, It had more to do with a way of life. It had a lot to do with inspiration, like doing music that was not just academic or mental, but that came from an emotional need too.

JM: Contemporary music lost touch with the general audience. ...

R: It is part of a cycle. It is a cycle going through the musician, through the audience and there is feedback too. I am very interested in that cycle. The listener has a big part to play in the evolution of music.

JM: Where are we in the historic cycle?

R: We are in a very accelerated curve right now, of everything happening very fast. I feel part of the role of the musician is not to enforce this acceleration of people just wanting the soundbite, the very short take and then go on to something else. My interest is to create forms that allow people to relax into the form so they don’t feel that they have to go running to some place else. In a sense it that is what meditation does for people too: it is ok. to be where I am right now. I don’t have to be some place else and when I go there still go to another place which I feel is meaningless. It is not the purpose of our lives to do that. Everything is right here now. We just have to stop and look at it.

JM: You said in future you would like to improvise in life performances and try to establish contact with the audiences.

R: We have the recorded music form which people can get in touch with your music. But the audience doesn’t participate in that in the same way as when they come to a concert of live music. They are actually bringing an energy into that situation. For myself the live-concert form is a very creative form where new steps can be made in music. Some things will happen to me in a concert that will be something new. For my own growth it is a form I want to pursue.

JM: But your improvisations are not completely free.

R: I don’t think there is such a thing as completely free improvisation because we are made up of modules, of thoughts and our patterns are organised already inside of us. No matter what we do as a musician we will draw on these processes, on these already preorganised parts to create music. I come into the concert often I don’t know where to start with. But there are many things inside that are already organised for me and I start calling on them, but it is the way they begin to drawing together these different modules that create the interesting form for me. It is like saying: a painter brings all these different colours in his palette to paint but he doesn’t know what the picture is going to be.

JM: Which ideas do find most important for you in life?

R: I am kind of fixed in my patterns right now, how I organise my days. It is very important for me to have long periods of solitude to do practise and writing and composing and reflecting on music. I live in the country, in a ranch in the mountains in Northern California ... Sierra novana mountains? So it is very important for me after a busy schedule like this where I am touring to go back and have these long periods where I can practise Raga and compose. And after I am there for a wile then I am ready to go out again, because I am restored, I am ready for more creative processes in public. To me the two things are very essential to go together. I couldn’t stay a reclusive all the time. ... It is all cleared energy. It is different kinds of energy that you use.

JM: Currently which pieces are at your heart?

R: Well they are all. At the very moment at this time I am not writing anything. I have long periods where I don’t do composition.

JM: These are periods when you improvise.

R: Often ideas will come from that. And then I am ready to write again, but not just to sit down daily and write - I don't do that. I sing every day, that is my main practise.

JM: Is that to create inner balance?

R: It is part of the whole process of learning north Indian Raga, it is my association with that. You have to practise it everyday, because it is a big field, there are many compositions and Ragas. It all has to be memorised, it is all internal. Before you can even improvise you have to memorise a great deal of material, so you are constantly working on refreshing your memory and also going deeper into the raga form itself. So everyday is a kind of meditation on a raga form.

JM: There are cultures, which have traditions that haven’t changed for 1000 years, like in India or Egypt. And here every 10 years things are completely different. It is mad.

R: Well, I said those places too are now a little bit in danger of loosing that aspect. It changed in India too for instance when the Moslems came into India. They brought their culture and what was really good in that culture and valuable merged into Indian culture and became part of the overall tradition. But it was a very slow change. It wasn’t like here where people were interested in real revolution trying to create something different all the time. But this is a very superficial change. It isn’t a organic or profound change. These are just little changes in taste. They go from minute to minute.

JM: Tomorrow you are going to play together with a pop group (Pulp). Do you prefer to work together with non-classically trained or non-intellectual people?

R: This particular piece In C was written for anybody to play in and the first performance had a lot of amateur musicians in it as well as some very high class professional musicians. It always goes better, this kind of piece, when it is played with a mixed group, with some classically, some Jazz-trained, some pop musicians, some folk musicians. It works very well because it has a very democratic ideal in it. Nobody is a soloist.

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