Tag Archives: Rachel Bernsen

TCO Profile: Carl Testa

After a very busy October, we’re back on the blog.  Energies, Ideas, Intuitions: The Tri-Centric Music of Anthony Braxton was an awesome experience for musicians and audience alike – see for yourself on the TCF Facebook page.  I’m very pleased to share a new interview with bassist Carl Testa.  Carl was featured in The New York Times last month for his work producing The Uncertainty Music Series in New Haven CT, which features quite a few folks from Tri-Centric Orchestra community.  I encourage you to visit that series if you can; and if you’re not on the East Coast, have a listen to one of the many albums on Carl’s website – he’s working hard to document his music, collaborate with others and find new ways support his creative community.  Pretty impressive!

When did you start playing?
I started playing in 7th or 8th grade; I guess I was 13 or so.   I started playing on the electric bass because I found one in my attic.  It was my dad’s and it was a very nice one.  A 1968 Fender P-Bass.  I still have it and play it.

Carl Testa / photo by Jason Guthartz

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
Improvisation has sort of always been there, in a way.  I would pick up an instrument and start improvising, just trying to figure things out.  Once I became more interested in music, my dad (a sociology professor) would go down to the basement and play The Doors’ Light My Fire on the keyboard and improvise into the solo section.  I was fascinated by how he could elaborate on the melody and come up with all of these new combinations in the improvisation.  Soon afterwards my dad showed me the connection between the solo section in Light My Fire and John Coltrane’s version of My Favorite Things.  That set me on the path of exploring improvisation more deeply as it related to jazz.

What composers/musicians most influence your work?
I would say that John Coltrane’s music certainly started to push me in the direction of taking music very seriously.  Music didn’t become the thing for me until I was 17 years old.  Mwata Bowden at the University of Chicago had organized a conference called Trading Fours. There was a performance by the University of Chicago Jazz X-Tet with Bowden conducting, featuring Tatsu AokiDouglas Ewart and George Lewis. They performed pieces by Wadada Leo Smith, Mwata and Douglas. I was blown away, to say the least. I knew that I wanted to be involved in that music. So, obviously the AACM became a huge influence. When I began thinking about colleges, Mwata suggested I check out Wesleyan University because Anthony Braxton was there. It just so happened that my dad went to Wesleyan and was already pushing me in that direction.

Today, I am most influenced by my peers and collaborators when making music. Other key influences include John Coltrane, Conlon Nancarrow, Anthony Braxton, Erik SatieAutechre, Arcangelo Corelli, Eric Dolphy and the AACM in general.

What current projects and ensembles are you involved in?
In addition to the Anthony Braxton Septet and 12+(1,2,3)tet, I perform/collaborate with a number of artists. Collaboration has become very important to me in the past couple of years. I collaborate with my wife, vocalist Anne Rhodes, in the duo Bruxism. I work with choreographer Rachel Bernsen on her pieces and in my piece Waver. I also play in duos and various groups with the composers Adam Matlock, Nathan Bontrager, Brian Parks, Christopher Riggs and Lou Guarino. I also perform quite a bit on solo electronics with laptop. I am currently working on pieces for solo bass and granular synthesis that I hope to start touring with next year.

What recent releases or upcoming events events do you have on the horizon?
A new EP of duos with guitarist Christopher Riggs is now available to download at my website. This EP is a collection of 3 improvisations recorded in April of this year. I am particularly happy with this EP because it incorporates Chris’s noisy, rhythmic and textural playing with some of my more lyrical, harmonic and timbral playing.  On November 13th I will perform some of my solo music for bass and granular synthesis in Brooklyn at the Willow Place Auditorium.

My big project for the fall includes a performance of my piece Spectra for voice, vibraphone, cello, electronics and lighting. Spectra is a theater piece that incorporates the use of sets, electronic and acoustic music and dynamic lighting that is composed as part of the musical score. The ensemble for this performance will include Anne Rhodes, vibraphonist Bill Solomon and cellist Nathan Bontrager. The performance takes place Saturday December 3rd as part of the Take Your Time series at Rachel Bernsen’s The BIG ROOM.

What are you currently listening to?
At the moment, definitely the new “Trillium E“, Jeremiah Cymerman’s Under a Blue Grey Sky, Oren Ambarchi, The Twin Peaks soundtrack and New Order.

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
How hasn’t it shaped my musical experience? I was fortunate to be exposed to his music relatively early on, at 17 years old or so. I bought the album “Three Compositions of New Jazz” but I didn’t necessarily understand it. What that album did was pique my curiosity. I began reading a lot about Braxton’s music, and by the time I got to Wesleyan and had a chance to play in his ensemble class, I possessed some idea for what his music was, but I had no idea how expansive it was. Anthony doesn’t flat-out reject anything. He has taught me that everything has to be acknowledged and dealt with on its own terms. That has been a really important lesson for me. It means that any kind of music can be relevant to one’s experience, and that if something doesn’t click right away, that just means that you have to give it more time, or come back to it later. Even if you don’t incorporate that new idea into your work, you may come to understand it better, and that alone is fine. Anthony has taught me that you have to be open to an idea. That openness and willingness to try anything in pursuit of making music has been most inspiring to me. My favorite quote from Anthony is probably when he said that “the challenge of creativity . . . is to move towards the greatest thought you can think of.”

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
Even in its infancy, the Tri-Centric Orchestra has shown that an orchestra can be made up of strong individuals with their own identities and still come together to produce a collective vision. There are numerous orchestral entities that have demonstrated this in the past, but I feel that the Tri-Centric Orchestra (with its combination of dynamic individuals and strong leadership) is in a good position to be a force in the musical world because Anthony has the insight and generosity to not only make the orchestra about his music but also about the music of its members. Opportunities to produce large works that might not have been possible in the past will start to open up in the future. I find that to be very exciting.

What’s your favorite food?
Hmm, probably french fries. Yeah.

TCO Profile: Anne Rhodes

I (Amy) first met Anne Rhodes when she was a graduate student at Wesleyan University – at that point in my own musical experience I’d never met a vocalist quite like her.  With extensive classical training and studies in jazz, South Indian voice, overtone singing, and shape-note singing, Anne crafts a sound that is completely her own.  Catch her performing around New England and in New York at one of the following events:

May 25, 2011: Broadcloth Trio at Outpost 186, Cambridge, MA
May 27, 2011: Broadcloth Trio and Architeuthis Walks on Land at IBeam, Brooklyn, NY
June 18, 2011: Classical recital (with Zohra Rawling, soprano and Tim Shaindlin, piano) at Lyric Hall, New Haven, CT
August 13 Rhodes/Kitamura Duo at Never Ending Books, New Haven, CT

Anne Rhodes / photo by Bruce Wahl

When did you start playing?
I think I started singing about the time I started talking, which was pretty early. I used to walk around in a circle making up songs when I was about 3. I didn’t take voice lessons until I was 16, but sang in choruses and played various instruments – piano, violin, and tenor sax – growing up.

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?

When I was a voice major at BU in the late ’90s, I met Ran Blake and began hanging around and making music with with people in New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation program. Later I moved to Middletown and became involved in the Braxton Ensemble, and eventually did an MA at Wesleyan University. During that time I found that my favorite way to improvise is not in the performance-art diva style of many experimental singers (not that I don’t have a hefty dose of diva in me!), but to take an instrumental approach as part of an ensemble.

What composers/musicians most influence your work?
It sounds funny, but conversations with my husband Carl Testa have by far the biggest influence on my choices as a musician; those are the times I find myself thinking about and articulating what it is I’d most like to accomplish. As a singer and improviser I’m less influenced by other experimental singers than by more traditional singers like Frank Sinatra, Beverly Sills, Nancy Wilson, and Chet Baker. I think I also unconsciously soak up and spit back out what I hear from lots of instrumentalists and electronic musicians. I’ve just very tentatively started to compose, and Anthony Braxton is definitely a huge influence on that work, which is something I didn’t fully realize until I listened a recording of a recent performance of one of my pieces.

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I’m in the improv/experimental music trio Broadcloth with Nathan Bontrager (cello) and Adam Matlock (accordion). We’ve been together for about a year and a half, and in that time I’ve come to think of the trio as my main musical outlet as well as my musical nuclear family. One of the things I do with that group is to embroider graphic scores. I’m currently composing a long-form embroidered book for the group. I also work with my husband, multi-instrumentalist/composer Carl Testa as part of the duo Bruxism, and we have been collaborating in recent years with the dancer Rachel Bernsen. Working with Rachel on pieces that combine music and movement has been incredibly rewarding and helped me link my opera and theater background to what I’m doing now.

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
Broadcloth will be recording our first album this month, and I’m planning to do a solo recording project in the next year, which will involve a number of pieces I commissioned a few years ago. Broadcloth will be performing on May 25 at Outpost 186 in Cambridge, MA, and May 27 at IBeam, as well as a couple of June dates. On June 18 I’m doing a classical recital with Zohra Rawling (soprano) and Tim Shaindlin (piano) at Lyric Hall in New Haven, and in July I’ll be doing a duo show with Kyoko Kitamura at Never Ending Books in New Haven.

What are you currently listening to?
I have to admit that I don’t listen to a lot of recordings, but most recent thing I’ve heard and loved is Sun Red City’s (Max Heath et al) new album “Timelines.”  As for live stuff, some of my favorite recent performances have come from Liz Albee, Brian Parks, Tyshawn Sorey, Katherine Young, and Chris Riggs.

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
It’s hard to give a concise answer to this one! Through his extraordinary combination of rigorousness and generosity, Anthony has shown me, and so many other musicians, that we are capable of much more than we realize. He has this way of challenging you and at the same time keeping you from feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. It’s a valuable lesson to carry into any musical situation: be committed, push yourself, but don’t obsess over some false idea of perfection; there’s nothing very musical about perfection anyway.

He’s also shown me that the personal relationships you have with other musicians have everything to do with the music you make. Mutual respect and affection really come through in music-making – it’s hard to say which comes first, really – and the life of a musician is too short to waste a lot of time on situations that aren’t emotionally as well as professionally rewarding.

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
To pick up on my last point, Anthony refers to the orchestra as a “family.” That may sound corny, but it has a lot to do with an ensemble functioning less as a competitive, top-down corporate body than as a “multi-hierarchichal” (his term) group in which to explore music together and forge new collaborative relationships.  Also, improvisation as part of a large orchestral/operatic ensemble may not be a brand new idea, but I think it still feels pretty revolutionary in the current musical climate and I’m glad it is something we are committed to.

What’s your favorite food?
Ribeye steak, rare, with béarnaise sauce.

Visit Anne Rhodes on the web:



Anne collaborated with Anthony Braxton on an album of Ghost Trance Music, which was released in 2010.  View more information about that album here:  GTM (SYNTAX) 2003 Composition 339 & 340