Tag Archives: wesleyan university

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: Jessica Pavone

An active performer in New York City for the past decade, Jessica Pavone has been leading her own bands, performing in ensembles led by Anthony Braxton, Jason Cady, Jeremiah Cymerman, Matana Roberts, Aaron Siegel, Henry Threadgill and Matthew Welch, and contributing to some musical collectives that readers of this blog know and enjoy.  While you’re likely to see her playing viola with Anthony Braxton, if you catch one of her other projects live you’ll probably see her play other instruments such as bass or violin, sing, or begin to incorporate effects pedals in her performance to create the sound of many Jessica Pavones at once.  Jessica has a busy fall ahead of her, with the premiere of several new projects and the release of a new CD.  Read about all of her upcoming events here.

Jessica Pavone / photo by Erica Magrey

When did you start playing?
When I was three years old, I started asking my parents for a violin. After two years of constant pestering, my father asked me at age five, “why?”

I answered that I liked the sound it made, which justified to them that the proposition was worthy of investigation. I began taking lessons at the Brooklyn Conservatory in Flushing, Queens but after a year, my teacher died! I had another teacher for a year and then we moved to Pelham, New York. I studied with various teachers around there and played in Baroque and county orchestras. I also started picking up piano lessons from my neighbor who taught at her house. In high school there was no string program available at my school, so I joined the band. I doubled the tuba parts on double bass and picked up electric bass around then as well. After graduating, I decided to go to music school because I hated school and thought that studying music in college would be creative and fun. I am fortunate that I had the opportunity to pursue this endeavor. I auditioned on viola, which I had switched to from violin at some point in my early teens. I always liked playing musical instruments but I am not sure if, at that time, I understood entirely why.

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
Upon almost instant creative paralyzation after entering conservatory at age 17 (I wasn’t quite sure of what I was getting myself into, nor was I aware of other outlets for using my instrument at that time), I struggled to figure out a way to make music a more creative experience. Initially, I broke away from the confines of orchestra excerpts and viola master classes by beginning studies in education. It seemed a bit more well-rounded to me. When I still felt like I was hitting a wall studying to be an educator for band nerds, I attempted to take some composition classes. My courseload was so extensive already – playing catch-up on credits due to switching majors – that I didn’t really have time to focus on the composition course. I had to drop the course almost immediately. I began free improvising with a violinist friend of mine from the school orchestra, and that was rather eye-opening. I started to seek out more of these experiences and quickly realized that there were other people around Hartford, Connecticut who were interested in creative approaches to music. I started playing free with a bunch of people around that time. Eventually my friend Ed brought me down to Wesleyan University, which was twenty minutes from Hartford, to hear an Anthony Braxton concert. My mind was blown. Also, the people I met there were really friendly. Shortly after, students from Wesleyan were calling me to come down to work on projects and play in original music groups, as well as participate in composer/performer collectives. This is where I first started to compose and approach sound more creatively.

Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
Laurie Anderson
Ludwig Van Beethoven
John Cage
Johnny Cash
Kurt Cobain
Leonard Cohen
John Coltrane
Alice Cooper
E.E. Cummings
Bob Dylan
Casper Electronics
Morton Feldman
James Jamerson
Leroy Jenkins
Lee Krasner
Jackson Pollack
Sun Ra
Otis Redding (Booker T and the MG’s)
Gerhard Richter
Mark Rothko
Erik Satie
Martin Scorsese
Elliot Smith
Phil Spector
The Ramones
Terry Riley
Smokey Robinson
Brian Wilson

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I still perform in my duo with Mary Halvorson. We have been doing this for almost ten years now. We tend to only tour once a year – more often that not, in Europe.  Our fourth record, Departure of Reason, comes out this fall on Thirsty Ear.

I recently joined the band Normal Love as a violinist. This music sounds like nothing I have ever heard before. It has been one of the more satisfying musical experiences I have had in a while. We have a new record, Survival Tricks, due out later in the year.

The Thirteenth Assembly, which includes Mary Halvorson, Tomas Fujiwara, and Taylor Ho Bynum, just finished our second album, Station Direct, which is also due out this fall on Important Records. We will be touring in Europe in late October.

As for my own creative personal vision, I am cultivating a solo project. I have composed and performed solo music over the years on both the viola and violin, but I decided to elaborate on previous ideas by acquiring a multi-channel loop station to enable me to create more dense and intricate songs that I can sing simple melodies over. I spent a good portion of 2011 writing lyrics for my chamber music project, Hope Dawson is Missing, and really got into creating with words. I am not the greatest singer, but I have always felt that the human voice is one of the most elemental forms of musical expression. Besides, I am definitely more interested in creativity versus virtuosity, which is overrated. I am also currently interested in creative independence at this point in time. If you see me playing music around town in the coming year, most likely that is what I’ll be doing.

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
I received a Jerome Foundation commission from Roulette a year or so ago and began work on Hope Dawson is Missing as the follow-up to my 2009 Tzadik release, Songs of Synastry and Solitude. I augmented the Toomai string quartet’s format from “SOSS” (a string quartet that includes double bass) by adding guitar, drums and voice, and I composed lyrics that meditate on plutonian themes of destruction and rebuilding, migration, falsities and undeniable truths. It premieres on Thursday, September 29th at Roulette’s new space in Brooklyn.

I am also exited to be going to Saalfelden, Austria with the group Army of Strangers on August 28th. I spent a good portion of 2009 composing all of the music for this band and we released a record on Porter Records in February 2011. This will be our first concert since the recording, so it is a CD release concert of sorts.

And I will of course be participating in the Tri-Centric Foundation Festival from October 5 – 8 at Roulette.

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Anthony was a huge part of an amazing creative musical turn-around for me, as I mentioned earlier. Not just his influence as a creative artist, but the community that has developed around him as a result of his energy as well as his encouragement to self-produce, has been really influential. People I met around then (this was the late 1990s) were just doing: organizing, creating, exploring. Not everything was coming out intelligible, but for me it was a safe place to try ideas, learn what did and didn’t work and figure things out better for the next time.

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
Well, it is my favorite orchestra that I have been a part of. For one, the leader is encouraging and insightful and one hundred percent grateful to be sharing a musical experience with you, which I cannot say of any other orchestra director I have worked with. In the Tri-Centric Orchestra, each orchestra member participates on an equal level. It isn’t structured for a sole leader, which is in line with the hierarchy – or lack or hierarchy – in Anthony’s musical system.
One of my favorite parts of orchestra workshops, aside from being involved with the music, is listening to Anthony talk at the end of rehearsals and share his insights. He is a brilliant and captivating speaker whether he is talking about about music, current events, pop culture – anything at all. His revolutionary mind, in tandem with his eloquent form of communication, always results in my leaving the rehearsals jaw-droppingly inspired.

What’s your favorite food?
I am the moodiest eater ever. Not picky – moody. What I like one day may totally disturb me the next, and it is always unpredictable. Some foods that remain constantly on my good side are: salmon sashimi, tacos (bean, fish), broccoli rabe, breaded chicken cutlet, yogurt, oatmeal, coffee, rice noodles, quinoa, coconut milk, cheese ravioli, seared tuna, skirt steak, red wine, sopas, mushroom barley soup, squash soup, pesto, toast, kombucha, fresh mozzarella, angel hair with ricotta and salt, most green vegetables, brownies, chocolate and peanut butter, italian ice, sicilian rice balls, tequila and grapefruit juice. I am a fan of things that are natural and not processed, but I am not uptight about it. I also enjoy sampling the vast array of ethnic foods available in south Brooklyn.

Visit Jessica Pavone on the web:
Jessica Pavone official website
About Jessica Pavone’s Army of Strangers
Jessica Pavone in Signal to Noise