Zerx Records & Press


Interview with J.A. Deane

An Interview with
.... J.A.Deane
By R D Armstrong

Which came first, the interest in exploring sound & tone, or the love of music? Describe the evolution from one to the other.

The love of music came first in my life, ever since I was in grade school. My father was a musician, and had a “dance band” before he went into the service. When I was a kid, he taught me drumming, and got me very interested in New Orleans style jazz as well as big band music. He was the person who got me interested in playing the trombone as my main instrument. I had a very traditional music education, but from the beginning there was an awareness and an interest in improvisation as an important component in the creation of music.
The first experience that I can remember that really had a profound effect on my concept of music and started me on the journey into the exploration of sound and tone happened when I was maybe in the 6th or 7th grade. For some reason, one year at Disneyland in Los Angeles, they had a big band week, and all the bands played - Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Harry James, Buddy Rich - and most of them were playing in “tomorrowland” (perfect really), in open-air settings. Well, my father took me to see the bands (on a school night even), and I remember walking from where Buddy Rich was playing, over to hear Count Basie, and at a certain distance I was able to hear the music coming from all of the bands. I just stopped in my tracks and listened. Something about the sound of all of these ensembles mixing together in the air really had an effect on what the definition of "music” was to my ears. That experience has stayed with me to this day.
I would say that there were two other events that factor into expanding my definition of music to include the exploration of sound and tone. One would have to have been when I bought my first tape recorder, an Akai open reel two track with “sound on sound” capability, the machine that I cut my teeth on in terms of learning the art of multitrack recording and how to create sonic environments. The second would have to have been when I started doing sound designs for theatre and dance, a world where sound is just as important as music in the vocabulary of a design.

I've been fascinated with experimental music for ten years or so. I'm not even sure that is the proper term. What do you call the type of music you've been doing (with ZERX Records)?

I just call it music. It’s what I hear and it comes from my heart. Everything after that is just someone else’s idea of marketing or which bin in the store the CD should occupy.

I'm particularly interested in how you created the sound on the CD Dillinger w/ Todd Moore. Is it always improvisational? Or do you also do scripted pieces? On "The Corpse is Dreaming", I believe you are performing live, how does that work?

“The Corpse is Dreaming” was done as a live radio broadcast and was the first time that Todd and I had worked together. There was no rehearsal for the event, just a pre-production meeting with Todd, Myself, Simon (the engineer), and Mark Weber (the host/producer). For that piece I was live sampling Todd’s voice, playing trombone/electronics, as well as mixing from 3 or 4 tape recorders. I had put together a set of tapes before hand with different sonic elements suggested by the text, (period music, heartbeats, atmospheres, etc), so there was a scripted/pre-production element to the piece. But, it wasn’t until we were in the moment with the text and the sonics live on the air, that the piece emerged.
“The Name is Dillinger” was constructed in the studio for later broadcast by the same team (Todd, Simon, Weber and myself), and it took place over two days. The first day we wanted to get a good reading of the text (in the clear) and then try some different processing on the voice. I really love Todd’s energy when he reads his work. He came into the studio all warmed up and ready to go. It turns out that he had already done two straight reads that morning (that’s a forty-minute read each time). He did two straight reads for the tape, and then we took a break. The rest of the first day was spent re-recording the version that was the keeper, and taking notes on how to divide the piece into subsections. By the end of the day I think that there was maybe 4 tracks of voice (clean, distorted, filtered, reverse reverbed), that we would be able to use to shade the text as the poem unfolded in the mix.
The second day was done in two parts, the assembly of the sonic textures and backgrounds, and then the final mix’s. I had two samplers in the studio with a very large collection of sounds from my archive of sound that I have made/collected through the years. I like to work in the studio as close to real time as possible, so the pace really moved along. As we went through the piece, everything really came together well with the appropriate sounds presenting themselves when needed, and by dinnertime, we were ready to mix.
It took all four of us to do the mix because each mix was a mix of the entire 41 minute piece, so any mistake meant starting from the top. I was in charge of the tracks of sounds (maybe 4 or 5 stereo pairs). Simon was in charge of the 4 tracks of voice, and Mark was the timekeeper, with a stopwatch and the list of cue points. Todd had the role of being the objective ear. We did 3 or 4 mix’s that night and then put them away (distance). A few days later the final mix was chosen from the four.

Please describe how you develop an idea into a piece for either studio recording or performance (such as the track on Albuzerxque Vol. #8 "Outpost Repertory Jazz Orchestra" which I just got from Mark Weber).

Mark’s Albuzerxque series is such a wonderful thing for a couple of reasons. For one, it is this amazing documentation of a diverse range of music and text that is being created in this location (NM) at this point in time. For the artists it is a home for pieces that are either developed specifically for a sampler CD, like setting the first chapter of Huxley’s “Brave New World” to sound (Vol. #3). Or they are pieces that are very strong, but just haven’t found a home in a larger collection of work, like “Winter”, a conduction with O.R.J.O. (Vol. #8).

Most of the people I interview are wordsmiths, so they tend to think in images, which they transpose to words. What form do your inspirations take and how do you translate them to sounds?

Many times it’s a sound that conjures up the images that become the inspiration for a piece. I’m always collecting new sounds, even if they don’t have an immediate place to go. Also sounds that were rejected for a specific project are added to the archive. Then when a sound is needed for a new piece, I just hear it in my head. The trick then is remembering where I stored it.

I see that you're also involved with BioAcoustics. What is that? Do you tie it into your performances; in other words are you consciously selecting tones that will benefit your audience on more than one level?

BioAcoustics uses low frequency sound to stimulate the self-healing potential of the body. I am doing BioAcoustics research at the Whole Life Clinic in Santa Fe NM, working with a medical doctor. At this point in time my research and my musical life are separate, but the potential for creating pieces that could contain specific low frequencies is a possibility for a future project.

You mention "sound tuning", in regards to guitarist Terry Rolleri's work on "These Times" (another Zerx Recording). In which he would "tune each string of the guitar individually, and not in relation to any other string or any tuning reference, one at a time until each string sounded good", which sounds really cool (I've done it myself). What other types of "tricks" do you use and could you describe how you discover them?

Well, for me, if it’s an acoustic instrument I try to explore all of the possibilities of “extended technique”, or trying to get the widest pallet of sound that I can from the instrument. If it’s a piece of technology, then it’s more of a game. Trying to get the box to work the way that I want to work, and not being forced into a way of doing things by the limitations of the gear. I try to find the simplest way to express what I hear in my head with whatever instrument I am playing.

On the CD, "Solodino" (which is one of my favorites), you create some fearsome noises which, for some reason, I find very soothing. I often write with that CD on. For some reason, the more discordant it is, the more I can focus on what I'm doing or thinking.

Discordant isn’t a word that I would choose to describe that CD, but I get your point. Allot of the music that I find to be very soothing, also contains harmonic relationships that are often described by others as discordant. John Coltrane’s “Live at the Village Vanguard Again” comes immediately to mind, for me a very peaceful recording.

What was your inspiration for Solodino? Was it scripted or were you flying blind? Talk about the creation process on that project, will you?

SoLoDiNo is a collection of concert improvisations on trombone/electronics, sampler and standing waves (feedback). The pieces are taken from two concerts, one was a very chamber like evening at a small gallery in Santa Fe, and the other was from the Composers Symposium at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Both of the concerts were completely improvised, without any pre-determined structure other than the choice of sounds that went into the sampler before each concert, and those choices were also completely spontaneous. This kind of solo work is really about opening yourself, connecting with spirit and trusting in the moment. If you can get to that point, the music really creates itself.

What about the Internet? There are lots of poetry sites (not to mention all the visual ones). And there are lots of music sites (though mostly the MP3 sites are into popular music). Are there any sites that dedicate themselves to this (your) type of music?

I really don’t know, but I would imagine that there are.

Do you use the Internet to collect sounds?

Now why in the world would I want to do that? These days, anyone with a little room left on a credit card can buy a lap top, download a bunch of loops and over a weekend put out a CD that sounds just like hundreds of other CD’s. No thank you. The only thing that you have as an artist is your personal vision; it’s what sets you apart.
Look, I could go out and buy a bunch of poetry books and lift sentences and paragraphs from them and cut and past them into a new book. I could put my name on it as the author, and even have the audacity to say that I’ve made something better than the originals. But they’re still not my words; it would just be some more shinny disposable appropriated stuff.
The only reason that there is so much of this kind of activity in the world of music these days is because the machines are optimized to do this kind of stuff really fast. Let’s not kid ourselves here, it is VERY easy to make loop/sample-based music at this point in history. The challenge is to come up with original sounds, “personal” sounds. The art is to create work with this technology that is going to survive after the fashion has past.

What about you, do you have a site or webpage on the net that our readers can visit?

No, I do not have a website.

I've always wanted to do a webcast where each player is located in another city/country. What sort of ideas like this have you come up with?

Well, I enjoy any kind of project that allows me to interact with open, like-minded artists who don’t take themselves too seriously. More and more the fashion of funding moves toward projects that embrace technological advances (?). But, technology brings with it allot of baggage that doesn’t always make a pleasant environment for the act of creation. The real trick is to get the technology involved in a project to become transparent, and not the focal point of the event.

Who do you draw inspiration from these days?

It’s not so much who as it is what these days, and that would be “harmonics” or the way that sound follows the laws of the universe.

Got any new projects planned?

Right now my focus is on finding the balance between my sound work at the clinic, and my musical life. At the moment I’m working on my bass flute playing, enjoying the evolution of “Out of Context” (the improvising ensemble that I conduct), and trying to get to a deeper relationship with my electronics. That seems like plenty for now.

More J.A. Deane Info Links :

J. A. Deane short Bio

J.A. Deane Discography

a Selected List of J.A. Deane's Performance Events

J.A. Deane's Works- Nominations & Awards

an Interview with J.A. Deane