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January 2, 2024 41 mins

Here is Tom Welsh, Craig’s old friend and a music aficionado. Tom was the Director of Performing Arts at the Cleveland Museum of Art, was the Managing Director of Big Ears in 2023, and is the manager of legendary composer Terry Riley. EnJOY! 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
My name is Craig Ferguson. The name of this podcast
is Joy. I talk to interest in people about what
brings them happiness. Here's my old friend Tom Welsh. He's
a music aficionado. He runs one of the biggest music
festivals in America, Big Years in Knoxville, Tennessee. Enjoy.

Speaker 2 (00:26):
All right, So Tom, you have never taken accid?

Speaker 3 (00:30):
That is true. I have never taken ascid.

Speaker 1 (00:33):
What powerful drugs have you taked? Do you have you
taken any powerful drugs? Because I feel like someone who's
involved in a music festivals, because I should should probably
have a past with exotic hallucigens.

Speaker 4 (00:46):
It's not on my CV. But you're you're generally probably correct,
right as sort of an understanding or assumption, right, a
passage like, look at all these guys that are in
this work, they've been drop an acid for you, whatever
that sort of thing is. But no, I from my
California days maybe look the part.

Speaker 2 (01:05):
But yeah, when I first met you had very long hair.

Speaker 4 (01:09):
I did that to blend in if you live in
San Francisco at a certain age a certain time and
just sort of become part of the fabric with guys
walking around with long hair.

Speaker 1 (01:18):
I just felt you have lost You had long hair
kind of the same time Metallica had long hair. And
then did you get the cut the same time as Metallica.

Speaker 3 (01:26):
Got the cut.

Speaker 4 (01:27):
I'd have to check when they went to the barbershop.
But I have a vivid memory that you and I
had not seen each other period of time. Somewhere in there,
I shaved my head and we saw each other again
at an event, and you first thing out of your
mouth was new Metallica. I was flattered, confused, but honored
by that.

Speaker 3 (01:45):
Yeah. I don't know who did it.

Speaker 2 (01:46):
It was a compliment. It was a compliment.

Speaker 3 (01:48):
Let's just say.

Speaker 4 (01:49):
I don't know the Metallica guys, but they needed to
do it, and I needed to do it too.

Speaker 1 (01:53):
Yeah, I think it was time. That comes time in
life for a haircut. So listen, tell me this. You
do have faced well. The podcast is about joy. I've
known you for some time, and one of the most
joyful experiences that I think we had together was going
to see a gentleman by the name of Iggy Pop.

Speaker 2 (02:12):
Remembers going to see Iggy Pop. I do all right,
And we went to see.

Speaker 1 (02:15):
Iggy and I loved watching because I liked the songs,
and I liked seeing Iggy being alive after his story
and as of recording to this, he's still alive, which
is kind of goes wrong. Well, it's it's an interesting
thing given the kind of the group of people he
was running with back in the day. Because you're so
heavily and I think of you as being someone who's

(02:36):
heavily involved in music.

Speaker 2 (02:37):
But you're not a musician, aren't you.

Speaker 3 (02:38):
Well, I came up as a musician.

Speaker 2 (02:40):
Okay, tell me how that happened.

Speaker 1 (02:42):
The imagine we're a psychotherapy session and it's the first session,
and you have to go through all the boring stuff
about who you are and how you got to this point,
and then we can get to the bit where you
can't go to.

Speaker 2 (02:53):
The bathroom without wearing a hat.

Speaker 4 (02:55):
Yeah, let us be my first psychotherapy session because you've
never been.

Speaker 3 (02:59):
No, I think this is it.

Speaker 1 (03:00):
Okay, Well, just relax, take a say breath. You're in
a safe place, and tell me how it began with
you in music.

Speaker 4 (03:09):
Probably, like many many kids growing up in America and
maybe in the suburbs, you are invited at a certain
age to sign up to take music lessons in your school.

Speaker 2 (03:20):
Where was this?

Speaker 4 (03:20):
I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it's probably the
I was about to say second grade, but it might
be fourth grade where they take you into assembly and
they pass out the sheet of instruments that you might
select from to begin music lessons. Fourth grade, let's say,
And everybody went home with this eight and a half
by eleven. No, it's but the larger sheet with a

(03:43):
to z all the instruments you could choose that the
school offered.

Speaker 2 (03:47):
Like a very well equipped school. Was that very well?

Speaker 4 (03:49):
We're talking about the seventies, right when music was still
in the schools.

Speaker 2 (03:53):
Active music there now, right.

Speaker 3 (03:55):
And people encouraged this.

Speaker 4 (03:56):
This is good for everybody, good for students, good for kids, band,
all this sort of stuff, marching bands and the rest.
And I went home and immediately said I want to
play the drums, and my father said pick something else.
So I went back with the sheet into the teacher,
whoever it was at the time, and I had checked
the box for saxophone. So I grew up as a
saxophone player. I was in a family with three brothers

(04:18):
and a sister. All of us played music together. Parents
musical people too, not professionally, But there was music in
the house all the time.

Speaker 1 (04:25):
Was it a very stable environment? Did you have a
stable upbringing? It was like an escape into music from
the you know, the disruption of a wild family life
or anything like that.

Speaker 4 (04:34):
These stories will wreck and bore and ruin all of
your understandings of a life and music. But yes, it
was a stable family that cared about each other. Still
to this day, we care about each other and communicate.
There was music in the household because it brought joy
and fun and something to do. The Christmas Carols was
the big the brass. Everybody lined up with their brass
instruments to blow the Christmas carouse out the front door

(04:57):
into the neighborhood that may or may not have wished
for that to happen. And it was just the rhythm
of a noisy family that you.

Speaker 2 (05:05):
Still play, You still play the saxophone.

Speaker 4 (05:08):
Well, the last vestiges of this are really still the
Christmas Holidays.

Speaker 3 (05:12):
With this.

Speaker 4 (05:14):
Year, the honkas squeak brass corral emerges once a year
and then submerges again. There's another generation of kids, the grandkids,
nephews and nieces that also picked this up. And so yeah,
it's a musical family that is not professionally musical, all.

Speaker 1 (05:28):
Right, So life takes its course and you end up.
When I met you, you were in San Francisco, that's right.
At that point, you were running or managing bands, and
you had.

Speaker 2 (05:37):
A music store. It wasn't really a store.

Speaker 4 (05:40):
I had moved to California with the band actually to
chase the American dream, which everybody knows is write one
song and then become super famous and you're off to forever.

Speaker 1 (05:50):
And these days I think it's just an Instagram post,
but it's much the same thing.

Speaker 4 (05:54):
This was the olden days when you actually had to
have talent, have some talent, and record something with people
who knew what they were doing. So we tough that
out for a period of time in the club scene
in the West Coast, network up and down, and decided
after a long run that we really weren't getting along
at all with each other and it was time to
stop that.

Speaker 2 (06:11):
So that's my experience of being in a band.

Speaker 3 (06:13):
Too.

Speaker 4 (06:13):
Inevitably, you've come to that crossroads that maybe I should
be doing something else. What I really wanted to do
was to run a record company. I really love the
idea of working with musicians, not necessarily being the guy
in the middle of the stage jumping around, but to
help others get their work moving, get their No.

Speaker 1 (06:30):
That's an interesting thing. Why is that from the family background?
Do you think that they create and the opportunity for
little Tom to choose the drums or the saxophone.

Speaker 3 (06:43):
No, I don't think so.

Speaker 4 (06:44):
I think in a very small way, as a musician
and working in a band and trying to make something happen,
we never really went anywhere, but you get a feeling
of what's like to be on the stage, to have
a room full of people looking at you and waiting
for you to do. I don't need to tell you
you know exactly what this is, right. The exchange between
audience and performer is a very peculiar human moment. In

(07:09):
my opinion. Very few people probably want to do that,
and even fewers still do it well. And I think ultimately,
as a performer, musician, artist, you have to know for
yourself what am I doing here on this stage, What
is it I'm trying to put across. What do I
want to share with people? What I want people to
hear hear me say? Because after all, I've had a
room full of people who are now looking at you saying,

(07:31):
all right, we've given you our time and attention and
maybe five bucks.

Speaker 3 (07:34):
Say it, do it?

Speaker 2 (07:36):
Did you have anything particularly that you wanted to say?

Speaker 3 (07:39):
Yeah?

Speaker 4 (07:39):
I think at the time, as young musicians trying to
express fun, happiness, some great songs and have a yeah,
I have a damn good time. It starts there, doesn't
it with.

Speaker 3 (07:50):
I think so?

Speaker 1 (07:51):
I mean, I think when I was in Bines, I
think I was trying to say, was I'm available for
casual sex? This is bathed in there, definitely, But I
don't think that's the way you said. I think nowadays
i'd be on an app or something and just say it.

Speaker 4 (08:05):
The menu of things, like I'm available for that, barring
that I'll take all the drugs you're offering me, yes,
barring that I'll dip into the advance so we can
spend it on beer money right now, yes, barring that
I need a ride home.

Speaker 2 (08:16):
All right, So you end up running this record company?

Speaker 3 (08:19):
Yes?

Speaker 4 (08:20):
Well right, okay, So we skipped a brief chapter there.
When it turned out that music as a performer was
not ultimately going to be my direction and calling, I thought,
what I really want to do is work with other people,
and I fall into literally fall into a small active
record company in San Francisco at the time called New
Albion Records, which had been going for some time charting

(08:42):
trends and developments in modern composition and experimental classical music.
This kind of in between area with very much of
a West Coast and Pacific rim point of view. What
we're talking about is music of the twentieth century, including
people like Lou Harris and Terry Riley, Pauline Olaverro's, John Adams,
John Cage, and then onward from there Carlstone and many others.

(09:03):
This had a huge impact on me musically, personally, professionally, ultimately,
and it.

Speaker 1 (09:09):
Is not the music you still listen to now that
makes music you listen because it also is quite almost
I don't want to be mean, but it sounds a
little academic taste of music.

Speaker 2 (09:20):
Mean, I mean it to be mean, but it.

Speaker 1 (09:23):
Is very grown up and deep cut that that type
of music.

Speaker 2 (09:28):
Do you listen to abba or yes?

Speaker 3 (09:30):
Not good?

Speaker 4 (09:31):
The new record really didn't move me the way I
hoped to be moved. But then again, it's hard to
sugar mil forever. You can try, as we might yeah,
the short answer to a good question, you're in a
common misconception, or there are no misconceptions in music. Everybody
hears and understands and enjoys or doesn't enjoy it to

(09:52):
their own taste. This is all out there for everybody's consumption, delectation,
and and and take what you you can from it.
But I came to believe, working in the area of
modern composition, experimental fringes of electronic, improvised and beyond, these
are all artists, perhaps living outside of the mainstream, but

(10:13):
all of them are true and honest to the thing
that they're trying to do. Nobody's trying to be academic
or thumb in your eye on purpose in any way.
These are people just expressing themselves quite differently that, as
it happens, have maybe smaller audiences because this is rarefied,
sometimes unusual, sometimes difficult to understand because the frame of

(10:35):
reference is a little obscure or whatever it is. But
I don't think for a second that any of those
artists or any other artists are willfully trying to stay
outside of your purview.

Speaker 3 (10:46):
Take a while to get there.

Speaker 1 (10:47):
Right, Well, So let's think that now you run, you're
the managing director of this giant music festival, which is
one of the biggest in the world.

Speaker 4 (10:55):
Right, yeah, so you're flattering to say so, but that's
maybe not quite right. I'm here with you in Knoxville, Tennessee,
in the home of Big Years, which as a festival
that has been going for this will be the tenth
edition that happens in March of twenty twenty three.

Speaker 1 (11:09):
But I'm not being It's not hyperbolic really. I mean,
it is a huge festival.

Speaker 4 (11:13):
It has had an enormous and beautiful impact in I
think the American landscape of music festivals and culture. Is
it huge, probably one hundred and twenty five artists playing
over four days in downtown Knoxville. It's intense. It's it's
a rapturous deep dive into everything, all sorts of things
all at one time.

Speaker 2 (11:32):
And see, that's what I wanted to talk to you
about it.

Speaker 1 (11:34):
So do you have a a polpulist thought in your
head when you're booking acts? So, I mean, presumably you're
involved in the choosing of who's going to play and
who's not going to play. And do you say, well, look,
we've already got five guys who are five different acts
who are playing obscure saxophone mathematic compositions. Do we have

(11:56):
anyone who's you know, doing covers of Partryes, Family or
whatever people are listening to it?

Speaker 4 (12:02):
You know, A quick check suggests me, we don't have
that artist locked in just yet, but maybe I can
lean on you about that. Yes or no, there's no
calculation beyond let's just find and invite really great musicians
without necessarily thinking first of the area or the genre
or the old record bins as we used to say

(12:24):
that they're in. What's interesting about Big Ears and unique
about Big Ears, in my opinion, is that it's the
only festival that I can think of in the US,
or certainly the first that wanted to be about just
great music made by passionate, great people, regardless of genres. Typically,
you and I would go to this festival that does

(12:45):
this certain thing, or go off to another one that
does a different certain thing, and the outcome of that
is you have a good idea of what you're getting
yourself into, you know, perhaps because you bought tickets, because
you know all of the artists are playing in that
festival where there's bluegrass, class school, heavy metal, whatever. But
big Ears is putting all of us in the same
place at the same time, so that you can move
freely between one world of sound and another. And it's

(13:08):
just all just great. As Ellington Tokellington said, beyond category,
why can't we have all of those things in one
place at one time.

Speaker 1 (13:25):
So let's zero in a little bit more on the
personal nature of what brings you joy and that so
clearly you get joy sharing different musical experiences with other people,
all right, So that brings you joy professionally, all right.
So in your life, for example, obviously everyone has a
point where there is an absence of joy, and then

(13:47):
there has to be, hopefully, at some point, a journey
through joy. Because I feel that joy is an essential
coping mechanism and that if you lack it, you can
or if you like the ability to manufacture it, it
can lead you into a dark path. That's certainly happened
in my life. Is that something that's happened in yours?
In your world?

Speaker 4 (14:07):
It's interesting you refer to joy as a coping mechanism.
I'd like to hear more about that. I don't see
it that way. I don't think I'm trying to think
of my own personal experiences of joy when it comes
to me in a variety of different moments, sometimes unpredictable,
mostly unpredictable. Let's say, or I share it or try
to generate it so that other people can have it

(14:28):
in the context of music performances, festivals, and even simple
as sharing records. This thing we used to do a lot. Yeah,
but why is it a coping mechanism?

Speaker 1 (14:37):
I think when I say a coping mechanism is because
I'm aware of having to manufacture it when I have to,
as opposed to I suppose when I don't have to,
when I'm experiencing joy and don't and I'm not in
need of it, I'm not aware of having to make it.

Speaker 2 (14:55):
I think I suppose, so at that point I think
maybe it's a coping mechanism.

Speaker 4 (14:59):
This is think to me because I maybe I don't
think of it quite this way. I'm thinking of examples
where or instances where joy comes, it arrives, and for me,
this is a Yeah. It's a powerful emotional and physical sensation.
It's like a wave that arrives. I didn't summon it exactly.
I didn't, so you have no power over it. Rolls

(15:21):
in like the weather.

Speaker 3 (15:22):
Is that what you mean?

Speaker 4 (15:23):
Sometimes in circumstances, I'm thinking of a concert experience where
the room, the sound, the energy, the people all converges
in a moment where suddenly you're levitating and you're thinking, Wow,
I'm being swept up into something that I'm absolutely moving
to a higher a different plane.

Speaker 1 (15:41):
You'll think of a concert where any specific concert where
that's a card for you or too many.

Speaker 4 (15:47):
Well many, well many, not not millions, but many. I
think of while there was one here at Big Ears
actually a few years ago, when I wasn't paying close
attention to the program, I just ran into the Biju
Theater to hear what was scheduled in that hour, and
it was an hour of the music of Alvin Lucier
that had been organized I think by Stephen O'Malley from

(16:08):
Sun to I was so late, I wasn't quite sure
who put this whole thing together, but it was a
beautiful hour of Alvin Lucier's music, which is often quiet,
still droning, very slow to unfold, so it's music of duration.
You have to give it some time or else you're
going to miss everything that's happening. And it was beautiful,
and then Alvin himself came out on the stage. At

(16:30):
this point, he's an elderly man who has done incredible
work for a long period of time. I didn't know
he was there, and so there was that moment.

Speaker 2 (16:37):
Of till he was playing, he wasn't playing his.

Speaker 4 (16:40):
Final well, there was an ensemble of people playing his music,
and the last piece was Alvin's master work, or the
piece that people know him for, called I Am Sitting
in a Room, which is a classic of I'm not
going to use the word academic that you're going to
put out there, because it's not. It is a twentieth
century experiments say deep deep cut. Okay, it's a little

(17:00):
bit of a deep cup for a little.

Speaker 3 (17:01):
Depending on where you're going from from people.

Speaker 4 (17:04):
On the playlist, okay, I got but to hear Alvin
himself sitting in a chair and to begin his piece,
which is a slowly evolving electronic music piece based on
he says a long sentence of paragraph that then goes
into a kind of a looping mechanism that begins to
pull apart like taffy, the sound texture of the words,

(17:26):
until the words themselves become slowly unrecognizable. And it just
turns into this cloud of sound. It's a conceptual piece, yes,
but it's also quite moving I think, over a long,
slow period of time, and the man himself was in
this chair doing it. And I didn't know that until
it happened, and I was taken away because of the
serendipity of the moment. I was not sure that was

(17:49):
on the program. I didn't know it happened, and I
found myself floating away with joy. Here I am experiencing.
This was interesting to me by that. First of all,
you know, it sounds like a very joyful experience. But
what you point out is that the composer himself is there,
and so it's a very kind of It's much more

(18:09):
intimate than perhaps the composer has been dead for two
hundred years and someone's playing a piece of music.

Speaker 2 (18:14):
Right very well.

Speaker 1 (18:15):
Is it important then that the author of the piece
be in the room for it to change the tombre,
the feeling of the sensation, or can the right musician
do that having not composed the piece. Because I think
composition is important to you, I think authorship is important
to you.

Speaker 2 (18:32):
But I'd be right in saying that.

Speaker 4 (18:33):
Yes, that's a yes, and because, of course, we have
centuries worth of music now that we all enjoy and
moves us for which we have no direct connection to
the people who authored that music. Right, So this is
of necessity we have to be able to there's something
in that music that carries through the ages. Not to
mention the millions of records that we have between us,
made by artists who we will never encounter, but we

(18:56):
love that music too. I've never seen the master musicians
of Jujuoka, but these records are never too far away
authorship or this question of maybe it's something extra, it's
not essential, but here's the person who did this remarkable
thing that is always satisfying, isn't it?

Speaker 1 (19:12):
Yes, it is, I think I think that's fair to say.
I think I would be impressed by that too if
it was, you know, if it was a painter who
had done an amazing painting and suddenly they're standing next
to you saying, how do you like it?

Speaker 2 (19:22):
I mean, yes, of course it's it's going to be
a thing.

Speaker 1 (19:25):
People like to have that connection music, I think is
that is an interesting and strange experience though, because I
think music speaks a language that none of us actually
understand but maybe that's because I'm not a true musician.

Speaker 3 (19:40):
You are a musician. Your audience knows this about you, right.

Speaker 4 (19:42):
Drummer, yeah, part time shower singer, Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1 (19:46):
Yeah, I've done bits and pieces. But and certainly I think,
like you know that Robin Williams and I were friendly,
and Robin always had a jazz.

Speaker 2 (19:56):
Mentality about doing stand up.

Speaker 1 (19:58):
He always, you know, kind of talked about and stand
up as a jazz improvisation almost, which I'm not a
huge fan of. It's wrong to say I'm not a
huge fan of jazz because it's too big an area.
But there's not a lot of jazz that moves me
that I've heard. But I get the idea of improvisation
and an instrument. But that's what interests me about what

(20:21):
you do, because at any point in big years, do
you pick up your saxophone and go and play.

Speaker 3 (20:27):
Absolutely not.

Speaker 2 (20:28):
Well, they know why.

Speaker 4 (20:29):
I'm too busy working with this wonderful team of people
to keep this thing rolling. But you're getting to an
interesting point that I think about a lot, and probably
a lot of people do. But somehow in our world,
let's say, the Western contemporary commercial world, that we are
moving around in the three and a half minute song

(20:50):
became the central currency of music. Yeah, beatles before beatles
and onward. But we sort of live in this commodification
of music as the song. How did this come to be?
Why is this crucial? Why is it interesting? Because, after all,
music and sound is boundless and enormously different than you

(21:10):
and I are sitting with our guitars singing a song
in the AaB format with a catchy eight bark bridge.
This somehow became a what do we say, a routine
or the backdrop against which people understand music. I bought
a record had fourteen songs on it. I like three
of them. I was stuck with the whole album. It's

(21:32):
got fourteen songs.

Speaker 2 (21:33):
Well, well, the argument used to be, wasn't that the album?

Speaker 1 (21:36):
Like if you take an album like the classic argument
for this is the dark side of the moon, right, Like,
in order to understand the music and the album, in
order to appreciate the music in the album, you have
to listen to the old album the way the artist
constructed the album.

Speaker 4 (21:52):
But you've said something just a moment before this, which
the secret is in what you said. There's something weird
and mysterious and strange about music. The album, the record,
the single, the wax cylinder, the CD. These are just
containers for sound. So Pink Floyd, we love them. I
have those, we have those records. We've shared those records.
They are incredible documents of music and sound because the

(22:17):
guys knew that they had a container they needed to
manage and release into the world.

Speaker 3 (22:22):
That's it.

Speaker 1 (22:22):
So you think the container dictates what the artist puts
into it is what has.

Speaker 4 (22:28):
Happened with the arrival of the Internet. Now anybody can
make any music available out to the world. The audience, no,
audience doesn't matter in any format that they like.

Speaker 2 (22:37):
Does that improve things? It seems like a very odd question.

Speaker 4 (22:40):
Yeah, this is the raging debate. Is it approves access?
Is what it does? Because didn't we sort of imagine
that when the Internet arrived fully to average accessibility to people,
that somebody would step up and say, all right, We're
going to have this musical experience through the Internet, which
was or four totally unavailable to us when we had

(23:02):
to put music onto a CD or a record or
something like that. I'm going to play a thirty five
hour something because I can do that now, and I'm
sure people did this, but it didn't quite come on
maybe the way I imagine, But I think that the
container has always been too much dictating how we're going
to understand and consume music.

Speaker 3 (23:19):
Isn't it going to the record store by the record?

Speaker 1 (23:21):
You think it's also to do with the democracy of
the internet. I don't think that music. Now here's here's
a let's discuss does music flourish in a democracy? Because
I suspect it doesn't like it does It's not like that. Well,
we talk about authorship of music. You know, you can
get collaborations, famous collaborations, Lanna McCartney, whatever it is. But

(23:44):
it's not like there's ever like twenty people get together,
or at least in my limited experience of music, I
don't see it as being something which is collaborative to
a point where everybody gets to say.

Speaker 2 (23:57):
That was always my problem when I was in a band.

Speaker 1 (24:00):
You know that it's it's not a democracy there, someone
is the dictator.

Speaker 3 (24:05):
Here.

Speaker 4 (24:05):
One version of this is exactly right. Here is the
music I want you all to play. Let's do it.
I need your hands to realize this vision. So off
we go. This is only one path, right, because there's
communal musical experiences, famously the drums drum circle. Let's get
right to that. And what is that? This is essentially
everybody's equal doing whatever their contribution may be.

Speaker 1 (24:27):
But yeah, any drum circlub in part of and thankfully
I've kind of let that go a little bit in
my life.

Speaker 2 (24:32):
But I used to take.

Speaker 1 (24:33):
A drum and set in a drum circle from time
to time. I assume you've done the same. I think
I have, yes, doe. You know, is even in a
drum circle that little power games start to comment at
the rhythm, don't they commend?

Speaker 4 (24:44):
Isn't this inevitable in any relationship of more than one
person in a room, there's going to be a dynamic interaction.
And I mean, I'm sort we're being a little fstious
about drum circle. But it's true, isn't it. This is
this is anybody's walking to drift in, drift out, contribute
your bit, stay as long as you like. If someone
absolute he despises what Ferguson over here is doing, they
might give you an elbow or something like that. And

(25:04):
so some of this starts to.

Speaker 1 (25:06):
Still drum circles that are a little bit like surfers,
like people think surfers are cool and relaxed.

Speaker 2 (25:11):
And not but they're not.

Speaker 1 (25:12):
They're kind of angry in the territorial and competitive. And
I think drum circles are a bit like that too,
that people are like, no, I can actually do you're
messing up my five eight rhythm that you know? Yeah,
and I feel that, But that's that's a different type
of music. That's a music which the joy of a
drum circle is participating in the drum circle.

Speaker 3 (25:34):
We're talking about music making. I think.

Speaker 4 (25:36):
So there's music that you might say, I got this
new record and I'm going to share with you, check
it out, enjoy it. It's programmed programmatic there it is
consume it or don't. But music making is something else, isn't.
It's about participation, drifting in and out, trying to pushing
pull with other musicians, maybe to contribute an idea or
find something interesting there. I think there are so many

(25:58):
channels and avenues and outcomes that offessvals like big ears
are looking for for more. What else is all this
horizon that we can hear and enjoy that we haven't
had access to before, the sense of discovery and looking
for something that I'm not already very familiar with.

Speaker 2 (26:26):
Is there ever a point when you hear a piece
of music?

Speaker 1 (26:29):
And like my father, whenever I was watching when I
was a kid, I was watched Top of the Pulps
was the was the TV show in Britain the kids watched,
And whenever there was a musical acto on that he
disapproved of, he would say, that's no music, That's just
a noise.

Speaker 2 (26:46):
And I would say, you know that, that's kind of
what music is. It's a noise.

Speaker 1 (26:49):
But is there ever a piece of music where you
Have you ever heard music and you thought, I can't,
I can't conceive why a human being would want to
listen to that.

Speaker 4 (26:58):
Sure, there have and a couple of things that come
across my radar that generally that the idea of stopping
your listening experience or stopping my listening experience has to
do with maybe damage, volume, your power. Yeah, it's a
combination of loud and frequencies and noise. What we talk

(27:21):
about is noise. Now, this is a tricky area because
some things that I might think are beautiful and mellifluous,
you might say are kind of noisy. So we all
kind of live on the spectrum somewhere. What's tolerable, what's enjoyable,
what is what sounds appealing certain ways?

Speaker 3 (27:34):
Don't you think?

Speaker 2 (27:35):
Yeah, I think that's possibly true. I think that's possibly true.

Speaker 1 (27:38):
I don't want to give you the entire the entire thing,
but yeah, okay, it's true, it's true.

Speaker 2 (27:44):
But listen, what about a world that had let's imagine
for a moment, a world that has no music at all.

Speaker 4 (27:52):
It's inconceivable, isn't It's it's totally inconceivable to me and
maybe to others that as humans who like to engage
and connect to live the human life without music. It's
just it's just it's beyond it's beyond comprehension. I can't
imagine it.

Speaker 1 (28:09):
And yet it is so diverse, and like you say,
everybody's a little bit different, everybody like a lot different.
Do you think that music contemporary music? Because you're very
involved in it and all it well well and a
slightly academic is the wrong word, but you're in a
cooler area of music than perhaps it's not heavily corporate.

(28:33):
Although this office in which we say feels a little corporate.

Speaker 3 (28:36):
It doesn't take it up with our people.

Speaker 1 (28:37):
Yeah, but it doesn't doesn't feel particularly like the main
drive is the profit on the broadsheet and on the
spreadsheet here, right, And yet music is huge, multi billion
dollar industry.

Speaker 4 (28:52):
Well, people get involved for different reasons, don't they. We'll
talk about entertainment and the arts broadly defined, attracts lots
of different people for lots of different reasons. So there's
that that seems pretty straightforward.

Speaker 2 (29:04):
But you qualify a music's.

Speaker 1 (29:06):
Value, and I think I already know the answer to this,
and I'm going to ask you. Do you give music
a value in the amount of people that enjoy it
or the amount of dollars that can raise? Does that
Does that affect how good a piece of music is?

Speaker 4 (29:18):
I think it's a measure of where that work will
kind of land in the stratosphere.

Speaker 3 (29:24):
Yes, is it? Is it? Well?

Speaker 4 (29:27):
Good and bad? This is tricky business, isn't it? Because
I might find enormous satisfaction from an artist's work or
recording or whatever it was that very few people ever encountered,
and that's for me, and it's great. This has nothing
to do with remuneration. It's just all about a connection
to an individual, in this case me or you. You
must have records that your friends and family don't care

(29:50):
for but it's it's important to you.

Speaker 3 (29:52):
I love it.

Speaker 1 (29:52):
I think, yeah, I mean, I think it's also it's
in a period of time music. Also was that basket
quote said, the art is how we decorate space.

Speaker 2 (30:02):
Music is how we decorate time.

Speaker 1 (30:05):
And I think for me, I think for a law
of people, I suspect for you too, the music contains
it's time travel. If I listen to you know, the
Damned playing Neat Neat Meat, I'm sixteen years old, you know,
and I can go back in time travel like that?

Speaker 2 (30:20):
Does that? Do you use it for that?

Speaker 3 (30:22):
Actually?

Speaker 4 (30:22):
That's a it's a really interesting area because probably who
knows there. I say, most people can hitch musical experiences
or the records to moments in their life. As you say,
you suddenly flash back to sixteen years old, I'm in school,
or first date or what. These sorts of milestones in
your life are inevitably hitched to something you heard, or

(30:46):
music that you have in your collection or something like that.
But I actually really totally deficient in this area. It's unusual,
I think, But.

Speaker 1 (30:54):
Yeah, I think that is usually for someone so involved
in it.

Speaker 2 (30:57):
That just seems odd to me.

Speaker 4 (30:59):
There are moments through the mile markers in life where
you I remember that record was happening when such has happened,
but not so much.

Speaker 1 (31:06):
Give me one, Give me one in your life. Give
me a moment in your life if you can. When
you think you associate a piece of music with either
great happiness or great sadness, or a great turning point
in your life, or something something that brings you to
that moment, can you do it?

Speaker 2 (31:19):
Yeah?

Speaker 3 (31:22):
Maybe.

Speaker 4 (31:23):
I was thinking the other day about perhaps one of
the greatest, if not the greatest live concert I've ever
been to myself was Fishbone in Philadelphia, a small ish
club that must have been I'm going to guess here

(31:44):
nineteen eighty seven, nineteen eighty eight, nineteen eighty nine, some
late eighties, and it was just one of these nights
where well, by the end of the night I found
that my shirt was off. I don't really know where
anything was. How did this happen? I was just over
come in. If you've ever seen Fishbone live, then I've
never seen Fishbone, then you probably had a similar experience

(32:06):
for the suddenly your you're half naked. I don't know
how this happened.

Speaker 1 (32:09):
I had way too many experiences where suddenly I was
half naked, and not enough of them involved fish boone.

Speaker 2 (32:15):
Or indeed music.

Speaker 4 (32:16):
Imagine if that had all come together for you at
that right moment, things would be different. But that was
really I share that one because it was really transportative,
transformational hour.

Speaker 2 (32:29):
Wait what did it do to you? Where did where
did you start from?

Speaker 3 (32:31):
And where did lead you?

Speaker 2 (32:32):
What was the fork in the road?

Speaker 4 (32:35):
Two things come to mind. It was an overwhelmingly physical,
fun experience of elation, pure joy, where the band, the music,
the songs, the energy, the rapport was all in a way.
It was of a piece where like, man, I'm in
the middle of If you've seen that, it's like a
three ring circus. When they're playing, it's just it's mayhem

(32:55):
but controlled, beautiful, fun, incredible, and it is suddenly lefty,
I'm in this experience. And years later, this is like
part two of that question. I was sharing this with somebody,
like the greatest show I ever saw, Yeah, Fishbone and
this friend, musician friend said I was there too. Thirty
years later he says, I was there too. Now there's
a shared experience, camaraderie. I didn't know him at the time,

(33:19):
and nor did I know he was in the room,
of course, But now I have this connection to another
person who experienced what I experienced. His joy in that room,
I'm sure was equally greater than mine, and we talked
about that for a long time. It's really interesting to
go find someone way down the road that you were
there too.

Speaker 1 (33:38):
I think that that's interesting to me because I think
the more we talk about it, and the more I
hear you talk about it, as we distill it down,
it's really about human connection. It's really about the unspeakable
or the nonalytical language of music.

Speaker 4 (33:53):
Well, here is I think where music is totally different
than the other art forms. Okay, exception of poetry, theater, comedy,
it's a it's I think there are all forms of music.

Speaker 3 (34:06):
Well you tell me.

Speaker 4 (34:07):
I was just going to say, they're all in music
where you're managing the illusion of time. You are living
in an ephemeral world. When the music stops, it's silence,
and you're living in sound and sound is vibration, which
is physical, and so something is happening to your body.

(34:29):
Of course, this is obvious with very loud rhythmic music,
rock and roll, dance music, R and b. It's also
true for quiet music that doesn't seem to be doing much,
long duration of music of Morton Felden, for example, Ava Lucier.
We talked about that earlier, or the Jerone music of Sun,
Lamont Young and others doesn't seem like much it's going on,
but vibration is happening, and I.

Speaker 1 (34:51):
Really it is a mood altering Sun, which is a
music live for that I've started to get into recently,
and I we were talking about it, and I'm saying, I
don't know if I listened to it correctly, because I
haven't seen the band perform live, but I listened to
drown Mantle quietly and use it as an ambient side,
which I don't know if that's acceptable to the musician,

(35:13):
but it's how I enjoy it.

Speaker 4 (35:14):
You come to it, I suppose you. We all approach
music however we come to it. And I'm sure I
don't know about the guys and Sun, but I imagine
it would say that's fine, you take take what we
have to offer and enjoy it as you wish. But
there's something physical about all of this activity and music
that I believe that the body begins to react much

(35:37):
quicker than your mind does. So things are happening to
you before you've had a chance to sort of puzzle
out what's going on here. And this is different than
standing in front of a picture. I think it's also
a communal aspect to this too as well. Now you're
talking about live music. Though live music, I think there's
two things going on simultaneously to me, which is I'm
having this personal, very solitary, singular experience with the sound

(36:00):
that the artist is giving to me. I use the
word sound in this case, not song or accomplish or whatever, Okay, vibration.
But there's also a room full of people and they're
having this experience too, so we're all in this together.
With the live experience, or even if you're in a
room with your buddies listening to a record, it's a
shared experience.

Speaker 1 (36:16):
So I sti't think I do that anymore. I think
a lot of the time music is solitary. Now it's
headphones and earbunds.

Speaker 2 (36:24):
I don't know.

Speaker 1 (36:25):
I think it's the availability, isn't it isn't it the
maybe it's too available.

Speaker 4 (36:30):
Do you find I'm going to ask you a question,
do you find that with the ultimate availability of all
sound courtesy of your phone and the internet and all
the rest. That your interest or passions for music and
performance has changed more or less. You're going for more,
going for less? Do you think about it differently?

Speaker 3 (36:47):
Now?

Speaker 1 (36:47):
I think that I think of it did, and I
think what happened is is that I've circled back around.
Very recently, I invested in a proper piece of hi
fi equipment with a day that would play Vinyl through
speakers into my room and out loud. And I my

(37:08):
twelve year old son, who had never heard vinyl played before,
I said, come here, I want to show you something.

Speaker 2 (37:13):
He is a musician.

Speaker 1 (37:15):
And he sat in my lap and I put on
a Glasswegian electronic band called Mogwai who are fabulous Yes,
And I played it a decent volume and I let
him hear and he let up. Now he's this is
a kid that was listening to He wouldn't ever listen

(37:36):
to children's music when he was a toddler. He was like, no, no, no, dad,
it's Iggy or boy or you know, and he would
that was this thing and his mother got him into
it very early. But he looked at me as it
was coming through the vinyl and the speakers, and he
got kind of flushed and he went, what is this
And I said, this is vinyl and he said, I
feel I've.

Speaker 2 (37:56):
Been robbed, and I said you have.

Speaker 1 (38:00):
And he's gotten very into it, and he and his
friends have gotten very into So I think there is
a The availability is great, but I think that something
is always.

Speaker 2 (38:10):
Lost when the neighborhood is gentrified.

Speaker 1 (38:12):
And I think that that that's happened a little bit
with the digitization of.

Speaker 4 (38:18):
Yeah, you're right about this, I don't when you tell
me the story about your twelve year old, I immediately
think part of his reaction is the physicality of hearing
your excellent, undoubtedly excellent high five system with your radial
damned record going on to the turntable or whatever it was,
and now you're in a room here experiencing sound.

Speaker 3 (38:40):
And it hits your body.

Speaker 4 (38:43):
And it is very that's happening to me, or words
to this effect, you know, Yeah, different than your little
white earbud that gives you information but maybe not a
lot of good sound.

Speaker 1 (38:55):
Well, what I did as well is when I started
putting on albums which I've been hearing digit late for
years and then go back and hear. I don't know
why I couldn't hear that stuff, but there are instruments
that had disappeared into the digital process.

Speaker 4 (39:10):
And I love records also albums LPs, but I love
CDs and digital music in the right moment. For example,
I mentioned Morton Feldman, the great American composer from the
mid century who wrote music of great duration, very quiet.
It was in the scores like three or four piece,
very very very quiet, which didn't profit from being on

(39:34):
LP because there'll be long gaps of silence between notes
which would in heaviably spots. And so in some ways
I felt that the CD was invented from music of
Morton Feldman, because when you the score calls for silence,
you get silence, and that is equally powerful, isn't it.
To hearing and indulging and enjoying. Music is concentrated listening.

(39:56):
I'm making some assumptions here that when we're listening to
music we're actually listening.

Speaker 3 (39:59):
It's not.

Speaker 1 (40:00):
But I think you concentrate and listen to music. I
don't think everyone does that.

Speaker 4 (40:05):
People do at different times. Sure, sometimes I'm vacuuming and
the stones records are or whatever, But you're not concentrating,
you've got music in the room. But when you're listening
deep listening, listening deeply and concentrating, everything is becomes vivid
because you're your focus, You're really focus, you're listening this music. Music.

Speaker 2 (40:23):
Let let me then just wrap this up.

Speaker 1 (40:25):
Music still brings you joy, even although you are within it,
even though you are surrounded by even tho though you
are procuring it for other people, it still works.

Speaker 4 (40:34):
It's a search, isn't it. I feel it's an endless
search for where can I find that experience again? Maybe
it's the next Fishbone concert? Are you still looking for
the next Fishbone concert?

Speaker 3 (40:47):
Yes? Please, guys, come back.

Speaker 4 (40:49):
I'm always We're always, aren't we always looking for something
that's an experience in the room that levitates us through
sound or through other media.

Speaker 3 (40:59):
But never ends.

Speaker 2 (41:03):
And now all right, we gotta go.

Speaker 4 (41:06):
Okay, thank you for having me here at this table.

Speaker 2 (41:08):
It was, in fact a joy.

Speaker 1 (41:11):
Yeah,
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