TIM PERKIS

http://perkis.com/_site/index.html


Carl Ludwig Huebsch: Tim Perkis, from your point of view as a listener, how do you tell whether an improvisation is good?

Tim Perkis:  As a listener? I probably listen as a player, but I think the sense of intelligence and energy. When improvisation is bad usually it feels boring and listless and uninspired, and when it’s happening is it’s sparkling with some kind of energy.

Huebsch: Is there something an improviser has to know that an interpreter doesn’t?

Perkis: Yes, I think an improviser has to have a broader sense of time and of understanding how long things should go on, when changes have to happen.  One must have an expanded picture of now that includes anticipating changes and understanding the form that’s been implied by what’s come before and so on. An Interpreter has all that written out for them and they just have to make it sound good and keep the moment connected, but they don’t have to think about that broader sense of temporal form that an improviser has to have in mind.

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Huebsch: Is there a certain kind of information within an improvised sound or event that a composed sound doesn’t need to have?

Perkis: I think what is interesting about it when it’s working is something different, I mean there’s a sense of it being a message perhaps, assuming we’re talking about a group improvisation.
There’s a sense that every utterance, every gesture is a message as well as being a sound, so it’s communicating whatever that means in the musical context. I can’t presume to say what the message means, because there’s not actually any information being communicated perhaps, but there’s the sense that it is more speech-like in the sense of really speaking to the other players and listening some kind of response from the other players.

So what is interesting in this kind of music is what emerges from the interaction, beyond what any of the individual players intend to put into it.

Huebsch: So, improvisation is communication?

Perkis: I don’t want to say that, because a word like communication is so loaded with all the metaphors now from the computer, of information and messages and all that. It’s conversation, which is maybe not the same thing as communication. It’s the interchange with someone else, and something emerges out of the interchange that is a surprise to everybody, just as in a normal conversation. Just as in a normal conversation, I don’t know what I’m going to say next until I hear what your response to what the last thing I said is. So, the surprise is happening all the time for everybody, and any real conversation goes in a direction that’s really not known in advance. I think that improvised music, when it’s actually working, has that same nature of exhibiting the emergence of unexpected meaning.

Huebsch: If you play sounds, do they have to be understood by your co-musicians?

Perkis: No, in fact I think it’s more important that they be misunderstood than understood, because the creative misunderstanding I think is what makes conversation work, and that’s also what makes improvisation work. I make some utterance that means something to me, but to you it has perhaps some different connotations, so that it certainly brings up different memories and different impulses, different feelings.

Huebsch: Are sounds invitations?

Perkis:  Yeah, there’s the sense of them being an invitation sometimes and that they are proposals of a certain kind of direction, maybe. They’re an attempt to create, to start something and to pass something that will be responded to, but it’s not a closed proposal; it’s not that I know what should happen next and you really better follow me, it’s more that I am proposing a direction that we could go.  And then maybe you redefine it in a certain way by your response to it, and then in turn I have to deal with the way you’ve redefined it.  And always being alert to the current situation of what actually happened, I think that’s the most important thing. The question is: how alert are you to what actually happens, not to a presumed idea of what was going to happen when you started, but to what actually happened, and how are we going to keep this thing that’s happening going.

Huebsch: So, if you think about reviews on improvised music or when people talk about improvised music, is the matter of how the communication or conversation takes place a part of the discussion?

Perkis: I think it should be, I think the critical language of how to talk about this stuff is not well developed even among most musicians, let alone among laymen! One has to talk about this music differently than the way one talks about a composed piece, the way one determines whether a performance of a composed piece was successful. But I think musicians do have a strong sense of appreciating that its usually good when something happens that is a surprise to everybody.

And I think that we often feel a kind of delight at finding ourselves in a place that was not expected and trying to keep that alive, realizing that there’s something real that happened and you’re just trying to not mess it up –  you’re just trying to keep it going. And to me that’s central. Even in the absence of having the critical language to analyze it very specifically, it seems to me that this is the key way improvisers experience a good session.

Huebsch: So, you believe in the unexpected in improvisation?

Perkis: Yeah, yeah, I believe that that’s crucial. I think that’s absolutely the reason to do it. It is creation itself! That’s what creation is: the existence in the world of something that never happened before, and in this sense, creation is constantly happening. It’s happening every day, in every conversation you’re in, every time you walk down the street and see something you haven’t seen before. To dedicate your life to making that happen in the musical context, is a wonderful thing.

Huebsch: One last question. What is typical of improvising musicians from the Bay Area?

Perkis: You mean different than other places perhaps?

Huebsch: Yes.

Perkis: I think there’s a communal sense that is stronger here. And it has been in the culture here for a long time. You can go back, depending on how you frame it, a century really, but certainly back to the hippie era in San Francisco.  And the absence of any arts funding, the absence of any need to compete for any favors has actually helped create, paradoxically, a very nice communal atmosphere. The people are very positive about the success of others, and are happy whenever someone else make something good. The willingness to work communally in situations where there’s maybe not an immediate personal advantage to do so, I think that’s a feeling that seems to be unusually strong here. It’s less professional, you might say, in the sense of people trying to make a living and trying to assert their superiority, than it would be in a more competitive atmosphere.  I think that’s a very much secondary consideration here.

So, I think that’s good. It makes for a very nice feeling,  and a very good environment for improvised music because it’s all about collective creation in a group.

Huebsch: Thank you, Tim.

[We herewith kindly ask you to respect the authors rights especially of the interviewed musicians and not to quote this interview it without asking our permission. Thanks for your solidarity!]

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