Carl Ludwig Hübsch: „Lisa, from the point of view as a listener, how do you tell whether an improvisation is good?“

Lisa Mezzacappa: „You’re starting with the tough ones right from the beginning…“

Huebsch: „What do you listen to if you sit in a concert?“

Mezzacappa: “I think as a listener, I can’t separate the feeling of being also a musician and improviser from being a listener. So I think even as a listener, I might be listening for the same things, which is a sense of immersion and a lack of self-consciousness on the part of the performers. I think that translates to me as something successful.“

Huebsch: “Can you explain that a little bit to me?“

Mezzacappa: „Sure. I guess when I can hear improvisers thinking, it has less of an impact on me. If I feel like they are getting lost in the moment and the interactions, that’s most powerful. Then, I’m also kind of transported as a listener, and in that sense, I feel like being a listener is probably the same as performing as an improviser where you’re looking for that kind of flow where you are not aware of what you’re doing. You’re not even making conscious decisions. What you’re doing and what’s happening, the listening and the doing are all one thing, and I think as a listener you get brought into that when that’s happening.“

[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.]

Huebsch: „Is there something an improviser needs to know that an interpreter of music doesn’t need to know?“

Mezzacappa: „You’re asking from a performer’s perspective?“

Huebsch: „Yes.“

Mezzacappa: „Oh yeah. I think there are lot of special things that an improviser needs to know. I mean I don’t know exactly about how interpreters are trained. I didn’t go to conservatory to be that kind of a musician, so it’s a little bit mysterious to me how they’re trained to be in the moment and interact and respond, but I do think that there’s a heightened sense of removing yourself as an improviser. That kind of becomes necessary on a really high level, when you’re in the moment and you’re not really making decisions in the moment, because the moment is happening too quickly. I think we have a different sense of how time passes because of that, maybe, and I think a bigger sensitivity and better training with how to deal with time passing.“

Huebsch: „Is there memory involved?“

Mezzacappa: „Always, right? As humans how can there not be? Well, I guess as improvisers there’s just the memory of everything you’ve done on your instrument, everything you’ve heard done, everything you’ve seen done, the memory of these people you’re interacting with and what they do or have done. The memory of 2 minutes ago, the memory of 30 seconds ago, I think you’re holding all of that in the moment, and I think it has to do with this kind of perception of time. It’s just a very dense feeling of time that we have, where every moment we have to carry all of that memory forward together. I haven’t actually thought about that before.”

Huebsch: „Nice. And how do you connect to other players as an improviser?“

Mezzacappa: „Well, you have to be your most authentic self first to connect—in the sense that you can only bring to that moment what you’re capable of, and at the same moment be open to anything that might happen. So that is a lot of personal work, to come into an improvised setting. It’s like any relationship really, if you’re honest about that moment and who you are, that is part of the connection.

And then being open to all of these surprises and how everyone else is presenting who they are at that moment, and honestly engaging with that and not bringing your tricks or the things you’ve practiced or the things that might sound cool, or the things you didn’t get to earlier in the night. Really being honest about that moment is the goal, and it’s probably your life’s work, I don’t know if anyone ever totally achieves that, but that’s the intention.”

Huebsch: „So, improvised music is not about the technique that you play?“

Mezzacappa: „No, I don’t think so. No, technique is like style or something to me. It’s a means, but it’s not the end.“

Huebsch: „What you just said now sounds like improvised music is not about what you do, but how you do it.“

Mezzacappa: „Yeah, it’s how you are, like with the capital A. I don’t think it’s all about what you do.“

Huebsch: „How you are with a capital A?“

Mezzacappa: “It’s just how you Are as a human. Actually, this is maybe a kind of vague way of looking at it, but at its core I actually think this: it’s not about the sounds you play. It’s about who you are with these other people in the room making sounds. So, you’re just channeling a lot of history and memory when you’re playing—personal and collective memory, and  maybe that is the goal of improvised music, at its most idealistic and pristine.

And then yes, there are ways of categorizing the kinds of sounds people play and the kinds of ways people interact and whether it sounds different in Berlin or in Berkeley, but that I think is at the surface of what we’re doing, this international community of improvisers. I think that stuff is not as important as the how we connect personally.“

Huebsch: „Is there a kind of call for contact sometimes in an improvisation? Do things come together in a communication process or how would you define that? Is it communication?“

Mezzacappa: „That interaction?“

Huebsch: „Yeah.“

Mezzacappa: „I guess communication is part of it, but in a way communication is a lot more clear than what’s happening. There’s really a nebulous quality of contact that might not even be as clear as, to communicate a message that’s given and the message received. It’s more fluid than that potentially, and it’s happening not in this one direction back and forth, but it’s happening in every direction at once simultaneously. So, in a way it’s like communication ramped up to this very high sensory level where the simultaneity of all of the things going on makes for a less literal exchange.

It becomes this moment of contact I think, and the surprise of that, and how everyone is reacting to those surprises from moment to moment. And then time passes and you have a piece.“

Huebsch: „Nice. So, the ink with which this kind of piece is written is actually the interaction of the players. Could I say that?“

Mezzacappa: „Yeah, that’s one way of putting it. It’s like also like the air in the room and the blood flowing through everybody’s veins at the same time…it’s all of that, yeah.“

Huebsch: „And do you feel that people should talk more about these kinds of things when they speak about, or when they write reviews on improvised music?“

Mezzacappa: „Well, when people write reviews about music, they’re usually describing the surface I think, and it’s not always the fault of the writer because a lot of writers are just describing the sound, because that’s all they have access to. They weren’t in the room, they didn’t know what the temperature was or what the drummer had for breakfast or what was going on in the flute player’s life. They don’t know who those people were that day, they can’t, except for the sound. So, I guess their job is to describe this product of this moment, which also  brings up the complicated relationship of the live experience of this music to the recorded experience.

The recorded experience really doesn’t come close for me in most instances, because of missing that being there in the moment as it’s created. Even though there are fantastic recordings of improvised music, of course, there’s something that makes it very different to me. It’s a very different animal I guess: and that’s what reviewers have to usually deal with. They’re dealing with another animal than the creation of it, I guess.“

Huebsch: „But you hear even on a recording whether musicians are in contact or not, do you?“

Mezzacappa: „I have an opinion on it! They might not agree with me, which could also be interesting, because we’ve all had that experienced where, maybe we felt that a set didn’t feel great, but the audience or some respected listener was there saying, ‘I really felt that you guys were doing the thing together and it really moved me’ and so maybe that’s one of the more interesting things about this music too, is this subjectivity of that experience. You have to kind of embrace it. I think that I can listen to a recording and feel like I don’t hear a connection or not feel moved, but the artists could have left the room that day feeling like some magic happened between them, and I think those two things are both true, maybe.“

Huebsch: „Could you think of some sounds that have an appellative character? Could one describe a typical impulse sound where a player tries to make contact with others?“ 

Mezzacappa: „To connect with each other or with the audience?“

Huebsch: „To connect with the other players. Could you think of a sound like that?“

Mezzacappa: „Specific sounds?“

Huebsch: “Not specific, but of a certain quality of the sound, which makes the sound a call or an invitation or a declined call?“

Mezzacappa: „How do improvisers call to each other in the moment? That’s really interesting. I guess there are kinds of textures that are recognizable. I would say in all of the improvised music I’ve played and seen and heard, there are ways that somebody can signal  ‘we are going into this kind of texture‘ or ‘I’m hearing this kind of texture‘, and sometimes that can act as a call. Maybe it’s a specific sound, like ‘oh we’re doing something that’s very continuous right now‘ or ‘we’re going something that is very broken up and pointillistic‘, or ‘I am using dramatic dynamics or contrast to call your attention to something that I’m doing‘. I guess those are ways that we can communicate in that moment, that’s really interesting to even think about.“

Huebsch: „Here comes my last question, Lisa. What is typical of improvising musicians from the Bay Area?

Mezzacappa: „Hmmm..generosity is the word that comes to my mind: as people, in terms of how they live in their musical lives and run their careers, and also as musicians. I feel like there’s an openness to new players, to collaboration, there’s almost nothing you can do here where somebody would look down on you or badmouth you or judge you if you brought it in. There’s no crazy idea you can bring in to a musical context, where someone will dismiss you. If you’re serious about this music and this work, you’ll always be welcome here. I think that’s pretty incredible.“

Huebsch: “Thank you, Lisa.”

[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.]

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