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H-E-Y!!! Please REMEMBER that you can order fantastic Zzaj Productions CD's from our HOMEMADEMUSIC site, at: http://www.homemademusic.com/~zzaj We are in URGENT need of your support, too, as we were caught in a "lay-off" situation (that was a direct result of the WTC affair). Wouldn't hurt (I suppose) if you remind them that the C-mas season is getting near, & a ZP CD makes a very nice gift for friends who love adventure in their music(s)
Improvijazzation Nation - Issue # 44
INTERVIEW with Pete Gershon, of "SIGNAL TO NOISE" magazine
Zzaj: What was your "driving force" for starting
STN? Why did STN wind up in Burlington, Vermont? Wouldn't it
have been more appropriate in NYC, or Boston?
I moved to Burlington VT in 1995 after graduating from Hampshire College in
Amherst, Mass, where I had been studying creative non-fiction.
Simultaneously, I was developing an interest in music that was initially
fueled by bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead, which taught me how to
listen to improvisation, before moving on to more jazz-based groups like the
Groove Collective, Charlie Hunter, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. I moved up to Burlington to be near friends and to throw myself into what was at the time an incredibly rich music scene -- jazz, modern rock, bluegrass -- all kinds
of great live music. I used to go see a group called the Jazz Mandolin
Project every month at a tiny volunteer-run coffeehouse down the block from
my apartment. They played for a suggested $3 donation... now they've been
signed to Blue Note and play in some pretty large halls. ViperHouse, James
Harvey's groups, jazzgrass banjo player Gordon Stone -- I used to go out and
see music 4 or 5 nights a week sometimes. Then a few of the clubs closed,
some local bands started touring nationally and others stopped playing
altogether, so things have trailed off a bit lately.
Around this time I also began writing jazz articles for an arts weekly in
Western Massachusetts, and they started asking me to cover some area free jazz events that were (and still are) being organized by Michael Ehlers of
Eremite records. I already knew a little about Ornette Coleman and Cecil
Taylor, but Ehlers' label and series exposed me to some incredible musicians
like William Parker, Jemeel Moondoc and Raphe Malik and I started listening to and writing about those guys, too.
It was around the fall of '97 when I started SOUNDBOARD (we changed the name a year later after encountering a previously existing Soundboard Magazine) because I felt there were too few outlets covering improvised & experimental music. It was originally intended to be a bimonthly regional rag alerting people to high quality live music happening in the area. I had no publishing or graphic design experience, but I knew how to write and I figured out the rest as best as I could. Over time we've become internationally distributed via Tower Records & other regional chains / distros, and content-wise we've gotten more deeply into covering the free jazz / loft jazz / new thing / AACM/ ecstatic jazz continuum, although we also cover electro-acoustic improv, traditional jazz, post-rock and jam bands, kozmigroov and modern classical. Our writers are open-minded in their tastes and we're really interested in exploring connections and overlaps between genres. And I feel that one of the most important functions we serve is to introduce younger listeners to the tradition of improvised jazz and therefore help grow the medium's future audience... The jazz world isn't always friendly to newcomers, so I feel like a young (27 y/o) guy like myself can do something to make it seem less intimidating for someone just starting to look into this stuff...
At this point would it make more sense for us to be based in Boston or NYC?
Sure it would. But I do like the vibe here in Burlington and larger cities
scare me, quite frankly. I've got a modem and e-mail, and get out of town to
see this music frequently, and we do bring some of it up here for live gigs
at our offices, so I manage to stay fairly connected and in touch with things.
Zzaj: Having abandoned paper format (for the WWW), I know that most
'zines (even e-zines) are a "labor of love". Does that still hold true for STN?
Well, it's an expensive thing, to do a print mag. We publish on white offset
stock with a full color glossy cover and that really adds up. We insist on
original photo shoots for all of our feature subjects, and that costs
something. We send 1000s of copies of the magazine all over the country and
the shipping is expensive. On the other hand, we sell a lot of ads because
advertisers get a really good response from our core audience of obsessive
music junkies. The bottom line is that we do still lose money, but given our
momentum so far I'm anticipating a more comfortable degree of financial
stability in the very near future. We are trying to run a responsible,
productive business that can support itself and that can at the same time
benefit the improv music network as a whole, by stimulating interest, sharing
knowledge and drawing new ears into the scene.
Zzaj: Will you continue STN as a paper 'zine, on the WWW (or both)?
If the goal is to transfer information, the Internet is the way to go. But
SIGNAL to NOISE is an integrated package: text, photos and layout that work together to present our subject matter in a particular light. And at the end of the day, after looking at a computer screen for seven hours, I like to go
home and read something that I can hold in my hands, with large photos that
you can really look at, and pages you can really turn. You can take it and
read it before the gig, or on the bus, and then you can save it and read it
again in a couple of years. I think there are other people out there who like
that, too. At the same time, we do plan on beefing up our web presence (at
www.signaltonoisemagazine.org) this fall.
Zzaj: I've noticed a bit more about "experimental" musicians/techniques in the last couple of issues. Is this an area that STN will continue to focus heavily on?
Absolutely. In a way, almost everything that's covered in STN has an
"experimental" edge -- musicians who are testing the boundaries and blending idioms. Electro-acoustic improvisation is one of the most intriguing
frontiers in new music, and there's so much diversity there. Rest assured,
we're going to keep covering the turntablists, the knob-twiddlers, the tape
loopers and the theremin-and-signal-processor duos. There's some serious
future jazz history in those blips and creaks.
Zzaj: Since my 'zine is (primarily) focused on HOMEMADEMUSIC
producers, what words of wisdom do you have for them regarding
material they (may) submit to STN? Does STN review everything it receives for review, or are the stacks just too BIG for that?
Well, I'll tell ya -- we get a LOT of music sent to us. Easily 25 - 50
releases a week. We cover between 70 and 100 discs in each bimonthly issue.
Do the math, and you'll see there's a lot of stuff we can't get to. I mostly
trust my writers to select those new releases that are most interesting,
important and noteworthy. If you're Joelle Leandre, Terry Riley, or Joe
Morris, almost anything you put out is going to get reviewed. But we've also
covered many releases by lesser-known and less-established players.
In terms of "homemade music" -- I would venture to guess more than half of
the discs we review aren't printed in quantities above 1000 units (of which
half were probably promo give aways). However, we don't review very many CD-R releases for the simple reason that we want the music we cover to be at least out there and available thru distros like Forced Exposure, North Country. etc. It's not a hard and fast rule, but there's so much stuff coming in we need to draw the line somewhere. I am going to implement a little summary column which at least mentions in brief some of the more interesting CD-Rs we get.
Zzaj: Do YOU play music? Do any of your staffers?
I can fumble may way round some blues scales if there's a keyboard in front
of me, and I used to sing in an awful garage band in high school. Our
operations manager Jon Akland plays fretless electric bass in a a couple of
local groove/jazz/soul units.
Zzaj: What is your definition for "good" improvised music? Does it
really matter, or is that strictly up to the ear(z) of the improvisor?
Well, this is a tricky question. One can study a century's worth of jazz
records and develop a refined sense of what works and what doesn't, what's
inventive and what's derivative, which albums are groundbreaking or important in one way or another. To be truthful, my ears have been stretched so much that I like it whenever a musician takes it out there, experimenting with tempo and tonality, unleashing raw emotion, shaping a melodic or rhythmic line in an unanticipated way
The writers of Signal to Noise do evaluate music with an critical ear,
producing reviews that are analytical as well as descriptive. And music is so
subjective that there are people who will agree or disagree with any given
review you can pick out. In that sense I would venture that "good"
improvisation is more in the ear of the reasonably open-minded and/or
well-educated listener as opposed to the performer. Does someone with some
modicum of interest in or knowledge about the idiom, does he or she enjoy it,
or find something of interest or value?
Examples of my own favorite music: Andrew Hill, Captain Beefheart, TEST,
Steve Lacy, Soul Coughing, Albert Ayler, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Eric Dolphy, P-Funk, Bill Frisell, Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, Pharoah Sanders, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Zorn, Trane... the spirit mainfested by these musicians and more has inspired me and rewired my thinking for the better. A quote from bassist William Parker, which I believe to be germane:
"The point of music is to incite revolution, spiritually and politically.
Music should wake up human beings to live as deeply as they can. It should
help them to overthrow their old selves and become new people. When it's
experienced on a high level, it can change people's lives."
I don't know why I spend so much of my time thinking about this music, but I
love it's history, I love its multifarious personalities, and I love the
feelings it inspires within me. That's reason enough to consider it ALL
Thanks for your questions & for taking an interest in the magazine. If people
are interested in subscribing, they can order 6 bimonthly issues for $15/ppd
to: SIGNAL to NOISE, 416 Pine Street, Burlington VT 05401...
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