IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 82
INTERVIEW with Mike Khoury
Zzaj: A biographical sketch that tells where you grew up, how you got where you're at now, musical influences from your family (or other sources) & any other information that lets the reader get acquainted with who/why Mike Khoury is would be most appropriate here. Readers (myself included) really dig that, & we've had pretty good success with it thus farly! So, have at it, please!
MK: I grew up in a small college town in Central Michigan called Mt. Pleasant. The university atmosphere was great as it availed me to different types of music, art, literature, etc. While my family was not musical, my father was a visual artist. He worked mainly in abstract expressionism and representational forms including figure drawing. It was a interesting balance between well grounded fundamentals and experimentalism. This balance ended up serving as the basis of my approach to the violin. While much of my work is abstract in nature, I spend a fair amount of time on traditional technique and etudes. Ideally, I would like my experiments and abstraction to be as informed as possible. This is certainly a result of my father's influence. My Dad also was into music and collected a few records. He was very interested in Mozart, but through him I first heard John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Miles Davis and Yusef Lateef. Last, my hometown had an amazing record store with knowledgeable people. My interests were always supported, no matter how naive. But often followed with, "if you like this, then you might want to check out this other artist." My horizons expanded exponentially in that environment and I'm thankful to have had such experiences. It was in my hometown and through some the people mentioned that I was first exposed to the Canadian saxophonist Bill Smith. I play today because of seeing him accompanied by the Northwoods Improvisers.
Zzaj: I noticed on your recently produced CD ("Journey Into The Valley", also reviewed in this issue) that you have apparently moved into video production as well as the sonic adventures we've been reviewing from you for a few years now. How did that come about? Is it a "new zone" for you, or have you produced video-enhanced sonic tomes before?
MK: This is a first for video production for Entropy Stereo. The film makers, Timothy O'Brien and Andrew Bare took on the work as a labor of love. I think they did an incredible job and I would certainly put it up against any jazz video made recently. In short, the opportunity presented itself. It was a long time in the making and many people worked to ensure a product of the highest quality. Faruq Z. Bey is a relatively under documented artist, especially for how prolific he is. I'm proud that this release happened on Entropy Stereo. In addition, I've worked to issue some titles on my vanity, low budget label, Detroit Improvisation. I've just issued a DVD of my collaborations with dancer/choreographer Leyya Tawil entitled Four Locations. Its not meant to be a slick product, but rather a somewhatephemeraldocument of our early work together. It includes our improvised duets from four distinct performances. I'm also proud of this in a very different way. Both documents seemed like an appropriate entree into video for their respective labels.
Zzaj: It's also apparent that you've been spending some amounts of time on your ENTROPY STEREO web site. Are you doing the site all yourself, or is it the job of a "hired gun"?
MK: I actually don't maintain it myself. My technical skills aren't that great. My younger brother works on it and helps me out. He does a nice job with it and that gives you a sense of the family environment we have going at Entropy. Many people donate services or do them at a reduced cost because its all very much a labor of love.
Zzaj: While I was out in Michigan, I witnessed (at least) a couple of your live shows... is that still a happening thing? As I remember, it was an upstairs loft... is it still there on the main drag of an unpronounceable Michigan burb, or have you moved operations?
MK: That particular space was named Entropy Studios and was located in Hamtramck. There are still live shows taking place in the Detroit area, but not at that space. I was somewhat involved in operating that space. It was operated by others too like Jason Shearer, Ben Hall, and Jason Murphy. All very great people who donated time and money into making the space a reality.
Zzaj: We have reviewed some of your material with my long-time collaborating/improvising friend Ernesto Diaz-Infante. Have you (or will you be) playing live with him (or any of the rest of that krazy San Francisco band of improvisers)?
MK: Ernesto is an amazing and very sincere improviser. We had talked about playing live next time he's in Detroit or if I came out to San Francisco. Ernesto and I share so much in common including the fact that we both started to expand our respective families at the same time. So playing live is certainly a function of our familial obligation! I'm confident it will happen soon. I am in great admiration of the other musicians on the SF/Oakland scene including Gino Robair, John Shiurba, Scott Looney, Damon Smith and Liz Albee, not to mention the great producer/documentarian Mark Gergis aka Porest. I hope to play with many of them again some day.
Zzaj: Since you're a player as well as a producer, tell our readers which "feels better"? Playing? Or producing? (Or do you manage to combine the two in some fashion on your projects?)
MK: This is a really good question. The producer role for Entropy Stereo may not be what most people think. I'm not in the studio, dialing knobs or offering suggestions to the artist. The studio side of things is largely up to the artist. I leave the knobs to the great engineers. Producing is very non-glamorous but necessary work. It means that I have to walk through all of the business requirements and contingencies to get the record finished. It is rewarding to be responsible for the overall vision or direction of the label, but its not something I do alone. Beyond the artists themselves, Mike Johnston handles much of the logistics, offers artistic direction, and has designed most of the covers for the label. Chris Khoury maintains the website. Mark Rudolph is responsible for layout. Timothy O'Brien is our chief engineer. It takes everyone to realize a release. In all honesty, the work is not very fun, but it is rewarding when the release comes out. I feel like "executive production" or some business acumen is a skill I have. But in the end, playing is the most fun for me. I've worked out a way to balance those two things so far, and would love to do more of both.
Zzaj: I notice that one of your stated goals (for the Entropy Stereo Recordings (ESR) label) is to "feature work by creative musicians that might not be heard otherwise"... does the wild proliferation of home-produced music on the nets (via .mp3 & other tech revolutions) interfere with that goal, or (actually) help it?
MK: My hope with the label was to document under-documented artists. That doesn't mean I'm in a good position to document everyone. But I hope some artists will get the representation they deserve. The label has a particular aesthetic and I've tried to stick close to that. While I haven't released a ton of music, its been steady and releases sell enough for me to do the next project. As for technology, I'm not opposed to it. It may have hurt the music industry in some ways. Really, I don't care. I'm certainly not against digital music, MP3s etc and use them for some marketing purposes myself. I also like the populist aspect of them. My personal feeling is that I like to hold a CD or LP and read the liner notes and collect. Maybe there's an aspect of consumer fetishism at work, but I'm a music collector and I try to make the releases collectable. Not rare or unavailable, but worth owning. It helps me give some back to the artists who have sacrificed much so that we could enjoy their work. Please, buy more Entropy Stereo CDs!
Zzaj: What kind of gear does ESR use? Is it fairly low-end (due to budget restrictions) or do you have some components that are high-end? I would imagine that in order to branch out into video production as well as sound recordings, you need some fairly sophisticated pieces... give us a kind of "sketch" of your studio/recording capabilities, please.
MK: In most cases, the artists come to me with the final product. I do have some limited recording equipment, but its nothing that's been represented on Entropy. Mike Johnston and Timothy O'Brien do have some good recording equipment that were used to record Faruq Z. Bey and Kalaparush. I'm sorry to say that I'm not that well versed on it to elaborate. Timothy O'Brien made use of some of the resources of the university at which he was studying to complete the DVD. Entropy hasn't been so much about capital accumulation as it has about distribution and marketing.
Zzaj: It's been my view (on both a personal and playing level) that improvised/independent music is critical to this nation's survival. While I don't expect you'd go quite as far as I might with that conjecture, what are your views on why this kind of music is important?
MK: I think culture is critical to a nation's survival and improvised music is a part of that. Music that is "far out" can act as a catalyst for change and definitely has an influence on so much other music in our society today. While I'm not a fan of "jam bands," I know that they couldn't really discuss improvisation if it wasn't for our efforts or of those of ourpredecessors. Creative music has always served as a foil in our society too. Living in the Detroit area, I see this music being vital for some other reasons. It seems when the economy gets tough nationally, we feel it even more here. I've also noticed that when things get tough in Detroit, people rally. We recognize the need to nurture our souls with music. Its a vibrant time for this music in Detroit and many people and presenters are committed to making the music available to all. While I'm not glad for the tough economic times, I'm glad to be a part of the music that is working to make people feel better or reflect our times in a constructive way.
Zzaj: We always like to give the person being interviewed a chance to tell aspiring players your view of what they need to do to succeed. Please give us any "words of wisdom" you have for young/old players who are wanting to make a career (or even a hobby) of playing?
MK: As a reader, I've always been most interested in this question. I spent a fair amount of time questioning successful musicians about their techniques, books they may work out of, advice, etc. There were always a couple of consistent messages from everyone that I've found useful. The first is to practice/play every day. Having that sort of discipline really pays off, no matter what kind of music you're working at. All of the musicians I've admired have done this. When I started to practice with more consistency, I noticed that I could play more of the ideas I heard in my head. It was cool and I'm still working at it. The other piece of advice I received was to put myself in situations with people who are much better than I was. This can be more difficult as no one wants to feel inferior orembarrassed. But in doing that, I got to find out where I needed more work. I still do that today and I'm always eager to learn new approaches or directions from people who are more accomplished than I. The last piece that I would recommend is to study with someone. I know that this music is full of autodidacts and I'm not opposed to that approach. I've done it myself at times. But there's nothing like a great teacher to show you some shortcuts that will save you time, or give you the facility to be able to play the music you hear in your head. I still study with a teacher to this day. When I was first seeking out a teacher, I was looking for someone who might be sympathetic to new music, or free jazz, or improvised music. Since then, I feel like this is not a necessary condition. Its about facility on your instrument/voice and there are plenty of people around who can offer you that perspective. Seek them out.
CALL for SUBMISSIONS!!!
ALL artists! I am very, VERY happy to announce that IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION is ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS again. I have been granted a (possibly long-term) stay of execution for my trip to Iraq. I will still be traveling all over the U.S., so new issues may be a little less timely, but (as always), we will review your materials as soon as possible after we receive them. Look at the guidelines for submission below, please:
MUSIC: All formats accepted. Snail mail to: Zzaj Productions, c/o Dick Metcalf, 95-1107 Hookupu Street, Mililani, HI 98789. The only criteria for music you submit is that it MUST HAVE high performance energy... if you submit lackluster material, it will be reviewed accordingly
POETRY: Poems are accepted for publication ONLY via e-mail (to firstname.lastname@example.org ). Poems submitted in any other fashion will NOT be published. Poetry that includes some reference to music is granted first priority for publication.
BOOKS: We will review some books; books about music are PREFERRED. We will NOT return any books submitted for review. Snail them to the address listed above for MUSIC.
DIY Announcements: We will post your (e-mailed) ad about DIY projects, regardless of genre or medium... HOWEVER, this is ONLY for INDEPENDENTS... if you are a corporation, don't even BOTHER sending stuff... it will be marked and reported as SPAM!
RETURN to Zzaj Productions MAIN page!