May 23, 2024

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Interview with Christophe Rocher: It’s now that I can tell you about my work around dreams and neuroscience: Video, Photos

Jazz interview with jazz clarinetist Christophe Rocher. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Christophe Rocher: – I was born in Paris, 1967 and grew up in a house where there was classical music all the time. I studied science and learned music at the conservatory. I was a very good student at school and really a bad student at the conservatory, I think I didn’t find the teaching very creative, I was loving music but not the way they had to teach me, music is not a sport. I learned later, thanks in particular to the improvisation that music could live differently and I then, at 23 years old, decided to do it all my life and to work really hard on the technique and all the forms of music I could find, classical, jazz, experimental, traditional, electronic, rock and I’ve been doing it for 30 years, I think I can still continue for several lives.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

CHR: – Every time I listen to a musician I love, play with a musician I love or learn from a musician I love, a part of him remains in me and through time and many of these encounters and the personal work of keeping what I love in each of them, it shapes my sound, at least that’s what I try to do.

It is sometimes a purely technical work, of sound or language of understanding of an instrumental technique, but often also a personal, psychological approach, an empathy, listening to music for a very long time, feeling it deeply to be able to allow it to live inside me. It is a long work. Those choices I finally make, to work on this or that thing, is me.

One of the ways that also allowed me to do this, in 1997, I created a club and then a festival in the city where I live today, in Brest, on the Atlantic Ocean, during all these years,  I was able to organize concerts, meetings and workshops with all the musicians of the world that I could bring. Today I stopped taking care of it because it was too important a job but other people are taking care of it and I enjoy it just as much! To Live music is a very powerful thing.

Some examples of musicians who have been an influence on me and who nourish my clarinet sound and my language: Jacques Di Donato, John Coltrane, Steve Coleman, Joelle Léandre, Xavier Charles, Michel Doneda, Charlie Parker, Don Byron, Guillaume Orti, Stephane Payen, Fabrizio Cassol, Paul Rogers, Peter Brotzman, Eric Dolphy, Barre Philips, Frederic B.Briet, Hélène Labarrière, Eve Risser, Nicole Mitchell, Jim Baker, of course Harvey Sorgen, Joe Fonda and dozens of others, I apologize to them for not mentioning them here. By the way, when I reread this list, I notice that there are only a few women, this is changing and it is very important that it dose:

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

CHR: – I have some kind of training, to structure my work. Rhythm is present at every stage, even when I work with eson, there is rhythm in the interior. More or less inside what I do: for practice I often play,

The Bach suites for cellos, the Mozart concerto for Clarinet, for example, easy and beautiful pieces for the roundness of the sound then, a random piece that I memorize to maintain memory

then the modes: I choose a note and a motif, and I play this motif always starting from this note and applying all the modes I know (classical modes, messian modes with limited transposition, major pentatonic, minor, 6 etc…)

then the textures, multisounds etc….

about rhythm, I run claves with irregular patterns on my computers and improvise on them.

then according to the periods I work on a particular point that is new for me and that I want to develop, a harmonic progression, a sound quality, I sometimes stay on the same subject for a year or more. At the moment, for example, I am working on the method series Dave Liebman wrote on pentatonic music and Daniel Goyone’s method on Indian rhythms. , it’s not the music I play at all but I feel it feeds me. And then I admit that today I have less time for daily practice, I succeed in this program in the summer because I have fewer concerts. And I’m not sure it is the best program, but it’s mine at the moment. (Always changing I admit)

JBN: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

CHR: – Thank you, that’s a nice compliment. Answering this question is not easy for me because there are many parameters at every moment I play.

I can say two very simple things:

I love improvisation because it is an incredible way to make two or three or four events that have no connection between them coexist and to give a feeling that this cohabitation has a meaning. Harmonical thinking when you improvise freely is very particular because spontaneous by definition, you don’t have time to analyze and you try to be only in the present, so it is the body that reacts with its potential and its experience.

More technically, I have worked on jazz , like a jazzman in the traditional sense, for me jazz is not a traditional music but a creative flow that crosses the world. I still work on jazz harmony. I think what interests me the most today: the notion of spectrum (found in contemporary music) and then I was very touched by a project of several months with Steve Coleman in France a few years ago, where we studied his concept of negative harmony, I really love these harmonic progressions, I don’t know if you can feel it in this trio with Joe and Harvey, but it is  a little bit present.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

CHR: – Not sure to understand the question. My bad english perhaps.

I try to answer anyway, let me know if it’s ok:

I deeply know who I am, I love to have disparate influences and I have no problem with that.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

CHR: – It’s now that I can tell you about my work around dreams and neuroscience,

then. I am neither a philosopher, nor an anthropologist, nor a psychologist, nor a neuroscientist, nor am I part of the surrealist movement, but I love these disciplines, these currents of research and I associate myself in my work with researchers and artists in each of these fields, precisely to better understand my inner state and also to place my music in society where I think it should exist.  to quote them: Nicolas Farrugia, neuroscientist, Alexandre Pierrepont, poet, Anthropologist and member of the surrealist movement, Jean-Christophe Belotti, surrealist, I sometimes exchange with Eric Lewis from Montréal, Philosopher specialized in improvised music and a few others. So, now that I have said that, to try to answer that question, I think we are saying that we are defining a little precisely what the intellect is and what soul is. I don’t pretend to give an answer myself, but one can perhaps say that the intellect is conscious, calculated, and underlines it more unconsciously than with my musician friends and my neuroscientific friend we usually call the flow, letting it go. In fact, I learned this week that from a neuroscience point of view, there are 7 different states, listed of creativity. I love these people (the neuroscientists) because their discipline seems very serious but since they don’t really know much. they base their research on very limited access to the brain, it’s an area that touches the essence of the human being and is a real virgin forest for scientists, so they have to show imagination and intuition, they are like artists. it touches the soul and the intellect, we are conducting experiments in this field. after having worked on dreams for 3 years, today we have an experience: I improvise with other musicians, with an electro encephalogram on my head, after having played, I qualify each moment in a subjective way, by a flow level and a level of relationship to time. According to my criteria, we can say that the more I am in my mind, the worse the flow is and vice versa.

This experiment provides data for scientists (sound waveform, EEG and my subjective flow and time feedback). We started this experience a few months ago, we did 7 private sessions and 3 concerts / conference in France and at the University of Montreal, which allowed us to collect the data. Nicolas Farrugia, the neuroscientist will now study these data using artificial intelligence and deep learning, which is very new technologically, we can now process very large amounts of data and information and find possible similarities. If Nicolas finds similarities between these data, for example, if by analyzing the waveform of the recordings, we can guess the state of my EEG or if by looking at the EEG, we can guess the state of my subjective flow then, we may have discovered something important on the subject and provide a scientific answer to your question.

In any case, my opinion today is that when I have to use my intellect to play, it’s because I don’t master music well. All this work around neurosciences interests me because I make the hypothesis that the inner state of the improviser is close to that of the dreamer with, in addition, a form of detached consciousness that allows him to remain connected to other musicians.

I hope that’s clear. It is difficult for me to talk about these topics in a concise way

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

CHR: – When I play, I play for the audience, the greatest gift I can give them is definitely not to play to them what I think they would like to hear, but what I am deep inside myself, my music. If my music doesn’t please, it’s not a problem, I accept it.

I’m not sure people really know what they want. As a public, I’m always looking to be surprised and amazed.

We just know what can manipulate the ears and enter a commercial logic, I think you’re referring to that. I play the music that makes me dream. Sometimes, I’m aware that it can “sell” itself because it’s “easier” sometimes not, that’s the way it is.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

CHR: – An incredible experience in 2012 I think, my friend Alexandre Pierrepont who is a journalist and anthropologist, a specialist in our music and African American music, offered me an incredible thing: 3 weeks in New York and Chicago with my great double bass player friend Fred B. Briet, during which he organized everything for us according to our future plans with American musicians. For three weeks, we had three events every day, one appointment and/or one session and/or one concert. We already knew some of these musicians, but most of them didn’t. So for three weeks we played in the orchestras of Karl Berger and Butch Morris, we played with Tom Rainey, Ingrid Laubrock, Joe Morris, Harrison Bankhead, Tomeka Reid, Mike Reed, Dave Rempis, Rob Mazurek, Mazz Swift, Hamid Drake, Jim Baker, Nicole Mitchell, Jason Adasiewicz and many others, we met Henry Threadgill, Georges Lewis, Tyshawn Sorey, William Parker, Cooper More.

I have kept in touch with most of them.

These three weeks were decisive for me and my relations with American musicians, we made several Franco-American groups following this experience with my ensemble, the Ensemble Nautilis: Bonadventure Pencroff with Rob Mazurek and Jeb Bishop on the American side and Fred B Briet, Nicolas Pointard and myself on the French side, he also had the “Third Coast Ensemble” with Rob Mazurek, Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, Mazz Swift, Lou Mallozzi, Jeff Parker, Irvin Pierce, Avreeyl Ra, and my 8 pieces ensemble Nautilis on the French side.

It is also thanks to all these exchanges that I have been able to work regularly today with Joe Fonda and Harvey Sorgen, I am often in North America.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

CHR: – As I wrote above, for me, jazz is not traditional music because its codes are constantly evolving and are nourished by the encounter between peoples. African Americans are major actors and all over the world and many communities have taken over jazz today by connecting it to their own territories and to the contemporary era. At all times, some people thought that the new forms of jazz were no longer jazz because the codes were no longer the same, this characterizes jazz in my opinion, we can’t limit it, maybe we can even say that it’s precisely when people say “it’s not jazz” that it is, ha ha ha ! So, I don’t agree with you, we cannot considere that jazz can be resumed by the standards. All over the world, nowadays we have major creators for this music, for example, I love Tyshawn Sorey, Steve Lehmann, Malik Mezzadri, Anthonin Tri Hoang, Mette Rasmusen, in the last concert I saw from those artists, the audience was totally mixed with women, men, young, old people …

My 12 years old son is listening to rap and electronic music but some nights before sleeping, on his own, he listens to jazz from the 40s and 50s, I don’t why, he loves this music. But he can listen to today’s musicians playing that jazz and also to Lester Young, Duke Ellington …

I would like to advise a book, it is a really good book on this subject, I’m sorry it’s in French :

Polyfree, la jazzosphère et ailleurs (1970, 2015) by Philippe Carles & Alexandre Pierrepont (Ed Outre mesure)

A lot of articles about jazz from 1970 to nowadays, you can build your own answer to your question in this book (about jazz and contempory music, jazz and traditional music, free and experimental, pedagogie of the jazz … all those subjects has moved).

The next generation, I mean people who are now under 20 years old will experience a revolution, it will be the first generation who will always have known the iphone, who spends more time in front of a screen than making love or walking in nature, for whom the virtual world is an important part of his life,  for whom ecology will be an absolutely major problem. And then for whom music technologies will influence artistic choices. I’m a clarinet player, I haven’t found anything better than this instrument to make me vibrate, but when I play, sometimes I add electronics, or I take inspiration from electronic music with drones, from particular sound materials, I don’t know if I would have done that if I had lived 60 years ago. So for me, it is normal for young people to consider that music from 50 years ago is music from 50 years ago and that, on the other hand, the principles of jazz apply to today’s society. Jazz is creative, it feeds on each individuality, it is porous towards other musics, it is the total diversity so there is hope. Last but not least, we must and can only find economic models that allow humanity to flourish in its creativity and diversity, not to serve minorities by making it seem simple and identical for all. That’s a tough one.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

CHR: – I’m sure you know the book “Coltrane on Coltrane”, I was very touched by this book because it shows a different side of Coltrane, explained by his own words. When I discovered Coltrane it was a real drug, I was listening to it for hours, nights. I believe that the spiritual dimension touched me, it goes beyond everything, the technique, the new forms of harmonic progression, etc…. The cosmic energy that emerges has touched everyone. And today, I know musicians who have not come out, I mean, I am careful about the interpretation that we can make of this energy, everyone has his spirituality, his vision and each musician must express what he is. As much I said that I nourish myself from each of my encounters as much, today, I leave Coltrane where he is because his influence has flooded the world so much (especially sax, clarinets) that he must remain at the bottom of my heart but not too present otherwise he invades everything. I’m just looking for  love and spirituality in music, by my own way.

About the meaning of life, wouahou, it is a large question, man!

A great friend of mine who was a philosopher, always told me that the purpose of her life was the pleasure of all the senses. I think I want to follow that line. I include the pleasure of the love of others, of all others, of spirituality, of the relationship with nature, of sex, of good wine and foods, of all forms of art…

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

CHR: – Money for all artists, you know the principle of universal income? everyone receives a minimum income to live on and in return, they have a responsibility to do their job as they see fit. This is not a utopia. All art forms feed society, allow each citizen to position himself in the world through his own imagination.    I have never understood why, especially in the United States, money is put into music education and very little is given to artists and theatres, especially in the case of jazz, which is part of your cultural DNA.

I hate the star system, but I find that artists’ minorities are really overpaid, it’s like our societies. I am not a communist, I am just talking about what I observe, when I was born in France, salaries ranged from 1 to 10, and underdeveloped countries were characterized by a ratio between the poorest and richest from 1 to over 100. Today in France, the ratio is 1 percent (1 to 353 in the USA). It is exactly the same for artists.

It’s not a very sexy dream, but in fact what makes me dream would be the consequence of this choice: we would see more concerts, better educated, more curious audiences, artists who only work on their art and who are not pizzaiolo or uber driver during the night. And a totally diversified music.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

CHR: – This week:

Fausto Romitelli, Professor Bad Trip, by Ictus Ensemble

Steve Lehman octet

Ligetti, works for piano solo, Etudes book n°1 by Kei Takumi

God Speed You Black Emperor, luciferian towers

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

CHR: – No message, everyone must find their own message.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

CHR: – If we are talking about United States, I would like to visit north america before the arrival of white people, to meet the time where human being belongs to the earth and not the opposite.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

CHR: – Are you a musician?

JBN: – Thanks for answers, No, I am Jazz critic and journalist.

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

CHR: – I do my part, I exist, that’s all.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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