Questionnaire: Julien Ottavi (2007)
1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?
I studied drums & trumpet… I am an autodidact in sound poetry / voice / singing & percussion in general…
I have a sense of rhythm… but I learned composition by myself… today this practice of formal musical training has no real straight impact on my activities… I don’t draw so much from it now.
2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it?
Computer & programming are my main tools, electronics by extension but I am not limited to this, for me the world in itself is a potential instrument, everything in itself is a potential of sound & silence… From space radio activities to biological activities.
What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?
As everything is a possible instrument, to extend the notion of instrument which I think is limited to musical expression, you could find a possibility in everything.
A choice to not be limited by anything, to open up to new approaches, open up to the stranger, to the possibilities of not being at the same place all the time and not living with the impression of repeating myself as if I was in front of multiple mirrors.
3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?
In fact, today “musical experimentation” became sound experimentation, art experimentation, social & political experimentation, life experimentation… I think we should start to experiment with the “musical” itself. I think the problem of the musician is that : he thinks as a musician! I mean if we start to think about experimentation in music, we should push and go further by questionning the question itself. Why do we ask ourself this question of our relation to music experimentation ? If we refer to musical experimentation in traditional music, the people who experiment in this field don’t talk about experimentation, they will talk about expression, simply a way to express themselfs as a community, as a way to express their everyday life activities, their pain, their loves, happiness…etc. But talking about the occidental european (in the 21 century) point of view, we should go further with this notion, what is behind this simple question?
I think I am not attracted by “musical experimentation” as such but by the experimentation with codes in general.
4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?
I am not involved in improvisation. Improvisation is a way to not be previsible… you are not where people think you are, or think are not where you think they should be… but in the sense you talk about this concept, you talk about a musical style / genre. I was interested few years ago in the process of learning and making this music as a way to learn music and also to share with a community a common musical expression. But I am not interested at all in the improvisational music itself, as a musical being; improvisation shouldn’t have a goal or be a closed community as it is, it should be spread in every human expression. I have got the impression that in our society it is more a way to be recognized by others rather to be with others, it’s more a way to express one’s “ego” rather than a way to share an expression inside a community.
Also as far as I know musical experimentation was never limited to improvisation. There are a lot of other styles / genres in this field (as sound poetry, contemporary music, sound art, sound installation, noise music, minimalist music, field recording…etc…etc). Improvisation was a way for other generation to break rules of classical music and to open it to non-musicians and for musical expression with no rules at all… that’s for occidental music history, having in mind that improvisation has existed from the first time a human started to play music and same through the centuries… . I am interested in the method of improvisation for learning life in general and to be in this process of finding a new expression all the time, finding unsual approaches of discovering something and give a life to these things, it goes for language, music, dance, astronomy, cooking, love, thinking, relationship in general, all the human expressions/incarnations.
5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?
If we talk about the improvisation as a concept and not as musical style, I would say it is a complicated relation. I would say that there is a struggle or a batttle in this moment where you improvise in any kind of situation, because you are always crossed by your background, your education, the objectives that you fix for yourself, your subconscious that runs some undefined aspect of this personal construction. So in reality, you never know, or not really, if you are improvising really or not…or if you are not doing what you always think you should do, within what limits are your actions not oriented by your background/education/goals/subconscient? At this point I should admit that we are not sure…
That we could see the relation between planning/spontaneity & improvisation are not so clear, and that sometimes you think… even if you are convinced that you are in a process of improvisation with a strong part of spontaneity and that in the end you are maybe just repeating yourself or repeating some models you have learned in this situation or even playing a game where you fixed yourself a dedicated role?
6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?
I have answered to some part of this question above in the others, so I won’t repeat myself on this.
But why are we preparing ourself to improvise? This is nonsense if you think a minute about the concept of practicing & improvisation. The reality is, for me, that we prepare ourself all the time to be prepared in situations where we lose control, since we are a child of our parents/family, the educational system, sports, the army, the prison, friends, everything is taking part in the preparation to be integrated in the society, to have a certain kind of a reflex in certain kinds of situations. Fortunatly the human being in itself has some part of resistance which is not really predictable and that creates in some situation these special neuron activities that make us create a crisis situation where things are not controllable and where your real sense of improvisation is put in question… The question behind your question is: How could we accept to not control every aspect of our life? How do we welcome the stranger, the foreign, the artefacts, the uncontrollable, the irrational?
7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?
For me it’s difficult to evaluate any kind of improvisation in any kind of situation, you have to see much more components to even have an idea of what’s going on in a situation/context. If you talk about a musical situation in the musical style of “improvisation” I should say that it’s not the question because for me as I said upper it’s a process of learning, it’s not a process of make your “ego” visible for others. Because your question is related to the notion of “performance” in terms of “efficiency” or “effectiveness” and the evaluation of a piece of music is always related in occidental society to the aspect of competition in the music and of it’s perfection, even if this perfection is to be the more experimental, strange, weird with a lot of errors and noisy stuff as possible, it’s always a perfection to my mind. And the notion of better is in this idea as well… as a process of learning, of a personal growing process, there is no better, no baddest, there is only different people with their own approaches to a context/situation.
But in terms of musical expression, I will reformulate the question : how could we appreciate a piece of music that uses improvisational codes? Which should mean that no real codes are pre-determined…
And then we should say in which terms, from which aspect? Intellectually, as a musical reference, simply as sound organisation, as a strong expression of sentiments or feelings, or as a raw physical expression?…etc
8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?
I should say : depending on the situation of a record. Any activities in a situation of “representation” create a situation where you are playing a role, where the public is waiting for something, where something should happen. The recording situation could be different if it’s a TV or a radio, if you are in the situation of musical studio where you record such “live music” or if you do composition in the studio, or if you are making a movie or if you record a live situation : concert, performance, workshop, meeting, conference, nature, animals…etc or at least if you record a family situation : a birthday, your kids, your old grand-parents…etc. All these situations of recording influence your way to express yourself, the way you are for the others.
For me, in the sound medium, you could do the “photo” of the reality as it is! And show to the others : this is how I am!! thruthfully in your way! or you could also say “this is how I want to be” or this is what I really mean and take time to build your thoughts with a lot of preparation and a lot of compositional aspects.
But in the same time you could question the medium itself, the way you record and distribute this record, or you could extend by different technological devices the life of your record simply in the terms of time or even the expression of it.
Also in your question, I feel through the expression of “recording for a release” a single way to work with the recording as making a CD… For me, the CD is still one single way to express sound & music creativity, in improvisation style it is still the way for each person in this field to recognize each other as being part of the “field” or not. And it’s not specific to the “improvisation al musical style” it’s also the case in every human activities : from scientists who need to participate in publications, for thinkers to write a book, same in litterature and poetry, same in any kind of artistic activity (plastic art to make an exhibition, music to make a cd…etc)… . Today I am more interested in doing webradio installations or performances using sound and extending the musical potential to flux timing (not limited to a CD format time) or making short sounds for my neighborhood… I think we should not limit ourselfs when we talk about expression or creation!! which does not mean that I am completly uninterested in making a CD’s.