Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chris Corsano, Mick Flower, and the Rapture of Letting Go: Interview with Chris Corsano and Mick Flower

Last month at the SOY festival, over a hundred concert hoppers packed into a tiny neighborhood bar to witness an ecstatic free-for-all by New England drum prodigy Chris Corsano and British drone guru Mick Flower. Perhaps we can leave up it to the good people of Nantes to turn out in droves for the kind of show that might ordinarily attract a small circle of improv and experimental music obsessives. Or we can leave it to Corsano and Flower themselves, who, with The Radiant Mirror, their first joint lp, just might have cooked up something verging on a cross-over record. Their set-up is simple: a drum kit, a bag full of odds and ends (singing bowls, a few twigs, some pieces of cloth, a guitar string and bridge), and a rare Indian instrument that sounds like a sitar on electronic steroids. And yet somehow, almost magically, Corsano and Flower manage to condense the full spectrum of human exaltation into a single, protracted, endlessly beating soundwave. Clearly, Visitation Rites couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask a few questions.

Emilie Friedlander: How, and when, did you guys start playing together? Was it with Vibracathedral Orchestra (Mick’s main project) or does your musical friendship pre-date those collaborations? What other types of configurations have you appeared together in?

Chris Corsano: The duo started in June of 2005 at a show Mick had been asked to do in Leeds. So he’s the mastermind. We had played together a couple of times in 2004 in a much larger group when myself and Paul Flaherty collaborated with Vibracathedral Orchestra. Later on in 2005, I guested in Vibracathedral a few times (a show here, a jam there), but I’ve never been a card-carrying member.

EF: What in the world is a Japan banjo, and how do you play it?

Mick Flower: It's an Indian instrument, a cross between a dulcimer and autoharp - it has 17 strings. The one I play is an electric version with pick-ups and a sunburst finish.

EF: When we listen to The Radiant Mirror, are we hearing just Japan Banjo and a drum kit, or do you guys work other instruments (or objects) into the equation?

MF: Yes, just Japan Banjo and Drum Kit. There's also an electronic tampura going all the time, often it can only be heard when we play quietly.

EF: Were you guys listening to a lot of Indian music around the time you recorded The Radiant Mirror? If so, what kind of stuff were you listening to? Was there a conscious effort to play off of these influences?

CC: I was/am listening to E Gayathri, Shruti Sadolikar, Nikhil Banerjee, Bismillah Khan, Debashish Bhattacharya, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Alla Rakha, Zakir Hussain, and some Pakistani music as well (Nusrat Fateh, Ali Khan, and Aziz Mian, specifically). I wouldn’t say there was a conscious effort to emulate or adapt these influences, but we weren’t denying them either.

EF: About how much of a “game plan” did you guys have when you set out to record the album? Were there any structural or stylistic elements that were decided upon beforehand, or you were you just kind of riding the creative flow? I guess I’m just asking you guys to describe your joint working process a little bit…

CC: I think the plan was to hit record, play for a while, and worry about editing later. What we do is always improvised, though the instruments and tunings we use have more or less stayed the same. There’s still a lot of room to move within that set up.

EF: When you guys play this stuff live, how much does the project transform from venue to venue, crowd to crowd, or mind-state to mind-state? Are there any constants that carry over to each Corsano-Flower performance, asides, of course, from Corsano and Flower themselves?

CC: I’d say things vary a good deal. Just thinking about the shows we recently did (Aalst, Nantes, Paris), there were a lot of differences in the three sets’ lengths, structure, dynamics, etc.

EF: What were some challenges that came up when you guys recorded the album? In what ways has this collaboration been a learning experience for the both of you, or a departure from your “usual” working styles?

CC: It doesn’t feel like a there’s a difference in how I approach playing with Mick vs. playing with other people. I’m basically reacting to what he’s doing while at the same time trying to put my two cents in. If the music sounds different than other things I do, then I’d say that’s down to Mick’s sound being unique.

EF: This question might seem either too obtuse, or too much of a no-brainer, but I thought I’d give it a go anyway: What does freedom, in music, mean for you guys? I’m not talking about the “Land of the free, home of the brave” kind of freedom, or even necessarily about “freedom” as in “free jazz” (which the French affectionately call “le free,” funnily enough), but just about the kinds of open-ness you guys strive for when going about the business of playing and recording together? “Free” is word that’s definitely thrown around quite a bit in music journalism, but it’s ultimately just as ambiguous within a musical context as it is within the sphere of politics. So I’m interested to hear what you two have to say, especially since you’ve been tagged with this word quite a bit.

CC: You’re right, it’s totally ambiguous. You could look at it as being free from some constraints such as preconceived structures/scores (which we are) and/or a constant pulse (which we sometimes are and sometimes aren’t) and/or having an open mind to what shape the music can take. Truthfully, “free” and other genre tags are just shorthand, and I don’t get too hung up on them.

Interview by Emilie Friedlander, November 2008

Photo: Hrvoje Go

Concert on November 2nd at the Grimault (Nantes) as part of the Soy Festival.

Cool Toons:
Chris Corsano/Mick Flower Duo, The Radiant Mirror, Textile Records, 2008.

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