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INTERVIEW WITH ALAN LICHT

October 1, 2009
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alanOver the past two decades, guitarist Alan Licht has worked with a veritable who’s who of the experimental world, from free jazz legends (Rashied Ali, Derek Bailey) and electronica wizards (Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke) to turntable masters (DJ Spooky, Christian Marclay) and veteran Downtown New York composers (John Zorn, Rhys Chatham).   On October 4th at Roulette, Alan Licht will be joined by Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase and cellist Okkyung Lee for an evening of solo and trio pieces.

ROULETTE: Tell us as about the work you’ll be doing at Roulette.
ALAN LICHT:
I’ll be playing a new solo guitar piece that’s inspired by Renaissance music as well as Minimalism. It will be a world premiere. Okkyung and Brian will also be playing solos, and then we’ll do a trio improvisation. At least for my part, by constructing the bill in this way I’m trying to show that improvisation is really composition in real time, and the differences/similarities between solo and group playing.

I’ve known Okkyung pretty much since she moved to New York, since I worked at Tonic and she would go to concerts there virtually every night. We’ve played together in a few different situations over the years, always very enjoyable. I actually saw Brian play with Stefan Tcherepnin at Roulette a few years ago; I think I’d seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before that and maybe someone had mentioned to me that he was interested in experimental music and had even worked at La Monte Young’s Dream House installation. Anyway, I either met him at Roulette or a while later, and we talked about playing together. We did a duo show, and then Okkyung told me she had also played with Brian and liked it, so I thought we should try a trio. We played together just one other time before, at the Knitting Factory.

R: Are there working artists today with whose work you identify, or rather, who do you consider to be your peers?
AL:
Sure–as far as guitarists, Oren Ambarchi and Tetuzi Akiyama for sure. Jim O’Rourke too, as far as someone relating different kinds of music to a rock perspective. Really, anyone I’ve played with I consider a peer to some degree, although some of them are really heroic to me as well.

R: What are some defining characteristics of the musical scene you would fit yourself into? What elements of your scene differentiate it from what has come before, or what is happening now?
AL:
I’ve actually fit into several different musical circles over the years, without belonging to any of them completely–which I think is deliberate. If you analyze any “musical scene”, you can usually find a lot of parallels to ones that preceded it–the differences are in the personalities of the people involved and developments in the overall culture, not just in the music world.

R: What was the last music you listened to?
AL:
Yoko Ono singing on the TV show “The View” this morning.

R: Is there an event or experience that led you to start in experimental media?
AL:
Seeing Yoko Ono singing on the TV show “The View” this morning

R: Who do you see as instrumental in your development as an artist?
AL:
Henry Kaiser helped a lot in terms of how teaching me how to really listen to experimental music. Before that I was listening to it as “noise”, more or less–but when he explained how Derek Bailey was putting notes together, and how people were reacting to each other in a group situation, it made much more sense. Once I knew how to listen to it, I could go about playing it.

R: What is interesting to you about your own work?
AL:
That it keeps improving.

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