An Interview with Lawrence Ball
June 2001

1) Do you set limits for yourself in terms of what you believe you can achieve with a show? It seems you are attempting to redefine the concept of a 'multimedia' show, would you agree?

There are no limits to what one can achieve, to my mind.

There are 3 aspects to achievement in performances :

1. to help and/or catalyse the audience to have a great experience.
2. to produce work of very high quality (irrespective of the response)
3. to attract a quantitatively large audience

and although all 3 are very important indeed I feel 3 is somewhat less so than the others.

Music and audio visual work I see as resonances. Spiritual,mental,emotional and physical resonances and if one views life, music, art and everything as having potentially this spectrum of components, then my aim is to deeply engage and uplift in each of these areas of life's frequencies, for performers and audience. Or, in old-fashioned (?) parlance, to really move people, and not superficially either.

In Harmonic Mathematics, which Dave Snowdon and I use to generate computer graphic choreographies, we are involved in the structuring of exhilirating, sensual mobile forms and changing colours (it can't really be described). See http://visualharmony.org . We are not so much redefining (although we are quite unique I feel) as expanding and improving what "humans with computers" are capable of. The 16th June concert is only the 2nd public performance of graphics that have been 17 years in development. We currently "mood-match" graphics to music. This concert also incorporates Indian and Japanese musical elements alongside my piano improvisations. Future concert developments are to include the use of identical forms in both audio and visuals simultaneously.

On occasion I improvise alongside collaborative painters, I have developed a new way of setting poetry to music where spoken words, sung fragments of the words, and instrumental music are woven together, and the computer graphic work also represents a step forward media wise. I believe in following my instincts even though it has led me away from a more conventional composer's career. After I started collaborating with others in this way, I never wanted to stop doing it. Its certainly thrilling to do. It even makes it easier to market, as the novelty value is higher - even though that's to me secondary, if useful.

2) The Planet Tree festival encompasses the musical as well as the cerebral and spiritual, to the point where healers and quantum physicists are involved ... What are you ambitions in terms of affecting the audience?

I've always been passionate about and interested in all the honourable fields of human endeavour - the arts, the sciences and religious/spiritual fields seem the most important. To me they form one continuum of potential light for society. I've known individuals from a broad range of disciplines and so many valuable insights and inspiring friends in maths, in science, in the arts and in healing and spirituality have found their way into the projects I've got under way.

These collaborators are first and foremost my friends. The broad range of expertise is secondary but signifies my keen interest in the transcendence of one's own field and the integration of all aspects of human experience. To me a one-field approach is no challenge to and in multi-medial expression it is easier to reach a level that goes above the usual one.

The experience of beauty that I pursue in music and in computer graphics - my ideal expression of beauty - is one in which others can become unconscious of the medium of transmission, so strong is the content of what's transmitted. That's my view of transporting people. To take them out of the sense of mere circumstance and physical space, and really give voice to their deeper conscious self and intelligence.

Robert Rich, who is set to perform in the festival in November began his work as a postgraduate student researching altered states of consciousness in relation to sound. He became a musician when he found he got better results in his home than in the lab at Stanford University. He is an example of this broad renaissance scale vision that I am keen on. Someone who has invented his own path through music and the arts, often giving all night concerts where audiences drift in and out of sleep. He has recently completed the longest recorded piece of music by anyone (long duration is
one of the thematic trademarks of Planet Tree Music Festival) on DVD disk at 7 hours long called Somnium. See bottom of this page for info or go to http://www.amoeba.com .

3) How important are the visual aspects to a show? Are they more or less important than the music? It seems you are creating a 'performance' rather than a music concert with visual extras, would you agree?

The visuals are becoming more important. Its still early days yet for performances as opposed to research. The aim is to integrate the 2 media so that the musicians are nspired (in their playing) and the audience also of course, ...... this is easier with a presentation of improvised music (eg on 16th June). I do agree that the visuals are not extras. The 2 media are like colours which when woven together produce a third nteraction "colour" distinct from each of the original 2.

4) On the Planet Tree website for 2000 it says the festival contains "music that does not deal dominantly with the shadow side of expression?" What is the 'shadow side of expression'?

We're talking here, in the foreground, about concert or "new classical" music. My view is that since Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Birtwistle and Ferneyhough (roughly in that order), that contemporary music has echoed a certain condition and territory in the psyche of society and the individual that the psychologist Carl Jung called "the shadow", (meaning that which is not visible to the light of consciousness). Cyril Scott described this - aptly I think - as taking a scalpel to the glamour and prettiness which audiences had brought to the concert hall. Its effective, but I feel it has run its course and that we now need more admixture of hope and warmth to evolve further.

Much contemporary music is
a) highly complex
b) dissonant acoustically
c) dissonant in emotion and feeling
and
d) quite sustained in aggressive expression.

This is a type of artistic expression (not unique to music) which attempts to "tell it like it is", reflecting back the darker expression that perhaps society as a whole would prefer not to hear (hence its relative inaccessibility). For me it becomes a distraction from a deeper, spiritual, self-transcending expression which is timeless, much more luminous, and more valuable as a mode of being. Such as one finds in the music of Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, Erik Satie, Alan Hovhaness, Kaikhosru Sorabji, Jean Catoire, LaMonte Young, Arvo Part, Hildegard of Bingen.......

Tania Chen is performing work by Harrison, Riley and Hovhaness (memorial concert for the latter) this November and these 3 particularly I find it interesting have a strong relationship with earlier and more established cultures. Contemporary yet from the roots of established tonal culture.

To me the "shadow side" is emptying out the entire contents of one's subconscious - like a negative catharsis in therapeutic work. The "bright side" is finding as meaningful and as deep an expression as possible which is more straightforward, clearer and betokens a compassionate approachability. Profundity need not be compromised.

The bright side of expression is also in a more harmonious relationship with silence. When I improvise at the piano I feel the music emerge from silence and remain part of silence, and the sense of silence is what gives the music its voice of substance. When the framework of silence recedes, I usually feel the music itself has become critically distracted.

5) Can you tell us how you feel music is connected to the physical and mental aspects of everyday life?

In teaching (mathematics, physics and music theory), I teach fundamentally from a perspective that joy and concentration have no limit as to how much they can be integrated, fused, made into one alloy of power to the good. Good music should give in this way also, to every level of the human being. It can put one's burdens and problems, without denying them, into a greater perspective, and lessen their weight. I find also that children who play a musical instrument are easier to teach other subjects, their communicative/expressive skills are more interwoven with their capacity to think clearly, and so they cannect more, both to me and to the subject, at the same time.

6) Do you think that there are certain frequencies that the human ear is naturally attuned to?

Yes, though not physically or numerically though. The frequency of nature, of birdsong (here I use frequency in the sense of attunement rather than of cycles per second), by attuning to, say, a blackbird's song we can become aware of firstly whole orchestral warbles and labyrinths of texture, and then of that texture in all of the sounds we hear. Its also the communion with silence. When Lisa Moskow and I play music together its like the embellishment of silence. Silence as a teeming void of superconscious wonder that some may find too positive,- politically or psychologically unacceptable perhaps. Other sounds have this frequency: running water and waterfalls, wind in the trees (I have a wonderful friend who can identify a tree by its wind sound alone), these are very important to me as a "man of sound".

7) Connected to that, do you think the sense of 'the beat' is a very primal thing, innate to all humans?

Yes, undoubtedly.Its been said that rhythm is the heartbeat, and that melody is the breath. When Terry Riley's piece "In C" was performed some years ago, (an extraordinary, groundbreaking semi-improvised piece) the players discovered that a group can find a pulse at which things happen easily and magically. Terry called this "tuning to time". (Although I'm not sure if this tempo is always the same). All cultures of music have pulse.

If music were simply acoustic waves in the atmospheric ocean, then people would not be SO interested in it. Music is, extraordinarily, a means to transcend its own medium - physical space - and it is fundamentally a form of magic (or spiritual expression if you don't like the word magic). The beat is an important "antenna", in music, for attuning to the transcendent reality, to the energy of liberation we all (I hope) associate with good music.

8) Why do you think it is that as people get older their threshold for new music becomes ever diminishing? Does that make you depressed?

Not really:

We humans connect to "roots" in the world tree (ie society, life..) that we are all part of. We grow on it up and outwards, and many of us (not all) lose touch with the new growth occuring in the centre which has more vigour. But new doesn't mean only recently created or evolved (although it can of course). The historical and geographical interpenetration and cross-fertilisation of 'else-times' and 'elsewheres' music is considerable now, and increasing. Much that is new to many is not new but new simply to them. I feel that, just as people can fend off degenerative disease by preventitive health measures and more personal responsibility and research into new findings, that its possible to fend off degenerative cultural states by exposure to distant, past and cross-cultural music which is full of spiritual and psychological vitamins, minerals and nutriceuticals not found in the more staid sources of musical nutriment. (I won't say what!).

Lisa Moskow and Stephen Ross, when working with me on improvised forms, use scales which are common to more than one culture - most often Japan and India. This web of cross-fertilisation, like that of races in our world, will never exhaust its potential for new invention. So I suppose it doesn't depress me. The problem as I see it is not age anyhow per se, but degenerative conditions that needn't go hand-in-hand with age. This I find on the contrary has immense possibility. If people in Georgia and Peru can live to 125 due to the minerals in their soil and diet then we can all stay alive musically for at least as long as our bodies!

8) Do you feel any affinity with what you are doing and anything that exists in popular culture?

The current dance culture is primitive harmonically and rhythmically but has developed other features. Primarily a physical aliveness. My work as a composer and improviser is if anything a slight reaction to beat based music as I use very slow pulse quite often. Particularly in my piano improvisation where I take tempo below 20 per minute quite often. This I find quite stimulating to the superconscious mind and opens up more healing rays and energies more easily than a more punchy beat.

I grew up with all manner of popular musics and do enjoy the straightforward simplicity there that's missing from much contemporary classical music. I listened to John Peel in my teens, particularly the Soft Machine who I admired for their ability to wow rock, jazz and prom audiences alike (the only "rock" group ever to be allowed to play at the Proms), As well as West Coast American and English progressive rock. I'd say that this phase left a large imprint on me. It was more alive than most of contemporary classical
music in the 60s for me. I don't feel so much affinity with pop today - I work in many ways in a vacuum compared to when I was younger, mostly because I feel I have so much
to do now. I still listen to eg Photek, Autechre....... but not with as much passion or revelation.

9) How do you feel about the term 'avant garde'?

If its a historic term - then it was relevant at the time but now has become predictable and uninteresting (to me at any rate - the deliberately unanticipateable is now hardly fresh). If its a term meaning "that which is unexpected, spontaneous, new, fresh, and exciting" then I could even identify with it. Its a dangerously vague phrase today really. I prefer to say that my music and performances are neither modern, post-modern nor avant-garde but simply continuing to explore the untested. Then its clearer.

Info about Robert Rich's Somnium
Robert Rich's new 7 hour DVD Somnium has been generating a bit of a buzzblately. Stereophile Magazine discussed some of the technology behind Somnium http://www.stereophile.com/shownews.cgi?997) and the Ambient Visions website recently posted a detailed interview with Robert about the history of the Sleep Concerts (http://www.amobentvisions.com/rrich.htm).

If you don't yet own a DVD player, you can hear some MP3 excerpts from Somnium at http://www.mp3.com/robertrich.

back to top

created by: Snowtiger Design