OPTION: Interview with Gerry Hemingway

Ahead of Gerry Hemingway’s concert for OPTION, Intern Brock Stuessi dug through the Creative Audio Archives housed at ESS to see what we have from the percussionist’s many visits to Chicago. The recording you can hear below is an excerpt from concert at Empty Bottle in 2000 of his duo with Thomas Lehn (Tom & Gerry) recorded by and from the collection of Malachi Rischter. Give the recording a listen and read Gerry’s thoughts on Chicago, approaches to duo and solo music and what to expect at the show on Monday, October 22nd, 2018 at 7:30PM!

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Hemingway, Gerry_Photo by Dragan Tasic.jpg

Brock Stuessi, ESS Intern: When was the first time you played in Chicago?

Gerry Hemingway: I am not sure. Maybe with BassDrumBone at the Ravinia Festival around 1987. I also played the same festival with the Braxton Quartet, but that, I believe, was the early 90’s. I also played the Jazz Festival (Grant Park) with Marilyn Crispell and Reggie Workman - also in the early 90s. That same evening I heard Hal Russel’s band for the first time.

BS: And how often have you been back since?

GH: I come back once every few years. Chicago is special to me partially as that is where my mother grew up.

BS: The late 90s  and early 00s are a kind of mythologized time in Chicago improvised music. Is there anything you specifically remember about playing at the Empty Bottle and the Chicago scene at the time of this show?

GH: Well, I remember one performance at the Empty Bottle which was at the time of the release of my pair of Random Acoustic solo cds. Maybe I played there solo and then later with Thomas in duo - I can’t remember precisely at this point. I remember a good energy in the room.

BS: Throughout your career, duo playing seems to be something you continually come back to. Why do you think you continue to return to the duo context and what brought you and Thomas together as performers?

GH: Duos go back to me to the first project under my own name, “Duets 8 Parts” I composed around 1976-78. These were modular pieces that could be played by any two instruments inspired by the paintings of my friend David Pallian, and performed in Connecticut by various combinations of Mark Dresser, Mark Helias, Ray Anderson, Wadada Leo Smith and Michael Gregory Jackson. In my earliest years (1972-1976), I regularly did duos with Wadada Leo Smith who lived near where I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. I remember doing duos in the 80s with Ray Anderson in NYC, who I regularly practiced with, and also Mark Helias and Mark Dresser. Eventually, I focused on two duos, one with Thomas Lehn and another with John Butcher. We toured in both the US and Europe actively in the late 90’s and  in the early 00’s. I remember playing with John Butcher at Hot House. Also in this same period I began performing in duo with Marilyn Crispell.

BS: Shifting focus to your upcoming solo performance at ESS, do you conceptualize or approach solo and duo playing differently?

GH: Of course. My solo music performances began in 1974 and evolved quite dramatically in the early 80s while living in NYC. In the earlier times I was quite focused on composition, not only my own, but also the composition of other musicians. The LP “Solo Works” on Auricle Records documents this period. I also created scores for solo pieces, and generally had formal designs to pieces where the material was not fixed but nevertheless quite clear in its content, dynamic shape, timing, phrasing, form and orchestration. Around 1984 I developed a new body of work quite focused on the extensive extended technique vocabulary I had developed by then. This is documented in the Sound Aspects LP “Tubworks”. Solo concerts kept going on during this period (I toured a lot in Europe in these times, believe it or not with a drum set and percussion - because I needed at that time my unique instruments) and slowly more and more work came, including the incorporation of electro-acoustic elements. I also received a few commissions and did a few residencies to deepen this aspect of my interests. Around the time I came to Chicago, I think it was in 1996, I released two CDs simultaneously of both Acoustic Work and Electro-Acoustic Solo Work on the Random Acoustics label. These pieces were mixed in performance, but segregated for the recordings as I felt that an audio listening experience needed a different approach. Over the following 15 years slowly emerged the most recent solo document “kernelings” which I consider a slow distillation of my more current expressive concerns both as a composer and improvisor. It is coupled with my increasing interest in the corresponding presentation of my visual thinking, represented with the film ‘kernelings” that is the second half of that production. About to be released on CD are 3 new solo works by composer Sarah Weaver in a production called “Reality Axis” which I have been performing and refining since 2015 (they are quite difficult works to play). The other aspect of my work not released as a production is my very long collaboration with the visual artist Beth Warshafsky, some of which I plan to present at ESS.

BS: In a solo context, your work has developed to include electro-acoustic elements. How did playing with electro-acoustic improvisers like Thomas Lehn inform those changes in your own work?

GH: I’ve had interest in electronic music since I was about 10 years old, in other words, around the same time I took up the drums. I was fascinated with tape recorders and my older brother exposed me to Musique Concréte with a variety of records featuring composers like Berio, Cage. Nono and Stockhausen. So my interest in the possibility of electro-acoustical interaction was a parallel world to my sound exploration as a percussionist. Of course, I would meet a variety of musicians specialized in electronics. In addition to Thomas Lehn, perhaps most influential was Earl Howard, whose work I hold in very high esteem. He continues to blaze new possibilities in synthesis that are truly exceptional. I also perform in duo with a young percussionist here in Switzerland, Vincent Glanzmann with whom I have been exploring amplification (isoated and filtered).


BS: What can we expect to hear in your ESS solo performance, has your approach to solo playing evolved in any way since what we heard in 2014 on kernelings?

GH: I am a restless soul on the one hand and yet also a person who recognizes the historical and musical value of the repertoire I previously created. So I will present a mix of works - still thinking about what that will be. Tim Daisy recently took a serious interest in my solo work and is responsible for inspiring this visit. We will cover some that history in our discussion in the second half of the presentation on October 22.

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