entered on a core of trumpeter Greg Kelley and soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey, Boston’s nmperign is one of the brightest stars in the increasingly splattered experimental/improv/noise/whatever constellation. Both open-eared and tirelessly self-critical, Kelley and Rainey create uniquely restless, spiny microcosms from rusty sputters and metal-on-metal scrapes, guided by an aesthetic as open to Wolf Eyes’ graveyard lurch as it is to Lachenmann’s atomized instrumentalism. Their appetite for collaboration has led to countless engagements with the likes of percussionist s Günter Müller and Le Quan Ninh, Berlin stalwarts Axel Dörner and Andrea Neumann, and genius tape wrangler Jason Lescalleet as well as a stellar New England all-star ensemble, the BSC. Best of all, they’re amazingly funny and personable guys, gifted with an inspiring sort of D.I.Y. pragmatism, loads of self-effacing humor, and seemingly endless patience for the most unreliable of interviewers. Speaking via email in the months surrounding nmperign’s fifth anniversary, Bhob and Greg discuss everything from their bevy of new records, the politics of “the scene,” and the touring life to the myriad mysteries of collaborative work and the now-infamous “Salt Peanuts” legend…
Joe (Stylus): First things first, and it’s no fair using AMM’s “we can’t tell you what it means” trick - why the name nmperign?
Greg: "igNotuM PER IGNotius" - the unknown through the more unknown. We came across this phrase and liked the content of it, but didn't want to sound like a prog rock band. So, we chopped out some letters and came up with something that fit our criteria of "more consonants than vowels."
Stylus: What were your early experiences with music and how did you come to play your respective instruments? More importantly, are there any skeletons - like the mandatory embarrassing high school punk band - in your musical closets?
Greg: My early musical experiences were somewhat regular and vague: the radio, some input from an uncle, AC/DC, Kiss, Jigsaw... In 5th grade came the “would you like to play an instrument?” sheet at school, and I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea. Maybe I didn't? (Maybe I still don't?) Equally as randomly came the check mark in the trumpet box. After this, I started to listen to trumpet music, which led me to classical music and some jazz. As for skeletons, they were pretty public (the punk band never left the garage): high school marching band, concert band, jazz ensemble, etc. I think I’m more embarrassed by some contemporary incidents/decisions that unfortunately aren't closeted.
Bhob: Similar to Greg, I began with garbage - Bay City Rollers, AC/DC, Kiss, eventually moving on to the Kinks - and, in 5th grade, was solicited by the “would you like to play an instrument?” person. I put a check in the saxophone column because it was the only instrument on the list that had any hipness value (trumpet - lame!). I had some aptitude for the instrument, which kept me interested long enough to become exposed to Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, and eventually some kids my age who were strong jazz players. Of course, any four-track recording from that period could be classified as a skeleton, especially if it features me on guitar; though, the most glaring skeleton is hidden in a closet in Bolivia, where, for a time, I was a famous pop star.
Stylus: Who and what first drew you improvised music, and what about it piques your interest above and beyond other music?
Greg: I was on the lookout for marginal music beginning with post-punk stuff in junior high and high school (Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, etc.) and similarly with discovering modern classical (Stravinsky). From here, I jumped headfirst into the unknown via album cover art (i.e. "this looks weird for a classical album”), which led me to picking up the first Naked City album: dead guy on the cover, face down, blood, in the jazz section, they thanked Napalm Death... Hmmm. And from there it was all over. A piece by him on a Kronos Quartet album led me to other Kronos albums which led me to George Crumb and anything else Zorn-related which introduced me to the Euro-improvisers, noise, Kagel, etc. In college, I tried my first (knowing) attempts at free improvisation. What attracted me to it was the unabashed search for new sounds and that it seemed to be a meeting point for a lot of music I was interested in with sound as the basis (free jazz, noisy rock, noise, electronics, avant-garde classical music, etc). It could come from everywhere and nowhere.
Bhob: I felt that, as jazz musicians studied chords and scales, another type of improviser could study long forms, time-sense, timbral variation, etc. Listening to so-called modern classical and electronic music, it seemed to me that constructive elements in this music could be understood and applied in an intuitive, physical sense like any other element in improvisation. I hadn’t heard the non-idiomatic improvisers of the London scene, but I set out with a similar ethos, though one that I think has ended up with more compositional concerns.
The intensity of the experience, the risk and rewards, has kept me involved in improvising. I get considerably more from the process of practice and performance than I’ve ever gotten from composition, and it generally makes me a more affable person.
Stylus: Greg and I talked for a while about this subject when he was in Columbus a few months back, but it’s a topic worth bringing up again. Both of you have come from a conservatory environment - Greg graduated from the Peabody Conservatory, Bhob from the New England Conservatory. What role does receiving a “formal” musical education have in relation to your current work? Did you encounter much resistance for having an interest in music that lies outside the framework of the typical conservatory?
Greg: I went to a conservatory to learn about playing the trumpet and was lucky enough to have a teacher who didn't have a rigid idea of how this should be applied. In fact, he was interested in contemporary music and encouraged me. The rest of the school was pretty shoddy in terms of modern music, so a lot of what I did with experimental music ended up being outside of the curriculum. It was a bit discouraging, but in the end it was probably a good thing. I had to learn a lot of discipline inside the curriculum and self-determination outside of it. One thing that was very important to me at Peabody was the listening library and scores they had there. Ironically enough, a lot of the books on avant-garde music there (including some Cardew books) were last taken out by the late New Age guitarist, Michael Hedges. I’m not sure what this means or why it's ironic, but it's funny to me. At any rate, I heard a lot of great music at the listening library (Xenakis, Feldman, AMM, Cecil Taylor, lots and lots of Kagel, and on and on) realized that I didn't want to be an orchestral trumpet player, realized that I was on the path of the outsider and needed to do experimental music, practiced the trumpet more than I ever will again and had a lot of realizations about music and what I wanted to do with it.
Bhob: I studied both performance (University of Miami) and composition (New England Conservatory). Performance studies tend to have a narrow focus on virtuosity - you're supposed to be able to do anything. There is some emphasis on understanding the music you are playing, but for the most part you are supposed to be doing it right and better than anyone else (this goes for jazz as well, even though you deal more intimately with the mechanics of the music). Studying composition involves a great deal more analysis and conceptualizing, but tends to put the experience and feedback of the musicians performing the work (which is highly unlikely to ever be performed, anyway) far into the background.
The fact is that performing at the edge of your ability regardless of your training is some kind of virtuosity and is an enormous pleasure. The problem is that untempered virtuosity is usually pretty boring to hear and eventually becomes boring for the player as well. Meanwhile, compositional solutions don't always work in improvisational settings, as they can remove the joys of virtuosity without offering another joy as a replacement: the music gets limp. At least traditionally notated compositions offer a clear, surmountable challenge. So, I feel I’ve had to rethink my conservatory disciplines and have found that relocating virtuosity in broader circuits such as form, interaction, time-sense, and humor keeps the joy in the music (unless it sucks) but circulates it in a wide enough pattern that it doesn't degenerate into solipsism (hopefully).
Stylus: Perhaps this is an erroneous judgment, but I tend to hear more reference to contemporary composition in nmperign than in most improvising groups. Helmut Lachenmann is the reference point I use most often when describing your music, and I always hear a strong similarity between your musical phrasing and the vocal passages in George Crumb’s music - especially with Greg, whose playing always favorably reminds me of “Ancient Voices of Children.” What composers have most influenced your conception of “the nmperign sound?”
Greg: Both Bhob and I listen and have listened to a lot of contemporary composed music and I’m sure this has influenced us both to a degree, but all of it is part of a subconscious miasma. We’ve certainly never consciously tried to sound like anything. As for Crumb, I don't hear that much in nmperign, but Crumb was someone I heard early on and whom I felt a definite affinity for (perhaps it's so sublimated that I can't even hear it?!). At this point, I don't think I have any recordings of his pieces, but that could always change since I’m always selling some things and re-buying others. I still think Black Angels is fantastic and it definitely had an influence on me as a teenager. It was a classical music piece that had very little to do with any classical music I had heard and was my first glimpse of this "other" music I was looking for. As for other classical music, for me, the influence of Kagel cannot be underestimated. Other than that, I know both Bhob and I have enjoyed Xenakis, Lachenmann, Scelsi, Feldman, Cage, Tudor and countless others, but to what degree they permeate our own music and beat out other influences (i.e. non-classical musics, eating habits, movies, etc.), I don't know.
Bhob: No particular genre of music interests me. I listen for a kind of “what the fuck?” and follow that - Henri Chopin, Morton Feldman, Wolf Eyes, Ralf Wehowsky, Thomas Brinkmann, The Shadow Ring, Pierre Henry, Lionel Marchetti, Ron Lessard, etc.
Stylus: My apologies for perhaps implying that nmperign was influenced solely by contemporary composition – there’s obviously more at work than that. Bhob mentioned Wolf Eyes (a regular fixture on Greg’s “Recent Listening” website) among other tape-based artists, and there’s something of an American Tapes feel to nmperign’s work with Jason Lescalleet. To what extent do you attempt to incorporate the sounds and compositional devices (i.e. imitating tape splices) of these “coarser” electronics into your playing? Any aversions to digital music/collaborators?
Bhob: There is definitely an attraction to all things decay-related, from tape degeneration to the Detroit landscape. I think that what a lot of improvised music lacks is a feeling of the past invested in the music - not the past as in “music history,” but a feeling that sounds, as they enter, have had a life before you hear them, and will continue beyond the duration of the music. The dirt and degeneration you hear with Lescalleet or on American Tapes is one way to highlight or enhance a kind of ancient feeling to the sound, though it isn’t necessary to use so literal a technique (that certainly isn’t Jason’s only method).
Greg: I think these things manifest themselves in much more subliminal ways. There's never a conscious decision to imitate tape splices or anything like that, but listening to tape music might open us up to the idea of rapidly shifting from one idea to another as opposed to having to create a sense of "transformation" or "organicism". So, any incorporation of this kind is merely due to hearing what's possible. Including digital music. We have no aversions to digital music or collaborators. For recordings, the computer plays a large part in Jason's work. And Günter Müller's setup is pretty digital as well: minidiscs and an iPod both using material he created at home on a computer.
Stylus: How did nmperign first meet and what has changed about the group - personnel, philosophy, technique - since those first meetings?
Greg: We first met, because Boston is a fairly small city and there are only a number of people doing improvised or experimental music here. So, we eventually met, played together with percussionist, pianist, and professor Masashi Harada in different combinations, including a group with Tatsuya Nakatani, who I’d been playing with as a duo. Bhob thought we'd make a nice trio and that's how nmperign was born. Tatsuya left the group after about 4 months or so and we've been a duo ever since (1998). Our philosophy has never been explicitly codified, so in that it remains the same. Otherwise, a lot has changed. Always in minutiae.
Stylus: Does nmperign practice regularly between performances? What are your personal practice routines like?
Greg: Other bands Bhob and I are in rehearse regularly, though as a duo, we've never rehearsed. But we play together a lot and we're involved in a constant discussion, and this definitely affects the music we make. Defining something as "sucking" and why it "sucks so fucking bad" or why it "kicks ass" can help us topple over or reinforce certain aesthetic beliefs.
My practice regime is basically just keeping things together with a general warm-up (long tones, scales, tonguing exercises). I try to do it every day, but this isn't always the case, though it's definitely necessary to keep the muscles in shape and to not hurt myself.
Bhob: We never practice as a group. The only group I work in that practices is the BSC. Personally, I play long tones everyday and casually compose/improvise to stay marinated in the music.
Stylus: Do you work privately to develop or refine extended techniques, or do you subscribe to the AMM-styled notion of “finding the sound in performance?”
Bhob: The great majority of my raw material emerges in private, with some exceptions. How that material is integrated, if at all, is more likely to be solved in performance. I certainly have a host of sounds that I’ve never used in performance, and if it remains that way, fine.
I see no reason to apply any kind of dogmatic conceptual practices such as only finding sounds in performance. Spontaneity, authenticity, intuition, and inspiration all have their constructed, formal elements; avoiding these in favor of some kind of vague spiritualism doesn’t really do them justice. Which is not to say that AMM preaches vague spiritualism or that spiritualism doesn’t have a place in music-making.
Greg: I've found new (to me) sounds/techniques both at home and in performance. And once I've come across something, I'll spend some time with it to refine or develop it, but in general I don't spend too much time with trying to find new techniques. They occur when needed.
Stylus: The fifth anniversary of nmperign is upon us [Ed. Note: Or at least it was…], so this seems like a particularly pertinent question - how do you maintain a degree of musical freshness in a long-standing improvising group?
Greg: Bhob and I are both restless by nature. If things got too stagnant, we'd destroy it. I’ve subtly tried to destroy nmperign on occasion and I suspect Bhob has too. And when we do this, we start to like it again. Also, we often discuss our general musical concerns, things we're tired of, things we're interested in, which reflect back on what we think of our own music, together and separately. I think this helps us formulate the right questions for how to go on.
Bhob: nmperign has had a long project to contend with. There has been a certain quality we want from the music that is sometimes at odds with what is physically appealing, mentally apparent, and justified by precedent. A great deal of improvised music takes as its ethos to some degree a string of presents. The music is adamantly present tense as it winds through a series of tight sensory-motor circuits: sounds are made, an account is taken of their effects, and an appropriate set of sounds follows. This strategy is largely dependent on time and asks the listeners to, in a sense, surf the present along with the musicians. But despite this connection to time, I find myself missing some kind of legible time-image. I’m particularly fond of a musing on rhythm by Giorgio Agamben where he describes impersonal time (particularly according to the ancient Greeks) as an infinite, one-dimensional series of numbers, and rhythm as an atemporal gap in that series that opens in it a region for human experience (the book is The Man Without Content). When improvisation trips along predictable sensory-motor paths, even if those paths are exaggerated - especially fast, quiet, angular, or elegant, for example - it ends up presenting time as this one-dimensional present; not necessarily something to be avoided, but not a place where I personally feel at ease. Improvisers recognized this situation early on and countered it with various strategies that attempt to short the sensory-motor circuit. This might be the phenomenal approach that we hear especially in drone-oriented music – I’m thinking maybe of Donald Miller and Michael Schumacher’s kick-ass CD Flood - or the so-called laminal approach of AMM. Common to these approaches is the feeling of time reaching a limit, becoming so expanded that it is tending towards space. "Flood" is perhaps the best title for music of this sort, which in one sense is monolithically still, while, as the sound approaches a kind of state of matter, rushing by at an incomprehensible speed.
I definitely prefer the latter of these two choices, but I don't see myself as a necessary player in the flood game. I’m probably too restless. With nmperign, we've taken a slightly different approach: we don't short the sensory-motor circuit, but we make it work in an aberrant fashion. For instance, the music at some point may become violent, tending towards a kind of narrative catharsis, until it is somehow arrested shortly before its expected peak. It sits there in an oddly cold repetition (hats off to Jason Lescalleet and all of the loop-oriented folks we've played with) and suddenly changes quality - whereas previously it served as a narrative sign, now the sound is only the sound, possibly quite unbearable, though hopefully in a way somehow sublime or at least funny. In another case a section of music may seem to organically fade away. The natural feeling is one of closure, but if the sound immediately returns as if it never left (I think that Francois Bayle brought this possibility to my attention), there is a kind of logical rupture that also introduces a rupture in the image of time. If we're lucky, that rupture will in fact be a rhythm in the sense described by Agamben. In any case, nmperign isn't really a present-tense kind of band, and we aren't necessarily trying to stop time - we're just fucking with it. There’s still a lot to be done in that arena.
Stylus: Nmperign’s regular collaborations with other artists certainly play a critical role in preventing stagnation. How do you go about choosing your collaborators? Are they chosen as conscious disruptions to nmperign’s aesthetic stability, the sort of edging-toward-destruction suggested by Greg?
Greg: I wouldn't say we've ever really chosen our collaborators. They seem to come about due to circumstance or serendipity, none of which specifically deals with "disruptions" but what seems interesting to us. With Jason, I was working with him in Laurence Cook's Disaster Unit and I'm not even sure why we first played together as a trio. Curiosity, I guess. Then Howie (Intransitive) suggested doing a split CD with nmperign and Jason and we decided instead of doing a straight split, we'd blur it a bit with some crossing over and that's when our collaboration really started. With Le Quan Ninh, we had been in contact and when he was doing a cross-country tour in the States, Jon Abbey invited us to play with him in New York and we all enjoyed it and decided to keep doing it. It was a similar situation with Günter Müller. He was going to be in Boston, wanted to play with us, a good time was had, etc. So, things like this just happen. Most recently Kate Village (of Twisted Village, Major Stars, Magic Hour, Vermonster fame) asked us to do a "vocal plus nmperign trio." Woo-hoo!
Bhob: As Greg said, we haven’t chosen our collaborators. Whether or not a collaboration continues is often a unanimous, unspoken decision between the musicians. What you as a listener end up hearing are the collaborations we all get excited about, that produce successful music and pleasant working relationships.
Stylus: Your collaborative releases far outnumber your releases with nmperign alone, and most are billed with “nmperign plus (insert musician here)” designations. A few of these releases, however, are credited to your individual names along with the other musicians (one such example being the recent Neumann/Dörner/Kelley/Rainey affair). Is this merely a practical issue, or should one listen to an “nmperign with guests” disc with a different expectation than one credited to your individual names? When working as nmperign with other musicians, do you make a conscious effort to fold your collaborators into “nmperign-style” interactions?
Greg: As for “individual names versus nmperign,” I think in the question of trios, we've always used the nmperign name, and anything larger becomes something else. It’s somewhat a practical issue, somewhat how the collaboration came about, and so forth - there's no golden rule. As for conscious efforts to draw people into our web, definitely not. Each situation should in theory develop it's own system. Whatever makes it work.
Bhob: Neumann/Dörner/Kelley/Rainey is listed as such because an attempt was made to become a singular band. This was helped somewhat by the Dörner-Kelley combination, which tended to diffuse the nmperign connection and spread things more evenly through the whole group. In addition, we played something like 25 shows in a month, which is more than Greg and I typically do in one outing with other musicians.
In cases like nmperign with Günter Müller or nmperign with Le Quan Ninh or nmperign with Lescalleet, Greg and I do tend to act more as a team, framing what the other musician(s)are doing, entering their space while slyly pushing ours as well. The sometimes-challenging context of soprano, melodic instruments combined with electronics, for instance, is made more bearable when there are two oddballs working together.
The only naming incident that I think might be slightly inaccurate is nmperign/Dörner/Beins, where I believe the roles were spread evenly across the ensemble. However, that LP was split with an nmperign duo track, so it just made sense to keep the identity.
Stylus: In recent years, Boston has yielded one of the world’s more fruitful experimental music communities. What is it about the city that has generated so much energy for experimental music and what effect has the “Boston scene” had on your group and individual musical developments?
Greg: I always have difficulties about what constitutes a "scene" and a reluctance to being part of one, but yeah, we do have a nice community of experimental musicians here. And I think what makes it special is the fact that there's an openness of ideas and a variety of influences flying around the area.
In terms of the local experimental improvisation community, a lot of this started coming together around 6 years ago when the Twisted Village Record store opened, David Gross started the Autumn Uprising Festival, and Howard Stelzer moved into town with his Intransitive Recordings label and immediately started booking noise and improv shows in equal measure. All this and a hundred other random things (some good movie theaters, a couple of nice bowling lanes) made for a great mash-up of people who weren't interested in any kind of Dogmatic Improv 101 absolutism, and you'd be as likely to run into people at a noise show by RRRon Lessard (he's in our scene!), at a Scelsi piece played by Stephen Drury (he's in our scene, too!) over at the New England Conservatory, or at a psych show where the Major Stars (Twisted Village's helmspeople, also in our scene!) were opening for Japanese rockers Ghost. So whether this means that there is no scene, or that ours is a scene of scene-hoppers, I don't know, but it certainly affects the music made here.
Stylus: Bhob made mention earlier of the BSC, an octet of Boston electronic and acoustic improvisers with occasional guests – an uncharacteristically large group in a time when improv seems to favor smaller ensembles. How did the group originate, and to what extent does its rehearsal routine shape the music? Is it possible to have an effective ad hoc large ensemble, or is some degree of pre-performance strategizing necessary?
Greg: Having a larger group was something that interested us and after a group of 5 or 6 here and there and a positive experience Bhob had on the West Coast with a group of 12 or so, Bhob decided to get a dedicated group together. The first show we did (outside in someone's garden) had ten people, then it settled down to eight, all people we'd both been playing with (or in the case of Chris Cooper, wanted to play with) and who seemed "right for the job". I think it's definitely possible to have an effective ad hoc large ensemble, but there needs to be an agreement of some kind whether spoken or not, whether that agreement is for everyone to play very little or for everyone to play full bore or some overarching "idea". But to have a group that's not limited to one simple idea and to be able to function like a smaller group, it becomes a bit more difficult. The rehearsals mainly deal with different strategies and serve to "remind" people that certain things don't work very well.
Bhob: After playing in several ad hoc, large improvising ensembles, all of which were colossal failures, I rarely gave the idea of a large improvising ensemble a second thought. On several occasions, I played compositions or in situations designed to give large ensembles some semblance of structure (Cobra and other Zorn game pieces, Fred Lonberg-Holm’s Lightbox Orchestra, etc.). These experiences often yielded mildly interesting music, but the experience of playing them had neither the thrilling crisis management of improvisation nor the satisfying accomplishment of playing a composition well. They always seemed to me to be merely novel.
Then, in February 2000, saxophonist Jack Wright set up a large ensemble (9 musicians) in San Francisco. With just a few words of warning prior to performance (“Be aware that there are quite a few musicians on stage.” “Don’t feel obligated to play the entire time.”), the ensemble had a successful performance. I thought of all of the musicians I’d worked with in Boston and realized that we could very likely have a formidable large ensemble that would operate with minimal direction. I called Greg about it and found out that he had just set up a concert for six musicians, so obviously the thought was brewing in the scene already.
I began looking for ways to express musical concerns in a way that was pragmatic and specific to improvisation. Rather than impose compositional controls over the ensemble, which to my mind immediately transfers the performance from an improvisation to a composition (and I believe that the composition should be damn good if you’re going to play it), I’ve tried to work with the psychology and strategy of improvisation as it relates to the individual players and how the group is working as a whole. For the most part, I’ve used simple language, gestures and vocalizations to get my point across; nothing particularly academic, abstract or conceptual. The musicians, in turn, are free to add or detract as they see fit. Because we have all known each other for so long, this works quite well (we avoid grand, conceptual arguments, for instance).
I can’t say for sure whether or not a large improvising ensemble can work well without some kind of direction. Perhaps if more dedicated, improvising large ensembles form, what we’re doing now will seem elementary in a few years.
Stylus: Is there anyone you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet? Any “nmperign dream collaborations” that have yet to materialize?
Greg: We don't have any "dream collaborations", but we do have some more ambitious projects we'd like to do, some of which is based on the "My Five Year Old Daughter Could Do That" anti-music installation I arranged a few years ago and the nmperign:expedition project that was Bhob's baby last winter. We've also talked about some kind of recording/book idea.
Oh yeah... we did have an interest in doing a “spoken-word plus Nmperign” recording with a special guest wordsmith, but I don't want to jinx it! In general, it seems the core duo itself often gets neglected, so maybe that's the dream collaboration.
Bhob: I would love to do something with Graham Lambkin, though an improvised show of “nmperign + Graham Lambkin” could be pretty stupid. I would expect more material from the members of nmperign that isn’t quite what you’ve come to expect from nmperign...
Stylus: What’s the real story behind the “Salt Peanuts” CD-R? Olson says you did it all of your own accord, but I’ve heard otherwise…
Greg: I was in Ann Arbor last year, playing a Memorial Day BBQ at Aaron Dilloway's house (with Heathen Shame) when Aaron and John Olson handed me a broken trumpet and began harassing me about playing "Salt Peanuts" for them, to prove myself as a musician. Being shy, I retreated and then sat in a corner and shivered. The taunting continued last fall when Nmperign played at the De Stijl Fest in Minneapolis (the Wolf lads were there as well). It drove me to tears. For much of the festival, I was in a bathroom stall trembling and trying to gather myself together. This forced us to leave the festival a day early. On the way back to Boston, Bhob convinced me that the only way to overcome this fear of taunting and self-loathing was to meet my fear head-on. So, upon returning home from the festival, Bhob and I rehearsed for .001 seconds, set the microcassette for record, and then launched into a brutal attack on this haunting melody that had been so tormenting me. I felt like we transformed into Bird and Diz and I was ecstatic! The feeling of triumph was so strong that Bhob pulled up Donna Lee next and we devoured it like hungry beasts! We then sent the results to John with an American Tapes catalog number. John was overwhelmed by the beauty of the recording and released the album on his label in an edition of 10,000 copies. [Ed. note: This story is complete bullshit. Bhob told me that the truth is much simpler: John Olson commissioned the recording for the price of $2,000 after hearing Nmperign practicing the piece while at the De Stijl Fest. And the true pressing is 2,000 copies.]
Bhob: Poor Greg... it was kind of pathetic. But then I thought, poor John. I mean, he was trying to commission us for a recording; a kind of dream project he’d been thinking about for a long time. He just didn’t know how to ask us. Now we can all die happy.
Stylus: Unlike a lot of musicians, who tend to stay put in their own community, nmperign tours pretty regularly and extensively. Why the attraction to touring (other than, of course, the immense financial rewards)?
Greg: We're not born travelers, but we do enjoy getting to see what's out there. It's a great way to see different places, different people, different musicians, different audiences, different venues. And the whole process is pretty vital for the music... playing every day for people who may have not heard us in places that have their own unique effect on what we're doing. I think if we hadn't done all that traveling, the music would be very different now and for myself, I think my music would be lacking in some dimensions. Adaptability is key. I actually find traveling causes me anxiety on the outset. Thinking about a tour makes me nervous. But once it happens and I'm talking to some complete stranger as if I'd met them years ago, eating good food, and looking at a new landscape, it's pretty great.
Bhob: On tour, things are quite clear: you wake up, try to eat, get in the car, arrive, set up, warm up, play. There’s no “Jeez, I should get in the habit of waking up earlier...” or “Those papers over there could probably be in a better place...” I love meeting people and seeing old friends in different places; folks are often on their best behavior when you only see them now and then. And the every-night of it does wonders for your music.
Stylus: What are you two working on outside of nmperign these days?
Greg: Heathen Shame (with Wayne Rogers and Kate Village on guitars) is probably the main non-nmperign thing I'm working on these days. We've been doing some recording and will hopefully have a new CD and do a short tour in the summer. Otherwise, I'm doing semi-regular things with Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano; Blomit (with Sandra Barrett, ex-LA Drugs) which is a voice, mouth-mic, junk noise thing (no trumpet); the Great Danes (with Howard Stelzer) which is synth, electronics and tapes, also a noise band (also no trumpet); The BSC, of course! And different situations with Jason Lescalleet, most of which is recording of late. Then there are other less regular things as well, possibilities on the horizon, etc.
Bhob: I’m doing a collaboration with Ralf Wehowsky and making some computer/tape music. The BSC continues to grow (we made some incredible recordings on the road), and I have a CD I really love coming out on crouton with Jim Schoenecker on synth and Jon Mueller playing an unusual set-up involving snare drums and stereo speakers. For the most part, I’m making the effort to do clear-minded projects, and if that means playing a little bit less, so be it.
Stylus: If there was something you could change about the improve/experimental music “scene” – the music, the communities, the politics, etc. – what would it be? I, for one, vote for the return of humor amongst musicians, critics, and fans…
Greg: I don't really want to change the scene at all. There's a lot going on, a lot of possibilities. It would be nice if things weren't so regimented in terms of "scenes" in general, but that's happening to a certain extent. And weeds like us do well in cracks in the pavement anyway. And I think there's a good mix of humor vs. humorlessness out there. After all, the humorless ones are the ones who make things truly funny.
Bhob: Jeezus is humor an asset. I’m also for having deeper connections both presently and historically with other so-called scenes like musique concrete, noise, outsider rock, Fluxus, and whatever the hell else makes us happy without having ‘improvisation’ in the title. Having some understanding of the many things that have happened before could help eradicate the shallow category of newness that tells us very little about the music or our experience with it. And deepening present connections has all sorts of positive effects on the music and the audience. Perhaps one of the greatest nights of entertainment I’ve ever participated in was last October in Nashville in a dive bar on a bill with The Cherry Blossoms (unexplainable outsider country something-or-other), Emil Beaulieu (performing a cappella with a lamp), and Tucker (stand-up comedian who must have been a real-life inspiration to Neil Hamburger). Every group received the serious attention that diehard improv fans demand, but there was a hell of a lot of smiling as well. Happily, I’m seeing more and more of this type of booking and behavior. I hope it’s a sign of things to come...
Thanks, Cash, Greg and Bhob’s collaboration with Andrea Neumann and Axel Dörner, will be released on May 14 on Sedimental Records. Love Me Two Times, a 2-CD set of recent collaborations with Jason Lescalleet, is forthcoming on Intransitive Recordings.
2003 Salt Peanuts CD-R, edition of 80 (American Tapes)
2003 We Devote Every Effort To Offer You The Best That You Deserve To Have For Your Enjoyment 2LP (Siwa)
2001 nmperign CD (Selektion)
1999 this is nmperign’s 2nd cd CD (Twisted Village)
1998 44'38"/5 CD (Twisted Village)
2003 The BSC: Good CD (Grob)
2003 nmperign and Günter Müller: More Gloom. More Light. CD (Rossbin)
2002 nmperign and Axel Dörner, Burkhard Beins: nmperign+[dörner,beins] LP (Twisted Village)
1999 nmperign and Jason Lescalleet: In Which The Silent Partner-Director Is No Longer Able To Make His Point To The Industrial Dreamer CD CD (Intransitive)
By: Joe Panzner
Published on: 2004-05-10