Reasons for now - Phil Durrant

This article was commissioned by and first published in Rubberneck (#26, December 1997) and is presented here with the kind permission of both Rubberneck and Phil Durrant
(c) Rubberneck/Phil Durrant

1997  marks  my  20th  year  as  a  freelance musician and also my 40th birthday. When you get to that age there is a certain degree of evaluation. So how do I see myself? Well, as far as I am concerned, I work with 'experimental music' in a number of different contexts. Many people see me as an improvising musician. I feel this is part of what I do but does not paint the complete picture. As a musician, I use a number of different sound sources to make my music: acoustic violin; violin/live elctronics; synthesis/sampling/computer music.

I use a number of different methods: free improvisation, conceptual improvisation, composition. I collaborate with musicians, dancers/choreographers, visual artists. My musical vocabulary is derived from contemporary classical, electronica, out rock, and traditional music from the Asian continent. Of course, the method and vocabulary used does depend on who I am working with and the context of the collaboration. At the moment, I am concentrating on collaborations with two musicians, saxophonist John Butcher and analogue synthesizer player Thomas Lehn, and two choreographers, Gill Clarke and Maxine Doyle.

With John Butcher, I am involved in a number of projects: Butcher/Durrant/Russell; Chris Burn Ensemble; Butcher/Durrant/Dorner/Beins; Butcher/Durrant Electronic Processing Duo. The duo with John is a more recent idea. In this context I transform his saxophone playing with my electronics. However, my signal processors 'have their own life'. In other words, I use systems which have their own sound/noise which is changed by a combination of input signal and 'live editing'. The Chris Burn Ensemble uses various methods to make its music. My composition 'SOWARI For Ensemble' is what I would describe as 'conceptual improvisation'. By that, I mean pre-determined limited area(s) of material and a possible pre-determined structure.

I am also working on a number of projects with Thomas Lehn: Durrant/Lehn; Durrant/Lehn/Malfatti; Durrant/Lehn/Gustafsson/Turner; Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra (MIMEO). In the trio with Radu Malfatti (in this context I play acoustic violin) we have an agreed 'concept'. The music in this group uses silence, space and mostly very quiet sounds and textures as our collective material. This produces a music which does not have conventional climaxes, but nevertheless does create tensions where the individual vocabularies of the musicians overlap and/or collide. The resulting music challenges people's expectations, and for me it's very exciting.

MIMEO is a large pool of musicians who use various types of electronics. To me, this group reflects a growing trend, where musicians from different backgrounds come together and use improvisation to make music. Pita Rehburg and Christian Fennesz both come from an experimental techno, ambient/electronica background. Keith Rowe brings his vast experience through his work with AMM. Future performances will involve Jim O' Rourke who works in a variety of different contexts.

My work with choreographers Gill Clarke and Maxine Doyle is very important to me at the moment, as the collaborations allow me to show a different side of my music. Gill Clarke works with 'pure dance', that is where the movement and shapes used in her dance and the positions and perspective of the dancers in the performance space, are more important than the narrative (not that there usually is one). Gill works from phrases, which have a number of different elements. The individual elements can be varied and expanded upon. It is interesting to hear Gill and Maxine talk in terms of 'retrograde and inversion', terms usually associated with serial music. Gill's use of phrases has made me re-evaluate the way I improvise. I will talk more about this within the context of my solo CD, Sowari.

Maxine Doyle's work is based on narrative. She also uses theatrical elements (including text) in her work. With Maxine I have combined live playing (which is composed) with taped electronic music. For a while (1987-1994), I was involved with the underground techno scene in this country. Here I worked with some interesting musicians including Shut Up And Dance, Fabio and Grooverider, Spooky and Tony Thorpe. My work with Maxine enables me to bring some of the influences and attitudes from that scene into my music. Both Maxine and Gill have a very open and unblinkered attitude to music, which is not the case with many other choreographers. They are also concerned with equal collaboration, thus the music does not merely illustrate the dance but has its own identity much like two or more musicians improvising.

In 1996, I decided for a number of reasons to record a solo album. In 1997, I would be aged 40 and I thought that it was about time I had a solo release to mark 20 years of activity. Also, I had developed material where the acoustic sound of the violin 'interferes' with the acoustics of the room to produce another audible frequencey (difference tones). For the CD I also decided to organise material into specific pieces. This reflects a method that I often employ in group improvisation. I am concerned that each piece should have its own identity. I therefore limit my material for each improvisation. The pieces on the CD also reflect my various musical experiences and influences. '303 202 101' explores repeated and filtered harmonics. This piece is influenced by Acid House and the Roland synths that are famous for creating 'that sound' where the top of your head is lifted away! 'SOWARI (acoustic version)' starts out with high sustained harmonics, sometimes single pitches, sometimes close clusters which again create additional tones much like ring modulation. I then juxtapose this material with stopped pitches, sometimes in phrases at different speeds, sometimes as chords.

For the second half of the CD, I explore the use of live electronic signal processing to transform the sound of the violin. In some cases this creates a dialogue, in other cases, the violin is submerged and the electronics become the focus. These pieces also reflect my current listening habits. I listen to the music of groups such as Microstoria, Oval and Panasonic. The rhythms of 'Chew 1-3' reflect my Captain Beefheart influence, as well as an interest in 'alien movies', especially when they're eating... Other noticeable influences are Derek Bailey, Henry Kaiser, Steve Lacy, Martin Altena, Alvin Lucier and the ever-increasing and important influence of Morton Feldman.
I tend to think of my material in terms of timbre, rhythm, speed, frequency, rather than the organisation of pitch material. However, Feldman's structuring of such material is something I will look into. So, here's to the next 20 years.

Bristol Musicians' Co-op, Unpopular Music (Zyzzle, 1978); Electronic Music Project, Electronic Music Project (Kubu, nda); Planet Oeuf, Planet Oeuf (Xopf, 1985); Russell/Durrant/Butcher, Conceits (Acta, 1987); Butcher/Durrant/Lovens/Malfatti/Russell, News From The Shed (Acta, 1989); Chris Burn Ensemble, Cultural Baggage (Acta, 1990 CD); Butcher/Durrant/Russell,
Concert Moves (Random Acoustics, 1991-92 CD); Sowari (solo) (Acta, 1996-97 CD)