Interview with Biggi Vinkeloe in summer 2008

If it is possible to see in the improvisation the revealing and simultaneously the remaining inaccessible, included between the audible and what that could be defined its shadow.

You can say that improvisation have its shadow?
That this shadow is a paradoxical form of visibility?

Every things have a shadow do you think is possible a shadow in improvisation. like a side that draw his shadow or a shadow that you have to imagine...

Yes, everything has its shadow, its backside. It is like the negativ of a photo, it contains all the informations. You develop your positiv picture, in color or black and white, from this negativ. Transposed to improvisation, you need to have some information you want to get across. In other words, you need to have to say something before you can actually improvise. I use music as a communication tool, and to express emotions and feelings. My emotions work as a photo negativ, and the techniques I use to transform the emotions into music are like the developer that turns the negativ into a positiv. And what you see (or hear) is of course subjectiv, as everybody filters informations through her/his own individual experience of life. That is how two people can get even opposite experiences out of the music I am performing. One memory comes to my mind: after a concert somewhere in France, two people approached me to talk to me about their experience while listening. One person had seen a beautiful beach full of sun and the other person saw death and desperation with his inner eye. I got very puzzled, but then I realized that I had laid out something and that these persons turned the music into their own picture that had to do with their own life, and nothing to do with my life.

I guess you could say that music in general contains different layers of information and inspiration, and once the musician enounced her/his statement, the listener incorporates the statement and makes it her/his own.
So yes, as a musician you have to be aware of this process and allow it to happen, so you create a flow and an invisible but strong bonding between her/himself and the audience. The musicianship is like a gift wrap for the emotions and feelings or you could also say it is like a vehicle... I think that the shadow side of improvisation is essential to what you can experience through music, as a player as well as a listener.

During the listening for user you can underline or in an antitetic position deny the importance of memory. In the case of a musician you can speak of the importance of memory like poetical inspiration and so of music like a travel backwards in the time?

How important is the memory for  a musician?
Is the memory an inspiration, a going back in time, or other?

Memory is everything in the process of creating, it is the source and the ground. In order to create music, you have to go back to what you know, to what you have learned and studied and to what you have experienced with all your senses in the past, the immediate past and the past beyond the immediate. I do spontaneous composition: technically, you expose a motiv and you develop this motiv by extending it, transforming it, reversing it, playing a counterpoint, transposing it. The structure leads to a climax and then to a conclusion with the ending of the piece. This happens in relationship to what the other musicians do.

Where do I find the motivs? Bits I remember, bits I have stored somewhere in my mind, and which reflect the emotional status I am at at that particuliar moment I am playing.

I remember events, colors, sounds, mouvements, talks, emotions – everyone does – and try to put those into tones, intervals, melodies, sounds, rythmical figures.

I would say there are at least two memories, the individual one (what a single person has experienced in her / his life) and a collective one, a memory we share of things that have happened to all of us – this is our history and an important piece of whom we are in this world. Maybe you can hear in my playing that I am European, which is my culture. I am raised as an European, in a christian tradition, with more than 2000 years old roots.

European culture, literature, architecture, music, are strongly colored by this tradition.

You need to have some understanding of the christian tradition, whether you like it or not, whether you agree or not (which is a very different discussion) in order to understand European history – and our collective memory. Of course, there are other influences, from other religions, and even the christians are subdivided in different communities.

Every country has its own national collective memory with its own history. I have lived in different countries, and had to learn how to deal with different sociologies, different rules of communication and different ways of doing things.

Mankind shares the planet earth and a long collective memory. We share those memories as archetypes, and we all can recognize us in those archetypes – it seems like we have to step backwards to get the whole picture and realize that we share what is most important for us all, basic ideas and rules we agree on: parent – children relationship (respect and hierarchy), prohibition of incest, protection of the family, protection of the group (family, tribe, people, nation), spiritual belief (heaven – earth / birth – death / sacred initiations / spiritual leader with special gifts: priest, wise man or woman, profet, shaman...). There has always been artistic expression, carvings, rythms (our body is nothing but rythms, the most evident being the heartbeating...) and melodies (singing, probably before proper speaking – and flute playing).

As an individual, I have researched and tried to come closer to other cultures and spiritual traditions. This enables me to communicate with people outside my culture.

My story is my own personal memory, I share bits of it with other people, but I am the only one who is familiar with the whole picture.

Now, as a musician, I get inspiration from both the collective memories and my individual memory. And yes, it is a travel backwards, into the past. This past is used to connect with the other muscians and the audience, so that we can build up a virtual common story for as long as lasts the concert.

I have experienced often enough that people come to talk to me after a concert and tell me how they felt connected and how they could recognize themselves in what I played. They talk about their emotions and feelings, and it is amazing to see that everyone relates in his very personal way to what has been enounced and played – but in order to relate to anyting there must be a ground, a common platform – our collective memory...

I feel that improvised music is very poetic and instant, it opens up for a travel backwards in time we can embarque on together. Then we come back to the “real life” with different souvenirs from our virtual travel...

We don’t want to get to philosophycal forcings and neither to take the old question between realism and idealism: the mediation of the senses remain the only possibile travel both for the musician and the listener? You can say that music, even though able to be elsewhere, it have a way mediated by our senses and our perception and so seems always to take back ourselves?

The senses for the musician and the listener are the only mediation (in the sense of music, perception, elsewhere)? What is their importance?

We use sense (hearing, listening...) while listening to music. in a way music is a travel but if we use in any case of course our senses at last we can't go beyond ourselves...

There are different levels of listening: you can be attentive to what a musician is capable of doing with her/his instrument technically, you can analyse her/his ability to deal with rhythm, harmony structure, dynamics and melody, and how the whole group is interacting with each other. (that is very often the way a musician listens to another musician -). This is an intellectual way of listening.
You can also listen with your other senses, try to hear, try to sense, try to smell the music and let the sounds talk to your imagination.

The quality of our listening might be dictated by what we know about music (analyse) and what we have experienced in our life before the concert and last not least the mood we are in when arriving at the concert place. That is when we go to concerts with music we already know and feel comfortable with – we are looking for reassurance. But we can also adopt a very openminded attitude and discover 'new land' – music can also be very visionary. As a matter of fact, developing a vision (which can be also a very spiritual vision: Albert Ayler said: 'music is the healing force of the universe') is very important to me, and that is why I perform improvised music or spontaneous composition. It allows to take new paths and explore spaces I was not familiar with before.

The concert in itself becomes a travel, through thoughts, moods, emotions and feelings, if we allow it. You can see people dance, and move to the music, become glad and moved or sad.

In the end, the audience puts their hands together, as much to celebrate the musician and the music as to celebrate the experience and each person present at the venue.

I think that music can allow you to go beyond yourself and maybe live out some emotions you did not know you were carrying with you when you arrived. Improvisation is a great tool, as it is like real life. You don't know how it will all come out until you have done it, and in life you often start with a project – big or small – without knwoing exactly the outcome of it. In any case, you create a flow, and it is always fascinating to watch where it takes you.

[Erika Dagnino, Italian writer and poet. Currently working on a book.]

Altremusiche: Maybe it is better to start to talk about your musical background. You started with classical studies (flute and alto sax) to move to improvisation. How this happened?

Biggi Vinkeloe: I have always liked to improvise, I like the challenge when you start up something without knowing what the outcome will be. I play music since i'm 5 or 6 years old. since then, I wanted to become a musician and i worked hard on getting there. I got my first lesson in classical flute at age 14, and at 15 years old I met 2 bassplayers in the school orchestra, they invited me to join them - we had different groups and performed quite soon. I also started to go out and see a lot of different concerts, everything between classical music, folk music, rock, heavy metal, jazz, improvised music, at least 2 or 3 shows every week.
   So when I first played improvised music, it was with the flute. when I thought that I had too much trouble to hear myself, I decided to buy a saxophone and i spent hours and hours practicing. today, I play as much flute as saxophone and feel comfortable with both instruments.

A lot of european improvisers have like models, on one side the afroamerican free jazz players, on the other the classic contemporary music. Which one of these experiences is closer to yours? Oh, i like so many different music styles... I still listen very much to giants like charlie parker or john coltrane of course, and glenn gould, igor oistrach, rostropovitch... I can't name evrybody here, but what i can say is that i like to listen to any musician who plays with his/her heart and is honest within his/her art.

You met Cecil Taylor in Berlin, for the FMP clinic I suppose. How important for your style was this meeting? The first time i met cecil taylor, it was for the clinic. but i did one more project with him, in kassel at the Documenta (a very big art show over the entire town, with contemporary artists from all over the world). we had one week of intense rehearsals for many hours per day and then a 3 hour performance for about 1000 (thousand!) people. i should do a third project, but it was when my son was born, so i could not be part of this project (the birth was also a wonderful experience, of course...).
   I wanted to do this clinic because i wanted to experience cecil taylor's work, his approach to music and to life and how to communicate your music to other people, the musicians in the band, but also the people in the audience. it was a great and intense experience! I got a lot of inspiration, it made me think about my own music, but I don't think i changed my way of thinking or doing. it made me want to continue to explore music and work on it.

Once England, Holland and Germany were the three main countries for this kind of musical experiences. Since maybe ten or fifteen years improvvised music spread around the world with different sensibility. How is the improvised music scene in Sweden, where you live? Oh, I don't know if the so called free jazz only existed in the three countries you mention here, i have lived for a very long time in france and i found a vivid scene for improvised music there. maybe the musicans from england, germany and holland were better at marketing and traveling than musicians from other countries.... sweden: since some years, there is a growing interest for improvised music again. not that it is easy to find concerts, or that you would get decently paid once you find a concert to do... but you can see a lot of young people listening and being really enthusiastic about this kind of music. i think that imrpovised music might be one of the biggest challengs in music, it gives you a big freedom and a big responsibility, and you can be creative and develop whatever comes to your mind (if you have the tools to process your ideas, of course, so it needs a lot of technique if you want to do a good job).
   The scenes in sweden seem to be separated, there is one in stockholm, another one in gothenburg and a smaller one in malmö, but the connections are not very strong in between, everybody seems to be afraid of sharing the cake (it's about money...) - unfortunately! it seems to be that way in many countries, and sweden is no exception. swedish musicians travel quite a lot. as the countrie only counts 9 millions inhabitants, the interest for improvised music is of course proportionally small... so sweden is maybe quite well represented all over the world...

You and your trio with Uuskyla and Nielsen have a lot of connections with theatre groups, or action painters, or actors. When we met each other you, with Nino, Fabio, Filippo and Emiliano were playing with a improvviser dancer. Don't you think that this (for example music and action painting) is a kind of old approach to sinergy between arts? Who can pretend to reinvent the world and to come up with something never seen, never heard...? but it doesn't make this sinergy between arts less fascinating. by creating a meeting between different artistic expressions, you talk to different senses, you see, you hear, you feel, you almost taste what is happening on the stage... i also found that many people are afraid of improvised music, so they don't give this music any credit and don't even try to go and listen. so to watch a painter work together with musicians could make it easier, you don't have to focuse onto the music all the time, but you can just follow the development of a picture, even if it is abstract, and you might get your own associations and pictures - and suddenly, improvised music makes sense and is not at all too difficult to listen too! that is one aspect. the other one is that mouvements and colours amplify the sounds and also show a different way to go - the musicians are also inspired by what they see, of course!
   I feel it gives another dimension to the music, and hopefully it gives another dimension to the painting and dancing too! (we can't even imagine a dancer dancing without any music, can we?)

Improvvised music is still looking for a better attention from the media, in first place, and from concerts institutions, on the other. Do you believe in the "FMP" model to be totally indipendent, or maybe there is the chance to find a new place inside some institutions? It is true that improvised music is usually not well treated by the media, so it makes it difficult to promote this kind of music and to find an audience. when you listen to improvised music, you cannot do anything else, like eating or talking or finding someone to share an evening or more with... you have to focuse a bit on the music. you divide food into fast food and slow food, fast food seems to give you fast satisfaction, but slow food gives you something to remember... same with music, and improvised music is more like slow food, takes time to make it, and takes time to digest it, but it stays with you for a while...
   I don't know how independant FMP really is, as they can only survive with public money, when there is no money, there is no music....and outside thhe circle of improvising musicians, only few people know what FMP stands for.... FMP exists for many years, and it is a beautiful work, of course, and hopefully, it will continue for a long time!!!
   It would be great to get a foot into some other institutions, i think series with chambe music, classical and new music and improvised music and jazz, would be wonderful. it would need a lot of courage, and a real effort on marketing to make this happen. and probably, it would take some time before the audience gets used to listen to different artistic expressions and value all of them equally.

Biggi Vinkeloe - A Short Talk

Cadence: You have a past as a globetrotter before landing in Sweden.
Biggi Vinkeloe: Actually, I was born in Germany where I spent all my childhood. At age 18 I immigrated to France, where I spent 15 years. I have always wanted to become a musician. It was my secret dream when I was 5 years old, but it took me a very long time to achieve this dream. I have played music since early childhood. I learned most by doing, playing with a lot of different musicians, and I studied pretty much by myself.
   At age 22, I bought my first saxophone, a Buffet Crampon, I got a bank loan. But very soon I found a silver Selmer Super Action from 1947 in a shop for antiques, so I sold the new horn and played in the other one for many years. It had a wonderful warm and full sound, a bit too soft I found later. Now, I play on a Selmer Super Action from 1984, with a metallic mouthpiece from Dukoff opening 7. I use Vandoren reeds number 2.
I practiced often in the night because it was hard for me to find time during the day, struggling for my survival. I took some lessons from classical musicians, and also from jazz musicians. I got some grants to study at Jazz Schools in Switzerland and France, and to participate at some master classes and workshops. In the end, I got a quite complete musical education, both in classical and jazz techniques, in theory, but also in arrangement, composing, leading. In France, I performed with musicians such as Jacques Veillé and André Jaume, Pascal Vignon. I participated in special projects covering different music styles, from Jazz-rock to rock chanson to Jazz big band to theatre music and film music.
   Since 1990, I live in Sweden and work mostly with my own trio. We have traveled in many different countries in Europe and North America. I‚m also involved in multi-media projects with musicians, dancers, poets, and visual artists from different cultures and different countries. Since a year back I work with heavy metal bass player Magnus Rosén (Hammerfall), mostly as a duo but recently even in trio together with Californian drummer Donald Robinson.

You have had the chance of playing and recording with Cecil Taylor in Berlin (1988). This was a very fascinating and instructive time for me. After a weeklong intense rehearsal period, I understood much better Cecil Taylor‚s way of thinking and composing music. He hears so many things simultaneously, and has such a clear idea of how the different instruments should be used in a musical context. It is very much about color and intention, rather than special techniques. In the same time, there is always a lot of space for soloing, if you can put it this way, because in reality, his orchestra was more like a lot of solo voices coordinated and held together. In Berlin, it was Paul Plimley from Vancouver at the piano, while Cecil Taylor conducted, and kept the music going on. Later, for the concert, many things were changed but the work we had done, all those many hours of playing, listening, writing down, trying to understand every day, enabled all of us to create a strong and fresh music. It was not a reproduction of rehearsed and pre-arranged pieces but new music based on the canvas we had been working on. The same group of people did two more periods of rehearsing and performing together with Cecil Taylor, in Göttingen 1990 (without me, mys on chose to be born just when this second Cecil Taylor thing was happening), and at the Documenta in Kassel 1992 ( I could participate then again). In Kassel, we did a 3 hours non-stop performance, starting off with a poem written by Cecil Taylor and performed by all of us together. In Göttingen and Kassel, Cecil Taylor played the piano; Paul Plimley was not involved in those projects. All the performances have been documented on tape and on video, but so far, only the Berlin concert has been released (FMP).

There are not many women who play free or alto sax. That is true. I think it is really tough to be a woman on the Jazz scene. You always have to prove that you play at least as well as your male colleagues, and it took me a long time to get respect from the other musicians. Today, I don‚t feel discriminated (against) any more, I can play with wonderful musicians such as Barre Phillips, Peter Kowald, Ken Filiano, Steve Swell, Donald Robinson, Lisle Ellis, Paul Obermayer. Besides with Miya Masaoka, I have not performed very often with other women, I don‚t know why, but it never happens for some strange reasons.

How did you come to this music? Oh, I like very much the challenge of this music. You never know what is going to happen, it is like in real life! And you come very close to the musicians you play with, as this is a very naked form of music. If you don‚t do it for real, then this music is empty and without emotions. And music is very much about strong emotions and feelings, so you really have to make work the communication between the people on stage (and don‚t forget the communication with the audience). As I am a very curious person who likes to discover new things, new ways of doing, it felt so natural for me to come to improvised music. I played with a rock singer for a while; it was so boring to know in advance what will happen on the stage, I had to play similar solos every time. I mean, of course I lik to play also predictable music, but I need to perform improvised music.

You have worked with many bass players in your trio, and you work quite a lot with Peeter Uuskyla. Yes, well, I like all the different musicians I have played with so far; everybody has another sensibility and another perspective and the interaction is always unique. I love to play in trio, it gives me so much space to develop my ideas and I don‚t get forced into chord changes that I might not want to explore just then. And also, to me, it seems more in balance to meet another monophonic instrument. Peeter‚s and my collaboration is already a 13-year-old story. We know each other very well and feel very comfortable playing and working with each other. He was also one of the first musicians who really respected me and helped to develop my own ideas. We have pushed each other through the years and I don‚t see an end of it yet.

Who are the players who woke up your interest for alto sax? I have listened and studied more than one alto player. My favorites are Lee Konitz (Some years ago, I had the chance to play double concerts with him on a tour in Sweden, that was great); Ornette Coleman (I like his sense of melody); Jimmy Lyons (I like his phrasing very much and I have performed some of his compositions with my trio); Charlie Parker (of course!); Art Pepper (I like his sound). The alto feels so close to the human voice, it feels very often like singing, not so much like blowing when I play.

Do you like some mainstream too?
Oh yes, I like to listen to Mainstream too. It is not an issue of Mainstream or not, but rather of good or bad music. If the music comes from the heart and wants something, if the music is strong and transports strong feelings, it is real music. Any kind or style of music is as good and real as the musicians performing it.

About your last album, the duo with Barre Phillips. Barre recorded this album with his favorite bass, a five string wooden bass. We played first for a couple of days to get warm again with each other, then we recorded everything within one long day. I know Barre since more than 10 years; we have performed quite often through the years, in Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Canada. And we always played some duo pieces, so the album was an opportunity to develop this duo a bit more. I‚m very glad he accepted to do this project with me. To play duo feels a bit special for me, as it gets so close and intimate in a way, no one else to hide behind, no one else to rely on when you feel like running out of ideas! The duo is a very intense story, a challenge, and I like the focus and the concentration you need to realize a duo project.
   I am working on another duo, together with drummer Donald Robinson from San Francisco. It‚s a slow project as we live quite far from each other, but still it is an exciting one. And outside the improvised music, I continue to work with heavy metal musician Magnus Rosén.
   I hope to spend more time in the U.S., as there are many musicians I have started to work with, both in New York and in San Francisco. I am so excited to find out where all this will lead me in the future! [October 2001, Germany]