Interview with Joan Parera, October 2003

- Which and how your memories of your time in Bristol are, in 70's & 80's ?
How was the scene in that city in those days?

I arrived in Bristol around 1970, and was a student studying architecture and then sociology, but always doing music as well. In the mid 70s with a group of musicians we made a musicians co-operative, which existed mainly on the borderline between free jazz and improvised music. We were very active for 7 or 8 years and then gradually our energy faded. We made a festival of improvised music every summer when we invited musicians from all over the world to come. It was an exciting time and was very formative for many of the people involved.

- Do you believe that in your current music it continues being present the Both Hands Free's spirit improvisador?

Yes, although my music has changed a lot, I think the same spirit is still there – an openness to every sound – an exploratory attitude – an awareness of the value of each moment – a suspicion of forms that are too fixed or unflexible. I have played with many musicians since from different backgrounds, but I feel a special affinity with ones who have really worked through the free improvisation process, even if they have gone in different directions since then. It’s a bit like people from the same hometown, or people who share the same birthday.

- At the moment, do you follow yourself considering an improvisador, composer or an experimentator?

I think I am following a path that I started on a long time ago. The path includes improvising, composing, experimenting and making. Maybe making is the most important of those. I’m making sounds I find exciting, sculptures that give a physical home for the sounds, and somehow creating a personal world, that I hope very much will also give other people pleasure.

- How your interest was born in the multi media? Do you believe that these formats continue being been worth at the moment or are they only a format of the 90's?

We worked with multi-media in Bristol in the early 1980s in a fairly abstract way. From the idea of improvisation we felt that anything could be included in a performance, including dance, art, film, speech etc. Interaction was high on the list of priorities and in this sense some media – those that exist in real time - were easier to relate to than others.

In my work, this did eventually lead to my two big projects of the 90s, “Cân Y Graig – Slate Voices” and “Strong Winds and Soft Earth Landings”. Here the idea was not so much direct interaction of the different media (although this also happened) but to create a deeper resonance in the work, and to make a strong connection with real communities and history. At this time I adopted the name “resOnance” for my projects and later for my record label. I still believe this is relevant, but my recent projects have been less collaborative with other artists and more a development of my sound sculptures and music.

- In "Strong Winds And Soft Earth Landings" (1994), you developed your interest in the Zimbabwe's music, concretely with the mbira's music. How do you took contact with this music and what it get you the attention in this music and not in another African music?

Another big question! By coincidence I have just written a whole article about this, which will be part of a book to be published by the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, accompanied by a CD by Chartwell Dutiro. My route to African music was through jazz, through socialism and anti-imperialism, and through an interest in hand made, non-industrial artefacts especially musical instruments. Why mbira particularly? I quote from my article:

“Why? Why this particular music? What was so special about it? What was it that touched me where I had never been touched before? I can list certain things about it, but ultimately it is a mystery that I can’t answer. Top of the list is the way the patterns played by two mbiras interlock to make multiple layers of what Berliner terms “resultant melodies”. In listening, there is always a different layer to follow, a new path through the music. Then there is the way the singing voice often picks out these melodies in wordless vocals. The jumps in register, or yodelling in the voice. The overall downward contour of the melodies. Other vocal sections express feelings and opinions with words, but even without understanding these words, the patterns and sounds produce strong emotions in me. The list continues: the way the buzzing bottle-tops attached to the resonating gourd emphasise different rhythms. And the rough edges in the sound. The slight differences in tone of each mbira key. But this list is about what rather than why. I think an approach to answering why would come more at a social and psychological level. Famously, mbira makes me “think deeply”. Overall, this music gives me a warm feeling about humanity. Yet it also acknowledges real pain and sorrow in a way that eschews sentimentality. It somehow paints a picture of peaceful coexistence of opposites. Strands weave in and out of each other; they don’t tie each other in knots. There is no quest for dominance or for achievement within a time frame. The music lasts as long as it does. No longer and no shorter. It portrays a world I would like to live in: my Africa.”
(link to complete article)

- In "Above And Below Ground Level", the use of rhythms its present in some songs. Maybe the relationship is logical, keeping in mind that it is a record dedicated to the earth and, I lower my point of view, the traditional African music is a very bound music to the earth. Do you also think that and do you believe that this was an important factor when you leaving from Bristol?

I’ve always loved rhythms as in “beats”, especially African ones, and I’ve always loved the less regular rhythms you hear in nature, made by animals or wind or water. Also I’m very interested in the borderline between the two, when you’re not quite sure if a rhythm is made by a human or not. I accept the connection with the earth, for me it is very basic. My music must never come just from my head. It must come from the body too, and from where the feet touch the earth and from the whole natural environment as I experience it. And, of course, from the heart.

Most of my time in Bristol I lived in an isolated farmhouse next to a forest 15km outside the city (some of “Celebrating Rain” was recorded there). Then I lived in the inner-city for four years. Then I moved to this small village in France. Here I have more space to make bigger works and to explore relationships with the elements.

- Your use of African rhythms I think is very intelligent and more interesting encounter that the use common of these rhythms in other musical styles, more "popular". In the bottom, in the songs of "Above..." and "Celebrating Rain" exist a great rhythmic, but not evident sensation.

I believe the listener has to find the rhythms in the music. Listening is a creative act. In my music there are rhythms of nature, rhythms of the human body (like walking), less direct humanly made rhythms (like dripping water), musical rhythms and computer rhythms. Together I believe that these rhythms create a world.

- You reside in France since 1998, I believe that in a very near way to the nature. How do you believe that it has transformed your form of seeing the music having the nature so near your daily life?

I am slow to change. As I mentioned above, I lived in the country near Bristol and started a particular journey. I think it is true to say that now my work and living situation are totally intertwined and influence each other.

- A technical question. "Above..." and "Celebrating Rain" are works with an important recording quality. How do you carry out these recordings? Do you have a very big team recording (people and apparatuses)?

I do all the recording myself. The field recordings are all done with a portable DAT recorder and a Sony stereo microphone. In my home studio I use a PC with Cool Edit and Logic Audio software, a few condenser mics, a sampler and keyboard.

- Your works are published in your own label (Resonance). This label publishes a limited number of copies and sound projects in format cd-r. Please, tell us, how the label was born, why do you use the format cd-r, and the designs of the records.

Before I left Bristol I made really good recordings of “Cân Y Graig – Slate Voices” and “Strong Winds and Soft Earth Landings” in a professional studio. I tried hard to find a label to release them, but failed. Then, when I moved to France, a good friend of mine, Joel Petot, offered to make cdr copies and to design the artwork for the pockets. This got me started, and I realised I could publish records myself with very low overheads, so even if I sold only 50 copies, for example, it was worth doing. These first two were basically documents of previous projects. The ones that followed were new projects in themselves. The CD became a piece of work, rather than documentation, and I worked hard to get rid of the plastic boxes and to integrate the visual presentation with the music.

- You carry out concerts and performances, I believe that next to your sculptures. How can you transfer the natural atmosphere to a closed local? Do you use electronic or recorded sound?

So far I haven’t used electronic or recorded sound in performance. Sometimes performances are outside, next to permanently installed sculptures. Then we use normal instruments together with the sounds of the sculptures and other natural sounds. When we play inside I don’t try to reproduce nature. We always use some of the sculptures and the variety of rhythms and sounds creates an atmosphere something like on the records, but not the same.

- Although somebody can think the opposite, I don't believe that your work can classify inside the sound documentalist, but... would you like to make something in that field?

I think of it as creative expression with sound rather than documentary but it overlaps. I think it depends what frame you put round it, and I put a musical frame round it.

- Another very important facet in your work is the sound sculptures. I believe that, visually, it is the best way to show sound, although it will always be below the same sound. But, at the same time, these sculptures have something magic. Do you believe in the magic of these sculptures? How did you began in this art?

What you call magic I believe happens in the relationship between me and the listener / observer, through the sculpture. It amounts to a shared feeling of humanity and basic values. Yes, I believe in it and it moves me when I see people being touched emotionally by the sculptures.

- Continuing with the magic, I believe that "Above..." and "Celebrating Rain" (I hope that the other ones your records are also it), they wrap the listener in a magic atmosphere. Concretely in "Above...", the introduction ("Dats And Dashes", with the guide's conversation), it is like an invitation to penetrate in something charming that this present in all the record.

I’m glad you mentioned this, because some people have not liked this track. For me it is an invitation to use your visual imagination for the whole CD and to trust the guide who is going to take you on a journey. Also to enjoy silence and not be impatient!

- Please, tell us, who your last musical projects are.

This summer I have made several new sound sculptures:
“Facing Out” at Hoscheid, Luxembourg
“La Toile” at Mont Saint Vincent, France
“Protecting Leaves” at Mainz, Germany (part of an international arts project working on the theme of “Towers of Babylon”)
“Wood” at Chalon-sur-Saône, France

Presently I have a one person exhibition at Chalon where we also played a concert with the trio “Slate”. We also played in June at Loches, in the cave where there are four of my sculptures. Then I will exhibit and do a solo performance at the “Musiques Libres” festival in Besançon, France (October 31 – November 2)

- I suppose that your next plans will be to continue with the sound instalations in diverse parts of Europe (God willing some day we can see them in Barcelona). Soundly speaking, which your next projects are ?

Of course I’m always open to offers, and if there was a chance to exhibit and/or perform in Barcelona I would be happy to come. The main future project I’m working on is called “Song Sculptures”. I will work with singer Sianed Jones (who I worked with on “Cân Y Graig – Slate Voices”) and “Slate”. I have written 11 new songs each of which starts from the atmosphere created by one of my sculptures. The first performance will be at Le Creusot (a town near here) on 9th April 2004. We are looking hard for other opportunities to perform it.

writing about will home page