Pauline Oliveros

Sometime in the 1980s, composer/performer Pauline Oliveros and I had overlapping residencies at Art Park, in upstate New York. Although mainly designed to assist and showcase visual artists and their work, Art Park also has a couple of small performance spaces and occasionally presents music as well.

Pauline’s stage was a small concrete platform at the end of a meandering path in the woods, and she was joined in her performance by a dancer as well as a visual artist drawing throughout the performance.

Pauline started the performance by simply lifting her accordion to her lap, tilting her head to her side and listening.

r3poAfter about five minutes she started to play one very high note, held it for a long time, and then slowly added another, then another. As the music progressed, Pauline began punctuating the these long tones by ever increasing short rapid passages of flurried notes.

Listening carefully, I was gently being lulled into the music, when suddenly something changed. It was as if someone had just focused my ears. Everything that I was hearing was interacting in a clearly organized manner. I don’t just mean Pauline’s music, but all the sounds: the wind in the trees, the birds, peoples voices in the distance, everything made musically sense! When the birds sang, they sang in perfect tune with Pauline, entering at exactly the right moment, and sometimes paralleling Pauline in long intricate passages. In the same manner, the wind in the trees would shift and rustle, dogs would bark, squirrels would chatter, all in perfect time to Pauline’s music!

I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. Somehow whatever Pauline was doing had such a perfect foundation, that every other sound fit together with it as if finely orchestrated by a master composer. Even the cars passing by sounded like finely tuned instruments rather than their usual obnoxious clamor.

I was so stunned that I held my breath, fearing that this would be only a momentary occurrence, but it wasn’t. It lasted for the twenty or thirty minutes that Pauline played. I had plenty of time to revel in this amazing experience. I had of course philosophically believed that “all sounds are part of the symphony of life”, but this was the first time that I was actually experiencing it! Every time I started to doubt the experience another group of random sounds would occur in perfect order! It was like a dream come true, I was filled with a an overwhelming sense of the order of life.

As the piece came to a close, the sounds of the birds and wind progressively became more random again. I tried to hold on to the experience, to somehow keep this way of hearing, but the more I tried, the faster it slipped away. It was replaced instead by the excited sounds of the audience: “Did you hear that?”, “That was amazing!”, “Everything was in tune!”, “Was that real?”, “Amazing how everything was in synch, what do you want for lunch?”

Amazed and excited by this experience, I went up to the stage as Pauline was packing up to leave, and told her of my experience. She listened politely, smiled and then said “Good…it worked……that’s the way it should be”.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bali Night

In 1984 I was in Bali, Indonesia researching traditional musical instruments, I decided to briefly study the suling, an end-blown bamboo ring flute. I easily found a teacher in one of the villages and rented a small beach hut close by. The hut was owned by an old Balinese man who spoke no English or Indonesian, but only Balinese, a language I knew nothing of. To make arrangements for the rental we communicated through a young neighbourhood girl he had hired for just that reason. Other than making the initial arrangements, the owner had virtually no other contact with his guests, and I would only rarely see him briefly in the distance.

One evening after a particularly long week of lessons, I sat on the porch of my cabin facing the ocean to play my suling. Although I was really enjoying Bali, I was in a remote area away from tourists and there were few people to talk to. I was starting to feel a quite lonely and homesick. After briefly practicing what I had learned that day, I decided to comfort myself by playing for a while. I sat back, closed my eyes, listened for a while and then started to play. Soon I was engrossed in the music. I played the wind in the trees, the ocean waves, the sounds of the night; and I played my feelings of being alone, so far from home in a land full of adventure and wonder.

Hearing a sound beside me, I stopped and opened my eyes to find the cabin’s owner walking past. He nodded to me as he sat down on a rock a short distance in front of the cabin, and smiling, gestured for me to continue playing.

Although feeling surprised and a bit self-conscious, I nodded and smiled back, then closed my eyes and continued to play. I was soon so engrossed again in the music, that I completely forgot about my unexpected audience. After about an hour, I stopped playing and slowly opened my eyes to find the owner still sitting on the rock, with his head bowed and eyes closed. As I watched he slowly raised his head opened his eyes, turned, nodded to me, and then slowly got up and walked off into the night.

It was late and I was tired. I only briefly thought how nice it was that he stayed to listen to my music, and within minutes I was in bed and fast asleep.

The next morning, as I got up and opened the door to my cabin, I was surprised to find the owner sitting on my doorstep holding a giant basket of fruit. Smiling a big smile, he handed me a piece of fruit gestured for me to sit down, and started to talk rapidly in Balinese. Although I didn’t understand a word he was saying, by his gestures I understood that he was talking about his property. He talked about the trees, the birds, and everything that we could see or hear around us. Then he began to teach me the names for everything in Balinese and asked me its English equivalent.

I didn’t have much time to think about this instant friendship, as our conversation in gestures and bits of language was totally engaging and would rapidly jump from one subject to another. It felt as if my new friend was trying to make up for his weeks of silence all in one day. We talked for that whole day and well into the evening, and he was at my door again the next morning and for many mornings after!

During the rest of my stay we became good friends, spending most of our mornings together and learning more of each others language. We often helped each other with each others chores from laundry to yard work, always with a running commentary of gestures, and a lot of laughter. His warm friendship had made my loneliness and homesickness totally disappear, and every day I looked forward to our time together.

When it became time for me to leave, we exchanged gifts, smiles, good wishes, and even a few embarrassed tears. We parted as good friends, knowing that we may never see each other again, but that we would never forget each other.

It’s strange that with all the time we spent together and in all our conversations, never once did either of us mention that evening of music. I guess we didn’t need to.

Nukan Srichrangthin, Sombat Simla to Aerosmith

In 1984 I received a grant to study in Thailand. At that time the Canada Council for the Arts only funded study trips to Paris for classical musicians, so my request for funding to study in Thailand was refused. However, I was persistent and when on a cross-Canada tour, I stopped in at the offices to talk to the officer again. Once she saw the poster for my concert with a picture of the khaen, the instrument I wanted to study, she became interested in the instrument and project. As such I received the first Project grant given to a Canadian artist to study overseas in a non-classical genre, and opened the flood gates for Canadian artists to study around the world. I stretched the $2000 I received to last a full six months in Asia.

I had arranged to study at Srinakharinwirot University in Mahasarakham, in the north east of Thailand. , who had recently returned to Thailand after finishing grad school at the University of Washington, assisted me. I was there to study the khaen, a 16-reed bamboo mouth organ native to the region and that of Laos.

r3khaenI quickly found that I was following in the footsteps of Dr. Terry Miller who had recently been in the area a year or so before, researching his doctoral dissertation. My work was not academic, but just out of self-interest in the instrument and music. Parts of the northeast had not seen that many white people yet, and in some villages kids threw rocks at me, thinking I was a white ghost coming to eat them (a popular story parents told their children so they would behave).

Jarenchai had arranged for me to study with three top performers as teachers, one from each generation, but upon my arrival the oldest teacher was too ill, so I worked primarily with Nukan Srichrangthin and later with Sombat Sinla, the youngest.

My lessons with Nukan were intense; I studied 7 hours a day with him six days a week. Then I practiced four hours a night to make sure I was ready for the next lesson. I didn’t speak Thai and he didn’t speak English, so the first few lessons we had a translator. The translator said he couldn’t come for a few days and when he returned he was shocked, as I would ask Nukan a question in English and he would answer me in Thai seemingly understanding each other. That was the last day we used the translator.

Nukan Khaen Photo Raine-ReuschMy way of learning was to imitate Nukan precisely, every movement of his body, breath, fingers, to try and be an exact mirror copy of him. At first it was a struggle to understand what was happening, but after awhile it started to flow. The greatest difficulty was that the music had an improvisatory element to it, so every time Nukan played a piece it was different. So I had to learn to understand the patterns and underlying structure of the music and this took a lot of time.

sombat sinla copyright Randy Raine-ReuschOne day Sombat Simla showed up and took over my lessons. He was quite young and totally blind. He only spoke about ten words of English. When we first sat down he played the instrument slowly note by note. I responded by playing the same thing very quickly. He laughed and said, “OK.” He then played a simple piece, which I played back again a bit faster with embellishments, he laughed again, saying ‘OK.” Then he played an amazingly fast and complicated piece, after which I sat in total silence, and he laughed again saying, “OK, OK, OK!” And our lessons began. The music that Sombat played was basically the same as Nukan’s, but included his own voicings and approaches. It was great to experience the contrast between the two performers.

My host, Jarenchai, wanted to make use of my studying khaen to promote the instrument to Thai youth as much as he could so he arranged for me to give lectures at local universities, interviews and performances on local and national radio programs, and finally at the end of my stay he arranged for me to appear on National TV. I was to play khaen for a famous mawlum, a singer that the khaen usually accompanies. The mawlum sang in Lao and I would adjust my melody based on what she was going to sing. By the context of her lyrics I was to anticipate the tones of the words she was going to sing and then adjust my melody to match or at least not conflict with her tones and melodic line. As I had by this time only learned a small amount of Thai and didn’t speak Lao at all, my teacher stood off camera indicating if my melody should rise or fall with hand signals. The TV audience saw this white guy easily accompany an amazing singer, while in reality I had no clue as to what was coming next. I was technically good, but still was not inside the culture enough to fulfill the traditional function.

After studying khaen I went to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and undertook a short study of the naw, a 5-pipe bamboo mouth organ with a gourd resonator played by the Lahu and Lisu people. My lessons took place in a large building in a small village on the outskirts of town. I would sit down with my teacher while the women of the village would all come, set up their weaving and watch. It was quite a strange experience to have an audience for my lessons and it certainly added a new element of pressure. Most of the time they laughed at my mistakes and attempts to get the music, but once I got a piece they all applauded. While there I wrote a new piece for the instrument and taught it to my teacher. When I returned for the next lesson, he told me he had played my piece at a tourist event, expressing that the dumb tourists didn’t even know a Canadian piece when they heard one!

Unfortunately, at the time I was there, Thailand did not recognize the cultural treasures that they had in traditional village musicians. To be able to spend hours a day listening to each of these stunning performers play was amazing, and to be able to study with them was a huge honour. I often would wonder why I was the only person sitting there listening to this amazing master play, when people just outside the door would be listening to garbage music on the radio.

Nukan survived as a rice farmer, but was a superb performer. Although I was a poor musician in the west, I was rich compared to him, and never balked at giving him as much money for lessons as I could. Nukan, passed away a number of years ago, and I owe him a big thank you for all the time he spent with me. Sombat was an itinerant musician, traveling throughout the region, living off what people gave him to perform. He is still active and is now considered the top khaen player in Thailand.

Aerosmith_PumpFortunately there have been a small number of other folks that have gone to Thailand to study khaen and some have done much better at integrating into the culture than I did. My hat is off to them. The khaen became one of my main instruments, which I recorded with artists ranging from Pauline Oliveros to Aerosmith (I played the naw with Aerosmith as well). I often used to play for the Thai community in Vancouver at their special events, and it was always a treat when those from northeast Thailand got up and started dancing. I went back to Thailand a number of times to continue my studies and visit my teachers.

Dr. Jarenchai Chonpairot is the champion of these amazing northeast Thai performers, bringing foreign artists, researchers and the public to recognize their talents. He is still active in Thailand, and by some at least is recognized as a pivotal person for this music.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Dulcimer Daze: Robert Force, Al d’Ossche, Neal Hellman, David Schnaufer

In the early 70’s there was a revival of the Appalachian mountain dulcimer, although the term renewal is more appropriate as the instrument became a vehicle for modern music and new composition. A lot of the dulcimer’s popularity came from Joni Mitchel playing it on her 1971 album Blue. However, I found my dulcimer in 1968, so the revival was already well under way by the time her playing hit the airwaves.

Neal Hellman teaching Robert Force & Albert d'Ossché Rick Scott's "Lotus Eater Blues," 1977. Photo by Bonnie Carol.
Neal Hellman teaching Robert Force & Albert d’Ossché
Rick Scott’s “Lotus Eater Blues,” 1977. Photo by Bonnie Carol.

There were a few names that transcended borders and led the way of this renewal. Robert Force and Al d’Ossche, a dulcimer duo playing guitar style, had written the most popular dulcimer howto book and were touring as a duo. I met them numerous times, on and off stages, up and down the west coast. They were very animated performers and always brought a smile to your face. Al has passed on now, but through YouTube you can still find Robert picking away throughout the US.

Another great dulcimer player making a name for himself back then was Neal Hellman whom I shared a stage with a couple of times. I always felt him a bit deeper a player, and was always impressed by his technique. His concerts always had a warmth and intimacy to them, and he is still out there and better than ever.

schnauferAnother great was David Schnaufer, who probably had more success than anyone and living in Nashville probably helped. He played with Emylou Harris, Johnny Cash and a host of other big names, although his popularity was a bit later than those above. He was quite amazing and we met and played only twice, our styles were different but there was a lot of mutual respect between us. He passed far too early, as he had a lot more to give.

Vancouver had a few good players as well and they still are active. Rick Scott, and Shari Ulrich both with Pied Pumpkin play guitar style dulcimer, although Shari’s main instrument was violin. Holly Arntzen is still an active environmental performer also playing guitar style. Rick and I taught a dulcimer workshop together as well, and had a real motley crew of inspired and warm-hearted students.

I used to travel on my dulcimer in those days, hitchhiking across the continent and being given food and housing for a few tunes on the dulcimer. I met amazing people, jammed with hundreds of great musicians, and even fell in love a few times through the instrument. The most attention I ever received as a dulcimer player was recording Dulcimer Stomp on Aerosmith’s Grammy award winning album Pump in 1989. For some reason it didn’t make me that popular in the dulcimer world, but I got a lot of attention from rock fans!

Randy Raine-Reusch and Rick Scott's Dulcimer Workshop
Randy Raine-Reusch and Rick Scott’s Dulcimer Workshop

My dulcimer is still with me, built in 1970 by the great Michael Dunn, and an amazing instrument. I have played it on concert stages around the world and on numerous recordings. I have tried literally a few thousand dulcimers over the years, and the only other dulcimers I ever liked were the ones played by Schnaufer. Wish I knew who his maker was.

Though most people prefer playing folk music on the instrument, I prefer to fully explore the modes and the plethora of alternate tunings. I play lap style, and definitely lean towards western ragas, as I often go off on long rambling improvisations. My explorations on the dulcimer are what led me to world music, and beyond. I would not have an instrument collection if I had not first explored other culture’s sounds and music on the dulcimer. So if you see or hear me somewhere playing something that you have never seen before from some remote village, you can blame it on my dulcimer.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Hammond, David Amram, Huun Huur Tu, Peter Gabriel, Bim

In 1980, I started to play at the major folk festivals across Canada. Although it was a joy to be playing for such an enthusiastic and informed audience, there was an equal joy to be in the company of a large number of amazing musicians. The practice in those days was to break up the bands and put individual musicians with similar interests on workshop stages in themed performances. Thus, I got to perform with a large variety of amazing performers, some of which were my musical idols. One year I found myself onstage with the incomparable picker Mike Marshall and fiddle player Daryl Anger, and there were so many notes flying around on stage it was mind-boggling. Another year I started to play a tune and this amazing bass kicked in and I turned to see Michael Manring sitting in. Yet another year blues musician Brownie McGee came to ask for my autograph as he collected everybody’s for his nephew, I was in shock as Brownie was one of my all time heroes. It should be noted that I think I was only asked for my autograph three or four times so far in my whole career!

One of the highlights for me was a concert I did at Edmonton Folk Festival in 1985 with fellow multi-instrumentalists Ken Bloom and David Amram. We each had brought a trunk full of instruments. We didn’t discuss at all what we were going to play, we just all sat on stage, opened the trunks at the same time, reached in without looking and started to play together with whatever we had in our hands. We played one piece that lasted the whole workshop switching instruments often. There must have been at least 100 instruments in total and we played all except one.

David Amram was around a lot in those days and after a fest he did a small club date and called about 20 of the top jazz, folk and world musicians in town to play with him. There was virtually no room on stage, and only one microphone was working so David put it on a boom stand and loosened the base so it could swing back and forth. He indicated two positions, one on each side of the mic stand. We started to play and David would point to a spot, and then one of us. We would stand on the spot, solo, and then swing the mic to the other spot for the next musician to solo. We played all night like that and it was amazing.

huun-huur-tuFestival musicians became like a family as we often toured from fest to fest across the country, seeing each other in another town a week later. For a number of years I held post festival parties at my house for all the world music musicians that were in staying in town for a few days before travelling to the next festival city. I would also invite world music musicians from around town. A typical party might include Tuvan throat singers, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Brazilian, Spanish and African musicians, all jamming together. Twenty years later I was onstage with Huun Huur Tu, and the leader looked at me and said, “I know you, I was at a party at your house!” These parties were part of the genesis of the Vancouver World Music scene.

JhammondAt one fest I saw blues musician John Hammond eating at a table by himself. There were a lot of people at the other tables, so the emptiness of this table stood out. I went over and asked if I could join him and we started a long conversation. Hammond had a stutter still in those days, which unfortunately added to the reason no one talked to him. Anyone who has heard Hammond in concert knows that he has hundreds of amazing stories, and he told a few that day. We developed a “festival friendship” which meant we saw each other at other fests, be it a week or a few years in between. I saw Hammond again a few years later at a concert and his national steel guitar was broken by the airline. Hammond said a man came up after the show and asked to look at the instrument. After looking at the damage he told Hammond that he could fix it for him. Hammond declined as he had a trusted repairperson at home. And the man said, ‘Are you sure, because I made this instrument?” It was one of the Dopyera Brothers who invented the resonator guitar and started the National String Instrument Company!

One year I was flying home from a festival with Roy Forbes (a.k.a. Bim) and a few other prominent artists. We got to the ticket agent and were told we would get our seating assignments at the gate. When we got to the waiting room, it was full of crew from a big rock tour featuring the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel and The Tubes. As the flight was full, we were upgraded to first class, and watched as the rock tour folks walked past us to economy. A stewardess (now called a flight attendant) was standing across from us and was noticeably excited by the rockers. She was exclaiming, “Wow, so many Rolling Stones T-shirts.” Asking the Stones’ tech crew if any of them were in the band (the Stones had travelled earlier). Next she saw some guys with Peter Gabriel T-shirts, and asked one, “are you with Peter Gabriel?” The guy behind him said in a bit of a dismissive tome, ‘Ma’am, this IS peter Gabriel!” All this time Bim was getting more and more restless, and when there was a lull in the passing passengers, he looked at the stewardess, stretched out the Folk Festival T-shirt he was wearing and exclaimed loudly, “This is not a rock and roll T-shirt!” She looked at him in shock and almost screamed, ‘You’re Bim!” The stewardess gave us a bottle of Champagne, which we all had a bit of and then sent the rest back to Peter Gabriel, courtesy of the folk musicians in First class.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan

My grade 11 high school teacher, the older sister of a good friend of mine, dated jazz saxophonist John Handy, famous at that time for his Live at Monterey album, which only featured two pieces, one on each side of the record. Through her I got to know Handy and met him whenever he came to Vancouver, which was surprisingly often. In the late 70s, I went to San Francisco to visit him and stayed at his house in the Mission District for a couple of days. Amidst the constant flow of visitors to his house we managed to talk a lot about music, and even played together a bit.

KArunaOne day Handy took me to the Ali Akbar College of Music. Ali Akbar Khan was the world’s foremost sarod player who had set up this school in 1965 and taught there every week except when he went on tour. We sat in on one of his vocal classes, and spent time talking with him after the class. The class was quite intense, but thoroughly fascinating. He was teaching the small divisions of a note and the associated ornamentations that are essential to Indian music. To be able to play an Indian instrument, a student needed to know all these nuances, and singing them was the best way to learn. I learned so much just in that one class that I really wanted to enroll in this school. Unfortunately I just couldn’t afford it, as money was extremely elusive for me in those days. However, meeting Ali Akbar Khan was amazing, as many people, including myself, consider Khan the world’s greatest musician at that time.

Handy came to Vancouver a few more time after that and I always went to say hi and hear him play. I often wondered why Rainbowmore people didn’t pay attention to him, as the sound of his horn was very special I thought. Karuna Supreme, the album that Handy and Ali Akbar Khan recorded together is still one of my favourites, because of the extreme beauty of Handy’s tone mixed with the sarod. Handy and Khan also recorded another album entitled Rainbow with Dr. L. Subramaniam in 1981.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Creative Music Studio, Collin Walcott

In the mid 70s, I saved just enough money to go to the Creative Music Studio in Mt. Tremper, New York, just out side of Woodstock. This was a school formed by Karl Berger that brought amazing creative musicians together to teach what became the world’s next group of amazing creative musicians. The list of those that taught and attended are a who’s who of contemporary Jazz and new music.

The school had just moved to a massive building with dorm rooms, a giant kitchen, a huge hall, and a number of smaller rooms good for classrooms. I had just enough money for food and didn’t know where I was going to live, so Karl said I could have free housing if I cleaned the whole building daily. This was a huge job, but he also gave me a small discount on my registration fee, so I agreed.

There were only just over 20 students in attendance, and literally 10 of them were kit drummers. One of our first lessons was either with Leroy Jenkins or Roscoe Mitchell (don’t remember which as they were both around). We did a group improv and the sax players went crazy screaming well over the 10 drummers. At the end of the improv the group was asked who had heard me. I was playing my acoustic mountain dulcimer, so of course no one heard me, including myself. We were told that listening was as important as playing and you always needed to hear everyone, including the quietest instrument. A great lesson, but this made me not very popular. The other students looked at me like I was crazy. Why was I at this school when I played a diatonic folk instrument? Even the guitar instructor treated me as an outsider and had nothing to do with me. Fortunately all the other teachers took me seriously. However, halfway through the course I went to New York City and bought a pickup and a couple of used pedals and soon was doing lightening speed duets with one of the guitarists, a la John McLaughlin. Attitudes towards me changed, and even the guitar instructor apologized.

walcottKarl asked me to play in his orchestra and gave me a chromatic score to play, which was a huge challenge for a diatonic fretted instrument. I spent the whole evening figuring out a tuning to play chromatically and to learn the part to play the next day. Everyone was pushed to go beyond all our biases, habits, and paradigms. But our instructors were amazing: Jack Dejohnette, Dave Holland, Fred Rzewski, members of the Chicago Art Ensemble, Stu Martin and a host of others. I spent a lot of time with Stu Martin, and got to know Jack Dejohnette and Dave Holland at a time when they were huge stars. But they were really personable and open; they would stop to talk and took an interest in who you were and what your music was.

collin
Ravi Shankar and Collin Walcott

This was common in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. This was an amazing time for music. There were a lot of folks breaking new ground musically. Artists like Oregon, Don Cherry, Glenn Velez, Nana Vasconcelos, Jon Hassell, and Steve Lacey came to town regularly, and were so approachable that many of the local musicians got to know all of them. Collin Walcott, the percussionist of Oregon, invited me to his studio in New York to look at instruments, and he barely knew me. We hung out and I got to play a bunch of his instrument including an amazing huge udu that was the size of an exercise ball and had the deepest sound I had ever heard. It had been made especially for him, but was far too big to take on tour, so I was one of the few folks that got to hear it, let alone play it. Collin was an amazing guy and it was a huge loss when he passed away on tour. Through Collin I got to know Ralph Towner also of Oregon, and we kept in touch for a few years.

As with Towner my friendships with these artists kept growing, and even though I was just beginning to perform at events they were headlining, they treated me as an equal. This was a time that artists were more concerned with moving music forward than they were about their careers. The feeling was that we were all in this together and all had something to contribute. I miss those days.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014