Perfect Sound Forever

Kevin Drumm

Interview by Jason Gross (April 1998)

Sometimes a mystery is compelling enough to inspire inquiry. After hearing a self-titled CD by Chicago guitarist Kevin Drumm with barely any information there about him, I had to find out more. Who was this guy making incredible sounds without any editing or overdubs? He'd done work with Gastr Del Sol, Arnold Dreyblatt and Phill Niblock among others. None of this was as impressive as the way that Drumm coaxed sounds, noises and 'accidents' that seemed to fly about like mad, interrupt themselves and disappear as quickly as they appear but actually had a logic of their own- an amazing listening experience of electronic experimentation full of ideas and possibilities. This is the kind of thing where you just HAVE to learn more about its creator.

PSF: Was anyone in particular a big influence as you started playing music?

Not really. I was in the dark a bit. I knew names but not much else. I felt good about the world knowing that Hans Reichel and Hugh Davies existed and the FMP catalog and later AMM, etc..

But I wasn't actually influenced or inspired to go the same route. I am influenced by people who I encounter on a regular basis who aren't making music. I'm influenced by people who I know and see on a daily basis who have little if any idea that I do anything at all and thats kind of been the case all along.

PSF: What's been your background with guitar playing?

Well I've played guitar for awhile now, but I started preparing it in '91 or '92. And at that time I didn't know what was out there. Hearing Hugh Davies in the M.I.C. encouraged me to continue. Also Hans Reichel was an early influence. I didn't study music at a University. However I have spent a good deal of time investigating on my own.

PSF: What do you mean?

Maybe 'investigating' isn't the right word. I spend time doing more than just listening (to music). I've always wanted to know what was out there, who was doing what and why. Just embracing things that people are doing (musically) and seeing if there was something else to it other than hearing the music. For example, Tony Conrad. His music is much more than gritty droning violin music. "Well, what is it then?" That sort of thing.

PSF: How did your work with prepared guitar come about?

I started playing the prepared guitar live in late '92 or early '93 having found myself immersed in improvised music particularly the European sort. I played in a group called Signal to Noise with Ken Vandermark and Steve Butters from '94 until '96. We recorded a few things that never were released.

It was improvised music. It was a project put together by Ken V. Like all improvised music it worked sometimes and sometimes it didn't. Towards the end I wanted to do more arranging- simple arrangements like don't play like a lunatic, then go into the lunatic part...slowly. Ha! But Ken Vandermark is a very busy man and it was almost impossible to set up anytime to go over ideas. Despite the group withering away and no one seeming to care (inside the group) I was really fond of it.

PSF: Where there any other groups were you playing with?

I've played in a trio called Corinne from '96 until '97. Corinne is/was like the Signal to Noise except we began arranging pieces instead of improvising. And we got so good at it that we didn't need to arrange (you know that fine line between composing and improvising) anymore but we kind of realized that we were playing the same 2 or 3 pieces over and over and claiming we had 5 or 6. The group is Michael Colligan (clarinet, saxophone, etc.) and Matt Weston (drums)

PSF: What other kind of work where you doing before your solo album?

I organized a improvised music series in Chicago from '94 until early '96 at a place called Myopic. Too many people to mention. Mostly Chicagoans. It's been happening for 4 years now and it is kind of a low profile institution here in Chicago. I would say that it is fairly well known but it embraces the "fall on your face" aesthetic of improvised music that has left a few souls bent on experiencing quality with a bad taste in their mouth.

I've improvised with Evan Parker, Mats Gustaffson, Hamid Drake, John Butcher, Hans Reichel, among many others mostly from Chicago. Thats it for improvised music, more or less. I like improvising but I'm not as interested in it as I was a couple of years ago.

I've just wanted to move on. A couple of years ago, or in '95 actually I played 3 or 4 gigs a week. Table top guitar mostly- only in Chicago could that happen. So I'm just a bit tired of it. For now.

PSF: You've also played with Gatsr Del Sol- could you talk about that?

I've played with Gastr del Sol live and on record. I think Gastr make great records. Jim and Dave were a fruitful combo. I played on a couple of irregular shows of theirs- doing music for a Tony Conrad film and playing Phill Niblock's Four guitars for piece as well as improvising in a few songs.

PSF: What about your Arnold Dreyblatt connection?

I'm proud to say that I played live in an Arnold Dreyblatt performance in '97. Someone told me about Arnold and I just happened upon Nodal Excitation at a record store and took a chance and loved it. Jim O'Rourke was trying to get Arnold to come to Chicago, he agreed and I somehow managed to play in the group.

PSF: What kind of projects are you looking to do?

I like playing the guitar still so I think I'll be doing that for awhile longer. On upcoming releases maybe! There is a split CD due out soon with myself and Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto. A record out on a new label run by Jim O'Rourke which will have two organ pieces, etc.. I'm proud to say I got to play guitar on the Phil Niblock record that will be coming out soon. I just love the music. I heard the piece a couple of years ago played by Jim O'Rourke and Raphael Toral and it was beautiful. It's just very .....vibrant.

I've spent a good deal of time playing improvised music and have grown a little disappointed in some of it and now I'm on to other things in addition to some, but much less improvising.

PSF: You keep talking about how disappointing you are with this music. What happened?

The disappointment I'm talking about can't be described (by me) briefly. It has to do with a whole assorment of things that somehow manages to get wedged into the whole realm of improvised music and at the same time have little or nothing to do with improvised music.

For example: the various attitudes towards improvised music ranging from the many different types of antagonists, to the people who politicize it, intellectualize it, participate in it and decry it, the purists who don't practice what they preach and the sorry saps who strain to get overseas and scmooze with festival organizers so they can get on the "money list", as well as the festival beneficiaries who cry "bullshit" once they've found another source of supplemental income and act like they were yelling bullshit the whole time (when they wouldn't have bit the hand that fed them for anything less than their standard fee). And last but not least, the personal awareness of the irrelevance of all of the above.

My disappointment has to do with personal attitudes and perspectives too. Maybe I should avoid this subject until I really give it a thorough go through. Basically. It's just improvised music for me. It's best kept on the level of Myopic. Free of charge, low profile-word of mouth, etc..

PSF: Could you talk about your solo CD on Perdition Plastics and how that came about?

I had been playing for awhile and I just thought it was a good time to make a record. I was originally going to put it out my self (on vinyl) but then Kurt from Perdition Plastics asked for a tape and he liked it and was interested in releasing it. So I thought why not.

PSF: How do you actually go about creating a 'prepared' guitar? Has your technique with this changed since you started?

Well I don't usually describe it as prepared. Prepared, like "experimental,' has baggage. But nevertheless I do place things on and under the strings which is what prepared guitar is essentially. It's nothing fancy. I've never built anything or modified the guitar in anyway save for installing a new pickup for a bad one. Just simple things around the house.

When I first started I just went with whatever I had in front of me and made a continuous noise. Listening to European improvised music assisted me in trying to how shall I say, execute in a more crafty way and that was good for awhile but I got a little too severe about what I was doing and eventually hated everything I did. Then I grew more into defining my own way of playing. Now I would have to say I like it best when I'm not thinking too much and just going with the flow, being less rigid. Almost back to the beginning only now I can say that I've had a few dubitably fecund walks around the improvising block.

PSF: You said that you're going to be doing a record with just an organ. Why the change from playing guitar?

Well it isn't as though I'm having a go at improvising on organ. I'm not a good organ player by any stretch of the imagination. The record is 2 pieces, one is a 30 minute piece on my Thomas Organ going through a couple of very overdriven amps. It's 2 chords over and over but it progresses through gradual eq changes that someone may or may not even notice. It sounds a bit like a heavily distorted guitar . One person described it as heavy metal minimalism, which is kind of corny but true. I've had the recording for about 2 years now and kind of forgot about it until Jim offered to put it out on his new label called Moirka. The second piece is a few organs, accordions,spliced feedback, and assorted flotsam (edited buzzes and hiss from a blown amp and faulty speaker cables). It's a little prettier than the first track. I think it will be released sometime in the summer of 98.

But getting back to the question- "Why the change?" Because I don't just want to play the guitar. I'd rather make music these days than improvise or do something guitar based.

PSF: Your work has been compared to Derek Bailey and Fred Frith, specifically in terms of guitar playing. Any thoughts on this?

I don't think I sound like Derek Bailey at all. That's a "big" comparison and I'm certainly unworthy of it. Truthfully I haven't heard much of Fred Frith's improvising so I can't say. But I'm sure there are both direct and indirect influences from the 2 combined.

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