Richard Kamerman will be leading a 17-hour performance at Panoply Performance Lab on June 17. Beginning promptly at 7:06 am, the performance will conclude at midnight. Please come check out this groundbreaking piece–drop by and hear part or all of this monumental work. Below is an in-depth interview with the artist.
Richard Kamerman has been breaking electronics and crashing computers while trying to coax interesting and unpredictable sounds out of them for over a decade. Occasionally, he has also presented himself as a more serious composer of re-performable written music. Keywords: amplification, magnification, obfuscation, systems design, game theory, patterns, human error, accident, failure. Although a firm believer in the axiom that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he ceased collecting his instruments from piles of junk left on the curb several years ago, fearing he might bring home bedbugs. Recordings of his solo or collaborative works have been released by Erstwhile Records, Pilgrim Talk, Contour Editions, RRRecords, and Engraved Glass, among others. Kamerman has performed and/or his work has been otherwise presented throughout the United States as well as internationally in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Chile. He also runs the small press music label Copy For Your Records.
Cisco Bradley: You are leading a 17 hour performance on June 17 at Panoply Performance Laboratory. Could you talk about the significance of this work and the concepts of the piece?
Richard Kamerman: I don’t know that there’s anything inherently significant about this piece in a grand scheme of things. I mean, it’s significant TO ME, at least for now. Possibly just because I don’t feel like I’m done with it yet. It’s not the only durationally challenging work I’ve written but it is the most flexible by far. And for that reason, I feel like there’s a lot to mine out of it. Especially because this will only be the third time I’ve tried it out since writing it up in 2011.
But ok, a little context and a little history. The score isn’t a secret. It is publicly available here. The piece is designed to be played by an ensemble of 1 to 6 musicians (at a time), each with between 3 and 12 musical actions to perform (uniform quantity across the ensemble), in varying juxtaposition as instructed over as many pages as are selected to play (up to 12 each, no repeats, no sharing, no less than half the action quantity selected), measuring time in units from 20 to 60 seconds. The result is a piece that can be as work that can be as short as a half hour (or less) or as long as almost 28 hours (27 hours, 52 minutes to be precise)
Take pages B2 and B3 for instance, as a solo, 3 action interpretation, 10 second time unit.
– some time between 2:20 and 3:00, a non-sounding performance action would be taken;
– some time between 3:20 and 6:20, a sounding action will be repeated 7 times (or if appropriate based on the action being taken, instead sustained for 70 second);
– some time between 8:40 and 10:40, the non-sounding action would happen 5 more times;
– between 10:40 and 13:00, a second sounding action would happen 3 times (or be sustained for 30 seconds etc.);
– between 16:20 and 18:20, the non-sounding action would happen again 1 more time;
– and finally between 20:00 and 21:00 the first action would happen again 11 times (or be sustained for 110 seconds, notably an impossible duration within those parameters, solve that puzzle as you will)
At 21 minutes, the piece would be over.
But the same two pages can become increasingly complex. If you step it up to a 12-action performance, even without increasing the time unit, the same part takes 1 hour, 14 minutes, and 40 seconds. and other instructions are inserted before, between and after to break up the rhythm of the above. An action can be instructed to occur zero times, or within zero time – e.g. in this example, into that final quarter hour, action #4 would be prescribed to be taken zero times between 1:09’00” and 1:10’40”, followed by action #6 to be taken 6 times precisely between 1:10:40 and 1:10:40, a moment that is gone as soon as it exists. No other actions can be taken between 1:07’00” and 1:12’00”. To an audience member the result may seem to be that the player is instructed to rest for over 5 full minutes, but the active lack of action, immediately followed by the missed opportunity to act, both for which the player must be prepared, are significant to the mindset of the piece even if unnoticed.
I’m not sure if I’ve even answered your question but I feel like I’ve said a lot already. So. I pause to let you look at the score, to follow-up and focus me.
Cisco Bradley: How does one read the score?
Richard Kamerman: No, it’s definitely not obvious. But that’s why there are instruction pages too. I’ll attempt to summarize without re-reading the way I phrased it originally:
The score is read left to right and top to bottom. Each row of numbers functions as one instruction where the first is the action # (i.e. if the same number comes up, the same action is performed, but the action itself is at the performer’s discretion), second is the # of times to perform that action (or duration for which to sustain it, if it is an action that can only be performed as a sustained gesture), third is the duration you have available in which to perform the prescribed action the prescribed number of times, measured in units of time (variable 10 to 60 second time units, defined in advance and uniformly for the ensemble), fourth is the duration you must not perform before the performing window begins counting, again measured in units of time (not to be interpreted as a “silence” or a “rest” but more casually just a period of not-performing). Each instruction follows the one above it. Since an ensemble can decide to play any number of actions from 3 to 12, a row that starts with an action # higher than what’s in scope of the current performance is simply skipped and has no bearing on the timing of subsequent instructions.
Cisco Bradley: Why have you settled on a 17-hour performance of this modular piece, considering it could be done shorter or longer?
Richard Kamerman: I settled on 17 hours (or close. 16 hours and 54 minutes) because it is currently 2017. We played 14 hours in 2014. No more meaning than that. I want to see how far I can push myself in this regard. Once I’d settled on 17 hours, Esther and Brian and Panoply Performance Lab offered up June 17th for performance as well. So all about those numerical synchronicities.
Cisco Bradley: Who will join you in this performance?
Richard Kamerman: Well, to start, Billy Gomberg, Anne Guthrie, and Ben Owen are my three all-time OGs. Cory Bracken, Robert Hardin, and Miles Pflanz are all playing for the second time as well. Then there’s nine people (so far, still growing) who have signed up to help me out for the first time. And another 7 who have played in the past who will (tentatively) not reprise their roles. My goal is defiantly not (cf. graham stephenson) to bring together a group with a cohesive unified aesthetic. I’ve tried that before. It rarely works the way you expect it to. But the idea here is to have a healthy mix of approaches. A balance of people who work in more conceptual sound and performance and people who just make good noises for aesthetic purposes, people who play amplified sounds and people who don’t, people who come from a background of formal training and people who play in an individually-developed idiom, etc. I draw from friends and collaborators. Acquaintances both intimate and casual with whom I know (or believe) there is a level of mutual artistic respect. And people who I think will get a kick out of playing the score.
Cisco Bradley: How did you get involved in the NYC noise/improvised music scene?
Richard Kamerman: This question is asking a lot too. I’ve been playing improvised music gigs around NYC since 2004. I feel like the process of “getting involved in the scene” is something that just happened organically. Each person I met and played with or shared a bill with introduced me to other people I met and played with or shared bills with etc ad infinitum. I’m also not sure what the “scene” in question is. I’m pretty sure there have been times I could have called myself involved in no less than 5 different noise and/or improvised music scenes at the same time all coexisting but bizarrely not overlapping within this city. We’re a strange and fragmented “scene” here and I’ve never fully understood why.
Cisco Bradley: What unique aesthetics do you bring to noise and improvised music?
Richard Kamerman: I always want to ask other people this kind of question. Like, please tell me what unique aesthetics I bring to noise and improvised music! I think it goes without saying that I have very little interest in traditional notions of melody or rhythm (and by “traditional” I make no mistake of limiting my statement to the western cannon). But I am still interested in the way sounds relate to each other. The juxtaposition of sounds over time. Or of sounds and silences. Is a more interesting way to look at music for me personally.
I like to work with small sounds. Small gestures. Put through a magnifying glass. Not so much processed, as transformed by amplification to non-recognition. Never been a big FX pedals guy though I’ve got a couple old Zoom rackmount multi-effect units I’ll bring to gigs occasionally. And I like working with unfamiliar gear or systems and signal flows that I don’t fully understand (even if I put them together).I approach the creation of sound a bit like a cave man I think. What happens when I plug this thing into that thing (uh oh, did I break it)? Or just as often with electronics as with percussion: What happens when I hit this thing with that thing (oh ok, it’s working again but I don’t think that’s the way it ever used to before)? I have no problem with doing something that I might come to regret (making a mistake, if you will) in front of an audience. I’d rather learn something each time I set out to play than perform some kind of virtuosic noise set.
For about 8 years starting in 2006 or 2007, and absolutely in full force from like 2009 to 2014, my primary improvising instrument was collection of small motors and fans and found objects and batteries. Sometimes as an acoustic percussion instrument emphasizing subtle changes in timbre of sound. Sometimes amplified through sheets of metal for maximum ear shattering potential. I reached a moment where I stopped learning. I could show up with my box of toys and play a perfectly serviceable set that people enjoyed. But I wasn’t growing from the process anymore. So I put it away a while. It’s been long enough that I’m thinking of bringing at least pieces of it back out of retirement though maybe not the whole thing yet. Just placed an order earlier today for a couple of high-torque massage chair style vibration motors and a bunch of smaller cell phone vibration motors and I’m hoping that by refocusing on these new toys as central to performing with that kit, I can make it feel worthwhile again. There’s also a specific idea brewing that involves these new motors and a couple of military grade transducers I re-discovered at the bottom of a box when cleaning out my storage unit recently.
Cisco Bradley: What other bands do you play in?
Richard Kamerman: Lately, my main band has been The New York Review of Cocksucking which is a duo with Michael Foster. I got a kick out of how when you interviewed him about this band, he left out one key piece of information about how we started playing together. And that’s the fact that we both swiped right on Tinder. Neither of us was exactly looking to go on a date with the other but since we both thought we knew who the other was based on hearing about each other from Aaron Zarzutzki before, it was a real networking opportunity. Somehow in the context of this queer noise gambit that seems like an important detail for me to bring to light.
I was honestly a little hesitant to play with Michael because I know he’s got more than one foot in the jazz world and I’ve never found I play well with people hung up on jazz idioms. Or jazz-length performance durations. But he made it quickly clear that he wasn’t especially about either the “ecstatic” improvisation of the crew that grew here out of the old loft scene or the real bro-down machismo of all the European free jazz guys. And he proved quickly, that he can ditch all that saxophone baggage when he plays more than sufficiently (though obviously not always completely). It worked beyond my expectations. So I very quickly jumped toward coming up with band names to commit us to play as often as possible. And I’m still having a lot of fun with this. We’re about to play a set on a real jazz program soon. I can’t wait to see how poorly we’re received.
I try not to approach NYROCs as especially distinct from other projects. It’s all just improvised music where I’m trying to explore sound and performance ideas that I find interesting. But playing with Michael, as with any specific collaborator, does bring out different aspects of my practice more forcefully. One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about this duo is that it’s somehow created a space for me to explore more storytelling ideas. I’ve been doing occasional off-the-cuff conversation with audience and readings of texts I find or write for several years. But it has worked so especially well with Michael that I’ve been able to really refine the practice at a faster rate now that we’ve been playing and really naturally make it part of my go-to kit of tools. The focus of the texts with Michael tends to be more queer-interest or more overtly sexual but there are also a lot of times when I just talk about what’s been on my mind that day. What’s bothering me personally, artistically, etc. It feels good to get that stuff off my chest performatively.
But I have a couple other long-term group projects that either play occasionally or at least haven’t formally disbanded, so I can dream they will one day play again.
First, there’s delicate sen with Anne Guthrie (french horn) and Billy Gomberg (synthesizer). We’ve been working together since something like late 2005. We even did a tour down the west coast back in 2009.But been a while since we recorded much. May even be a couple years since our last gig. We all have real legit day jobs, so it can be harder to find time to be creative as a team. But I was just over to their place for an afternoon of hanging out and playing Netrunner and we were talking good game on playing again. So hopefully a session will happen. Billy and I also have a bass/drums noise rock duo called Other Vultures and Anne and I call our offshoot duo Scabby Hands, but Jon Abbey wouldn’t let us release our erstwhile duo under that band name.
Second, there’s Frogwell. Which is even harder to coordinate because there’s five of us in the band. Myself, Robert Hardin, Jeremy Slater, Bob Lukomski, and Tamara Yadao. Robert and I first started playing together in trio format with Khristian Weeks as Caledonian Laughing Bags. We even had a RRRecords recycled tape release. After Khris moved away, the band went through a few mutations and finally had to be renamed Frogwell when we reached the current lineup. Frogwell as a group has always been very interested in more structured improvisation or even precisely composed works. Each member periodically brings a piece to the table they’ve been working on for the band and we find ways to bring them to life. The piece Frogwell performed a couple times last year (in Brooklyn, and then upstate in New Paltz) was one by Robert called “This is your world, you can put anything you want in it” – sort of a tribute to a certain famous TV painting instructor whose name we’re not supposed to mention for legal reasons, utilizing re-organized snippets of text from his tv show (in dialog with himself ultimately) and a lot of amplified painting gestures against contact mic’d canvases. The last time I actually wrote a piece for Frogwell was back in 2010 when I finished a score for 3 shruti boxes and two acoustic guitars that I called “It is Too Late Now, Your Life is No Longer Beautiful.” Piece was almost 4 hours long and we played at sunrise in Lighthouse Park on Roosevelt Island. Next up in development is one of Tamara’s that I’m really looking forward to attempting. Teaser keywords: home-made instruments and squaredance calling. Get excited.
The one other band I started shortly before delicate sen was Tandem Electrics with Reed Rosenberg. I’m almost afraid to claim we’re still a band since we’ve probably played 2 gigs since he moved to Philly 5 or 6 years ago. And I also have a vague recollection of him wanting to change our band name last time to Tandem Electronics because that’s how we kept getting billed anyway. But I hold out hope we will rise again. I still listen to a lot of our unreleased recordings from time to time. Tandem was essentially a laptop duo. Except while Reed was running masterful Max/MSP patches he wrote, I was wailing feedback on my laptop’s internal mic, and running super high gained coil pickups over the surface to pick up its internal noises. By the end, there was even a light show component with a big flashing LED strip and Reed was working on programming lasers for one of his other bands. The final gig we played actually had a lot more to do with trying to invent musical structures that machines would find interesting. So while I personally can’t help myself but keep screwing with things rather than let a process play itself out, he was pushing hard on on absolute and total lack of human intervention once the set starts. And that was taking us cool places.
Finally, I used to have a band called Fyxzis with Steve Flato and Corey Larkin when I only did live video (broken feeback systems mostly) instead of sound. Again all totally improvised. But that ended when Steve moved to the west coast. We had grand ideas for long-distance systems of collaboration. But it didn’t work out.
Cisco Bradley: When did you arrive in New York City and what led you here?
Richard Kamerman: I was born at New York Hospital on June 26, 1985 and I never left. It’s almost becoming a running joke at this point that, while I do travel occasionally, the longest continuous stretch I can ever stay outside of NYC is about 3 weeks long at a time.
Cisco Bradley: What is your background and training?
Richard Kamerman: I do have formal music training. I played piano for several years. cello for a couple. Took a guitar lesson or two but not enough to know how to play at all. Sang pretty seriously when I was a little boy soprano. But I never felt committed enough to put in the hard work to actually keep improving with any of the instruments. Or to translate my classical vocal technique into a baritone range when my voice changed. Throughout and subsequent, I studied music theory and composition extensively. I also spent several years high-school through college and after working in sound design for theater and then for film and learned/developed a lot of techniques in those spaces that inform both my live and studio practices as a musician.
As a kid, I always wanted to be a percussionist but I saw drums as a “cool” instrument and didn’t want to be perceived as picking them in school just to be cool. So I didn’t go through with it. I finally started buying drums and cymbals and collecting resonant junk on the streets in college and, moreso than electronics at that point, percussion became my primary instrument as an improviser although I had zero training and couldn’t keep a beat. I also had spent my entire life living in apartment buildings so my musical practice has a lot to do with being conscientious of volume for the sake of my neighbors. It was noted more than occasionally by new collaborators I got thrown into ad hoc sessions with that I was the quietest drummer they ever played with. Eventually I started paring down the kit and ultimately leaving most of it behind. Only because it’s such a hassle to get drums to a gig on the subway. Maybe I’d bring one drum or one big ride cymbal at a time. For a while I was going around playing an unstrung acoustic guitar body the neck had broken off of, laid flat in the clutches of a snare drum stand. Nice and resonant but weighed a lot less for sure!
Cisco Bradley: Thank you!