Clarinetist and composer Jeremiah Cymerman cuts and cuts and cuts a maddening line between free improv and musique concrète, creating glitched-out landscapes from recycled performances. His second album for Tzadik, Fire Sign (out August 30), is like a night at the Stone remixed with a microscope and tweezers—honking horns and sawing cellos evoke the granular crackle of Philip Jeck or the splattery surgery of Kid 606. Cymerman creates his dense, cyclonic flutter-clouds through an intense editing regimen: The sounds of acoustic instruments are “micro-edited, over and over again and processed into a piece that plays like an electronic sound mosaic,” he says. “When I create a piece like this it becomes a sort of dedication to the musicians that it features. The result, while it may seem abstract to some, is music that is very tactile and meant to be an intense sensory overload.” The musicians he’s paying tribute to in “Collapsed Eustachian” are YIMBY veteran Peter Evans and trumpeter Nate Woolley—two punk-jazz improvisers whose monstrously unique and tirelessly exploratory improv styles are already loaded with colorful blats, somber squish and otherworldly din. Under the guide of Cymerman’s pointillist pixel-pushing, it’s like dueling Brötzmanns in the John Cage “Williams Mix” blender, a flurry of glitchy activity, jarring noise and exploding hues. Use headphones at the composer’s request!
What is “Collapsed Eustachian” about for you?
With this piece I wanted an explosion of color that would really highlight the brilliance of the two musicians involved, Peter Evans & Nate Wooley. These are two people who deeply inspire me as musicians and as friends but I wanted to be very careful & cautious in creating this music. Whenever an improviser has a unique voice, and both Peter & Nate certainly do, inevitably some wise-ass composer comes along and wants to somehow use it in a piece, which I tend to interpret as an attempt on owning what the improviser does. Somehow it just always feels kind of insulting or like some sort of musical colonialism. When you hear someone like Nate or Peter you realize that what they are doing is perfect music. Period. So my intention was to celebrate what they do rather than try to somehow “make it better.” I took the recorded sounds of them improvising and tried to create something that would be completely surprising to all three of us.
How do you create such a busy universe of sound?
The result comes from countless hours spent in front of my computer with headphones on, editing and re-editing every sound, auditioning ideas, doing different versions of the piece, getting frustrated and punching the wall, listening back, doubting myself, trying new approaches, wishing that I was doing something else with my life, trying different effects plug-ins and pedals, drinking coffee… The standard shit.
Peter Evans is a YIMBY fave. What do you love about his playing?
Peter is one of the few musicians that I can think of who is 100% deserving of the praise that heaped upon him. What’s not to love about his playing? His dedication is beyond question and he is a virtuoso of the first order—what he’s doing with the trumpet is completely unique and insane. Peter is also a complete lunatic and as wild as his playing is, his sense of humor is just as intense. I fucking love the guy.
How did you come to the decision to use “recycled sounds” for the album?
This music was all created during a time where I was questioning myself pretty deeply both as an artist and as a person. None of the music started out as being something I wanted to release. I was spending a lot of time at home and just sort of tinkering with things as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do next. After about six months I stopped and looked at what I had been working on and I realized that I had been making a record all along without knowing it… I think there is something really beautiful about taking what’s around you and making art of it.
The music was sourced from your “Telluric Currents” series at I-Beam in Gowanus. What do you remember from those nights?
Here’s a funny memory from one of those nights. Nate Wooley was playing solo and sometimes Nate can play so quietly that if you’re not right next to him you won’t even hear what he’s doing. In the middle of one of these moments all of a sudden this really loud reggaeton started playing right outside of I-Beam. It was at least three or four times as loud as Nate and after two or three minutes it was very clear that I wasn’t going to stop unless someone said something. I walked outside and saw that it was coming from this parked car that was being worked on by this super-scary looking dude that looked like he had just gotten out of prison 10 minutes beforehand. Even though I was expecting to either get punched in the face or at least told to fuck off, I explained that there was a very quiet concert happening inside and that his music was very distracting. Immediately the guy just clammed up and was just like “Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I had no idea! I was just cleaning out my car and I feel really embarrassed and bad for disturbing you.” He immediately shut the music off and apologized like three or four more times.
You’ve told me to listen to this in headphones. How important is sound quality to you?
I feel like the sonic presentation of a piece tells just as much of a story as the notes and performances. Maybe it’s because my background is in music engineering and production but I’ll never understand how some musicians, particularly in the improv/experimental/jazz world, can be so casual about how their records sound. I think it comes down to the recordings being an expression of your ideas and I want that expression to be as articulate as possible. For this particular record I wanted the music to be ear candy as much as possible. I asked that you listen on headphones because there is a lot of information, almost all of which takes full advantage of the stereo field.
How do you feel about MP3s?
I listen to them all the time on my iPod but they seem like a real compromise in how we experience music. I’ve sat on the floor, three feet from Milford Graves. Once you experience music like that you’ll feel like a goddamned fool every time you listen to an MP3.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in NYC?
I was playing with Tartar Lamb, which is one of Toby Driver’s projects, and there was just a perfect confluence of circumstances. I always like the vibe at Zebulon but this night was different. It was a Sunday night and it was raining so hard that you couldn’t see through the windows, but miraculously we had almost a full house. From the very first note until the end the music seemed to just glide by perfectly. There was magic happening and I remember looking into the audience and seeing that everyone was completely absorbed by what was happening, no one was talking or texting, only listening. And for the remainder of the set I felt like we were just in this perfect little fish tank where everything made sense. There was a warmth in the room that really informed the music that we were making. It’s one of my fondest memories.
The Fire Sign release party is September 13 at Zebulon. Kevin Hufnagel and C. Spencer Yeh will also perform.