Tony Buck – “I had in Australia 92 Miles Davis records that at one point I decided to listen to chronology, which took about six months, and was incredibly informative”

 

 

I know that you have not only toured and travelled a lot, but you spent your life in different continents and countries: Australia, Japan, Germany… but the records are (happily) still here! That’s not so easy, other musicians decided to get rid of them: I’ve recently contacted Blaine Reninger of Tuxedomoon that kindly declined my invitation to Concrete Shelves saying “I don’t really have a record collection. All of the vinyl is long gone. I have my own CD’s and Tuxedomoon’s CD’s and one or two from projects I have worked on.”
So these CDs have ‘lived’ with you in those countries? Or you left something here and there, and then got new ones…? How did you manage to bring them with you?

These photos are indeed from my house.
In the last 15 or 20 years I have travelled a lot, it’s true. I left Australia, as a resident, in 1991 and in so doing left behind an LP collection of a couple of thousand. A very eclectic mix of jazz, pop, rock, classical and ‘world’ music records. On various trips back to Australia I do try and go to my fathers house, where the collection resides, and grab a handful of old favorites to bring home to Berlin with me. Most, however, have been seriously water damaged, and my father sees fit to keep them in a tin shed out in the Australian heat, so, to say they aren’t in the greatest of condition is somewhat of an understatement!
The records in the photos however have mostly been collected since I settled in Berlin, which by now is over 15 years – so a good enough time to have collected quite some it seems!

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I’m often fascinated by the objects I discern among records, in your case a sort of denture, or drawn teeth (?) and (maybe) two drumsticks with red and green stripes, not far from the excellent Buddha Machine box… can you tell me about those things?

Well, the object that looks like teeth is a part of a sound installation piece I did some 15 years or so ago in Berlin. The painted, comic like face you can see next to the box of LPs in my living room is also from this work. This installation consisted of painted or otherwise adapted found objects that were each given a personality and a recorded and looped, soundtrack that played simultaneously with a live solo performance. The teeth actually are a painted section of found pipe from roadwork in Berlin, the face painted on an old tin box from an old heating system.
Also visible along side these objects are some small instruments, a pair of Lebanese reed flutes (which you recognized as drumsticks) and a beautifully painted African drum, that I bought on Sydney a few years ago.
My flat is filled with many such instruments from different places and cultures, collected over the years.

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I do my best here to avoid flattering the interviewee, but you guys are for me really one of the best bands around. I discovered you in a very funny way, as although I heard of you, for some reasons I never tried to listen to anything until 2005, when in Berlin I bought for 4 € a CD of Gastr Del Sol first album. It was a good deal, as inside I found that album, but also “Drive By” of your band. It was an epiphany. By the way, I never had the opportunity to see you live but I definitively love the “Tech specks” page on your website. I don’t know any other band that has such a public and precise stuff online to tell what they need to perform live. I suppose that in the past you experienced any sort of disagreeable situation… and now you want full control on what’s happening while you play. This reminds me also the “(control)” term beside Lloyd Swanton in the credits of nearly every record you put out…

Well, thank you very much for the huge compliment. Your enthusiasm is much appreciated. It would be great if you managed to catch a concert. Many people tell us it’s a very different experience to listening to the records. We in the band also think of the group in a sense as two entities– the studio Necks and the live Necks. It would be interesting to get your impression..
Anyway, we’ve never felt it was all that unusual to have our tech specs up on our website. It does make it an easy ‘one-stop-shop’ for promoters to get all the info they need – photos, bios, press and tech requirements. I guess we’ve always felt the general public and other visitors to the site simply wouldn’t be all that interested in those details and for sure, we have nothing to hide, so why not have them sitting there. I don’t think there are any unusual or too demanding conditions that might give people a weird impression. Most groups tech specs tend to be quite specific and precise I imagine.
Occasionally some promoters have made assumptions that just wouldn’t work for us, for example suggesting an electric piano would do just as well as a grand piano, but this doesn’t happen too often. There are also somethings we have come to rely upon to make the music work in the way we’d like it to. I’m quite specific about my bass drum sound in the group for example, as it affords us the opportunity to utilize various approaches to our ensemble sound, giving the bass the opportunity to move into higher string registers without sacrificing a strong bass frequency presence, for example, so that’s written there in our tech rider. It’s not so much about control as giving us every opportunity to exploit the musical options we’d like to have on hand.
The term ‘control’, by the way, after the composers names on record cover details is actually simply a publishing convention that indicates the copyright of a piece of music remains in hands of the composer rather than a third party publishing company. I think you’ll find it on many releases.

I’m not sure that this ‘public ostension’ of the tech specs is that common. It should be, maybe! Do you agree or is my flight of fancy?

Funny, I’ve seen a bunch of tech riders posted on the internet lately – usually particularly quirky ones by particularly famous people. There’s a funny one by Iggy Pop going around and one by Fred Frith I’ve seen lately. Ours isn’t particularly interesting or controversial by comparison but it is there for all the world to see, which unfortunately still doesn’t stop reams of email exchanges at times between us, our agent and the promoters, negotiating suggested alternatives or deviations from our requirements. Perhaps we should make it more spectacular in an attempt to make things clearer and to be taken seriously.

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Let’s get back to the phots you sent me. It didn’t surprise me to find boxes of Miles Davis and Fela Kuti, and I see also the Angolan collection vinyl of “Mukanda Na Makisi”. I know that many musicians have developed an interest in black music and African music the more and more they grew up… is it the same for you, or did you started with that in mind? Was jazz, for instance, you primary listening or it came later on?

I guess when I was studying I did collect an inordinate amount of jazz records. I had in Australia, for example, 92 Miles Davis records that at one point I decided to listen to chronologically, which took about six months, and was incredibly informative.
When I get the chance to look through my old collection in Australia I am quite surprised by how many of various types of music I have. Hundreds of traditional African music records and way more modern classical records than I remember having bought. I think I always wanted to listen to as many different types of music as possible.
These days my ‘Berlin collection’ isn’t nearly as extensive but it is, i guess, just as varied.

Wow! So which were your main findings after having listened to the 92 records of Miles Davis chronologically? What do you remember of that half a year in the company of his trumpet and fellows? You maybe investigated the shades related to the different drummers he had?

Firstly I guess it’s important to point out that while I was carrying out my chronological listening to Miles Davis I was also listening to other records as well. It wasn’t 6 months of exclusive Miles Davis.
The main thing I was interested in was how someone got from the early ‘Be Bop’ style and ‘Birth of the Cool’ sound through to ‘Bitches Brew’ and the heavy, psychedelic funk of ‘Dark Magus’ etc. in one smooth transition through his career; trying to hear how new approaches were introduced – where those influenced might have come from and how they were incorporated.
It was a very enlightening exercise.
I wasn’t so much focused on the drummers in particular but it is interesting how the rhythm section approaches were a big part of the stylistic transitions. The extension of typical ‘jazz’ approaches slowly moving into more abstract territory or incorporating more angular ‘rock’ shadings…. quite subtle really, but moving the music slowly and inexorably into new areas. The introduction of electric instruments also obviously had a big impact in the late 60s, but this too was introduced quite gradually over a number of releases. It was interesting to me that there was never a really radical break into totally new areas. There does seem to be a continual, slow development that really does make a direct connection from ‘Birth of the Cool’ to ‘On the Corner’ and beyond.
As for spending such a period in the company of his trumpet, it is interesting to hear how is approach to the instrument lends a continuity and consistency that carries through his entire, wide ranging career.

You said “It was interesting to me that there was never a really radical break into totally new areas. There does seem to be a continual, slow development.” Well, I may be wrong, but this applies to the way in which many of The Necks albums develops WITHIN themselves. I mean: when I listen to “Drive By” or also to “Body”, it happens sometimes that, at one point of the listening, I ask myself “how the hell did we get here?” Step by step, you three ‘move’ the composition in a way that builds up a constant transformation to different states. Of course there are also more radical breaks (and maybe in Miles career too), but the wonder you create (for me at least) is in this controlled and engaging transformation. And I underline “control”, because, again, my impression is that you seem to have a natural attitude in balancing control and creativity.

I think gradual changes and developments within one piece of music and stylistic developments throughout a career are quite different things, although perhaps related in subtle ways. In an artists career it suggest a ‘style’ evolving, taking in new influences or engaging with new concerns. In a single piece of music, certainly with a piece by The Necks, I think the changes are more likely to be the introduction of new material, for example themes and motifs, instruments or shifting layers, but all happening within the established character (or style of you like) of the piece. How we introduce this new material and steer a piece almost imperceptibly into new areas is something I am very concerned with in The Necks and perhaps this approach has been influenced by seeing similar changes happening in the larger context of an artists career but it does involve a different kind of process I think.
An interesting aspect to The Necks work is that we very much engage with a process – a kind of method of dealing with the material (seeming repetition, slow changes, durational build up of sounds) and not so much with ‘Style’, even in the sense of genre (jazz, post-rock, trio-hop, trance).
In a sense, we have these different and contrasting genres of music sitting there in our vocabularies, choosing to explore a particular approach for a particular piece and seeing what we can do with the building blocks of that ‘style’ and the material we have used in the piece. Although, while some records might sound ‘jazzy’ or ‘indie’ or ‘ambient’ I do think we always sound like The Necks and not just some genre jumping chameleons. So perhaps our style is our methodology.


Born in Sydney in 1962, Tony Buck has been involved in a highly diverse array of projects. Apart from The Necks, he is probably best known as leader of hardcore/impro band PERIL. Early in his musical life, after having graduated from the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, he became very involved in the jazz scene in Australia, often touring with visiting international artists, as well as Australians. Following time spent in Japan, where he formed PERIL with Otomo Yoshihide and Kato Hideki, Tony moved to Europe, and has involved himself in many projects there, including the development of new “virtual” MIDI controllers at STEIM in Amsterdam.
Tony has played, toured or recorded with, among others, Jon Rose, John Zorn, Tom Cora, Phil Minton, Haino, Ne Zhdall, The EX, Peter Brotzmann, Hans Reichel, The Little Red Spiders, Subrito Roy Chowdury, Kletka Red, Han Bennink, Shelley Hirsch, Wayne Horvitz, Palinckx, and Ground Zero.

thenecks.com | tony-buck.com

The Necks - PHOTO by Holimage.jpg

Tony Buck, Lloyd Swanton and Chris Abrahams.

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