A FEW MINUTES WITH… Ben Goldberg of Dialogue
Interview and story by J Hunter
I was at a professional seminar the other day when I saw a PowerPoint slide that had me stunned for a moment: “There is no such thing as Multi-Tasking.” Okay, if we postulate that a human being isn’t an air-breathing octopus with eight arms that can build a better mousetrap AND write the Great American Novel while it’s making a hearty breakfast for its human/octopi-hybrid family, I guess that is technically true. But the human mind is a marvelous little machine with a ton of neurons firing every single second, and not all of them are focused on what you’re posting on Facebook or your teeth-gritting effort to not spill your coffee while walking over to your cubicle. In other words, there’s a lot going on underneath while you’re doing your best to get through your day.
Take, for example, clarinetist-composer Ben Goldberg, who’s become a musical icon in the Bay Area over the last couple of decades. To say Goldberg has multiple interests is like saying Lewis Hamilton likes to drive fast. I got turned on to Goldberg in 2009 through a semi-super group jazz disc called Go Home, which Goldberg used to launch his record label BAG Productions. But if you look over the various projects littered throughout his discography (the alt-folk outfits Tin Hat and Junk Genius, the New Klezmer Trio, Clarinet Thing, and two utterly opposite recordings he released simultaneously in 2013), and you get the impression Goldberg is playing 12-dimensional chess while the rest of us are playing checkers – badly!
Now, it is possible to play 12-dimensional chess by yourself… I imagine. But most games are more fun if you’ve got someone to play with. When it comes to that, Goldberg’s favorite partner for one-on-one games is next-level pianist Myra Melford. Both players have recorded duets with other artists (Melford most recently with Australian pianist Alister Spence), and both artists have truly unique projects on their respective resumes: Melford’s includes Alison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, the bands Snowy Egret and Trio M, and her own Be Bread Ensemble, which Goldberg joined in 2010.
But to listen to Goldberg and Melford play together – as they do on their latest collaboration Dialogue – is to listen to a kind of synchronicity that shouldn’t be possible for people who haven’t experienced the Vulcan Mind Meld. It’s akin to watching two people work together on building a stained-glass window, never talking to each other once, and the thing comes out dead-solid perfect. To hear that (and to see it on the concert video shot of Myra and Ben in 2013) is to hear two creative soul mates flying in intricate formation, performing acrobatic feats that the Blue Angels wouldn’t even consider attempting.
We get to see Melford and Goldberg perform the aforementioned musical magic at 7pm this Sunday (November 16) at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. Ben was good enough to take a few minutes and talk about this project (among other things):
Q: You’ve got some truly diverse projects on your resume. What draws you to a project – either one you’ve created, or one that is presented to you by another artist?
A: For me, the most important thing is relationship. I have a strong feeling about the people I work with; basically I am crazy about every one of them, and want to do as much as I can with them. This is where the music comes from.
Q: Your resume also includes multiple duet recordings. What’s the one thing you want out of a partner in a duet setting?
A: Myra and I have an absolutely uncanny ability to phrase exactly together, whether the passage is composed or improvised. When you meet someone like that (this doesn’t happen often), you know you are meant to play together.
Q: When did you and Myra first become aware of each other? You worked together prior to recording with the Be Bread Ensemble, right?
A: I knew of Myra’s work with The Same River, Twice and had listened to recordings. But we didn’t start playing and working together until Myra moved to Berkeley (to teach at the university). That was around 10 years ago.
Q: If you could name one thing about Myra Melford that really excites you as a musician, what would it be?
A: Everything Myra does is pure music. What more could a musician want?
Q: How did Dialogue come about? Who called who first?
A: Some other projects we were in together were winding down, and we both wanted to keep playing with each other. We tried a few times to invent a trio, but it seems something always got in the way, so finally we said, “Fuck it, it’s a duo.” I’m very glad we did; the experience of working with Myra in this context has been unbelievable.
Q: You did a European tour with this music before you went into the studio. How much did that tour contribute to the music’s development – i.e. re-writes, discoveries, etc.?
A: Every time we perform, it feels like the music has already reached a whole new level – sometimes it’s kind of scary. So our plan has been to avoid recording for as long as possible! (Actually, we will be making a record this weekend.)
Q: Your concert in Toulouse was videotaped. Was that pre-arranged, or was it something that came up in the course of the tour?
A: Myra’s friend Gil Corre wanted to film us for a segment of an amazing movie he was making called “Circles of Silence.” Since he had his crew there, we asked if he could film the concert that evening. I’m very glad we all thought of that, because the concert was one of the best on that tour.
Q: When the two of you perform this music, how much is “scripted,” and how much is action/reaction?
A: Like a lot of our colleagues, we are working with the relationship between composing and improvisation – and all the areas in-between! This is an evolving concern for many of us. But even when it’s composed, it’s all action/reaction!
Q: With all the things you are involved in, how hard is it to stay focused on the project in front of you? Is there one thing you latch onto that keeps you focused?
A: Well, things get busy. But you can only do one thing at a time. Careful scheduling seems more and more crucial, so that it is possible to devote oneself to the task at hand, without being distracted by other responsibilities.
AND DON’T FORGET: We’re giving away a pair of FREE TICKETS to the concert. GO HERE to enter to win…