Embers are an experimental four piece consisting of two saxophones, bass and drums who make an extraordinary amount of noise, conjuring incredible and unbelievable sounds from their instruments. I spoke to Adam Simmons and Kris Wanders of the band, their answers are shown in normal text and italics respectively, and their answers just goes to show the differences between band members?
How did all the members of the band meet each other and why did you all decide to do what you are doing now?
We've been around for almost two years now as a group and have done Festivals like the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival and the Now Festival in Sydney, as well as gigs live on PBS FM, Make It Up Club (Bar Open), the Tote and The Spanish Club. So we've crossed several scenes, which is a fun thing to do. But at various times each member has had other commitments with overseas travel that has made our public appearances a little sporadic. I'd have been surprised if you had found much on us!
Well, I've been working with Sean and Dave now since about 1995 when I first joined Bucketrider, which was a trio at the time with saxophonist Tim O'Dwyer, with the subsequent addition of James Wilkinson on trombone. At the time Sean and Dave were also active as a duo called Lazy. But Kris I probably first heard about six or seven years ago - performing with his own band, screaming away in deafening manner at 303, in the back room there.
The first time Kris and I played together was in 2005 in a trio with Sean - this was at the Make It Up Club as part of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival (MJFF) and was such an exciting gig. I think this was my idea at the time. Then after the gig Kris said, we should play with a bass player - do you know David Brown?? - I just laughed... I think it actually took a year until the next MJFF but when we played as the quartet it just felt so right - the kind of more hard-blowing, free jazz of Kris to the gut-wrenching distorted subsonic noise of Dave's bass, it just seemed a natural combination.
What were your motivations, what did you want to achieve? If anything?
For me personally, it was simply an opportunity to work with musicians who never cease to surprise and amaze me. Also this combination of the free jazz world with a more contemporary noise/sound bent seemed exciting and a little different. Kris is such a strong musical personality that needs to be matched - Sean and Dave do this in a way that I think many more conventional jazz rhythm sections would fail to do. I enjoy playing with Kris as we are capable of similar sonic possibilities on the instrument yet our approaches are quite different and somehow it always feels there is space to move, I never feel like we're competing in any way.
Now we simply want to play, play well and explore further possibilities of where we can push the sound/groove.
Is there anything else?
How do you write / compose? Or are most of your performances improvised to a rough plan?
Nope, no writing, no composing... all just listening, responding, offering, playing...
Occasionally we have imposed a constraint or two, such as the Saxes starting at different ends of the horn and working to a unison point, or as simple as two people will begin as a duo then joined by the other two. But it really is all so open - I believe this is part of the power of our performance; the fact that no one in the room - including us - has any idea where it could go next. Some gigs have felt that they move up and down in terms of intensity, maybe a roller coaster ride, but still there can be moments of repose. Other gigs feel like the roller coaster just keeps gathering more and more speed without ever letting up.
I think each individual in the band is a composer in real time and constructs the improvisation in a truly democratic dialogue with the other musicians.
Is the aim to produce 'noise' or are there carefully constructed harmonies and discords in the compositions?
Well, depends on your definition of 'noise' and 'harmony' - I prefer to think of it all more as just 'sound' and what we are doing is just exploring the sounds that each of us can conjure up. Yes, there is the subversive intent to shock and disturb people's expectations, but for me there is a much deeper intent than just being shocking - if that was all we aimed to do then the music would soon lose its value as the shock would become expected.
Even though the music is not composed, there are times where we find ourselves in a tonality of some description or playing melodies either in harmony, unison or counterpoint. But that is just one area that is possible to explore and develop - going to a 'noise' based area just opens up other options. I love that we can go from the loud free jazz stuff to a more micro sonic electronic texture all in the blink of an eyelid.
Laptops and pots & pans make noise
How did you chance upon making the sorts of noises you do? None of the band members play their instruments in conventional ways.
Its partly chance but its also through research, practice and experience. Again its about 'sound' - we're all seeking to create sounds that can complement, inspire, divert, subvert the music at any given point. To this end, different sounds become vital. I love the saxophone for its breadth of sound - the fact that in the hands of, say, Stan Getz it can sound so different to Peter Brotzmann. Each of us have spent years in our own journeys, trying to explore the possibilities of our instruments to achieve our musical aims - the music is the main thing, the sounds whether conventional or novel need to serve the music, not the other way around.
Are you all well trained musicians with lengthy and 'conventional' backgrounds looking to break the rules? (The old adage, you have to know the rules to break them.)
As far as I know, I'm the main conventionally trained muso in the band. Though I know I was breaking the rules before I'd properly learnt them! But begrudgingly while studying at the Victorian College of the Arts, I did slowly realise that the better I could play in a straight manner, the more interesting and controllable became the 'bent' stuff.
I don't know the educational backgrounds of the others completely but I know they've each dedicated themselves to their instruments - you can hear it just by listening to them. There are times on stage when I have to just stop and listen - the volume we play at can make it seem just like noise but the richness and variety that Kris or Dave for instance, can create is certainly coming from a place of mastery and not just fortuitous luck. It may lack the more apparent technical sophistication and polish of straight-ahead jazz or classical music but that is simply a matter of style and aesthetic choice.
I Went to the conservatorium, did oboe, clarinet, contemporary composition techniques, classical Indian & Balinese music and other shit I long forgot. Who did set what rules? And were they really such authorities that they could decide on rules for someone else, or did they just set some rules for themselves?
Why do you have no recorded material yet? Is there an intention to make some?
We do have recorded material and we do intend to get it out very soon. It will be getting put out on the Lexicon Devil label and all going well should be finished within the coming months. Kris is touring in Europe until December but I imagine we will be trying to make some noise about a CD launch soon enough! We're excited by the results and looking forward to getting it out there.
Published in Indieoma.com