Mark Dresser: on the serendipity of digital

Bass player Mark Dresser is a highly respected performer, composer and educator, currently based at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and travelling regularly to New York City to play. He has multiple improvising projects on the go, including an interest in telematics, which he explains is ‘ live performance via the internet by musicians in different geographic locations’ (see Dresser’s August 2008 piece on telematics on

Mark Dresser | Photo supplied

In 2012 Dresser visits Australia for the first time, performing with Trio M. At Wangaratta he will also play in a duo format with Australian trumpeter Scott Tinkler.  Tinkler, along with drummer Simon Barker and trumpeter Phil Slater will be guests at the Saturday night Trio M Concert (WPAC, 3 November, 8:30 pm).

A kind of serendipity has been at work to bring Dresser in touch with the Australian musicians he’ll be playing with over here. Scott Tinkler came as close as possible to being a fellow faculty member, without it actually happening; just around the time that the global financial crisis was hitting hard in the USA, Tinkler went through an audition at UCSD, received a job offer and then the money dried up.  ‘A loss for us’, says Dresser.

And then, Dresser saw Intangible Asset #82 the feature film by Emma Franz in which she documents Simon Barker’s quest to connect with master musician the late Kim Seok-Chul (see our interview with Franz from June 2011).

When trombonist Roswell Rudd – a friend of Dresser’s and musical collaborator  – was travelling to Seoul, Dresser encouraged  him to connect with the South Korean Pansori singer Bae Il-Dong, which he did. Rudd, in turn, was inspired by Il-Dong and encouraged Dresser to find a way to work with him. Telematics paved the way, with a telematic performance facilitated by Sarah Weaver,  Dresser’s New York based telematic collaborator. A performance was scheduled, musical ideas exchanged, and both Il-Dong and Dresser thought they’d like to include some percussion on the Korean side. Simon Barker was the first choice for both, but it would involve him getting on a plane, flying 13 hours in each direction from Sydney to Seoul and back. As Dresser says, ‘who’s got the budget for that?’

To Dresser’s delight, Barker made it happen. The concert, which took place in May this year, included a New York contingent of Dresser on bass, Ellery Eskelin on saxophone and Jim Black on drums. Sarah Weaver conducted. In Seoul, Bae Il-Dong was joined by Barker on drums and Hyunseok Shin playing the haegum – traditional Korean two-stringed instrument. Telematic collaborator Woon Seung Yeo conducted the Korean-based ensemble. Dresser was moved to see that much care and will to make the music happen.

‘To travel those kind of distances, to work with someone you’ve never met in person – although we did have some musicians in common – that affinity and that will to make something happen is extraordinary. I don’t know another word for it.  This had nothing to do with anything but the love of music. Let’s put it this way, it’s certainly not about the money; it’s about people wanting to make art together.’

For Dresser, the musical connection was very special.*

The approach to a telematic concert is not so different, he says, than it would be to one taking place in the same space. In terms of the music, the compositions for the New York  / Seoul concert were based on a ‘Duke Ellington model’ writing to the gifts of the musicians who would be involved. Because he and Il-Dong listened to each others’ music, he knew enough to go on with. ‘It doesn’t get better than that from my point of view, to have that opportunity’, he says.

‘I knew from listening to Il-Dong what key centre he’s really comfortable in, what ‘home base’ was, around which pitches his voice would be stronger, and when we went into a rhythmic zone, what type of rhythm it would be. It was also interesting to think about how would someone compose when you know the other person doesn’t read music. You start to think about cultural things. What kind of verbal descriptors do you want to give? What creates the kind of musical space that everyone can work in?’

With the music for the New York / Seoul concert, I started out cumulative and textured. Call and response duos between Seoul and New York became more and more synchronous until we were all playing together and in rhythm and then we stretched it out again to a more open space.’

Part 4 TeleMotions: A Networked Intermedia Concert

The concerts at Wangaratta and other Australian destinations will not be telematic. The main differences between ‘same-space’ concerts and telematic lie in the acoustics, he says.

‘In a telematic concert, like in a church, the acoustics have a kind of long delay. On this tour, we’ll be playing on a stage, where there will probably be a little less delay. Telematically, it’s kind of like playing in a recording studio, where you hear the details of what everyone is playing; it’s a kind of wet acoustic, because distance creates latency… ‘

But in the end it’s just music and everyone adjusts. ‘Truth be told’, he says, ‘the interaction is 90% aural, it’s not visual. Sure you get cues and vibe in on things. But really musicians lead with our ears. In a telematic concert I can hear the details of the timbre, the attacks… just the same as if we were in the same room.’

Dresser is excited to be travelling to Australia, and looking forward to playing with Tinkler, Barker and Slater. ‘I’ll be just off a plane after 17 hours of flying, but I’ve played Tinkler’s music and it’s fun. I’m looking forward to it.’

Within a week of returning home to San Diego, he’ll be performing with Bae Il-Dong, who’s travelling there. ‘And the whole thing’, he says ‘wouldn’t have happened any other way, had it not been digital.’

In his 2008 AAJ article Dresser says, ‘Let’s be clear, telematics is not a substitute for live performance. It is another format and perhaps even another venue, with its own properties. As plug and play systems develop and the integration of video and audio quality improve, those potentials will reveal themselves.’

Perhaps the real potentials of telematics reach beyond the tech and into its ability to help us find even more ways to connect.

Visit the Wangaratta Jazz Festival website

Trio M on the web:

Read an ArtsHub interview with Myra Melford of Trio M

Myra Melford:

Mark Dresser:

Matt Wilson:

Mark Dresser on Telematics, AAJ, August 2008

The SanDiego Reader with a piece by Robert Bush on the Seoul / New York concert


Audio: Trio M – The Guest House

About Mark Dresser

Mark Dresser has been actively performing and recording solo since 1983.

At the core of his music is an artistic obsession and commitment to expanding the sonic and musical possibilities of the double bass through the use of unconventional amplification and extended techniques. His solo works include the DVD/CD/booklet triptich Guts: Bass Explorations, Investigations, and Explanations (2010) and CDs UNVEIL (2006) and Invocation (1994) feature the music evolving out of this research. A chapter on his extended techniques, ‘A Personal Pedogogy’, appears in the book, ARCANA (Granary Press). Dresser has written two articles on extended techniques for The Strad magazine: ‘Double Bass Harmonics’ (October 2008) and an ‘Introduction to Multiphonics’ (October 2009). Dresser presented a lecture/demonstration titled ‘Discover, Develop, Integrate: Techniques Revealed’ at the 2009 International Society of Bassists convention, where he curated a New Music Summit featuring lectures, performances, and panel discussions on improvisation and contemporary music performance |


*As he said this, Dresser hesitated, then laughed ‘As soon as I say it I know it will be put in print, but there was a spiritual element to it that was for real.’ So we’ve put it in print, as he suspected, but hopefully removed the risk of misinterpretation by making sure it’s right down here as a footnote 🙂 (jump back)