Anyone familiar with Infinite Ape knows that nothing about the band and its music can actually be familiar. Devoted to a continuous flux of ideas, sounds – even members – the improvising outfit, led by pianist Dan Sheehan, made soundwaves again, playing at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, with a special guest: up and coming Danish drummer and percussionist Christian Windfeld. The two of them met at the Banff centre, in Canada and have maintained a fruitful collaboration. Joined by Reuben Lewis and Tony Hicks, they’re currently on a mini tour, further exploring their sound. In between gigs, they shared with us their insight on their idea of improvisation, sustaining an international artistic collaboration – and Disney’s frozen.
AustralianJazz.Net: What should someone who comes to your concerts expect from them?
Dan Sheehan: An Infinite Ape performance is a thoroughly democratic, collaborative experience. While the format and personnel tend to vary each year, and sometimes almost every gig, the approach has always been to create spontaneous music as a collective. This requires the total conviction of everyone on stage, but also the suspension of ego and a willingness to accept we can’t enforce any particular musical outcome, regardless of whether or not there is composition involved.
For both audience and performers, this experience can be immersive, compelling and incredibly intimate; we’re all part of something that exists for a short while and feeds off the energy of everyone in the room. It’s in the best interests of the music for everyone to be open-minded.
AJN: How would you describe your music to someone who is not familiar with it?
Christian Windfeld: Real-time composing and the free-flow of ideas and emotions – an extremely democratic and very accessible music that will calibrate your ears and tune you into the sounds that constantly surround you.
DS: It can be hard to describe, because so many of the obvious descriptors tend to mean different things to different people. In our own ways, we’ve all studied, absorbed and interacted with the jazz tradition, with contemporary classical and chamber music, with tonality, post-tonality and noise. The music that emerges from that represents the sum of all our ideas and experiences, reflected through multiple streams of consciousness.
As an example, Tony Hicks and I have spent a lot of time exploring materials generated from a particular twelve-tone row. That isn’t to say that we improvise within a strict serial framework, but rather that we’ve started to develop a common pool of language based on linear, harmonic and intervallic opportunities offered by that tone row. These sounds can emerge organically when we play, but they don’t exclude other improvisers either.
AJN: What does improvisation mean to you?
CW: Active awareness.
DS: Improvisation is present to a certain extent in everything that we do, from the artistic to the mundane, so choosing to embrace it as a means for creating music makes more sense to me than denying it.
AJN: What do you remember most vividly from your first encounter at Banff in 2012?
CW: Our common interest in exploring new sounds and fresh territory in the musical world.
DS: I specifically remember performing one evening with Christian and saxophonist Jon Crompton (who subsequently played on the first Infinite Ape album). It may have been the first time I was involved in a completely improvised performance outside of a studio or private space. The Banff experience blew my mind in many ways, but I can trace a lot of what I’ve been trying to do these last years back to that particular moment.
AJN: How would you describe your dynamics?
CW: I wouldn’t describe them.
DS: We are very different musicians, but our creative relationship is based on mutual respect and trust – something that was established very quickly, early on.
AJN: How does living in different parts of the world affect your collaboration?
CW: Naturally, living that far apart means that when we meet, things will be compressed and intense. I consider it a great strength for this group to go all-in for a short period of time. That intensity is clearly present in the music.
DS: The intensity that builds around the brief opportunities we’ve had to work together means that we really value the experience and that can be incredibly productive – perhaps even more than if we lived around the corner from each other, like Reuben Lewis and myself! (To be fair, Reuben is usually in extremely high demand.) But putting aside the obvious financial disadvantages of overseas travel, I’ve learnt that as long as the effort is there, things will happen in their own time.
AJN: How does the Infinite Ape project keep evolving?
CW: From my perspective, the constant evolution of the individual players adds to a renewed sound every time we meet.
DS: For me, it’s been one of the most interesting aspects of the project. Infinite Ape has come to embody the idea that in art and in life, nothing is impervious to change. People move overseas, venues close, and you have to keep reconsidering how you go about doing what you do. Both Infinite Ape (2013) and Civil Languages (2014) were released when the respective performers were spread across the globe, so I’ve never even managed a proper album launch! As long as I can keep developing creative relationships with close friends and collaborators like Tony, Reuben and Christian, I’ll have the motivation to keep pushing myself further. All I want is for us to grab opportunities to play music that challenges and surprises us.
AJN: If you could choose any musician to come join you, who would you choose?
DS: I’d love an opportunity one day to work with Okkyung Lee. She’s an incredible cellist, and I’d love to experience the chemistry of an Infinite Ape with her presence.
CW: David Bowie.
AJN: To which movie would you like to rewrite the soundtrack?
CW: Disney’s Frozen… It’s terrifying.
AJN: What song best describes your current state of mind?
CW: John Cage – 4.33
Christian Windfeld will perform solo at Conduit Arts on January 29th, before reprising a duo collaboration with Reuben Lewis.