Friday, June 13, 2014

Charlie Rauh 13 Questions

American guitarist Charlie Rauh, born in 1984, has been awarded grants from such organizations as Meet The Composer, The Fractured Atlas Group, The Untitled Artists Group, The Herndon Arts Council, The Queens Arts Council, and The International Studios at Denkalschmeide Hofgen.

In collaboration with choreographer Megan Harrold he has served as composer in residence at The Klaustrid Foundation-Iceland (Sept. 2010), The Chen Dance Center-NYC (Oct./Nov. 2011), and Le Feuil-France (Aug./Sept. 2012). Rauh has worked with such artists as Ingrid Laubrock, Abigail Breslin, Cornelius Eady, Ken Coomer, and Jessica Pavone - His compositions have been featured on NPR's Live in Studio C program and WUSB's Jazz On The Air program as well as in venues such as Merce Cunningham Studio, The Kitchen, Alice Tully Hall Lincoln Center, The Chocolate Factory, The Stone, The Rubin Art Museum, and the Ailey Citigroup Theater.

What do you remember about the first concert you played?

Outside of school band concerts which I suppose would have been the the first concerts I ever did (I began as a clarinetist/saxophonist in middle school), the first concert I ever did with music I had written was with a three piece rock band I had with my brother on bass/vox, me on guitar, and a friend of ours on drums at a local tavern called Jimmy's in Herndon VA.  At this point I think I had been playing for about a year or so, we played 3 songs as a sort of open mic type line up.  I remember being very serious about it, and wanting to know what everyone thought afterwards.  I also remember having a very urgent feeling the whole time.  I wanted to be better, I wanted to make music that was groundbreaking.  That night we certainly did not innovate anything haha, but it was the beginning of a process for me. For most of my life since then I have seen music as an urgent method to release things that I could not articulate otherwise, and totally sidelined the importance of enjoyment and emotional exploration.  Its only recently after 16 years of playing that I am scratching that surface.

What do you need from music?

Much.  I am not a very well rounded person in terms of hobbies or skills, music has always been the only thing.  Before I could play any instrument I would constantly hum melodies and hear music in my head pieced together from the sounds that surrounded my day to day life.  As I got older I was not good at sports, or interested.  I wasn't particularly interested in anything at school until I started playing music which made a huge difference.  Ive always felt that music allowed me to express things exactly how they form in my thoughts.  If I improvise or write music about any subject it is way more accurate than anything I could jumble together with words. I suppose you could say what I need most from music is just to be able to make it in some way for the rest of my life.

How did you learn to play? What do you remember as important in this process?

The first instrument I played was upright bass when I was in 4th grade, but I did not last too long as I wasn't very good at it.  I grew up watching movies from the 30s and 40s that my mother always had on, which lead to an interest in jazz and classic movie score sounds early on.  I always saw bands in these movies with upright basses and thought it sounded really cool (still a favorite instrument of mine) which is why I gave it a go.  A year later, my 5th grade teacher had taken note that I was always talking about music and mentioned she was a clarinetist when she was younger.  She was very kind and encouraging about me exploring my interest, and even let me borrow her clarinet for a couple weeks just to play around with.  I had NO clue how to play it but would put on Duke Ellington cassettes in my room and pretend to play along.  I would spend hours imagining I was on the band stand at a smoky club somewhere far away.  I eventually ran with this idea and began taking lessons on clarinet, as well as playing in the school band.

I really wanted to be in the school jazz band, but they had no spot for a clarinet (which made me livid).  Therefore I learned alto saxophone and auditioned to get in.  I started taking an interest in the guitar when I was 13, my father had a lot to do with that.  My dad is a self taught guitarist with a spacious, lyrical sound that to this day remains my most consistent influence. When I started showing interest, he taught me some chords and we would figure out songs together.  Notably we would play a lot of folk/americana type songs and trade playing solos, which was a big influence on how I play.  When I would play in rock bands as a teenager, these country tinged melodies would often creep in to quieter moments when I wasn't headbanging and pretending to be Jonny Greenwood.  Before long guitar completely took over. I started writing songs and taking lessons with local players around town.  My free time was largely spent with my guitar, leaving less and less time to play my horns.  However I am convinced that having started as a horn player, the way I conceptualize guitar is directly affected.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

I am most surprised (in the best of ways) by the work I do with my longtime friend and collaborator, choreographer Megan Harrold.  We have been making work for music and dance for 7 years and started a small company called Inimois Dance that has received several grants and international artist residency awards.  We took the name Inimois from Hildegard Von Bingen's Lingua Ignota, an unfinished language Hildegard claimed was being dictated to her to translate by divine intervention.  Before her death in 1179, she only dictated about 1000 words of the language including the word "Inimois" that she defined as "human".  This work continues to surprise me for several reasons.  Of all the projects I work on, it is without a doubt the most abstract, prolific, long standing, and successful.  It is not common in my experience to see all of those words used in the same sentence when describing a project!  Much of our work revolves around a creative process we developed in which words are transposed by interval relationships to notated music and body movement.  The pieces are highly composed, usually with little or no improvisation, as the intent is to purely represent the chosen written material's message (past choices have been poems, prose, sacred texts).  The music and choreography are created separately, then performed simultaneously in performance.  The result is always completely fascinating to me.  We have created several of these pieces, taught workshops for composers and dancers, and performed them internationally. I am very proud of what we have done, and look forward to what we will do next.

Filmed in East Iceland at the Klaustrid Residency, Greening features Megan Harrold and Charlie Rauh using their transposition method to create music and dance from Hildegard Von Bingen's visions in Scivias.

What are your motivations for composing?

My motivation for composing starts with a need to do it.  I do not feel I can choose not to make music.  In lower points I have tried to stop and focus on something else. Saying it didn't work is an understatement.  I need to make music, and I need to give music.  Release is a huge component in composition for me.  It is my hope that this need to create and release personal creative output provides the people that encounter it with music that provokes.  I want to make music that has the ability to reach the listener in whatever way is relevant to them.

Depict one image, one sound or one idea you're really interested in?

One of my favorite sounds since childhood is the call of the Mourning Dove.  I grew up in northern Alabama, and would hear the Mourning Doves through open windows in my room, or when I was playing outside all the time.   I miss that sound very much actually.  Its some of the best music Ive ever heard.

Where are your secret roots? What are your influences?

Mary Halvorson is my favorite guitarist.  Her sound is completely her own, her compositions are starkly different from each other but always sit well together.  What I like the most about Mary's music is that she is always exploring and doing something different, but it always sounds very much like her.

Glenn Campbell is a big influence for me as well.  I love the crispness and lyricism in his playing, both comping and soloing.

My favorite band and one of my biggest influences is The Innocence Mission.  Their guitarist Don Peris creates incredibly beautiful textures and has crystal clear tone that is warm but still shines brightly along side Karen Peris' floating vocals.

I am very much inspired by Sol Seppy's music.  The simplicity, honesty, and surrender in her writing floor me over and over again.  I often listen to her music on repeat and by the end of it I feel exhausted and comforted at the same time.

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

The challenges of todays digital music scene are talked about very much - music is becoming something that is free, not bought.  At the same time never before before in history has music been so universally accessible.  You can record a song, put it online and people on the other side of the world can hear it.  I feel digital music has turned the industry more entrepreneurial in a way.  Its not enough to be an artist in this age, now you have to be a marketer, booking agent, performer, and travel agent on top of creating art that is relevant. I think the biggest challenge is on the current artists, including myself.  The challenge of adapting, and succeeding.

What quality do you empathize with most in a musician?

Work Ethic. Strong work ethic can only exist if degrees of personal principle, honesty, loyalty, and dedication are in place.  I am a firm believer that the most relevant art is built on these or similar foundations.

A valuable advice that someone has gifted to you in the past?

"To make great music you will need to find a balance of two things : hope, and humanity"  My dad Robin Rauh told me that when I was a kid, and I completely subscribe to the idea.

Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your poetic?

Back in 2008, a friend showed me Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone's record "On and Off".  I can easily say that record turned what music meant upside down for me.  I had never heard people play like that, I still haven't.  The writing and the improvising on that album are phenomenal, the two of them play off of each other in the kind of conversational way that only good friends can pull off.  As a guitarist, it was that record that really pushed me to go deeper in exploring what I could do with my instrument.

What do you dream -musically speaking- about?

I dream of one day being able to tour nonstop.  I would love to be able to travel and play my music never having a home, never staying anywhere longer than a month before moving on.  I love the idea of being mobile and seeing the whole world, creating music and performing for the rest of my life.  I also love the idea of having a world wide community of friends and artists that I could come back to visit.  We would stay up all night playing and laughing until the sun comes up.  That would be as wonderful as I am capable of conceptualizing a dream to be.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I am currently touring and promoting my new solo EP, "Innocent Speller"  recorded by Jake Thro (who added cello, bass, and rhodes to my solo arrangements) featuring my father, Robin Rauh on pedal steel.  Jake and I just finished mixing it in May so I am traveling doing solo guitar performances and shopping around for label support. I self released a single from the EP that that can be found on Itunes, Amazon, etc. as well.  I have no clue what the future holds, I try to take it a day at a time. I am currently working on a digital release with Noël Akchoté that I’m very excited about. Noël is an incredible player so I am very honored to be able to work with him. This will be the first time he have worked on a project together, and what better way to begin than improvised duos? the release date is still TBA, but we should be finished within the next couple months.

An improvisation from Craig Schenker (alto saxophone) and Charlie Rauh (guitar)