IMPROVISATION AS A WORKING TECHNIQUE
By: Alejandro Hinojosa
Interpreter and translator during the interview: Montse Andreu
Russian composer Uri Kassyanik is a very peculiar artist, rather hard to classify. Although most of his work belongs into the Avant-garde and Electroacoustic music, he has also explored a variety of styles such as Jazz, Cosmic Music and numerous experimental paths. The most remarkable feature in the artistic viewpoint from which Kassyanik realizes his musical activity, is the great importance he gives to improvisation. There are many artists who improvise and publish their improvisations more or less reshaping them. However, with regard to Kassyanik this trait reaches a rather unequitable degree. He conceives his musical production as an almost exclusive exercise of improvisation, up to the point that he defends the idea that, at the very least in his case, improvisation surpasses the possibilities of the pieces elaborated following the traditional procedures in composition. Kassyanik even uses the definition of "improphonies" to differentiate his improvised works from conventional symphonies. This attitude so much in favor of the virtues of improvisation has allowed him to gain both inconditional followers and ferocious critics. For this reason, as well as other peculiarities in his personality, he has become a controversial character.
During his international tour for the promotion of his work, we were able to interview him so as to know about his artistic career in further detail as well as his ideas on music and improvisation. Born in 1962, he began as a professional musician at age fourteen. "It has not been easy. But it has been worthwhile to undergo all the hardships that my vocation has meant, since for me music is more than a mere job, music is my life, in actual fact music is more than my life." His career as a musician certainly had serious obstacles. Perhaps the most dramatic one was the mountaineering accident he had at age thirteen. As a consequence of which, his fingers were seriously damaged, which endangered his future as a musician. As an interpreter, his first professional activities were developed in several chamber orchestras and jazz bands. After spending two years assigned to the music band of the Red Army, he decided to create his own music. By the end of the eighties, his more personal ideas had already been shaped and he began to perform his own concerts. At the same time, he started to create soundtracks for movies, theatre, television and radio. Among these productions it must be noted a documentary on the repression by Stalin. At the beginning of the nineties, his improvisations grew in importance till they became the most widely known feature in his work. Kassyanik undertook all sorts of spectacular performances, among them an improvisation lasting for no less than 24 hours and 20 minutes which merited being catalogued as a true record. He also began to record albums.
To his several official records, some thirty cassettes must be added. His production includes more than a hundred improphonies, six piano concerts, three concerts for orchestra, an opera, two ballets, two cantatas, twelve sonatas, and several soundtracks and other compositions. The first of his CDs, Red Canaries, was published in New York in 1990. The next five, which form a complete series, were published four years later in St. Petersbourg (Russia). "Naturally, I plan to continue publishing new productions which reflect my experiences." In addition to his work as a composer and interpreter, he is involved in other activities related to music. "I intend to promote the cultural activity of the International Association of Independent Composers, whose headquarters is in St. Petersbourg, with currently more than a hundred and fifty members. I also am the producer and artistic director of the Theatre of Musical Ideas 'The Jam Fusion Collective', which has more than two hundred performances realized all over the world. Last but not least, I am a member of the European Conference of Promoters of New Music".
Thus he explains his peculiar vision of musical creativity: "I create my own music, the musical form with which I express my ideas, with my own methodology, by using the intuitive impulse I have within me. I improvise in synthesizers and samplers, as well as computer programs, and classical instruments. I call my compositions 'Improphonies'." Kassyanik has undertaken during 1995-96 a worldwide promotional tour including small concerts in some cases. "I began this tour in Germany, where I performed my concerts in Hamburg, Berlin. Dresden, and Frankfurt. Then I went to France, where I performed in Paris and Bourdeaux. From there I went to Portugal, with a concert in Lisbon. Then I came to Spain, where I played in several cities. In one of them, in Valencia, I collaborated in a concert with the 'Silvestry String Quartet', led by Doru Pop, in the University of this city, where, among other works, I played my String Quartet No. 3. I also played some of my works at the foundation ACA (Aera Creatio Acoustica) in Majorca, Spain. Besides all this, I have visited other countries."
This is his opinion on the proliferation of new musical styles that have cropped up in these last years in the avant-garde of music: "Any style has a right to last. Especially if it is new, and at the same time related to the classical arts. Innovation per se, to innovate for the sake of innovating, is no guarantee of durability. I like the innovative paths in music whenever they have something new to contribute, something different, but I don't believe in gratuitous innovation, by itself, with no basis and no substance. Current technological innovations available to music give many, wide possibilities to the creative mind so that this can research new paths, look for new ways of musical expression, and experiment with new forms and new ideas, though I believe this must be done always looking at nature, to which the human being belongs. In this sense my music is really innovative but it always is based on the classical principles."
"Red Canaries", LRP-Apollon, 1990
"The Portraits 1: Lead Mask of Genius", ETC Records, 1994
"The Portraits 2: Sinner's Virgin Soul", ETC Records, 1994
"Selected Improphonies 1", ETC Records, 1994
"Music of the Tuesdays 1 Selected", ETC Records, 1994
"Guinness Record: 1-st Hour", ETC Records, 1994
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