Jeremiah Cymerman interview (2011)

Despite his young age, Jeremiah Cymerman is one of the most innovative and exciting clarinet players of today’s avant-garde music in New York. He plays both scored and improvised music, and his solo and collaborative works were published by such record labels as Porter and Tzadik in the last couple of years. Cymerman is touring Europe in February together with the band Kayo Dot – his only concert in Hungary will take place in Szeged.

endhits: When did you start playing clarinet and what or who were your early passions or influences?

Jeremiah Cymerman: I started playing music when I was about 10 or 11. I started on the electric bass and switched to clarinet when I was 19. I think that a major part of my development was when I got my first 4 track recorder at age 14. I was immediately drawn to and excited by the possibilities afforded by the studio and very early on I began to experiment with different recording/mix strategies. My formal education is in music production and in my own work I place equal emphasis on the sonic presentation of musical ideas as I do the ideas themselves. Early influences included hippie drum circles, musical comedy like Weird Al & 2 Live Jews, shitty bands that my sister listened to like Bon Jovi & Poison, Tibetan chanting, mid 90s rap and hip hop, various metal & hardcore bands as well as all different kinds of “fringe” popular music like Primus, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and The Residents. More recent (last 15 years or so) influences would have to include but not be limited to: John Zorn, William Basinski, Evan Parker, Jimmy Giuffre, Morton Feldman, El-P, Khanate, DJ Muggs, Eliane Radigue, Antony & The Johnsons, Debashish Bhattcharya, Esoteric, Anthony Coleman, Bohren & Der Club of Gore, Otomo Yoshihide, the list goes on…

endhits: Do you consider yourself more a conceptualist composer or a performer?

J.C.: Honestly, at this point I see little difference in the two and in fact I try to avoid that type of thinking altogether.  As a fact I do little to no sideman work, but that’s largely because I don’t put in the hours that are required to be a sideman (practicing sight-reading, etc) nor do I have the time. I am most interested in either working out my own musical ideas or working in a collaborative setting. So maybe the answer to your question is composer/conceptualist but like I said I really try to avoid that type of thinking, mainly because there is, however masked it may or may not be, a predominant cultural attitude that somehow the composer is superior to the improviser which is absolute horseshit. Listen to a solo Barry Guy recording for evidence.

endhits: Sometimes you work in improvised contexts and sometimes you perform scored pieces. Which one do you prefer and why?

J.C.: No preference. It’s all music and the working method is just the means of execution. For my own development and growth it is important to me to continually work at all different means of music production but I am only interested in being involved with music that feels sincere.

endhits: Is there any space and time for improvisation in scored music you play?

J.C.: Yes, of course. In fact I would say improvisation is the common thread in all of the music that I am involved in.

endhits: You have produced a number of solo discs. What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing solo as against group playing?

J.C: I have actually only put out one solo CD, In Memory of the Labyrinth System (Tzadik Records, 2008). I have done a large number of solo concerts in the last few years and it’s a very important part of my musical whole but I try to keep it balanced so that I’m not doing too much of any one thing. I try to balance it with writing, with group improvisation, etc. And then within that I try to stay fresh with different aspects of music making. So for instance, if I am writing, I try to work on conventional scores as much as I do open & graphic scores. When I am practicing for solo music I will either practice acoustic or with effects & electronics. I feel the most fulfilled when I am doing many things at once. One thing that keeps me interested in solo performance is the “wilderness” aspect. The development of your personal voice becomes the map with which you negotiate the wild. I do have plans for future solo CDs and will probably record a new one when I get back to New York at the end of February.

endhits: Tell me about the work you’ll be doing with Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya as Tartar Lamb II?

J.C.: Well, first things first, due to circumstances beyond our control Mia will actually not be joining us on this adventure. On this tour there will be three sets per night: 1. a 20-30 minute set of my solo music. I am developing a new piece right now that I am very excited to present in Europe. It’s entitled Kaddish and is an elegiac drone piece that is inspired in part by Eliane Radigue. 2. Tartar Lamb II. Tartar Lamb is one of Toby’s projects and differs from his main project Kayo Dot in a lot of ways. He Describes it as “…a four movement electroacoustic suite that uses modular repetitive forms – small musical phrases that are repeated and stretched and shrunk in time, with non-repetitive melodies swirling about. The music is hyper-elaborate, horrifying ambient music, every moment filled with information while washing over and enveloping the listener in constant atmosphere”. We just finished a record that I am incredibly proud to be a part of. 3. Kayo Dot, which, as mentioned before, is Toby’s main project and also my favorite band. I cannot overstate how much I love this band. So fucking good.

endhits: What musical collaborations are you currently involved in?

J.C.: I just finished a new CD entitled Fire Sign that as of this moment I have no idea how or when it will be released. It is a collection of five new electroacoustic pieces and features some amazing musicians including Peter Evans, Nate Wooley, Tom Blancarte, Harris Eisenstadt, etc. Tartar Lamb II just finished our new album entitled Polyimage of Known Exits (see above). Additionally I am currently working a duo CD with the fantastic drummer Brian Chase, who is perhaps best known as the drummer for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We’re both playing through really loud amplifiers and while the music is at it’s core free improvisation it has begun to take on it’s own fixed personality the more that we play together. I am really excited for people to hear this collaboration.


The Hungarian version of the interview can be read on

Az interjú magyar változata az olvasható.

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