Birdsongs of the Mesozoic are rare birds indeed. They do not fly often, and they do not ever fly straight, but you’ve got a chance to see them at Johnny D’s in Somerville Friday Oct. 17. The avant-garde, mostly instrumental Boston-based group first showed up on a compilation disc issued by Mike Dreese’s (Newbury Comics co-owner) Modern Method label in 1981. They went on to record for Rick Harte’s Ace of Hearts label, and in 1989, BSOM made their debut for the out-there, west-coast Cuneiform label with “Faultline,” the first of eight recordings. The label is showcasing the veteran band and a new band Friday. It’s an early show with BSOM playing 7-8 and New York’s the Cellar and the Point – described as “garage-chamber music” – from 8-9.
BSOM began, really, as a side project for Mission of Burma guitarist Roger Miller, who dropped out quite some time ago. It’s been these four guys for many years now: Woodwind player Ken Field, piano-synthist Erik Lindgren, synthist Rick Scott and guitars-computer guy Michael Bierylo. We caught up with Lindgren and saxophonist Ken Field. Both have long and storied histories in the Boston music scene and composers and players, Field most notably (now) with his horn-driven Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and Lindgren both for his many classical compositions and the bands Moving Parts and Space Negros. He’s got over 70 works to his credit, even more as a producer. Here’s BSOM’s “One Hundred Cycles.” https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=birdsongs+of+the+mesozoic
JSInk: Obviously, you both have and have had lots of other musical projects in your lives/careers? Where does this fall in the scheme of things?
Lindgren: I just celebrated a 60th Birthday Concert and Music Residency at Tufts University which was focused on my acoustic contemporary classical compositions from the past decade. It was a thrill working with a core group of strings, woodwinds, pianist, vibraphonist, and percussionist. I know Ken has been active with the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Michael is the chair of the Electronic Production and Design Dept. at Berklee, and Rick is busy running his Parson’s Audio business.
We had this opportunity to play with a fellow Cuneiform band, The Cellar and the Point, so jumped at the opportunity. By fate one of the members of their group was a student of Michael’s at Berklee. And 2 weeks ago we were invited to play Bob Dubrow’s ambitious Pipeline! series which was a kick. Being on a bill with five hard rock bands downstairs at the Middle East was a trip. We tried to keep up with the Rock Joneses in the decibel department, and think we rose to the occasion. It was literally a blast!
Field: Most of my other projects are much more based in improvisation. Birdsongs is a compositionally based group, for the most part. I like to say that good improvisation sounds like it was composed, and good composed music sounds like it was improvised. I think that our challenge with Birdsongs is to give this composed music the energy and spontaneity of improvisation, and I believe that for this show, the addition of live drummer Phil Neighbors (who plays with me regularly in Revolutionary Snake Ensemble) really makes that happen!
And why do you keep returning to it – whenever you do that is?
Field: I love playing a wide variety of styles of music, from the Nina Simone inspired vocal jazz I do with Gabrielle Agachiko, to the transcendent reinterpretations of traditional Armenian music with Musaner, to Chandler Travis’ crazy quilt, and Willie Alexander’s beat/punk/poetry, and RSE’s NOLA/funk/free improv. The music we write and play with Birdsongs is creative, fun, and inspiring, and it has been a blast to get back to it for these 2 shows this month (we played one of the Pipeline shows a few weeks ago) after a hiatus of a few years.
Lindgren: Birdsongs over time does reinvent and reinterpret our compositions. For instance, we’re using an acoustic drummer on half of our set which will be a thrill.
Were there any models when you started for this – as I once wrote, I think, jazz/punk/classical/car wreck music?
Lindgren: The original concept of Birdsongs was a convergence of disparate styles, namely composition-driven instrumental material with both an aggressive and cerebral edge to it. While the music has evolved over time, and has become more complex and/or sophisticated to some degree, the original revolutionary vision is still there. Or at least I hope so!
Field: Genres are a pain. There certainly have been groups and individuals that ignored stylistic boundaries, or who have simply created their own unique sound. Too many to mention, actually. And I think we are inspired by many of them.
Did you see it as ever having commercial appeal or did you think, OK this is outside of most anyone’s box, but not ours and here’s why we dig it?
Field: I don’t think that commercial appeal was ever part of the thinking, nor has it really been for any of the projects I’ve been involved with. It’s more, “this is fun, interesting, and creative, so let’s do it!”
Lindgren: Commercial isn’t necessarily a word that I would use. However I think that all of us wish to connect with our audience, whoever that may be. I view music that perplexes people (which is often so prevalent in contemporary classical composition) is self-centered and lacks the connection factor. Despite our challenging works and musical language, we do seem to speak to people who are open to innovation. But I may be delusional.
You’ve both worked in a music world that’s gone through immense changes and challenges since the late ’70s. How have you rolled with them? What’s the same for you? What’s different?
Field: It’s all still just organized sound – the tools have changed, and certainly the business model has changed, but we never thought of our music as a business, so that aspect was not as big an issue for us as for some. Of course the fact that independent record companies like Cuneiform (our label since the late 1980’s) are really having a tough time of it right now is of concern. And I wonder if it makes sense to release another CD, since there is no longer a market for CDs. But I don’t see myself not making new music. It will hopefully find its way to the public one way or another.
Lindgren: Birdsongs is a collective of individuals with various talents. My deficiency these days is integrating with technology since I find it potentially exhaustive. When you get right down to it, I’m primarily a “note” person and see my compositions as architecture with a non-symmetrical sense of balance. There is far too much “cut and paste” technology for my tastes these days in popular music. I like to constantly vary musical ideas as they reoccur and have them evolve throughout a composition. Fortunately we have Michael who keeps us up on technology since that’s his trade.
Music is, I’m guessing, an adventure for both of you. You begin at Point A and see where it takes you. Near the cliff, over the cliff. If this is true, is it something that was easier to do when younger – when there’s a world of possibility – of now, because you’re theoretically better musicians?
Lindgren: As a composer, I find it exciting to constantly discover new influences. in the mid-2000’s, I was blown away by 20th Century Latin American composers, namely Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla. Both of these individuals created highly-structured works that had a rhythmic drive, something that is sorely lacking in much 20th Century Western art music.
In addition, I became infatuated with the orchestral colors of various pop arrangers from the 1950-’60s including Martin Denny, Esquivil, and Raymond Scott. Academic music has lost much of its fascination for me due to the extreme sobriety of the genre. What ever happened to music as stimulating, innovative, and uplifting entertainment? I think when the history of 20th Century music is written in a few centuries from now, people will be very surprised at what has lasting value in our current culture.
Field: It’s definitely helpful to be a better musician, and I hope I am. “Experimental” means that you don’t really know the outcome – you try things without knowing exactly how they will work out. That’s exciting, and can result in new and innovative (and fun) things. But you have to be willing to risk failure, by definition. And sometimes it’s easier to be oblivious to this risk when you are young and naive. On the other hand, I’ve had a great role model for an extended musical life of risk, riding the edge of the cliff, and his name is Willie Alexander.
17 Holland St., Somerville, 617-776-2004 http://johnnyds.tunestub.com/event.cfm?id=177490&cart