Colin Holter interviews James Holdman.
There are degrees of ambiguity and multiple meaning, if there’s any meaning at all. Part of the titling in strange ways is that I like the way that words sound juxtaposed, whether they have any meaning or not. Another aspect of these strange titles is that I’m interested in what kind of imagery they bring to the audience’s mind. You’re going to come up with your own idea about what it means—it’s not like “Prelude No. 3.” That in a way biases the audience, or confuses them, which is fine—because ultimately my music is not about anything at all.
On Arabic music:
I’m interested in a lot of different world musics, and having played Greek music for a long time, I’d listened to all the related musics. So just a couple years ago I started to delve deeply into it; it’s a fascinating, strange world, very different from the Western musical world. It’s something that I found very interesting to listen to—”What are they doing?!” The use of quarter-tones, phrasings that are different than anything we’re used to in the West. It’s just a fascinating musical experience. I’m learning the oud. The modern oud typically has eleven strings and no frets, which is a whole new world for me. One of the fascinating things about Arabic music for me is that it’s often broken down into tetrachords combined to make maqam. Let’s say that a tetrachord is D, E-flat, F-sharp, G. The E-flat and the F-sharp, compared to our Western intonation system, are closer together. Depending upon where you are geographically, that distance is going to be different. Somebody in Damascus might say, “No, no, that note is sharp!” And somebody in Tunis might say, “That’s right where it should be.” So it’s not just that they’re using a different tuning system: It’s that everybody is using a different tuning system!
We’ve gotten several comments that people feel, after listening to one of our sets, that they’ve been on some kind of journey. “Oh, I felt like I was visiting all the planets on the solar system and then lightly touched back down on the earth.” “I felt like I was going through seven planes of consciousness, then I was watching the dinosaurs evolve out of the sea, and then then collapsed…” “Really? That’s cool.”
On the garage:
Picture “Smoke on the Water” in a garage with two really loud, probably out-of-tune guitars and a guy on snare drum. That’s a primordial rock experience.
Bring ‘em in, smack ‘em around a little bit, knock ‘em over, give ‘em a little kiss on the forehead, send ‘em away. Hopefully this piece does the same thing. There are sections that sound as if they’re improvised, but they’re not. Here’s the box, here are the sides of the box. It’s got five and a half sides, and the bottom is kind of tilted, and you don’t want to go too far into the corner because all the change is going to fall out of your pocket. And part of it’s a terrarium, and there are some things in that terrarium that you’ve never seen and you’re not sure you want to get too close to, but they’re nice to look at.