Interview with Martin Taxt

A norwegian tubist with a wide-ranging interests from jazz to reductionism, from improv to live electronics came to play in Moscow and we had a nice chance to talk about his music and other activities.
Interview: Kurt Liedwart, 2015

Do you have formal musical training?

Yes , after three years of classical studies in high school, I switched to jazz and improvised music, and studied at the Academy of Music in Oslo from 2002 to 2006. From 2004 to 2005 I was doing an exchange at the CNSMDP in Paris.

When did you start looking for and working in more experimental areas?

My classical teacher in high school, Øystein Baadsvik, actually a famous tuba soloist, inspired me to play unconventional techniques on the instrument.

I understood that the history of the instrument was quite young, and that it was fully possible to take the instrument in new directions. I spent many hours learning circular breathing, singing through the instrument, practicing multiphonics, etc.

It became soon a conflict between playing classical music «correctly» and learning extended techniques. At some point I needed a musical space where I could use these new sounds. In the first years at the Music Academy my focus was still on more jazz related music. Composing tunes with chord progressions, and playing solos over that. I was listening a lot to contemporary jazz musicians from Europe and US. Around the time I moved to Paris (2004) I started listening more to contemporary classical music, and found a lot of inspiration in the music of Ligeti, Sciarrino, Lachenmann, Scelsi to name a few. Discovering this music made me loose interest in more jazz oriented music, and in a way I had my own reductionist period starting around that time, where everything I’ve learned and used in music so far got questioned. I almost stopped writing music, and played very sparse, trying to get away from the nature of my instrument in a way.

What are your earliest musical memories?

That’s probably my father singing for me when I was still an infant. My father has a very open musical taste, and I remember him humming melodies by artists and composers as different as Jan Garbarek, Prokofiev, Suzanne Vega and The Beatles. Now, when I’ve become a father myself I think it is very important to feed my children with good quality music from early on, and not just the usual garbage we are enclosed by these days.

Why did you choose to play tuba?

I started taking piano lessons at the age of 7, but was always struggling with the technique. At the same time I started playing baritone in the local school band. Somehow this felt more natural to me. Especially when I switched to tuba at the age of 13 I was sure this was my instrument. I seriously started to work on the instrument from high school. Like other teenagers that discovers the joy of music I could practice for 7-8 hours a day. A very inspiring time, where I felt that everything was possible only. I had some great classical tuba teachers, and an inspiring environment with fellow musician friends. Some of them I still work with. Especially guitarist Kim Myhr, who is running SOFA with me today, and sound, robotics and electronics programmer in Verdensteatret, Eirik Blekesaune.

What I like in Verdensteatret is its focus on bringing together artistic personalities and their experiences. It’s a very rare attitude in media art. Have you been working with them since the beginning?

No, I joined the company in 2012. It was founded by Lisbeth Bodd and Asle Nilsen in 1986. They come from the post dramatic theater tradition, and have since the beginning collaborated with people from different art forms. I’ve learned a lot from working with them the last years. They are extremely dedicated artists.

How did you hook up with Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura?

I was in Japan for a few months in 2006, and wanted to meet some of the guys from the Japanese experimental music scene. I was not very familiar with the so called Onkyo scene at the moment, but got recommendations from Ivar Grydeland and Kjell Bjørgeengen to get in touch with Tetuzi and Toshi. So I did, and we played our first concert together at Grid605, Otomo Yoshihide’s former studio, in August 2006. It worked out well, and since then we’ve stayed in touch. Tetuzi came to Oslo already the same fall, and we did our first concert with the Akiyama/Taxt/Lønning/Reinertsen quartet in November 2006. After touring Japan and Europe with this quartet, Toshi joined the group in 2010, and we toured as Koboku Senjû for a couple of years. Our last tour with Koboku Senjû was in November 2013. I hope that we’ll play together again soon. Really love that group. In the meantime I’m releasing a new duo album on Monotype with Toshi in October. This is material from our residency in Takamatsu in Japan in January 2014.

Toshi actually submitted your duo material for a release on Mikroton. I was surprised that you played quite harsh noise. Whose idea was it to go harsh and what did you play? I heard some metallic sounds like Toshi playing his guitar.

Yeah, that’s right. I invited Toshi for this residence, because I wanted to learn more about his instrument actually. I’ve been doing a little no-input mixing board in the Verdensteatret production, and was curious to know more. In Koboku Senjû I’ve been trying to copy some of Toshi’s sounds on my instrument. During the week we tried out different setups. I don’t remember who came up with the idea, but what we ended up with was me connecting the tuba to Toshi’s mixing board, so actually it became a «tuba input mixing board» The metallic sounds you hear is my tuba going through Toshi’s mixer. We are playing some concerts with the duo in October. We will also do a trio concert with Jason Kahn in Zürich.

You have also Microtub project with Echtzeitmusiker Robin Hayward and Kristoffer Lo. A project with three tubas looks already frightening but you play delicate and rich sonorities. Could you tell a bit how this project came about?

I first met Robin in 2008. I stayed one week in Berlin playing at the A-Train Jazz club. Many people recommended me to get in touch with Robin, so I did. We had a very nice session together. Kristoffer Lo, another Norwegian tuba player, also new Robin after some private lessons with him. In 2010 me and Kristoffer was talking about that it would have been fun to do a project together with Robin, and a few months later we met up in Oslo and had our first concert. At this point Robin had just developed his microtonal tuba. The first year Robin played his microtonal tuba, while Kristoffer and me played our regular C tubas. Our main idea from the beginning was to play sustained sounds in cluster harmonies. Creating strong interference between the instruments. Later, both Kristoffer and me converted our instruments into microtonal ones. The microtonal tuba is an invention by Robin. His knowledge about just intonation, and his tuba technique is just mindblowing. It is always very inspiring playing with him.

How did you become involved in Sofa activities?

I took lessons with Ivar Grydeland, co-founder of SOFA, during my last year at the Music Academy. I already knew the label from their early years, and wanted to put out my own music on SOFA as well. When we recorded Varianter av døde trær (SOFA 526) with Tetuzi, Eivind Lønning and Espen Reinertsen in 2007 SOFA was the most obvious label to release it. In 2010 we released our second album on SOFA, Selektiv Hogst (SOFA 530) with Koboku Senjû, so I was often in touch with Ivar for this reason. However, Ivar wanted to spend more time on his own projects around that time, and was asking me and Kim Myhr if we were interested in joining him and Ingar Zach with running the label. I thought of course that it was an interesting offer, and gradually took more responsibility in the label. We are 15 years in 2015, and we’re in a good flow. Very proud of the 4CD box with Rowe and Tilbury coming out in October, and also looking forward to other nice releases in the coming year.

This box set sounds interesting. Rowe changed greatly recently and I wonder what kind of perspective they took this time. When and where was it recorded?

Yeah, we feel lucky that this recording was offered us. The music was recorded in London’s City University Music Studios in July 2014. It was Norwegian video artist Kjell Bjørgeengen who initiated the recording session. He wanted to use the music for a future video installation. Bjørgeengen gave them some instructions about how to use silence and space. Creating some kind of broken moments, where things start to fall apart. Their mutual interest in the work of Samuel Beckett has also inspired them in this process. This is nearly four hours of music so they are obviously through a lot of different ideas. I’ve been listening through the whole box maybe five times now, and still get surprised by the freshness of the music. A very unique work I have to say. Recommended!

You are also involved in other, more pop, projects like Music For A While and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. They seem light years away from what you’re doing in experimental music. How do you combine these activities?

Actually I’m not playing often with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, but I’ve been working as their producer since 2010. However I took part in Kim Myhr’s project with the orchestra. The concept of the band is that there are no regular members, but just the composer choosing his preferred musicians for the composition. Music for a While is an ensemble run by singer Tora Augestad. She started the band when we were studying at the Music Academy in Oslo in 2004. The musicians in the band are amongst Norway’s best known jazz artists. The last years we’ve been playing mostly baroque music in that ensemble. Tora Augestad is classically trained, and has been living in Berlin since 2008. She’s been working with ensembles such as Ensemble Modern and Klangforum Wien, and these days she’s working a lot with Christoph Marthaler. Although it’s very different from my other projects, I really enjoy playing with the band. I like the direction the band is taking towards classical music interpreted in our own way with accordion, trumpet, tuba and percussion.