EARInterview: Richard Water by Loren Means
LM: How did you get started making instruments?
RW: I was a painter-sculptor, and I was making kinetic-phonetic instruments that turned in the wind. And I was experimenting with ecological objects like tin cans and piano wire braised together to make a sound, and it evolved into a Waterphone, which is an extension of that idea. The Waterphone is made out of stainless steel, it's almost spherical, it has bronze rods that extend around the perimeter and it has a neck that you hold it by.
LM: the echo is from the water?
RW: Right, that's why it's called a Waterphone. It has about a half cup of water in the bottom. Sound travels through water at a different velocity than it does through air, so you get an echo effect. I'm involved with string, wind and percussive instruments. At this point I'm trying to combine all three ideas in one instrument, like the aeolian harp I'm making out of car parts. It can be strummed, bowed, hit or blown into. Then there's my instrument that's made out of three aluminum drip coffee tops, set into a wooden block that has holes drilled into it. It's essentially a percussive instrument, but it can be played with a bow or mallets.
LM: When you make an instrument, do you intend it to be played a certain way?
RW: No, I try to stay as loose and experimental as I can when I'm making the instruments, and yet I want to be extremely aware of what's gone on before, and even more aware of what's happening right then when I'm making it. A lot of it's taking advantage of chance, and it's a learning process.
LM: You're using chance when you make an instrument?
RW:To a certain degree. I might try like certain kinds of tonal relationships that would be a chance thing, and, well, we have a lot of chance in our music, and yet it goes beyond that, because coincidence comes in, and so you know that other things are starting to happen...
LM: Are you more concerned with the utility of an instrument when you make it, or with its status as a work of art?
RW: I'm what you'd call a fence-straddler. The name of my individual company, if you'd call it that , is Multi-Media. I figure that I'm into audio-visuals. And the closer I cut that edge the better I like it. If I can get something that looks really farout and sounds farout, that's it. I mean, if it looks good and sounds good, I could pour a little perfume on it and it would smell good...
LM: The first band to use your instruments was the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band?
RW: Yeah, that band was started about 19647 (?jh) by Bryce Rhode (piano), Tommy Beeson (bass), and Lee Charton(drums). I used to drop by their rehearsals with my instruments, and we started playing together. Since then about two hundred people have played with the band at one time or another. On our album One, (Nocturne 332), which was entirely improvised, most of the instruments we played were acoustic, but we also used a synthesizer and it fit in really nice, and we often play with electric guitar players or whoever's stoked on playing with us. We're not overly biased against amplified instruments, depending on how the players use them. Some players of amplified instruments that we've played with have tended, when they want to get more effect, to keep turning the volume up, and that turns me off. Mike Nock is a very sensitive player, he's an exception among synthesizer players. When he played with us, he listened a lot.
LM: Is the gravity Adjusters a jazz band?
RW: No, it isn't a jazz band, but jazz has been a strong influence, especially with the rest of the players, and I was a stone listener for many years, collected lots of albums and hung out with jazz musicians. A lot of the players that have played with us are jazz-oriented, however that's not always true. We've played with some symphony players, some of the African ballet drummers and harp players, so it's not purely a jazz band.
On our recording session, we had about 150 instruments that seven or eight people played. You have to move through those instruments as you're playing them, that means you can't just stumble along, so there's a certain amount of dance or action. it's not just holding onto one instrument or sitting at one instrument--you move through things, and that's a form of theater, too.
LM:Does a person have to be a musician to play one of your instruments?
RW: No, that's one of the nice things about them. However, some people who are not musicians don't listen well, so they consequently don't play as well because they haven't brought themselves around to hearing. But, generally speaking, anybody can play my instruments. What they achieve on them is up to them.
LM: And people teach you how to play your instruments?
RW: That's right. A lot of my instruments I'll think I know how to play them and I'll turn them over to somebody else to play for a while, and they'll get sounds out of them that I didn't even know were in there. It's really a learning thing.
LM: Most of your instruments can be played a number of ways.
RW: Many of them can. That's what I like about our rehearsals--there's a striving towards inventiveness as far as sound and so we keep combining different instruments together and different sounding devices together to get sounds that we haven't heard before. We're not looking to sound like anything else you ever heard. We're looking to sound really strange and out there somewheres.
LM: Now that the Gravity Adjustors have achieved an international reputation as one of the longest-established free-improvising groups in the world, I understand you've started writing compositions for the band...
RW: I'm writing pieces for the group, but they're like the group is--they're audio-visual pieces. They're departure points, they're disciplines, they're charts. They're not individually notated. They're what I think a chart of our would look like if it could be individually notated. With them we get to places that we couldn't get to if we just played totally free all of the time. By doing that, when we intervene with the free pieces next to some of these it gives the free pieces more power because of the discipline in the other pieces.
LM: So you suggest disciplines but not specific pitches?
RW: Right, and everybody in the band is really composing the music even though I write out the audio-visual chart. I think of it as a living sculpture approach--we can create just about any kind of sound on any level, but we need to organize to do it.
LM: This year's Free Music Festival will be the first the Gravity Adjusters have participated in. Do you consider yourself part of the Free Music scene?
RW: For some reason I've been identified with new Music rather than Free Music probably because I live in Sebastopol and don't get to the city much. But I don't see a whole lot of difference between them--maybe New Music has a little more concept to it, and relates slightly more to a classical background. But when I was at the Center for Music Experiment at U.C. San Diego recently on a Ford Foundation grant there were several performances, and some of the people there related classically via their instruments but most of it was away from that--they were into ritual and toneing and vibrations and theater and that direction.
LM: That sounds like Pauline Oliveros' influence.
RW: Yeah, she and a lot of people are into that. But we're that way too. Our concert at the Center for World Music got highly theatrical, with a lot of comedy onstage, a lot of verbiage, and we ended the first piece with a gourd collision with a microphone. The gourd exploded and seeds went all over the stage- - that wasn't planned out, but we were playing one of the charts and it came out that way. The Gravity Adjusters are between harry partch and Spike Jones. We have that erratic comedy thing that Spike had, but we also are exploratory in terms of tonality the way Harry was. pp.10,11
Typed by Barbara Golden, Dec 4 1994