David Lee Myers and Ellen Band: Two Ships

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David Lee Myers and Ellen Band

Two Ships


“Two heads are better than one” (sometimes)


Anyone who’s ever collaborated knows that collaboration can be a mixed bag. Those of us who have done it, likely seek it out because we recognize that the combined, mutual effort, will be greater than say – the individual parts. Also, some of us welcome the experience of joint effort. After all, music is a rather social medium and many of us enjoy the process of working together. It’s possible that collaboration can be likened to the old sandbox metaphor – why not build it together and benefit from each other’s strengths. On the other hand, we’re only human and cooperation is not always easy to achieve especially when artistic egos are involved. It’s no secret that artists have very specific ideas about how they want their art to be realized. It might make a great book some day, to have collaborators write about their respective experiences, both successful and difficult. However, that project exceeds the limits of this context.



“Never take a good collaborator for granted”


Those of us who have been fortunate enough to find a good collaborator know that this type of relationship is not easy to come by. And what does that mean anyway – ‘a good collaborator’? No matter how we define it, collaboration is a dynamic process involving a lot of give and take and especially in music – the ability and willingness to listen, both literally and figuratively. Differences need not be a detractor and can often create a stronger product, somewhat like mixing up the gene pool. One of the greatest advantages of differences occurs when the individuals benefit and learn from each other’s strengths and skills. Differences in style, when compatible, can also serve as wonderful contrast contributing to greater sonic diversity. Still, the concept of ‘a good collaborator’ may simply come down to something quite indefinable. Sometimes when it comes to interpersonal chemistry, it either works or it doesn’t.



Ellen Band and David Lee Myers in conversation.


Ellen: Aside from the performance aspect of this collaboration, how is this collaboration different/similar from others you've worked with?


David: I can't disregard the performance aspect. It's probably the main difference for me. I would say that it is more intuitive, and it must be so, given the parameters. We listen to each other as we perform live, and try to respond in an intelligent way. It's completely different from my usual mode of collaboration with others, which is working only with recorded material. In that case, one can sit back and ponder the sound characteristics and composition over days and weeks. You and I improvise together and feel things out as we go, and that's a totally different experience.


Also, the few times I have performed live with others, it's almost always been with men. This may sound corny but working with a woman is a real contrast, in my experience. I guess the majority of musicians working with what is basically noise are males, and most of them seem intent on hammering the audience with sound. To be honest, in many of my performances this has been true of me as well, and performances with other men have usually been a grand bashing about. I've found that very unsatisfying and don't know if I would be interested in doing it again. You and I somehow complement each other very well, and I can't discount the male/female aspect.


Ellen: What attracts you about the sounds I use?


David: Well, my sounds of course are completely synthetic, derived from feedbacking electronic circuits. Yours are taken from the natural world, but many of them are abstract in the sense that one can't quite identify them. I think the combination of the two is what makes this work. It's another way in which we complement each other. It reminds me of my work with Tod Dockstader on the album "Pond", in that natural sounds are transformed to the point that most times one no longer can discern what is natural and what is synthetic. I find a sense of sonic wonder in Two Ships that is similar.


Ellen: Here’s a tricky one. To what do you attribute the ease that characterizes our collaboration?


David: I think I've said a lot about that already. Maybe it's that we are just lucky, our sounds fit together like pieces of a puzzle. You are a good listener, that's a big part of it. And for whatever reason, there's no ego clash. It may be that each of us is pursuing spiritual disciplines in our lives and as individuals we are trying to get beyond that sort of thing. Hope that doesn't sound egotistic!


David: I am an untrained musician, decidedly DIY (do it yourself), and usually appreciated more by what might be called the "rock fringe" than the "classical" New Music community. Your list of credentials in that community is a long one. What possessed you to cross the tracks and approach an outsider like myself about a collaboration?


Ellen: I've never thought of you as an outsider. Perhaps that's because I met you at a performance where you performed with three 'insiders'. I assumed you were part of the community. Anyway, the whole 'insider/outsider' notion isn't a good enough criterion for me to disqualify working with someone. Thinking that way isn’t useful.


David: What attracts you to the sounds that I make?


Ellen: As I recall, you and I had similar reactions to listening to each other's discs - that reaction being attraction! And if I may say, the other attraction was that both of us didn't have a 'hidden agenda' about each other - the attraction was purely auditory. In my opinion that's one of the many reasons for the success of this collaboration. But back to your sounds.... I remember thinking, as I was listening to your disc Ouroborous that not only were the sounds compelling but also that they flowed into each other seamlessly. So it was more than the sounds themselves that attracted me - it was also the feeling of a natural flow and effortless relationship.


David: We have agreed that Two Ships is aquatic in nature, seems nocturnal, and has the feeling of a journey. I wonder what creates that impression, and how we came to bring that forth?


Ellen: That's not as clear to me. Perhaps it's simply the nature of the sounds we're currently working with. On the other hand, both of us are inquiring in our natures and some of that is deep inquiry. So maybe there's a metaphor here for deep waters as going below the surface and night as a natural time when many people are more inward and reflective.


Ellen: What has been the most difficult aspect (for you) of our collaboration?


David: I guess my greatest difficulty is one concerning improvising with others, generally. It's hard, with my feedback setups, to make a particular sound at a particular moment - the feedback is not terribly predictable. I can't "make that sound, now!". Often this leads me to more continuous washes. But you can produce sounds on command, so I guess it balances out.


Ellen: What has been the easiest aspect of our collaboration?


David: Fortunately, I think the easiest part has been the actual creation of the music. It flows pretty effortlessly - again, we simply seem to be compatible. I enjoy just about everything we've recorded and the hard part was whittling down the choices for the disc.


Ellen: Now that we have established a collaborative style and language, how might we keep our sound from becoming too familiar or too predictable?


David: My own approach is very simple. Every so often, I get rid of my gear. Then I have to dream up a new "instrument" and construct/configure it, and it always produces a different set of tones and shapes. My "playing style" must be different as well. That's only from my side - but with it, we're halfway there! The setup used on Two Ships is already gone, so I've got to put my thinking cap on...


David: You have a large bank of sounds at your disposal as we perform. How do you decide which sound will come next?


Ellen: That’s kind of the beauty of this collaboration. The sounds I work with combine so well with your feedback music that I usually have many sounds to choose from. Of course this was a learning process. Generally, the sounds I select complement or contrast your sounds in terms of pitch, texture, and rhythm. Sometimes I choose sounds that ‘cut through’ your tones in order to create some sonic insistence and to prevent potential mesmerizing effects of drone-like tones. So there’s an interplay between blending and contrast.


David: It's interesting that you say that, because I attempt to do exactly the same thing. An interplay between blending and contrast—that seems to describe Two Ships very well.



About Ellen Band and David Lee Myers Collaborations


Performances by Ellen Band and David Lee Myers blend sonic environments and specialized electronic circuitry. Myers generates his signature "Feedback Music" using custom-built devices that “sing their own songs”. The resulting sounds represent nothing other than the free circulation of electrons within, prompting one observer to describe them as arising "from the ether". Band carefully builds swirling layers of sonorous, textural, tone/noise clusters by mixing and processing lengthy samples from her field recordings of real-world sounds. Though their individual working styles are very different, their combined effort yields lush sonic densities that continually pulse and morph while complementing and contrasting each other’s sonic expression.





Sound artist and composer Ellen Band creates works for performance, sound installation, and sound sculpture. Her work focuses on the psychoacoustic, imagistic, and mnemonic properties of sound. In addition to her solo work, she has collaborated and/or worked with composer David Dunn, sound artist Ed Osborn, percussionists Tom Goldstein and Brian Johnson, visual artist Leila Daw, choreographer/dancer Susan Osberg, and performance artist Nancy Adams. In 2003, she began performance collaborations with New York City electronic musician David Lee Myers. Her first solo CD, 90% Post Consumer Sound, was released February 2001 on XI, the label of Experimental Intermedia, NYC. It has received worldwide airplay especially on German National Radio and numerous rave reviews in publications such as the July 2001 issue of Playboy Magazine, and the May 2001 issue of Wire: Adventures in Modern Music (London, England). She is the first artist to be commissioned by The Institute for Contemporary Art/Vita Brevis, Boston, to create a completely audio-based work. This work, Portal Of Prayer, was installed at Boston’s Logan International Airport, The Boston Public Library, and the Codman Square Tech Center, March 2nd – June 5th 2004. This piece was broadcast, in part, on Morning Edition (WBUR Boston) and WNYC’s The Next Big Thing (NPR New York City and 100 national affiliates). Ellen Band’s work has been presented at festivals and performance spaces in North America and Europe including: Experimental Intermedia, Lotus Music and Dance, and Diapason (with David Lee Myers), New York City; The Music Gallery, Toronto, Canada; Mills College, Oakland, CA; Miami’s SubTropics Festival, Fla.; The Sound Symposium 2000, St. John’s, Nfld., Canada; The Boston CyberArts Festival (with David Lee Myers); Mex, Dortmund, Germany; among others. She is a recipient of an American Composers Forum Composers Commissioning Award. She taught sound art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1994-1997 and 2002) and was an artist in residence (1996) at Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, Oakland, CA.


For further information, reviews, audio, and projects, please visit her web site: www.ellenband.com email: eband@ellenband.com