It’s a question so elemental in music, you might forget to ask it: what can you get out of a (music) jam?
Electronic music worldwide is dominated by the DJ, the dance party. That, in turn, often tends to the safe playback and mixing of produced records. So, what happens when you let all of that go, invite your audience to get up and make strange noises with you and not only dance at a safe distance? What happens when you just set yourself free and play?
Jam sessions are nothing new in and of themselves – but the beauty of them is, put unexpected combinations of musicians together in a room, and they can always be something new. Here, I’ve invited one set of guest reports authored by the Berlin-based collective Mindpirates. Their recent set of jam sessions was notable in its varied international artists, covering the gamut from gong artist Jens Zygar to electronic artists like Machinedrum and Kid 606. Since you probably didn’t get to attend, you can experience the results through plenty of photos and videos they’ve shared with us. Californian Lionel Williams, grandchild of film composer John Williams, provides the backdrop for all of this with otherworldy, psychedelic imagery. For that reason, perhaps, the Mindpirates get happily far-out in their reflections on what all of this means, and dub the series “an adventure into the supernatural power of the jam.”
Here’s what the Mindpirates’ Easton West, Owen Roberts and Pauline Doutreluingne, tell CDM about the event and what it’s meant to them:
In January, we opened our new project space, Mindpirates Projektraum, with “Let The Sun Shine In — The Berlin Sessions.” The event included an exhibition of the supernatural collage art from the young California-based artist and musician Lionel Williams. Knowing that Williams was also a talented musician, we decided to bless our new space with a week-long series of jams between Williams, special guests, and ourselves.
The guests included visual artist Manfred Kage, Jens Zygar, Raz Ohara and The Odd Orchestra, Annika Henderson & Nick Henderson (from Anika), Hermione Frank aka rRoxymore, Jochen Arbeit (from Einstürzende Neubauten), Brian Mitchell aka 785, Valerie Renay (from Noblesse Oblige), Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum, Miguel De Pedro aka Kid 606, Verity Susman (from Electrelane), Infinite Livez, Michel Morin aka Sneak-Thief, Antaeus Roy aka Lando Kal and more.
Williams comes from a very musical background. His great-grandfather Johnny Williams was a respected jazz drummer and percussionist who played from the 30s to the 50s for the CBS Radio Orchestra, Raymond Scott, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. His grandfather John Williams has written some of the most loved and recognized film music of all time. Ed.: Yep, that John Williams. Lionel’s father Mark Williams drummed with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Tina Turner, and Air Supply.
Given the Williams family’s cross-generational success, one would expect Lionel to follow suit in his own musical endeavours. But there’s something of a sunchild in Williams that directs his varied creations. A fascination with the supernatural comes across in his artwork — abstract, yet suggestive windows into a mind filled with cosmic, mystic, and utopian images. Listening to his ambient electronic rock band Vinyl Williams, it’s apparent that Williams inhabits a slightly different artistic realm to his predecessors.
Jamming has always been an indispensable part of music-making across generations and cultures. The immediate connection people make when they combine sounds — instant, unplanned, and unrepeatable — is an incomparable experience. It allows humans to communicate in a language outside of words. The jam creates an opportunity to explore individual sounds and their relationships to one another. While exploring the relationships of tones, we explore our relationships to one another and to our environment. Improvisation demands an amount of personal development and discipline to open up the channels of communication that allow a group to function as one.
From the frequency-drenched opening performance of gong master Jens Zygar and ground breaking visuals of microphotographer Manfred Kage, to the analog dance party rhythms of our friends Michel Morin aka Sneak Thief and Antaeus Roy aka Lando Kal, the week was wildly diverse with approaches to sound, pitch, rhythm, color and texture and from a wide variety of sources.
For us, the main interest in the improvisations was a constantly-evolving relationship between acoustic instruments and digital music technology. This tension was really visible watching the performances. Williams spent a large part of the week hunched over a dizzying collection of guitar pedals while, next to him, he gathered an even more dizzying collection of musical and percussive instruments, effects and processors. Mindpirates became a melting pot of sound, color, movement, and voices, as seen in our film documentation.
Behind everything lay the real pool of inspiration, the seemingly-infinite timbral, rhythmic, and textural possibilities from a relatively small group of attuned musicians. The representation of the supernatural in The Berlin Sessions was achieved by both the organic and digital and the aural and visual. Never was it discernible where a sound began, where it was processed or the nature of that processing. All is One — a beautiful and mystical message realized through the jams.
Archival website on the project:
Session 1: Lionel Williams, Jens Zygar, Manfred Kage & special guests
Session 2: Lionel Williams & Raz O’Hara and The Odd Orchestra
Session 3: Lionel Williams, Hermione Frank aka rRoxymore & Annika Henderson and Nick Henderson (from Anika)
Session 4: Lionel Williams, Jochen Arbeit (from Einstürzende Neubauten), Valerie Renay (from Noblesse Oblige) & Brian Mitchell aka 785
Session 5: Lionel Williams, Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum & Miguel De Pedro aka Kid 606
Session 6: Lionel Williams, Infinite Livez & Verity Susman (from Electrelane)
Session 7: Lionel Williams, Michel Morin aka Sneak-Thief, Antaeus Roy aka Lando Kal, Mindpirates & good friends
We welcome other event reports like this from around the world, particularly as I’m human and can’t be in all places at once. If you can document it, and tell us a bit about what happened, we’d love to hear from you. And we’d love to hear what has made successful – or unsuccessful – jam sessions in your musical experience.