After studying the territorial behavior woodpeckers and flickers it seems apt that I end up at a workshop by a virtuosic male drummer in a room mostly full of dudes. Chris Corsano is an improvisation drummer from New England with punk roots and an awesome DIY sensibility. He has been touring with a band called Rangda and is playing at tonight's Destroy Vancouver performance at Vivo.
I had no idea what to expect from this workshop, and I went mostly based on a whim, but it was incredibly inspiring. I was a bit drum-shy, because in Victoria I got trapped in the percussion room at Long and McQuade with a bunch of hairy guys who were banging on drums that way guys kick the tires on cars, only much louder. Chris is a lovely, gentle soul who can make his drums sing and kick in ways I have never seen before.
Mr. Corsano showed us some of the bits and pieces he finds and uses to augment his drum kit. I love that he has a lid from a tin pan with the price sticker on it. You should hear the resonance he can get from that beat up piece of trash. He uses plastic tubes he hooks up to sax reeds, giant candle stick holder discs, a banjo bridge, bathtub plug chains and a viola bow. Corsano has an incredible ear for pitch as well as rhythm. he says he trained his ear that way in a large part from improvising duets with saxophonist Paul Flaherty. Watching Corsano play is totally entertaining. He says that sometimes does "clumsy" things while he's playing and that affects the form of his piece. I don't know if I'd use that word, but he's always picking up objects to play with and setting other things down which fall from the vibrations of the drums and he pushes his skills to the limits so you get this sense of a character in a cartoon carrying stacks of plates that throw him into a jittery dance.You also get the sense of someone highly skilled who has a deeply playful heart. It's lovely.
Corsano gave some very sound advice to improvisational musicians, in particular how important it is to be a patient, compassionate listener, generously giving space to the other performers. "Remember to drop out and not play." He said that taking up other instruments helped give him respect for the skill it takes to play something like a bass, but also how much sound space a drum takes up compared to other instruments. When recording, he explained the science of resonance in the recording room and how important it is to be able to sonically "read" the room from different points in the space. He reads extensively about sound and says it's good to develop of vocabulary that helps you talk to recording technicians about precisely the kind of sound you want on your recording.
Chris Corsano spoke very humbly about his work, and made sure to talk about how important it is to keep stretching yourself as a musician, to watch and practice inventions from other artists, but to be careful not to simply appropriate something--you must internalize your research and use it inspire you to create something in your own voice. "Your limitations help you to create your own language," he says.
How does create the structure of his pieces? He says it is just like playing, "Just like me playing with two Star Wars figures, but I don't think anyone's going to pay me to get up and play with Star Wars toys." The dynamics help to create a structure, the objects he plays with, and when he is playing with another musician, it is all about listening and talking at the same time, the way you can do with music and not conversation. I found all these points very helpful and well thought-out. It's wonderful to hear a young musician who is articulate about what he does. I also like the way he is more interested in intimate live performances. He says he used to squeeze himself through some tight spaces to get near other bands to see them play and he wants to play the kind of show that other people want to get close to the stage to see the action. He also says the sound recordings are not as interesting as the live shows. Hmmm, kind of like performance art?! I like it!
Thanks to John Brennan for organizing this workshop and making it accessible to artists.