On the Ehse Records-released Four Improvisations, Liz Durette works a conjuror's spell on the electric piano: her pieces not only demonstrate wild improvising abilities, the sensitivity and joy at the core of her playing give the impression she's the brainchild of Shostakovich and Roedelius on a sunshine high. Forceful, grippingly raw yet entirely svelte at the same time, the record surprises with every twist and turn.
Looking forward to what will surely prove to be an electrifying performance, we decided to have a chat with Liz.
So Liz – why the Fender Rhodes?
It’s a flexible and versatile keyboard, you can get a lot of different qualities of expression out of it. It’s very touch-responsive, which suits the way I approach playing.
Do you approach (or think of ) an electric piano in the first place as
a) a tool for harmony
b) a tool for melody
c) a percussive tool?
And also d) a tool for the moment e) a tool for memory f) a tool for shapes and the architecture of the keyboard g) a heart tool, for sonorous heart resonance h) melody energy tool i) funny/sad/surprise tool, j) feeling tool… I don’t separate any of these things in my mind while I’m playing, everything has to happen all at once. The more I can pay attention, include as many of these musical elements together as possible, the better.
I believe it was Buzz from the Melvins who said that he wrote music mainly by attacking his guitar. I heard your record and was immediately reminded of this. It’s not that I think there is an undercurrent of aggression present (but maybe there is?), it’s more because your playing feels quite powerful and completely in-the-moment. Also I think the Rhodes needs more of an attack than any other regular piano or keyboard. Was playing the Fender electric piano a natural thing for you, or has it taken time and exercise? Does attacking an instrument ring a bell, or not so much?
(Laughs) I can actually be fairly aggressive as a person! But no, I don’t think I’m attacking the piano, or at least not usually, because it takes too much control to play.
Playing the electric piano came fairly naturally, but there is also a lot of work to do. I practice classical music (on a regular piano) to keep expanding technically. Also, I practice improvising, which for me means practicing complete attention, working on expanding my awareness in the moment and experience of time, trying to remember longer and longer periods of time of what I have played, and trying to see how far out can I go which is both a technical and psychological practice. Usually I record and then listen back while I am practicing, since there is always a difference between what you hear while you are playing and what is actually happening in time. That’s the exercise of it.
Do you have some basic compositions/clusters/rough ideas in mind before you record, or are your pieces purely improvised start to finish?
It depends, but generally everything is completely improvised, especially when performing. Everything on the Four Improvisations record is spontaneous, except for the first part of the 3rd piece, which was a rough idea I was working out.
Are you a musician who prefers creating music on his own, in a context where you're in control of all the parameters, or do you prefer band dynamics?
Generally I don’t like playing in bands. When I play solo I can go as far out as I want and not have to worry about anybody keeping up with where I’m going, or have to go along with anyone else. One exception is my friend Miles Clark, a guitar player. I really like making music with him, we can go far out together. We did some recording together a few months ago, which we might release as an album.
It's been a while now since Trump labeled Brussels as a hellhole. But I wondered if this is the first time you will be coming to Brussels, and what your current views of the city are?
Oh God, he is terrible. No, I’ve never been to Brussels, I’m really excited to come! I’ve heard friends say the festival is really great, I’m looking forward to it. My boyfriend Frank Hurricane played last year and said it’s “Off the chain!” (laughs).
How is city life in Baltimore?
Oh man, well, the city is fucked up, there are a lot of problems here. But, there are also lots of great musicians living here. It can be a good place to live and work, people seem to take music seriously here, but since it’s not as hyped up as places like New York, you can quietly go about your business and make your work. I’ve been here for about 13 years and I love it.
I think it is really nice that you are smiling on the cover of your album. This is a totally rare thing: a musician working in the field of, well, experimental music, with a smile on the cover of a solo record. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
(Laughs) thanks. Yes, that was a very conscious decision when I designed the cover. I’m happy, I’m usually smiling. I wanted the cover to look friendly.