Alternative Music Press interview with Ken Field

March 2000. Simultaneous interviews were also conducted with Erik Lindgren and Lauri des Marais, on the release of Field's, Lindgren's, and des Marais' CDs on the sFz Recordings label.

AMP/Canary Burton: When did you realize you were a musican?

Ken Field: I had played clarinet since 4th grade, but I really was only able to translate written notes on paper to a fingering on the instrument; I had no concept of creating music myself. In college I managed to run into a door (don't ask...) and broke my front tooth. I could not play clarinet, so I borrowed my sister's flute and started improvising with folk and blues musicians. I think the combination of creating music myself improvisationally, and seeing the inner need I apparently had to continue to do music despite the physical setback, made it clear that I was a musician, though not a very good one at that point.

AMP: When did you feel you had the "right" to CALL your self a musician/composer? So many call themselves music majors instead.

KF: After many years playing flute, and then saxophone (which is much less stressful on my broken tooth than clarinet) in the context of a "sideman", I started improvising and composing music as soundtracks to my wife Karen Aqua's animated films. One piece that I wrote for a Boston First Night animation/slide installation was very well received, and I even got requests from people I didn't know for copies of the music. This got me thinking, and I decided to try to put together a CD of my own music. A series of serendipitous events led to the recording of my first solo CD "Subterranea". I submitted this CD to the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, and they awarded me a one-month Composer-in-Residence grant. It was only at this point that I really started thinking of myself as a composer.

AMP: Did you get encouragement from your family?

KF: My parents started me on clarinet as a kid, for which I am very grateful. They expressed serious concern, though, about the idea of pursuing music as a profession versus a hobby. My family is not particularly musical, and they sometimes don't "get" what I do. But they are generally supportive and genuinely happy for me for my accomplishments.

AMP: When did you start playing an instrument (voice is an instrument)?

KF: I started playing clarinet in 4th grade. At about the same time, I didn't make it through auditions for the school choir.

AMP: Did someone try to discourage or encourage you either at home or at school?

KF: I was encouraged as a clarinetist both at home and at school, and I had a very good private teacher. I showed some aptitude for the instrument, and I liked to practice.

AMP: Did you go to school and was there any deflection there from your original goal?

KF: I originally went to college and studied computer science. I didn't study music outside of a few basic survey and introductory theory classes. I later studied saxophone performance for four semesters at Berklee College of Music, and improvisation privately with Charlie Banacos and Jerry Bergonzi. I never studied composition. And I never really had an original goal, so I had no opportunity to be deflected...

AMP: Did/Do you dance?

KF: In my own way.

AMP: What were your dreams when you started and what are they now?

KF: I couldn't have dreamed of any better situation than what I now have, doing music full-time, performing actively, having my music for Sesame Street heard by millions of kids, and getting very kind critical response to my solo work. My dream now is not to be awakened.

AMP: Who was your first musical love?

KF: When I was young, our TV set broke and my parents chose not to repair it. I listened a lot to NYC AM radio. Later in high school and college I listened to Cream, Janis Joplin, very early Van Morrison, Procol Harum, Gato Barbieri.

AMP: Who do you feel in sync with now?

KF: Jon Hassel.

AMP: Do you have to have a day job, or does the music maintain your rent, etc.?

KF: I do music full-time, including some soundtrack work for Sesame Street.

AMP: There have been reports that "classical" music is dead. Have you seen any signs of this?

KF: Sure. I performed last weekend at a Composers in Red Sneakers concert and about 10 people showed up. And there were even fewer in the *audience*...

AMP: Have you had an ephiphany or trauma that let you know you only had so much time and you'd better "do it now"

KF: I'm 47, so "doing it now" resonates even more for me now than it did ten or twenty years ago. But I'm not frantic about it - I put my energy into creative things that I enjoy doing and that I think are worth my while to do, and worth my audience's while to experience.

AMP: When did you meet the other composers and how?

KF: I've played music with Erik for about 10 years, since I joined Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. I had not heard his music prior to joining the group. I have learned much of what I now know about composition from observing Erik and playing his (and other Birdsongs composers') music. I met Lauri through Erik, and did some collaborative performances with her.

AMP: Did you struggle to creat a cohesive group or did it just click?

KF: Not sure that we function currently as a "cohesive group", but I think our various styles of creative music contain a good balance between being different and being similar.

AMP: Had you tried this before with others?

KF: Not really, though I have collaborated with various other creative people through the years in slightly different contexts. Collaboration at any level is always interesting - it forces you to give up some control, and in return you are inspired by new and fresh perspectives.

AMP: Who do you see is your audience?

KF: I hope that people who like to experience interesting and beautiful music will enjoy my music as well. I find that there is a surprisingly wide age-range of people who respond to what I do.

AMP: What ideas do you have to use your music in a way as to bring in new audience?

KF: There is a lot of competition for people's attention these days. Bringing in audiences means attracting their attention. I do this by mentioning in press releases things that they might take note of, like my work for Sesame Street, the unique recording environment of my first CD "Subterranea" (an underground chamber in Roswell, New Mexico), and the instrumentation I like to work with (multiple alto saxophones).

AMP: Have you ever performed live or on tape in a venue different from the classical form?

KF: "Subterranea" was recorded in a very unique environment, using multitracked recording such that I played most of the tracks myself.

AMP: What happened?

KF: Being alone in a recording situation (without even an engineer) was very liberating, and resulted in some very interesting layered improvisations that I am quite proud of.

AMP: Do you have something to say to the world that hasn't been included here?

KF: Thanks very much.