RPE duo

September 13, 2013

Interview with RPE Duo

by Andrew Oom

The RPE Duo is a trumpet and electronics collaboration between friends Matt Postle and Radek Rudnicki, focusing on collaborative sound-crafting with heavy emphasis on improvisation and sonic exploration and the interaction between live trumpet and electronics. As they prepare for their show at the Village Zendo on Saturday, September 14, I had the opportunity to speak with Radek and Matt about their process, their upcoming projects, and how to run a band with an ocean in-between.

-Andrew Oom


Andrew Oom: How did you guys get together on this project and how has the geographical separation affected your music? Have there been any issues or, more interestingly, any positive outcomes due to this setup?

Radek Rudnicki: I come from Poland and have been living in England for 7 years now. We met at the University of York in 2008/2009. RPE Duo was part of submitted folio of pieces for both mine and Matt’s PhD. We toured it in UK before Matt went back to USA. It is definitely more difficult to work on the distance. I recorded every gig on last tour and that made us 3 new tracks on the album. I took these recorded performances, edited the best bits, processed again or added drum parts on top. Following ones came from sending recordings back and forth via the internet. Long breaks without playing together make the set much fresher once we are back together, so the new material comes out.

Matt Postle: I’m originally from Seattle, but we first met while I was studying for my PhD at University of York and Radek was completing his Masters/PhD at that time. My research revolved around six separate projects that dealt with the challenges of improvisation in composed music, alongside co-creative processes in music and achieving a “band sound” no matter what the material was (i.e. personal composition, “free” improvisation, or a cover). I wanted to work with electronics for one project and everyone told me to get together with Radek. We performed extensively throughout the UK and Europe from that point forward until I left in the end of 2010. I think Radek and I are such good friends and had so much time together learning our mannerisms, styles, and so on, that whenever we get to play, it tends to click right in. That also comes from so much time spent away from the music, communicating to each other about our lives, other projects, and the future of our creative output. If there is a positive outcome due to our long distance relationship, it is that we know when we do get together we have to make the most of it!

AO: So much of the music is improvised, so how does that play into the compositions?

RR: We started with establishing themes, general guides for the pieces: rhythmic, ambient, melody etc. and I made few loops for each. We were improvising the order of these themes from the start. Now we mix them with one another. I might be playing bass from groovy and ambient parts from another track and Matt could do melody line from different project – Nirvana’s pieces for example. It’s a lot about listening to each other and responding and coming up with new material. I also resample quite a lot. Therefore, new patterns come to life adding new textures or even leading to creation of new tracks.

MP: Well, actually to an extent it is almost all completely “improvised”. I put that in quotations because of course the idea of music being 100% free doesn’t really exist.

I believe instead of “compositions” we more aim towards general sound worlds. When we first started to work together, these worlds were roughly 10 minutes long and dealt with themes such as ambient, noise, rhythm…etc… Before our first major performance in 2009, we decided to meld these ideas together to make more of a sound collage (foregoing any breaks between moods).

The most important thing from my end was never to play on top of the beats, or lay down ideas after he developed his loops. I wanted to be inside of his sound as much as possible (even on the acoustic end), and allowing Radek to further my sound as a part of what he creates. I think it could sound to “clubby” if we were just layering stuff on top of other stuff.

AO: What’s your live setup like?

RR: We stripped down the setup and made it even more portable now. I’m using Elektron Machinedrum for drums and samples and Octatrack for sampling and mixing whatever Matt and I are doing live. We also have circuit-bended Speak & Spell which took place of vintage EMS VCS3, that we had access to in York and used on the first album.

MP: Trumpet, some mutes, and a circuit bent Speak and Spell. Sometimes I will find other objects like a bucket (but I guess that is just a mute really).

AO: Who are some artists that you have looked to model your approach, if any? Do you see yourself falling into a specific community?

RR: Probably 70’s dub because of mixing and processing the material live. I love King Tubby’s dub, for example. While making beats for this project I was revisiting my interest in early 90’s hip-hop and sampling. I used to cut the samples from jazz records, this time having live trumpet felt like luxury.

As for the community, I’m working a lot with few really good improvisers from Leeds. There is strong scene in there, and of course feeling lucky to be invited to FONT.

MP: Artists I admire on trumpet that fit this project: Arve Henriksen most of the time. I think his thought process on the instrument is something I would like to get at some day. It probably is similar to what a lot of other trumpeters (and other instrumentalists) are doing, but trying to recreate the possibilities of what the instrument can do.

As far as a specific category, I’m not sure, it seems challenging to get booked at jazz festivals (because we are too electronic-based) and then at contemporary festivals it is too “jazzy”. We have had some really great gigs at a variety of festivals, venues, and universities so I shouldn’t be too negative.

AO: Have you had any collaborations or do you guys have any that you would like to happen?

RR: Yeah lots of collaborations recently. Would love to do solo album for once! Most recent one is RPE Duo’s collaboration with NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Stockholm Environment Institute. We are preparing few surprises for you at FONT festival.

As for the other projects, my main one in the UK is Space F!ght with James Mainwaring (sax) and Tom Adams (guitar) and Jakub Hader (visuals). Like RPE Duo it is groovy electronic music with acoustic improvisation but as quartet (visuals being the 4th instrument) we closely work with visual artist doing projection mapping. Recently we started using 3D projection screens that literally add another dimension to the set.

MP: As far as RPE Duo collaborating with other bands/artists, not really. We collaborated with theater projects at University of Leeds in 2009, developing a musical score that was improvised based on the subject material, dance movements, and general atmosphere. Last year we had a tour around North Carolina and upon returning to Charlotte we collaborated with one of my groups called the Fat Face Trio (trumpet/melodica, guitar, and tuba). I also rounded up a lot of some great improvisers in Charlotte to do a free-for-all at a great local venue called Snug Harbor.

We do however have quite a unique collaboration with Radek’s work (Stockholm Environmental Institute) and NASA of all things. When I arrive in NYC for the FONT festival, we have one day to rehearse this new collaboration before we perform it at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies!

AO: What is your favorite city in which you have performed and why?

RR: Any city I haven’t been to before and come to play music is my favourite. Loved both gigs in Asheville, NC as it was linked with Moog factory visit on top of that. Also recent Space F!ght gig in my hometown was pretty cool as I’ve never played in there before. Was great to play for my friends and family as otherwise they wouldn’t have a chance to see us live.

MP: I think my favorite city that RPE Duo has performed in would probably be Edinburgh, Scotland. I think first off every time I visited Edinburgh it was always so much fun (and strangely no rain ever). We had wonderful treatment courtesy of Dr. Martin Parker (Music Lecturer at Edinburgh University) and the rest of the faculty/students. Anytime RPE Duo has played there has been something special about the location and people we meet.

AO: What was the best audience comment given to you post-show?

RR: “This is way better then hip-hop.” – My mum

MP: “Leave the electronics to Radek.” – Prof. Tony Myatt

September 8, 2013

Q&A with Aaron Shragge Curator of FONT 2013 Program at the Village Zendo

Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) Preview Week

Q&A with Aaron Shragge
Curator of FONT 2013 Program at the
Village Zendo

Click here for the full 2013 FONT  Program

How did you become a trumpet player? Did you play any other instruments before the trumpet?

The was something about the sound of the trumpet that sparked my interest around the time I was eleven years old. I had already played the violin and then briefly the accordion but without very much dedication or success.

The moment when I decided I was going to become a trumpet player was much later in high school when I had a transcendent experience improvising. The feeling I had while improvising on the horn seemed to instantly liberate me from all my worries and give my life new meaning and direction.

I also feel like really being a trumpet player is never becoming a trumpet player. It’s never arriving at any fixed destination. It’s to relentlessly and fearlessly grow towards what is limitless by continually bowing to the practice of an instrument that has an endless number lessons to teach us.

If so, did those instruments inform how you played the trumpet?

I find what most informs my trumpet playing is the practice of the Japanese Flute, the Shakuhachi and North Indian Vocals. Playing the Shakuhachi for the last nine years has changed the way I breath as well as the way I hear sound and space. From learning North Indian Vocals over the last seven years I’ve developed a greater awareness of my throat, which allows me to open my trumpet sound in different ways. The singing has also revolutionized the way I hear intonation and the space between each pitch. It’s from learning these musical traditions away from the trumpet that lead me to develop a custom horn with a seven position slide as well as valves, built by Josh Landress.

Were there recording in the beginning and even years into learning the instrument that drew you into the trumpet’s sound and possibilities?

On of the recording that sticks out the most is Jon Hassell’s album Facsinoma. I remember hearing it at a record store in L.A and not realizing that what I was hearing was a trumpet. His sound had so much breath and the subtlety-flexibility of a voice. Later I would make the connection that the style of Indian vocals that I was learning had been the same that Jon Hassell has studied many years before.

People often talk about how the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play. Do you feel this is true? What doesn’t the general public understand about playing trumpet that you wish people would realize?

I think the trumpet is as hard as we make it. Though I do feel that before I met Laurie Frink I didn’t stand a chance in every getting anywhere. I think once you find the right method/teacher it’s not as bad as everyone says. It is high maintenance but I see that as a blessing. The ritual of practicing the trumpet is what keeps me going through everything that I face in life.

I do wish more people would realize that there are an abundance of different ways the trumpet can be played. So many times whether in school or in performance situations I get the sense that people still assume the trumpet is about being loud high and fast. That is why I think FONT is so amazing and important. I think it represents a very unique all inclusive trumpet culture that not nearly enough listeners of the instrument are aware of.

If you had to identify with one of two gurus, trumpeters of otherwise, who had the greatest impact on you musical journey to date, whom would they be?

I’d say Laurie Frink, for simply proving to me that what I thought I’d never be able to do on the trumpet was possible.

Then I’d say my Indian vocal teacher Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan. I feel that I’ve learned music from him as intimately as a child learns language from their parents. He also never gives up on pushing me way past where I think I can go.

Last, I’d have to list my flute teacher Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin. He has a powerful compassionate presence that comes through his playing/teaching and it is something that I always think of when I play music.

How did you select the people you wanted to showcase in you particular curation? We’re these people you felt we’re deserving of wider recognition? We’re they people you felt shared a similar working aesthetic as you or came from someplace completely differently?

What attracted me to RPE duo is how Matt Postle’s trumpet seamlessly integrates with Radek Rudnick’s electronics. Listening to their music in a way reminds me of meditating at the Zendo. As we are on Broadway there can be some very intense city sounds that come up from the street and as you sit those sounds become a sonic landscape for seeing your mind. In a similar way Matt’s trumpet focuses the various musical textures of Radek’s soundscape. For that reason I thought they would be perfect for performing at the Village Zendo.

Douglas Detrick is the first person I talked to about bringing FONT to the Zendo and I’m extremely grateful for his guidance in the organization and curating process. I believe his music is a perfect fit for the Zendo because it maintains an incredible balance between being compositionally challenging and aesthetically pleasing to the listener. In a similar way the openness of the Zendo can be equally inviting and challenging to all those that enter the space to meditate.

Who is your favorite trumpeter today (as in today, the day you are writing this email) and what recorded song available to the public best exemplifies why this trumpeter is so badass?

It’s hard to list one, but I’d have to say Kenny Wheeler, Angel Song.There is something about the depth of his sound and the sensitivity of his musical ideas that never ceases to amaze me.

Talk a bit about the venue you chose to curate in? Why is it special to you? Why do you want people to experience that particular venue? Or was it the most hospitable venue available for what you wanted to do?

The Village Zendo has existed as a meditation center in lower Manhattan for over twenty five years. Since 2009, Village Zendo Arts has been presenting music, visual art, music film and theatre at the Zendo. In 2012, we began “Villagers and Trumpet” an ongoing series in collaboration FONT music that is inspired by a Zen parable in which villagers gain insight into their true nature through listening to a visitor play the trumpet.

People often say there is a real vibe or energy at the Zendo, which might be because there are people meditating there three times a day. Either way it’s a beautiful loft space with wonderful warm acoustics and it provides the listener with an extremely intimate way to experience creative music.

I hold the Village Zendo as a space and community close to my heart. I feel as though the community there is like my family and has allowed me to grow in ways that I never thought possible. It is for that reason that I’m all the more excited to share it with the trumpet/greater musical community.

Can you all share an anecdote about this year’s honoree Marcus Belgrave and what bearing, if any, he has had on you life as a listener, trumpet player, student of appreciator of creative music?

What I find most inspiring about Marcus Belgrave is that beyond his huge contribution to wide range of musical styles he has also dedicated himself to mentoring and educating others. In an interview with Bret Primack Marcus said some of the best advice he can give his students is to “…Look inside yourself and see wherever you want to go…and follow your dream.” I feel these are powerful words to live by not only as a human being but especially as a trumpet player.

What even besides the events you curate are you most looking forward to checking out live?

Hard to pinpoint one but I think I’ll really enjoy the diversity represented at both Smoke and Douglass Street, though I hope to be at every concert!