Next in our Meet the Improvisers series: Ben Zucker, a composer, improviser, sound designer and multi-instrumentalist. As a performer, Ben uses, amongst others, vibraphone, piano, trombone and voice; as a composer, his work spans chamber music, improvisation, electronica, songwriting, and performance art, and is beginning to branch into graphic design, video, movement and theory-fiction.
A recent graduate of Wesleyan University (Connecticut), Ben is currently studying at Brunel University with Jennifer Walshe and Christopher Fox and is a member of Academy Inégales, the first mentoring programme run by Club Inégales and Institute of Composing.
1. How would you describe your voice?
My (speaking) voice was once described as “at the right frequency to cut through background noise, like a mosquito”. I think I’ve only become truly comfortable with my own sound recently…In the past, doing affectations, “noises”, or certain stylistic tones was an easy way to avoid dealing with the sound of myself; now, though, they’ve become part of the toolbox, and I use those things to heighten the drama and communication, but they come along with a voice that is as hopefully relaxed and warm as I feel with it. Everything has its place, so my voice is as much a state of mind as it is any color or frequency.
2. What are the main improvisation experiences that you have had before TIC?
I’ve been improvising for quite some time, playing jazz as a trumpeter, trombonist, pianist, percussionist (etc. etc.), and very quickly discovered “free/non-idiomatic/experimental/whatever-you-wanna-call-it” improvising out of a voracious curiosity, which lead me to interacting with other kinds of performers, including dance and theater (first I musicked alongside them, and before I knew it I was acting and dancing myself!). At college, I studied intensely under the legendary saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton, who saw improvisation as a vital component to a holistic system of expression. So in my work as a performer and composer, I’ve approached improvisation as a means of shaking up fixed elements of performance, be they sonic, emotional, or otherwise, and recombining them anew to move into artistic terra incognita. It’s an invaluable enabler of experimentation, and has allowed me to cross all sorts of stylistic and formal boundaries, thankfully finding fellow travelers along the way.
I had been singing and directing choral groups throughout college, but first seriously improvised as a vocalist at the Banff Centre, in a conducted improvisation ensemble under the baton of Tyshawn Sorey. Egged on by singer friends, being conducted in improvisations let me take the first few steps that let me channel energy that I had previously only expressed in the guise of a theatrical role or virtuoso performer.
3. What have you noticed about your experiences in TIC so far?
Having improvised for so long in experimental circles, I take for granted the acceptance of all sounds and gestures at face value. But in turn I still shy away from a certain amount of overt expressiveness in my vocalizing. Everyone here has things they’re learning and blocks they’re overcoming, but what comes through it all is a true artist’s patience and generosity. There can be doubt and confusion, but it never turns negative. It really seems like everyone wants each to be the best that they can be, and a positive experience like that just builds on itself over and over. That generosity and comfort allows us to explore new ways of interacting in a way that puts everyone on the same page and excited to go to the next one.
You can listen to Ben’s compositions and performances on his website – and to see him live, get your tickets now for TIC – The Improvisers’ Choir first concert on Sunday 5th December at the Vortex (3pm start).