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Drummer Chris Corsano Explains What Makes a Jam Work and Björk

Chris Corsano is one of the most sought-after percussionists in the nebulous sphere of intentional aural insanity that constitutes free music and its various iterations as noise, psychedelia, and having-something-to-do-with-jazz.

Since the late '90s, Corsano has performed solo and in infinite combinations of players — both heartily obscure and incredibly popular. In the early 2000s, his partnership with free jazz sax shredder Paul Flaherty thrust his singular technique and experimental methods onto a higher platform of notoriety and esteem. Since then, he has collaborated with everyone from day-and-night trippers like Six Organs of Admittance, acoustic diviners like Matt Valentine and Erika Elder, and even Björk.

Corsano will be in town for a string of dates around South Florida, including a stop at Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale. We gave him a ring to talk shop before the gig.

New Times: Regarding your multitude of collaborators: Is there such a thing as practice? Or is it more "Let's do this!"

Chris Corsano: A lot of the time, it's the latter. Sometimes that has to do with life. Last night, I played in a trio, and none of us actually lived in the city in which we played, and we all sort of descended upon it, did the hit, and that's that. You could say something about that immediacy. You know you're only getting get one chance. The impulse isn't so much to tinker as it is to just get there and make sure you're doing the most music you can be. Some groupings just click from the get-go. Maybe with others, there's a reason to work on things. And then there are people that practice to death, and that gives them their sound.

What makes a jam not work?

Mediocrity. A totally subjective, "I'm enjoying this or I'm not." And then if you're making the music and you're making music in front of people and maybe those people get charged money or at least they're spending their time and watching you do your thing. If that's the case, I feel like you owe them a great deal.

You should be trying to do something for them, even if that's piss them off. Give them something that they couldn't have from scrolling their Facebook feed, mindless deadening entertainment. You try to push some sort of emotion. So a thing that's not working: Nothing is getting pushed, people are running through the motions, no ideas are happening, or just really boring obvious ones. I look at it in terms of responding.

There's an improv conversation about the weather that never really goes anywhere and just sort of restarts. There are improv clichés just like there are indie-rock cliches. A jam isn't working when you're doing a thing you can't stand, and then that's when you need to be like, "I really need to change what I'm doing."

When established groups like Six Organs of Admittance or MV/EE have you play on their records, what is it do you think they're looking for?

Maybe they wanted something looser than what a lot of drummers tend to play. With [Six Organs of Admittance's] Ben Chasny, he wanted something super-high energy for "School of the Flower." Like, "Go apeshit."

Do you think Björk was after that looseness? What did she have in mind?

She had in mind that she wanted drums, and she wanted higher energy, I think. She played me a bunch of stuff, and I recorded over it, and she gave me free rein. It was a day of recording, about six or seven tracks, more related to my solo stuff. Prepared drum, different bits of metal and string, sounds that are not exactly drum-like but have some kind of percussive thing happening.

Her M.O. is similar to many of the other people I've worked with in the free-improv tradition. The difference [laughs] is that she went in and edited everything I'd done. So it was more like samples than a full-on collaboration. That's what makes her her. She works on a large scale. There was a ten-piece brass band, two electronic artists, a harpsichordist, and then her.

There's a lot in that record [Voltaic]. It's similar to hip-hop production, but instead of going through records, you bring in live musicians to do stuff that you move around and place here or there. The tour was me going back and hearing [the music], trying to play back those parts, adding parts. Totally different than my usual style, and much more of a background role, learning to not have your ego make you overplay.