Matt Bourne: musician and composer

Projects, pointers and philosophy

Matt Bourne, in his own words, taught himself to play piano by “plundering scores of contemporary classical music”. Well he’s at it again, plundering Kraftwerk this time for a touring project, which premieres in Leeds as part of this year's International Festival for Artistic Innovation (IFAI).

Working in collaboration with Franck Vigroux and Antoine Schmitt, the trio’s project Radioland marks the 40th Anniversary of Kraftwerk’s Radio-activity album. Classed as an exploration, the original work is explored as a live performance piece, using analogue and digital sound, with live visual graphics.
Bourne’s work as a musician and composer is recognised the world over, to high acclaim, amongst peers like Amon Tobin and Bonobo. Here, he’s kindly given us some pointers for approaching performing one's music onstage, a few pictures from the archives and some useful links. And we love his Roman numeral use…
I. Be yourself – make the stage your home. The audience are made up of those who have come to see your music, and maybe those who know little or nothing about your music. Welcome them: invite them into your home as friends, have a chat, make them a brew.
[Photo right: myself and fellow pianist Nils Frahm, shoeless, onstage at RNCM last year]
II. Be aware of your environment – whatever happens in the context of live performance, especially the unexpected, is to be welcomed/embraced. Work aspects of disruption/the unexpected/the unplanned, into the fabric of your performance. As for the above, look at it as an unexpected introduction to new friends.
III. Never admit mistakes – everything is intended: "Yeah, that was deliberate," or "That was supposed to happen," or "Well, I didn't want to court the usual, predictable, clichĂ©d rigmaroles concomitant with mainstream performance practice". Something like that. Invent three of your own...
IV. "Practice makes perfect. Imperfect is better". A favourite of mine from Paul Bley's Philosophy of Improvisation.
V. Be self-sufficient – i.e., if none of the other band members turn up to a gig, be prepared to hold the stage on your own. No matter what your instrument is, try and cultivate the sensibility of creating engaging music by yourself (but don't kill yourself, it's not the end of the World).

[Photo: Matt's own blood on his piano keys after a gig – not an uncommon occurrence] 
VI. Say "No." to things more often. This is, arguably, one of the most underrated words in the English language. Don't forget, "No." is a complete sentence, and needs no qualification.
VII. Say "Yes", to things you'd like to do – but only after considering the personal benefits of saying "No." first.
VIII. Be honest about your ability – get to know your strengths, and use them. Make friends with your weaknesses, too; and use them creatively. Some of the most innovative musicians have founded new techniques/entire careers out of not being able to do certain things. "Adapt and overcome". Check out the work of guitarist Allan Holdsworth, for example. 
IX. Save it for the gig – don't burn all of you energy and impulsiveness off in the soundcheck. "Save it for the gig", is a frequently-used phrase of the sage-like saxophone colossus, Paul Dunmall.
X. Make friends with yourself.

Useful links:
Paul Bley's Philosophy of Improvisation
Allan Holdsworth
Captain Beefheart's Ten Commandments of Guitar Playing
Paul Dunmall
Personal blog about environment and situation shaping musical outcome

Photo Credit: Sarah Mason


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"No matter what your instrument is, try and cultivate the sensibility of creating engaging music by yourself (but don't kill yourself, it's not the end of the World)."

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