An interview with
Gorge Trio (1999)

By Beppe Colli
Feb. 17, 2003

"Innovation" and "innovative" are common words in the music press, especially in those magazines that deal with rock music. Most of the times, alas!, not very appropriately. Among the legions of "innovative" rock groups coming from the States, Gorge Trio had appeared to me a few years ago to be one of the most promising. Three young men whom I saw live as three quarters of Colossamite - a group to which they gave the most interesting instrumental traits - who had released a CD called Dead Chicken Fear No Knife. During an informal chat that occurred the day after the Colossamite concert they had seemed to be good guys, very conscious of their own limits and of the long road that still lay ahead. While the young guitar players Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich were your basically average players, the still younger drummer Chad Popple had appeared to me as the most impressive member of the group, his agile, dry drumming style more similar to, say, Chris Cutler's drumming than to the Cobham-like approach of Don Caballero's Damon Che. During that conversation Popple had spoken in enthusiastic terms of a jazz Festival in Chicago where some Free Music Production artists from Germany had played, so I had decided to give him a tape with some Henry Cow and Camberwell Now tracks on it (very good music, very good drummers). The next Gorge Trio CD, For Loss Of (still the most recent at the moment of this writing) had sounded to me as pretty unusual, so I decided that a chat about it was in order. I sent the same questions to Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich - Chad Popple, then living in Germany, being unreachable in Spain. The interview was published in Italian language in the Italian magazine Blow Up, issue # 18, November 1999. It appears here in English language for the first time.

It's easy to guess that your new work, For Loss Of, will surprise quite a few among those who had listened to your previous album, Dead Chicken Fear No Knife, starting from the fact that you've recorded it using a larger instrumentation and together with Milo Fine - a name that I imagine won't say much to a lot of our readers (I have to confess that, although I had listened to some of the work he did with Borbetomagus and Joe McPhee - way back - I had totally lost track of him). Would you mind saying something about him and about your work together?

Ed: I feel like I get something from him every time we get together, and I don't believe I can say that about anyone else. Even in our dissimilarities I find truths and he has helped me connect with myself in both my music and my life. He's also one of the most unique and amazing musicians I've played with.

John: Milo Fine is one of the greatest musicians I've ever come into contact with. He has had a profound impact on the way I think about and approach music. He has been a huge influence in terms of using silence as an ACTIVE compositional element in improvisation. The first record came about as a direct result of playing in Colossamite and developing this very structured, very loud, kinetic music together. When Colossamite began, Gorge Trio essentially ended, and we were happy with that for a while. At some point, however, we decided it would be worth trying out the trio format to see what the new experiences would bring out in terms of compositional development. I was writing all of these pretty, slow things that I felt weren't jibing with the way Colossamite was moving, and I think the sound of Dead Chicken was directly related to that fact, and we consciously tried to explore areas that we weren't exploring in Colossamite. By the time Dead Chicken was released, Gorge Trio was playing almost exclusively free improvised stuff (in fact, we only played the Dead Chicken songs live once), and we were exploring different formats for each show we did. Ed was starting to bring in his homemade instruments (sawed-off guitar and kringleharp primarily), Chad was bringing his tablas and other percussives, and I was trying out new setups, as well (electronics, pedal steel guitar, etc.).

The album is timbrally very rich - it's pretty layered, sometimes - but it maintains a "real time playing" quality that instantly connects it to both "rock" and "impro/jazz" music; what were your reference points when recording it? And what made you decide in favour of one long (though indexed) track, that takes its time, as opposed to the more compact - and maybe more listener-friendly - episodes on your first CD? Sometimes it's pretty difficult to determine the source of the sounds (I don't known whether this was maybe part of your intention or just a by-product of your timbral research - or both), for instance the sound that's on the left channel, starting at about 1'20", which gets progressively louder. And, generally speaking, the guitars are used more as texture when compared to what's common in "rock" - sometimes, I think, more in the neighbourhood of, say, Fred Frith.

Ed: I think that in improvisation, once you embrace sound as it is you can get in touch with the possibilities music has always presented to you, but you may not have noticed due to your own decided course of action. A lot of it is getting past your first reactions and your pre-programmed forms of interaction.

John: The group just started moving into the direction of exploring more sonic possibilities and expanding our instrumentation. Ed had these new instruments he was building, and we were modifying and preparing the things we already had. In terms of the "real-time" feel, that was definitely a conscious decision on our part. I started to go through and remix and reconstruct the recorded material we had (almost all of which was recorded in a day in October '98). I really didn't want to alter the feeling that was generated by the material (the source material for the record was completely improvised). As the process developed, Ed was really helpful in terms of encouraging me to take risks and try out some of the electronics ideas that I was working on, and a lot of it ended up on the record. All of the processed sounds are based, in one way or another, on the improvised material we started out with. In terms of the "one long track," it just became more interesting when putting the material together to set up more complex relationships between sections, things that could never happen in "real time," and present it as a sort of whole, rather than a bunch of disparate sections. The last step in the recording was giving it to Milo, who suggested that he improvise his part in real time while not listening to the recording, which is what he did (he listened to it once a week before he laid his tracks down). Milo's contribution really added another layer of immediacy and gave a depth to the music that wasn't there beforehand.

What's a "sawed-off" guitar? And a "kringle-harp"?

Ed: The "sawed-off guitar" is an instrument I made by taking the neck of the guitar and moving it on top of the body, sawing off the bottom of the guitar to access the neck. Its more neck than body with seven light strings criss crossed over each other to get a sound like a ring modulator. The kringle-harp is another homemade thing. I really like the sound of open bowed strings so I made this open box, with bass strings criss crossing inside of it. I play it with a bow in each hand. Each string has a pick-up in it and at any time I can bow a single string or touch up to three surfaces at the same time. It's the low repeated string sound you hear at the end of the record. It's a nice textural instrument.

On a different plane, I wonder whether you've listened to Grow Fins, the Captain Beefheart Box Set. I was recently exchanging opinions with Peter Frame (the English "rock historian") about the box set, and he told me that, in the late '60s/early '70s, in the U.K. Beefheart's albums sold more than the Doors, Frank Zappa or the Jefferson Airplane - which was totally unexpected on my part. Anyway, when it first came out, Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica was considered a "rock" album; here's my question: how do you see the state of "rock" music today when it comes to experimenting with form?

Ed: I really see some great things happening in rock music. Part of that is because I realize the multiple functions and forms of music. If you look to the mainstream you'll do nothing but drive yourself crazy, because we all know that it's not OUR music. The second people realized they could make money from it, it no longer was ours anymore. If we look to those we feel a connection to you have a better chance of staying positive and encouraged about music, which is what is important. I think of those like Storm & Stress and U.S. Maple, anyone with an adventurous spirit. That always keeps me excited.

John: To me, the most interesting experimentation with form often comes from the rock world, which sort of makes sense in that, in the rock context you usually have a group of people who get together and stick together for a while and work towards something. This sort of process seems to lend itself to developing a unique vocabulary, etc. The problems come when the vocabulary is codified and growth stops. I just saw a GREAT band the other night called Deerhoof, and it reminded me of what is possible with rock music.

I think I get what you mean, but what about improvisers or jazzers? Don't they develop a "unique vocabulary"?

John: Yes, improvisors also develop unique vocabularies, but the difference to me is that improvisors are constantly attempting to break down those vocabularies and search for new ones (or at least they should be, in my opinion). I also don't mean to imply that there are hard and fast divisions between these things, because there aren't. I consider Gorge Trio to be a group of improvisors who also happen to be interested in rock, and I think that's very formative, for us.

To what kind of music are you grooving to, so to speak, these days?

Ed: At present I am not really listening to music much which is quite normal for me.

John: The new U.S. Maple, Christian Fennecz's Hotel Paral.lel (still), Xenakis' electroacoustic stuff from the 70's (Electroacoustic Works), etc.

When I saw you play last year, in Colossamite, I liked what I saw, though that tiny, smoky, humid place (not to mention the headbanging contest at the end of the concert) did not exactly help one's concentration. Do you have any plan to tour as Gorge Trio?

John: We are hoping to tour mid-2000, and plans are in the works.

Is there anything you want to add about your current musical projects, occupations, learning practices?

Ed: A new Iceburn record, on which I play drums, is completed and coming out in November. It's a double trio (sax/guitar/drums). We're planning to tour soon and hope to come to Europe in 2000. I'm also playing drums with Nick Sakes (Colossamite/Dazzling Killmen) in a band called Sicbay, which will be recording soon. I'm also working with my own group (playing guitar) which, for the moment, is called Glitterati. I'm really excited about that right now, it's showing great promise.

John: I'm living in Oakland, California and studying electronic music at Mills College right now. I'm also playing in a Mills performance ensemble directed by Fred Frith. I'm working on a solo record of electronic music (tentatively entitled Lucky Florist) which I have all the pieces to but still need to assemble. A collaboration with Ed Chang, (NY) David Forlano and Sean O'Donnell (Philadelphia) called Ring Steppers will be done within the next couple of months (finally), and I'm working on a bunch of other things, but I'm not sure what will happen with any of them.

© Beppe Colli 1999 - 2003 | Feb. 17, 2003