Petero Kalulé & Edward Shipsey: in everyday life

Navel-Gazers #3 is an interview with Petero Kalulé and Edward Shipsey who are going to talk about in everyday life. Petero and Ed are two of the most interesting artists I've encountered in London yet I had not realized the extent of their collaboration until I uncovered a treasure trove of recordings at Petero's Bandcamp. The earliest of these, "in everyday life", was recorded on a mobile phone in Regent's Park, where ambient city sounds provide the comforting backdrop to an exuberant cacophony of woodwind instruments, percussion objects and vocalisations. Given this premise and these artists, I knew this one would be special even before listening, but nothing can really prepare you for all the surprising moments along the way "in everyday life".

AC: Perusing through your catalogue I see you guys collaborate prolifically. Unlike most of the other releases, "in everyday life" has a little blurb at the bottom with an explanation of where it was recorded, in Regent's Park, and how we can hear the sounds of people in the park, the birds, flights overhead and so on, which is part of what caught my interest. Do you normally convene in a public place such as a park, or do you also have a designated space? And where did you get the idea for the park on this occasion?

Petero Kalulé: Thanks for the interview. If I remember these recordings in the park started when we were locked out of the Mopomoso practice space at Troy Bar. We needed somewhere to play so we tried the park.

Before this, I had been playing/practicing/tuning my flutes and horns in Regent's Park in the mornings and so I thought it would be a good place to try and play into and with. It sorts follows a tradition of "outdoors" players in this music. I am thinking of Eric Dolphy playing to birds, Sonny Rollins under the bridge or Giussepi Logan playing/practicing in Tompkins Square park, or even that gorgeous infrared photograph of Albert Ayler in a NY park. There's something the park does to one's ear. It demands a kind of tuning to whatever is moving around.. flight, birds chatter etc. I guess what Ed and I were and are still striving for is a kind of ecological play or poetics as music. A music that gestures towards relation in a way a bandstand or studio can not.

Ed Shipsey: We started off playing only in Regent's Park, as Petero said but have recently moved inside to a rehearsal studio to take advantage of a full drum kit, which has stopped us from playing in a park, though we do plan to go back and were talking about this last time we met.

The recording you hear was our first meeting as a duet, and came about by chance as we both wanted to play but could not get into the Mopomoso workshop as the guy with the key was not there. Various other players had also turned up, but needed electricity and or were tired. We tried to find a park nearby but ended up walking to Regent's Park, it was borne of chance and necessity. A thing that interests me about the park playing was this semi performance aspect, people would hear you and kinda half listen. I found it quite interesting how positive people were about what we were doing. I think sometimes improvising musicians hide their music from public as though it's something that the public could only hate and would fail to understand, this felt appropriately opposite to this, we had people coming up and watching us for up to ten minutes.

My understanding that this was something you could do and it was okay was shaped by being invited to play in a swimming pool to an audience of people there to use the pool (a general swimming public), this was with a saxophonist called Robert Goldsmith, he used to do a regular afternoon at the Kentish Town Baths called Funk Dunk. We never had any complaints.

AC: In Martin Clarke’s interview we hit upon a similar topic to this. People can be surprisingly receptive to "difficult" music sometimes. Perhaps it just needs that experiential context which they can connect with.

So by playing at the park is this an invitation to the public, to confront or otherwise grapple with your music, as part of their experience then and there?

Petero Kalulé: I am not sure that we play for a public? There's something Cecil Taylor says about asking an audience to prepare themselves just like musicians prepare themselves. I have said somewhere in Kalimba that one does not "pop": listen to music, that there is a kind of surrender or attentiveness to listening. And so, I do not think of this music as an invitation to confront, confrontation sounds rather domineering but what I am trying to say is that those who want to listen will listen. They will listen, they will stop by, stay, sometimes for minutes, and relate to/with the sounds we are making. Many times they (the listeners) even shape the kind of sounds we are attempting to produce. Perhaps this is not a "tolerance" but a kind of ritual, an enactment of sonic surrender that works both ways. This openness is what we hope for when we put these sounds out into the world.

AC: I think you achieve that!

One thing I like about "in everyday life" is how as a recording, on the one hand, it's quite unassuming - captured on the fly, on a mobile phone - the editing and the presentation are simple, the incidental sounds of the park are present and audible but aren't ever really showcased or dwelt-upon or fetishised in any particular way. And yet I think it's a distinctive recording. It's got its own structure and its own peculiar atmosphere and sound and texture and sense of space. What was the process and thinking behind the recording itself, when it came to rendering the audio, splitting up the tracks, coming up with the titles and visuals, putting it out there?

Ed Shipsey: I think this is best answered by Petero as they put the recording together with all the titles, which I quite related to the evening, such as things that had been said. The "man with the key" of course related to the fact that we hadn't managed to get into the practice space.

Petero Kalulé: We will give the titles thought but other times, titles come from the very spontaneity of the moment. They too are like mini improvisations that mimic the textures/colours/sounds of the recording.

Concerning the recording process, we play simply. Sometimes we play hard but still always simply. We relate to whatever surrounds us and we use whatever is available: found objects, bells, crown caps, small instruments, our voices etc, - we let all these things guide us.

Many of these particular visuals are taken by an amazing photographer friend Thayna Bonin. I love her work, its lure of mystical lapis light. It shifts in ways that our music is trying to capture. It's all magic, captured on the fly.

Ed Shipsey: Also, listening back I see that this recording was merged with another recording with flautist Laura Cioffi from a later date. I can't remember how we ended up together but perhaps it was again a failed attempt to go to the Mopomoso workshop, or perhaps Petero organized this, I honestly can't remember.

AC: I really like those final tracks where you turn into a trio. The playing there is very spirited and energetic and it follows nicely from the earlier tracks. There's a particular section towards the end of track 7 threads, on the bandstand which I have to say is my favourite passage on "in everyday life".

Petero Kalulé: I love Laura's playing and she brings a "classical sensibility" and attention to the music which I think pushes us to play better, to listen that extra harder. That's the first time we had ever played together and it was beautiful. The music speaks for itself.

AC: Question for Ed, concerning objects such as the megaphone and the plastic cups which you often bring along to improvisations. Where do you get these ideas and how do you decide which objects to bring along on a given day?

Ed Shipsey: The objects I have ended up working with have all come about because they were ready to hand, apart from the megaphone. The plastic cups and beer bottle caps are available at bars and such. I quite liked the artificialness of the sound, a brittle (and at times) broken sound. The megaphone: a friend called Paul Steel who makes sort of symphonic complicated pop music brought a plastic toy megaphone to my 21st birthday party. He lost it there, then 6 months later or so I found the megaphone, I enjoyed playing around with it and getting it to feedback, etc. I never gave it back to Paul, though I think he did actually ask for it back and it has been in my collection of sound making objects ever since (I now have 2). Then I got a bigger megaphone from my partner Eleanor Smith for my birthday one year, which I was absolutely thrilled with, finally a way of completing with all these loud saxophonists I know!

AC: Are you happy with how these sounds translate onto a recording, detached from the usual spectacle of performing? I personally think they add a layer of intrigue to the recording!

Ed Shipsey: I think the sounds translate pretty well on this recording, though admittedly the microphone was just an iPhone microphone. The spectacle is very important for me in a live performance, and I think this was in a way a live performance. Sometimes I think my manipulation of objects, when I listen back to a recording of a live performance is quite unsubtle and a bit limited, (as opposed to careful home recording with headphones monitoring the sounds being picked up etc with which I am usually happier). However in this particular recording I am happy with the level of variety, perhaps partly helped by Petero's tendency to play with large dynamic shifts.

AC: Question for Petero, you have a unique background being from Uganda. This could probably justify an interview of its own! But just in terms of the music is there any equivalent of this in Uganda? Would you or any musician go out into a public space somewhere and make these kinds of sounds for the consideration of passers-by? And/or record it? Are many folks familiar with the American artists you mentioned such as Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler?

Petero Kalulé: I struggle with this question since I do not like nationalisms, and I don't see the point in differentiating musics of the black diaspora so I'd much rather comment on it more generally as a black/ african musician. Let me put it this way, I used to play several folk instruments growing up in school, with friends, and at home and the music forced me to think beyond the boundaries of nation states. We used to play musical instruments of all sorts, fiddles, flutes, drums etc. It wasn't necessarily recorded but perhaps that is because this kind of music is not commodified in my part of the world? I guess it never needed to be commodified as it was everywhere, in the ether. It was something many did as they worked, as they played, as they prayed, as they lived their lives. Which is to say, the music was and is in some places still a kind of social/communal comportment.

AC: I hope the question wasn't too presumptuous (sorry!), since that is a really valuable insight. Sounds like you're saying nationality - Ugandan or otherwise - is not only irrelevant to the art form, but the music is there to liberate the participant from such constructs. I've never quite thought of it that way before and I'm now considering how this pertains to my own background!

Petero Kalulé: Precisely, in my opinion "nationality" is irrelevant...

Not many people would be familiar with these artists, Ayler, Trane, or Logan. And yet, this is a music that they would recognise as theirs too, for it is a music they have played or heard before. Its movements its rhythms its rituals its durationals, its purpose are the same. A similar transverse-reversal happens when I play African folk musics to musicians from the US or South America - or elsewhere in the world. Points of recognition. Sonic memories of return and remembrance that resist the rubrics of nationalisms.

AC: Does the openness in your music, which you mentioned earlier, likewise selve to librate the art form itself from its own familiar constraints, genre, style etc? Do either of you think of this music as "improv" or "jazz" or has it gone somewhere less describable?

Ed Shipsey: I think we definitely are playing improvised music. So of course it is 'improv', but we are also developing our own musical ideas through this improvisation, and some of them reappear again and again almost as though we are singing the same song again - is this free improv? Sometimes we manage to make old ideas fresh. In this context our work is something like folk music in which a singer might try to refresh an existing song. For me a lot of this play is about trying to refresh old material in new ways, it's a way of approaching the present rather than repeating the past. We speak sometimes of being lost not having an idea (or conversely having an idea but being without the virtuosity to implement it). Often in reaction to this we try to take a melody and work with this instead of completely improvising.

Is our music Jazz, or Free Jazz? I would say for me that it is coming from that lineage and that sort of experimental heritage. It's co-created, two people coming together listening to each other both trying to make something fresh, both trying to do something we want to do, trying to negotiate our different interests, our commonalities and differences. It is the opposite of something like the composer Boulez. Also more generally if you trace the history of free improv in London, free jazz is where the impetus to do this sort of music is coming from (perhaps not the only impetus but I would say the main one). So I think the distinction between them is not highly relevant. I think all these labels work, but it's important perhaps to try and think about what they really mean.

Petero Kalulé: On whether this openness liberates or is in-describable, I think it could be a combination of both but one that veers more towards the less describable.

And so, I can try to describe aspects of especially the process as free improvisation (or even composition that plays with and reconfigures genre and form) but other things about it escape me perhaps because it is always changing.

Is it sound? maybe ... is it energy? maybe, is it sculpture, theatre, an interpretation of texture? maybe ... Thing is I don't know what the "outcome" is and maybe that is ok? And so, rather than think of this music or sound in terms of a particular western categorical imperative or telos, I like to think of it as a surrender and openness to what we can't name or cannot grasp yet, like an inundation of feeling maybe or simply, freedom, wonder. Other times it's just play, a kind of free play that chooses to immerse itself in the numinous processes of sound making and sustains this as its only description.

AC: Sounds like there is plenty of room for interpretation on that. On the one hand, what you're doing is spontaneous and rather ephemeral. Yet we can trace a certain lineage and point to some context as well. Lots to think about there!

I'd like to finish up by asking about your future plans for collaboration. It looks like you have a recording as recent as two months ago (cascade), and also a gig scheduled for next week. Is that your first live outing as a duo? Anything else on the horizon?

Petero Kalulé: Yes this is our first outing as a duo. We have another album that we haven't yet uploaded from a few weeks ago, which Ed says is really fun... he has listened to the files.

Ed Shipsey: Yes we have a newer recording that I still haven't uploaded (but will do soon). Then the gig coming up on Monday the 16th December. It's downstairs at The Raven near Tower Bridge SE1 2UP (closest tube probably London Bridge) - if you play, bring your instrument and we will also be having many open sessions across the evening:

After this, we will hopefully continue to play together, and develop as we have been doing, hopefully do some more playing outside as well. I think perhaps I would like to put together some of our best bits into a sort of best-of, as our catalogue is already many hours long! Of course if anyone reading this wants to put us on, get in touch, we're both on Facebook.

Thanks Andrew for giving us this opportunity, it's been really interesting reflecting on what it is we're doing.

Petero Kalulé: I hope we can continue to play together listen together and continue pushing and pulling each other in different directions.

The future is always elusive but well, the music always guides us, somehow.

AC: Indeed, thank you guys - see you at the gig!

Petero can be found at Bandcamp (collaborations with Ed and others), Guillemot Press (poetry), and on Twitter. Ed has a channel on YouTube.

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