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Mike Heffley Interview Vijay Iyer

http://www.vijay-iyer.com
Transcript of phone interview, 3/6/07
MH You alluded in your email to your experience on the West Coast, which is
where I grew up, around the Bay Area. You compared your experience as similar
to the Asian-American guys I mentioned, saying something about the AsianAmerican scene in the Bay Area. Can you fill me in on that, and tell me what your
experience was?
VI Are you familiar with that crew at all? John Jang, Mark Iszu, Glen Horiuchi,
Miya Masaoka?
MH I know the names, but I dont know any of them personally. I know a little bit
about their work, and its what Im just getting into now. I was in the Bay Area in
the late 60s/early 70s, so I know all these names, but I havent been all that in
touch with their work.
VI When I first moved to the Bay Area, I started hearing about this whole
community of Bay Area Asian-American improvisers who had a collective called
Asian Improv Arts. It was an artists collective formed very much in the spirit of
AACM and BAG and those kinds of artist groups. In subsequent years they
connected with the Asian Improv group. Tatsu Aoki in Chicago ended up being a
lynchpin for their connections there. But prior to that it was mostly a West Coast
thing. It was co-founded by John Jang, Francis Wong.
This was a very politicized organization, very much about community organizing,
using music as the agent for social change and as an occasion for community
organizing; also for articulating a politicized stance through the work. You should
read Michael Dessens dissertation. He was a student of George Lewis, got his
PhD at UCSD, and his dissertation contains a pretty solid history of Asian
Improv, and an overview of its output. Also, Deborah Wong, whose work you
probably know.
MH Yeah. Ill get Michaels dissertation.
VI Yeah, he writes about several different scenesa bit about Asian Improv, also
the New York downtown scene associated with Jon Zorn and the radical Jewish
culture thread inside of that, and some about M-Base. Its all sort of about these
musicians collectives in the 80s & 90s.
MH Since you compared your experience to theirs, I was curious about what
exactly you meant, because youre not exactly a member of it, are you? youre
more of an independent individual artist, right? Your own CDs are all in your

name, and youre more associated with Indian than with Asian-American music
tradition. How do you see the two worlds relating?
VI Actually, my first two albums were on their label, so I was pretty directly
associated with the organization. I guess it depends on who you ask, but, to me,
at least, and maybe more on the East Coast and in Europe, people consider
India as part of Asia. So it seems like a strange distinction. When youre talking
about continents, youre lumping together vast assortments of people, so its
always a bit of a strain. Certainly, especially in the diaspora, when you start
lumping together everybody from all over Asia in the diaspora as one community,
it does start to be a bit of a stretch. I do consider myself Asian-American, but
what that means specifically is really more about what it says about my
experience here. More than about a shared heritage or something. It speaks
more about having ties elsewhere, and so having that sense of displacement as
part of my identity, as well as having the experience of integration within my
immediate familyand also having this ethnicity that marks you as different
within this mainstream culture in America, so thatits not even about the
specifics of India v. China or Japan or anything; its just more that I have this
name and this phenotype that marks me as different, and that ends up kind of
framing the way I move in this culture.
MH I guess Im wondering about the musical specifics of that. I had the
experience of playing with Jason Kao Hwang. So I got to know his little gestures,
what he was trying to do as a musician. Then I had the experience of hearing
your CDs, and so I see a lot more direct influx, infusion of Indian music in your
music, obviously, than in Jasons music, which seemed correspondingly more
related to Chinese music tradition. When you were playing with the Asian Improv
guys then, did you have that distinction going on in your head? Did you take
certain musical gestures or principles and make them be something else in your
music?
VI Heres how it worked for me. I was coming of age at that time, in my early 20s
and kind of figuring out if I was going to be an artist, first of all, and if so, how I
was going to really make my music be a directrather than being a journeyman
jazz person who was trying to get the idiom right, how could I actually make it
somehow tell my own story inside of this world, or even outside of it. So it was
right around that time that I connected with these people. To be clear, while
Asian Improv members do collaborate as musicians, its not a collective of
musicians who play together. Its a musician-run presenting organization and
label. They created their own superstructure that circumvents the music industry
and is much more directly tied to community, and collective political action. So it
was in that context that I found a way to sort of harmonize with my own heritage
by observing and participating in the artistic precedent that they set in specific
ways. Just like you could say about the AACM, that theres not really an AACM
sound, but that theres a diversity of viewpoint that was strengthened and
nurtured by the AACM, because thats the way it worked. This was very much the
case with Asian Improv, in that everyone tied to it has had their own way of

dealing with these very same issues, but its really the orientation to that
direction, and the fact that they were all in it together that kind of defined what it
was. Or, theres not even a definition, its more just an historical moment.
MH That was a Bay Area thing. When you got back to New York, are you still
involved in any kind of a community thing like that?
VI I guess the way it works for mepart of what was happening in the Bay Area
for me was that in terms of demographics, there wasnt really a critical mass of
South Asians, meaning people from India and Pakistan and that whole
community. Whereas here, we number in the millions. So its a different thing. So
my experience with Asian Improv, in terms of my first 2 albums being put out
there...and also they presented me on some of my first major performances, my
first major gigs in the Bay Area: theyd have their own annual festival, and I
performed in that leading my own group a couple of times...
MH This was when you were a student at UC Berkeley and studying physics and
math and all that...
VI During and subsequent to that, yeah.
MH So youre saying that this time and context was your initiation into the music,
because thats when you decided to become a musician instead of a scientist?
VI Yeah, it was all around that time. 1995 was when I put out my first album,
which was on Asian Improv, and it was very much instigated by Francis Wong,
who was at the time president off the organization. He sort of took me under his
wing and said, you should do this; you have all this music, you have some
momentum here, and this would be a good time to make it happen. There wasnt
an abundance of money, but at least by doing it, I would be a part of something.
It wouldnt be like a tree falling in the forest, it would be really...well, something
associated with what had become like a legacy, a substantial body of work.
MH Then you also ended up writing a dissertation in music rather than science,
right?
VI It was actually about music cognition, so I guess it was a little bit of both, I
guess you could say. But yeah, I did leave physics.
MH I will get your dissertation, and Michaels, and well refine this interview as I
do educate myself more. Fresh in my mind now, actually, is the CD I just heard
by Michael, with you on it. I got a definite impression of a New York scene that
was sort of an update for mewhich is something Im in the process of with this
project, of updating my awareness. I noticed all the names behind the CD on the
label that he thankedMarty Ehrlich, JD Parran and all these people whose
music I do know fairly well...and I noticed the way you guys played together and
worked together with interest, just because it struck me as sort of a New York
thats opening up. I got a definite sense of a community of Brooklyn

musicians...you mentioned the AACMand Muhals name was among those


Michael thanked--and Im sort of seeing like a fulfillment of their dream of how
they were in a way like the more world-music-oriented of the black artist groups
that came up in the 60s and 70sbut it was all sort of an African-American
version of the world. By comparison, New York seemed more insular than that
vision, more intense and uptight, even, in certain ways, compared to Chicago
and even San Francisco in my mind.
What I see now, and in this community and in the music you guys are playing is
sort of a realization of this vision of a more world-music kind of scene, only its
not just African Americans who are simulating that, its actual people from all over
that world, who are doing it. The music itself seems to have sort of opened up in
a looser way, and a more transparent way, in the way that they did in Chicago
too, as compared to New York.
Anyway, thats just my observation. What I would ask you, as someone who is in
it and knows it: do you have a sense of where you are now as a community of
musicians, and of yourself as a part of it? and how would you describe that
scene?
VI Well, I guess something that happens to you in New York is that you find
yourself intersecting with a lot of different scenes. Certainly there is a community
of players who keep track of each other, but I find also that, by keeping in mind
the sort of legacy or heritage of the AACM-oriented artists, or those people
affiliated with that world, is that its really about thinking beyond the histories of
genre or anything like that. Its really about just trying to be a fully realized
creative individual always researching, always working, and always expanding.
My whole track record has been about collaboration with people of all sorts.
Obviously, the collaboration with Rudresh looms pretty large in the history of
what Ive done, but then Ive also done these collaborations with Mike Ladd,
whos this poet and underground hip-hop artist. Our work together has taken me
in a very different direction, artistically and everything, but it was created with all
of these different strands of who I am in mind, and very much brought to bear on
that.
Then Ive also worked with people in the rock world, the hip-hop world, and in
classical music, or new music, as its called. What Ive found is that the notion of
a scene is hard to be viewed as something that is contained. Its more like a
series of intersections between very large communities of people. So I guess
whats really interesting to me is being at a node in the network, where you find
yourself connected to a wide range of communities and worlds, which is what
excites me about it.
I think its very possible to exist in that way, and I find that more and more people
are thinking in those terms. Not so much in the antiquated terms of whether this
trumpet player can cut that trumpet player; its got more to do with really thinking
about your output as an artist. Maybe Im being idealistic...

MH No, it sounds just the opposite to me.


VI I mean as a thumbnail sketch of my communitybecause certainly, in reality
there are these smaller communities that are more insular that Im also
connected to. But to me its about expansion and connection to the rest of the
world.
MH One of my points of curiosity to question you about from hearing this CD
with Dessen was actually about thatcollaborationsbecause I had just heard
all of your other CDs, where you wrote all the music, and you had the concept,
and were very much in your own creativity and so on. And I have yet to hear your
recordings with Rudresh and Mike Ladd [have heard them since...] What I
wondered about when I was hearing how you worked with them and comparing it
to how your worked on your own thingobviously, there were similarities,
because you were interacting with other musicians in both contextsbut I
wondered what the experience was like for you, the switch from doing your own
initiated projects, around your own concepts and ideas, and then coming to the
table of someone elses?
VI Ive been doing work as a sideman all along. I worked for years with Steve
Coleman, and continue to work with Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith. So
I have had to have that adaptability as part of my arsenalcoming to someone
elses music and being able to execute it, as well as offering something else
besides what they foresaw, perhaps. Thats sort of whats called for, when you
are an improviser playing someone elses music. Theyre asking you not to just
execute it impeccably or whatever, but also to turn it into something else that
they didnt foresee. Thats kind of what the name of the game is, and thats
definitely how I try to operate in these contexts.
I guess in terms of my own playing, I tend to be more self-effacing as a soloistI
mean, there are a lot of piano solos on my CDs, but in terms of the way I play
and the way I tend to interact in an ensemble, I often think of myself more as part
of the rhythm section, rather than as the burning bebop soloist or something. So
even when the focus shifts to me as an improviser, I tend to be building from that
foundation, so my improvisations tend to be more rhythmic in nature and more
textural, and more about sound and environment, rather than about
foregrounding melody or something like that. That ends up being really a way in
when youre working with other musicians, because then your statements are
necessarily interactive in nature, theyre not just about foregrounding your own
musicianship or something.
MH I enjoyed the differences and the similarities between your own CDs and the
one with Michael Dessen. The stuff you did in the lower register of the piano
seemed really conversational, kind of surprising to me...like a little drum down
there or something...
VI Yeah, yeah.

MH And the way you do your little sprays in the right hand, really lovely little kind
of arpeggios on the top...soft touch. I also noticed that when you do solo you tend
to do a lot of single-line kind of playing, rather than chords in the left hand, or in
both handsalthough you can obviously play chords when you want tobut you
seem to like to play the piano like a single-line instrument a lot.
VI I guess it depends on whats called for, and sort of what the music suggests.
Different musical instances call for different things. I think when Im playing over
changes, I do tend not to make it too thick. But then there are other instances
when it really is about harmony and chordal material...
MH Maybe more so on your own CDs?
VI Yeah, you might check out some of Rudreshs CDs too, because thats
probably where Im most foregrounded as the piano player. His music covers a
wide range, and I have to do a lot of different things.
MH Also in this book, as in my other two, Im interested in the ancient history of
music, and all the different kinds of occult systems that go behind it. Thats been
a longstanding important part of my work, and it seems to be a major aspect of
yours too.
VI It is in the mix.
MH Obviously thats what Steve Coleman was about, right?
VI Still is, more and more every day.
MH A couple of little things I was curious about. Ive seen Indian musicians do
what they called shadowing, where the violin player shadows the vocalist?
VI Right.
MH And Ive noticed a similar kind of linear interactivity going on in your music.
Is that something youve thought about much consciously?
VI I guess that specific heterophony kind of quality that youre talking about in
Indian music Ive sought after in specific cases, but perhaps it ends up being a
more general template for me unconsciously too.
MH In one of your interviews, you talked about Roscoe saying dont follow me,
just do your own thing.
VI Right, right.
MH So I wondered if you ever had a conflict between the two strategies, of that
interactivity as opposed to just two parallel voices going on.

VI I think that its still interactivity, its just a different notion of it. One perhaps is
very demonstrative, and the other is more about counterpoint. But I think that
theyre both interactive strategies. When Roscoe says dont follow me, hes not
saying ignore me. Its almost more like you have to avoid himwhich means you
have to listen harder. You have to create something that has its own stability, and
that doesnt interfere with what hes doing, which is a very different kind of
listening that has to happen, actually.
Often youll hear beginning improvisers, or people who havent listened to a lot of
improvisation, when they try to improvise together, theyll do so by imitating each
other. So thats sort of like an aspect of the quality that hes seeking to avoid.
When you hear, say, karnatic musicians interacting in that way, its actually that
theyve got a very specific repertoire of melodic material that theyre both
referencing, so its not just that one is following the other but that theyre both
reaching into the same well.
MH With Lineal, all the way through it seemed like a prevailing strategy was
loose interweavings of the written with the improvised, darting in and out of both,
stating whatever was written together and loosely, and improvising around it and
just kind of having a conversation with it. Is that a fair characterization?
VI Yeah. One thing that actually really impressed me about Michaels work,
previous to actually playing itlike, for example, the stuff that hes done with this
group Cosmologicis the way that these somehow devastating orchestrated
passages would emerge out of what seemed like completely in-the-moment
improvisation. They would just sort of seamlessly appear out of nowhere, this
extremely ordered statement out what seemed like everyone on their own path. I
really like that quality, because what it suggests when you hear that is that, oh,
well there was order all along that I wasnt aware of.
MH How does that actually come about in practical terms?
VI Well, they have a lot of different strategies. I sometimes pursue similar effects
through different means. Sometimes its specifically directed, other times its just
like, okay, eventually were going to gravitate to this, and well find our way there.
Of course you have to know the material really well enough to achieve that effect.
MH How does that work with your charts? I looked them over with interest, and
they all seem very formal on the page. In one of your interviews, you were talking
about how the music has both the characteristics of rigor, of high art, but also
that it feels like a folk art. I also recall you saying you like working with Mike Ladd
because he was very intuitive; and yet your charts looked to me like youre
obviously a formally trained and schooled musician. Im curious about how you in
practical terms bring about that synthesis in rehearsals and first engagements of
the music by others. Do you all just kind of read it down as it is until you feel
comfortable with it? Or...?

VI Well, the lynchpin tends to be rhythm. When I compose, a lot of the formal
properties are rhythmic in nature, so its about working with people who can
handle that and can still create in the midst of pretty intricate rhythmic form.
MH Obviously you have this long relationship with the carnatic music, and youre
fascinated with the intricate, complex rhythm, but youre also very comfortable
with it. Is it like you conceive something, write it down, and then just play it over
and over until what was first in your head is finally in the rest of your body?
VI It does involve that kind of work. You might start with it completely posing the
kind of challenge such that you cant even put two notes together. But over time
you do find a way to internalize it so that its not an issue. And it takes work; its
not something you can necessarily just jump on. I believe in that process, of
working through something rigorous in order to get to the other side, and find
something new in yourself.
MH You spoke in another interview about musicalizing the Fibonacci series and
other mathematical concepts in your pieces. Do you have a lot of such mathrelated ideas that you feel you havent gotten to yet, but hope to over the course
of a lifetime? You know, some big, grand dream that you have yet to touch but
know you want to someday?
VI I guess I tend to take more the small steps, but my entire output has involved
the Fibonacci sequence. From the first record on, its always played some part in
the compositional design.
MH You mean like one little aspect here, another one there?...
VI Yeah, I mean thats how it works, you know; its not like theres one master
response to the Fibonacci sequence that will put it to rest! Its something that is
inherently productive; its something that continues to unfold and to offer new
possibilities. Also, by not really being prescriptive; I mean all it is is a bunch of
numbers, it doesnt tell you what it needs to sound like or anything, so theres so
many possible manifestations of the same basic idea. Im sure you know that
Bartok mined that same set of ideas and came up with something that on the
surface sounds pretty different from my music. But again, if you go back to my
first album Memoraphilia, from 1995, theres a song on there called Stars Over
Mars. Theres a sequence in there that is both rhythmically and intervallically all
about the Fibonacci sequence. The writing all the way throughout that album, in
the way I put together melodies and rhythms, was informed by that. Its my oldest
album, and then if you look at my music today, I could tell you the same thing. Its
still in there, and is still something Im mining and working. I have a whole new
set of material for my quartet that I hope to record this year that is also about
that. And its about a bunch of other things too, but these are all just a set of
concepts that continue to reveal themselves and to offer productive
manifestations.

The Golden Mean stuff, Fibonacci stuff, is one example. There are a number of
other examples. So I guess its not necessarily that I have some grand plan to at
some point do the musical equivalent of curing cancer or something, because its
not like that; even curing cancer is not like that. Its about making small steps that
are informed by that overall idea, and having each of them kind of add up.
MH That brings this up in my mind. Of general interest to me wassince Ive
read about your background that you kind of came up in the same music I did,
but you also have these other elements going on...could you just give me sort of
a quick thumbnail sketch of how you see the three different rhythmic universe of,
say, India, and Africa, and Europe?
VI [laughter] Well, if Im empowered to give ridiculous generalizations about
whole entire continents and cultures...okay, lets see. You know, there are these
clichs about it, that African music is all about polyrhythm, and stratification, and
cyclicality, and dialogue, and verticality rather than horizontality. These are
clichs Im giving just to layout the broad picture; and they are clichs, meaning
theyre somewhat true and somewhat fucked up.
MH Duly noted. Just keep talking.
VI Then, looking at the elaborative concepts of Indian music in general, which is
hard to generalize aboutbut they use these elaborate arithmetic principles to
develop rhythmic ideas, and these kinds of principles are often implemented in a
serial way. So it sort of a little bit more linear, and more additive, and more like a
rhythmic composition created by a tabla player, or mridangam player, which will
take a long span of time and will spice it up in all these different ways, and divide
it, so that it will span an overall regular time cycle, but there will be different sort
of superimposed regularities within it that are of different speeds, or lengths, or
ordersbut its delivered in a very linear way, meaning its sequential, or
additive.
But I guess the key to me is that its still done with reference to an overall metric
template that is regular. So like these tabla compositions, or these cadential
forms that are created by carnatic percussionists also...theyre performed in
meter, and in overall meter. So what theyre playing may not reinforce that meter
except in very longterm ways, but it is done as a kind of hyper-arithmetic
elaboration of an underlying meter. So there is still a sense that its connected to
a simple basic cycle, and that its something thats a cyclical meter that you can
keep in your head, or that you can play or conduct with your hand. So it still has
that element of groundedness in it; its just that when you hear it by itself, you
dont necessarily recognize it as such, especially if youre an outsider hearing it
and not hearing it in performance, or in context, then it just sounds like this
interminable string of elaborate and varied rhythms.

MH Having described those two sets of clichs, do you feel like thats something
youve had to deal with in your development, and that youve integrated the two
of them in a certain kind of way?
VI I guess what I should say is that neither one was a part of my youth, except in
a very generic way. It wasnt like I sat and studied these things as a kid, or that
they were really drilled into me in an unconscious way. It was really more that in
my late teens and twenties I consciously studied them and did work to try to
make them part of my own musicality. So it was a conscious endeavor, and it
was something that is still ongoing.
MH Thats a good segue to the third clich description, that of the European
rhythmic universe. The reason I throw that in, of course, is because obviously
what were talking about here in a lot of different ways is the intersection of these
three universes in America. The two youve just described have the most musical
interest to most people, including me, or anyone whos been involved with this.
But the way you look at and describe the European side too is crucial, because
rhythm is the thing that has been so disruptive to that culture. So how would you
talk about that?
VI I grew up playing classical violin, and I played in orchestras, so my experience
with that realm is pretty direct, perhaps more so than with anything else, actually.
Again, speaking in broad terms, what Ive found there is that rhythm is just not
emphasized as a component of music. If you look at the language surrounding
musical technique and theory, Western music is impoverished utterly when it
comes to rhythm. Thats something like a conceptual bias that you see
manifesting in all different levels of Western music culture, from the pedagogy
side to the performance practice side to the composerly side.
For one thing, the idea of regular rhythmic pulse has come to be severly doubted
or questioned in 20th-century Western music, so what that has led to is a
disconnect from the musics connection to dance. In general, I really see it as
connected to these kind of cultural stereotypes of and policing of the body in
Western cultureor, say, to the specific ways that the body is policed in Western
culture. Which isnt to say that it isnt policed in Indian cultureperhaps it is more
sobut the role it has in the artistic process is by and large an unexamined one,
so it ends up being something thats marginalized and feared, essentially: the
role of the human body in making music. And this is actually what my dissertation
was about.
So that manifests in the way that rhythm is treated, I find, because rhythm and
the body are essentially one and the same. [re: both diss & CIES paper] What I
found is that rhythm ends up being this quality of music that isnt discussed or
studied, and that isnt foregrounded except in very circumspect ways.
MH Its interesting that you should touch on that now, for me, because Ive been
getting into Chinese music. Some of the Chinese musicians Ive talked to have

said that about Chinese music: that it was just sort of a duple rhythm, and a
simple square four kind of thing, and that the reason was that it wasnt rooted in
dance, but rather in philosophy and mathematics and so on. So when they came
to the West, and the improvisers started improvising with people in the West, or
were just trying to learn other rhythms from other cultures, that it was very hard
and strange for them.
VI Yeah, well when I say this about Western rhythm, that doesnt mean that it
couldnt be possible somewhere else. I think it comes down to this relationship to
the body. That ends up being very cultural, and it may manifest in one way here
and one way there. It can be sort of analogous in terms of the way this
relationship comes about, or how its treated. And it often has to do with the
relationship to a high culture, or whether the cultural role of the music gets
disconnected from dance to the point that youre not meant to move while either
performing or listening to it. And that is the case, of course, in some music, as I
experienced all my life playing the violin as a kid. They told me not to tap my foot,
they told me not to sway, not to move. You go to a concert and tap your foot, and
people are scowling at you...Thats just what it is. Im not passing judgment,
because thats just what it is. But it has repercussions. You can ask the chicken
or egg question, in terms of what caused what, but I think what you find is that as
it becomes more of a contemplative or sedentary experience of the music itself, it
becomes more and more dislodged from the physical.
So yes, these are all clichs, but they are informed. Thats what I find to be
different about the African-derived musics, and South Asian-derived musics:
because of the centrality of rhythmnot just rhythm, but pulse, which is a kind of
rhythmit ends up being more connected to that kind of physical experience that
we call dance. Thats sort of where it interests me.
Its also true that there were plenty of forms in Western music that were also
connected to dance. Over time, they became more abstracted and academic, or
just conceptual or programmatic kinds of things, than actual minuets or
whatever.
MH Who is Rishi Maharaj? [re: Invocation, on CD Panoptic Modes]
VI He is an Indo-Caribbean man who, in the late 90s, was living in New York
with his family. He was young, I think even a teenager at the time, and he was
beaten by white men with baseball bats. This was in Queens, I believe; so he
was the victim of a hate crime.
MH So Invocation was dedicated to him for?...
VI It was an event that kind of helped people in my community, the South Asian
diasporic community, realize sort of where they stood in relation to the
superstructure here, and to the mainstream culture. I think that a lot of educated
immigrants who came here, like my parents, in the 60s and subsequently, of a

certain class background, who sort of had it good here, and were able to achieve
a certain upward mobility herethey had a certain lack of consciousness about
race in this country. So I think that particular incident helped clarify the order of
things.
MH Tell me how you learned to navigate the South Indian rhythm system via
Bud Powell. [re: Configurations, on CD Panoptic Modes]
VI Its sort of like we were just saying, in terms of like you have this rhythmic
challenge, and you have to learn how to overcome it so that its not a challenge
any more. The way I did so in that particular case was by thinking about his own
particular sense of rhythmic balance. When I hear Bud playing at these very fast
tempos, theres always this relaxation in it that I found I had to reach for in order
to really be at home inside of this composition that I had created, which was
derived from the South Indian rhythmic concepts. We come to imagine these
systems as self-contained, when you talk about something thats associated with
a certain ethnic superstructure, or a certain tradition or something...we see it as
something that all the answers are inside of it. What I found was that the answers
were inside of me, in a way, but that was through reaching outward to other
things that were in my life. It was just really about me being me, in a sense,
because I was listening to Bud all the time too. So in a way, listening to that kind
of music helped me to create mine in this way.
MH Thats a good story, for the way things merge. Another part of your work that
I really enjoyed was the integration between the poetic or the literary images and
the music. Its not all just music science here, you know. Thats going to be a big
part of my book too, in a certain way. So I was interested in your two sea-themed
titles, The Antlantean Tropes, and Trident. I wondered if the sea as an image
loomed large for you for some reason.
VI I suppose, yeah, for some reason. It had to do with the sort of spiritual
questions I was asking, and a particular disposition I have, I think, and just trying
to make sense of it all, in terms of who I was and what my heritage was.
Somehow, that image and that symbol provided a relief for me, or an answer,
somehow. Its hard to say more than that, really. In the specific case of Trident,
for example, part of what prompted me to create that piece was noticing that both
Shiva and Neptune have that, as part of their iconography, which connects them
in a very specific way. So the sea becomes something thats associated with that
symbol. Its also actually the name of a McCoy Tyner album, on the cover of
which hes standing by the sea.
MH Its also the name of the club where I used to go hear Denny Zeitlin play all
the time in Sausalito, back in the late 60s, which is a houseboat city there in the
Bay Area.
VI Yeah, yeah. So obviously I didnt invent the relationship.

MH But I liked the way it connected up with your whole trope of blood. You
write about blood a lot, like with Blood Sutra...
VI Yeah. So all Im saying is that that particular lynchpin, the object of a trident
linking these different ancient mythologies, thousands of years old, and how the
sea ends up being the vehicle through which that happens. But also what the e
sea contains, which is sort of everything...and yet it has an identity that is itself. I
could say more, but it could get pretty weird...
MH But thats what we want to get to; thats why we need another hour. But Im
going to let you go. I really appreciate how much we did. Well pick it up and
finish it later.
VI All right, man.