Interview with David Menestres of Polyorchard

FLON: What was your first venture into musicianship, and what was the path that led you to experimental improvisation?

DAVID: Like many kids, I got involved in music because I was fortunate enough to go to public schools that had good music programs. I started on flute in fourth grade (nobody told me you had to buzz your lips to play brass instruments and flute was the only band instrument I could make a sound on). I switched to double bass in seventh grade because my middle school had a beginning strings program that year and I was tired of playing in band. It must have agreed with me because twenty-four years later I’m still wrestling with the bass every day.

Photo by Brandon Pierce 

I’m not entirely sure how I ended up on the experimental/weird side of life. I grew up playing mostly classical music in orchestras at school and in the local youth philharmonic. My friend Charles, a fine bebop sax player, introduced me to jazz and we started playing together. Eventually I got to the point where I wanted to play chamber music, but as a bass player that’s not much of an option in the classical world. The deeper I got into both jazz and classical music, the more interested I became in exploring the edges of music, where things are significantly less codified and where things make much less sense. For me, that’s where the interest lies, in the strange murky area near the black hole between free jazz (for lack of a better term) and modern classical music (for lack of a better term).
FLONPolyorchard is an improvisational collaborative project, so I assume that your recordings are basically capturing a live performance in the studio. Is it very different in the studio than playing in front of people in a venue? What do you like or dislike about either situation?

DAVID: Polyorchard has done recordings that have been captured live, like the new Red October, and studio recordings, like the previous album Color Theory in Black and White. For us, there isn’t much difference between the two situations because it’s all recorded live with no overdubs. We’re not punching in guitar solos like one might do with more pop oriented music. Both albums were recording live to two track (Color Theory being recorded in glorious binaural sound) and released as captured, with no editing afterwards, just a bit of mastering to polish the edges.

I like the energy one gets from a live audience. When the audience is good, that energy transfers to the band and is captured in the recording. A bad audience can suck the life out of a room at the speed of light, like a star collapsing in on itself, which brings it’s own problems. But a good group with the right people can build all that energy just between the musicians, no audience needed. The electricity starts to crackle and things take off. For instance, the sessions for Color Theory was the first time either Jeb Bishop (trombone) or myself had played with Laurent Estoppey (saxophones) and there was substantially more energy in that room then we usually get from an audience. I can clearly remember the first gig I played years ago where I saw the blue energy lines arcing between musicians. That’s the goal: not just trading ideas and playing off each other, but sending one’s energy out, having it amplified by the other musicians and the audience, and sent back, creating an endless feedback loop of power and ideas.

FLON: How would you describe a Polyorchard performance to someone who hasn’t seen one yet?

DAVID: I’m not sure how to describe a Polyorchard show. There is a reason there is no official biography of Polyorchard or any attempts at defining Polyorchard. Labels and definitions serve to only limit what we do and this group was specifically formed to work without limits. This is impossible of course, as we are all limited by our physical brains, by our knowledge, ideas, and experiences, but working within the impossible is a beautiful thought.

Ideally, what you’ll get is something that is surprising and different, something that operates on a high level of both intelligence and intuition, regardless of the material being performed. A Polyorchard show might operate at the edges of sound, it could be barely audible or it could be so loud you have hearing damage for years (my ears are still ringing from our show with Merzbow in 2013). It could be fully acoustic or involving piles of electronics and balloons. It could be something closely aligned with Albert Ayler or something more related to Eva-Maria Houben. We could be performing pieces by Jackson Mac Low or Hildegard von Bingen or by someone in the band. We could be working with spontaneous compositions or highly notated structures, using traditional European notation or some form of concrete poetry, graphic scores, text, or just about any other way you can think of to share musical ideas.

The goal with Polyorchard is to consistently deliver performances at a very high level that boggle the mind and leave a smile on the face of the performers and the audience. I can’t change the world in any large way, but maybe we can make life better for everyone if only for a few minutes.

Photo by Brandon Pierce 
FLON: What’s next? Is Polyorchard going to tour? Do you have plans for any other collaborations soon?

DAVID: Touring is very difficult, mainly for financial reasons. It’s hard to ask people to leave their jobs and families and to pay their own way on tour. Maybe there are alternate ways of funding tours that don’t require us having good guarantees or selling lots of tickets (which we’re not well known enough to do). This music can’t really be financed just from the small community that actively supports it. It requires support from performing arts organizations of all kinds, financial support through festival bookings, grants and things of that nature, none of which really apply to where Polyorchard is at the moment.

There will be some touring next year, but it will mostly be day trips around our base here in North Carolina. Until I figure out the funding problem that is our only realistic option. Even though I try my best to keep Polyorchard separate from our weird reality, money is and probably always will be a problem.
I also initiated a commissioning project this year, asking other composers and performers from outside the band to write pieces for us. I am very happy with Polyorchard, I think we generally do interesting work, but the only way I can figure to get outside of our heads is to literally have an outside influence. The goal is to meet the composers halfway, to pull us out of our regular patterns and comfort zones, to shake everything up as much as possible. So far we’ve performed pieces written for us by Will RedmanD. Edward Davis, and Andrew Weathers. Future pieces are being composed by Sarah HenniesJon MuellerJohn ChantlerRaven Chacon, and other unusual people from around the world.
We have a Monday night residency coming up at Neptune’s Parlour in December. The Exsufflation Series is an ongoing monthly showcase at The Carrack. We’ll be giving the US premiere of Estudios Edafonicos by the great Chilean composer Alan Courtis on December 18th. There are other plans for the new year, and the one after that, but the ideas are still to hazy to discuss publicly.

FLON: Well, definitely keep us posted!

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