Roscoe Mitchell on AEOC, ECM and the sweet sound of si­lence


What did ECM bring to the group?

One thing I ap­pre­ci­ate about my ca­reer is that no-one has ever told me what to do! ECM have al­ways seen what we’re do­ing. They give us free­dom. ECM boss Man­fred Eicher is very help­ful in the stu­dio – he has a good set of ears and is a mu­si­cian, and is al­ways en­cour­ag­ing as a pro­ducer.

How im­por­tant was John Cage to the way in which the AEOC use si­lence?

I first met John Cage in the 1960s when he played a set at Chicago’s Hyde Park The­atre with Joseph Jar­man, be­fore Joseph joined the Art En­sem­ble. His ideas about si­lence were very sim­i­lar to the con­clu­sions I’d come up with. Si­lence is 50 per cent of mu­sic, and ev­ery time you in­ter­rupt it you have to make sure that the sound you make is as good and as in­ter­est­ing as the si­lence.

How many in­stru­ments are you cur­rently us­ing on your Euro­pean tour?

It’s still more than 100. I like com­ing on stage in a big jacket and tak­ing out dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments from dif­fer­ent pock­ets. Ha ha!

Af­ter the deaths of Lester Bowie and Malachi Fa­vors, can the Art En­sem­ble Of Chicago sur­vive you all and con­tinue, like a sym­phony or­ches­tra or a foot­ball team?

Yes, we often talked about that, even way back in the 1960s. We were lucky to emerge at a time when other cre­ative peo­ple had a sim­i­lar vi­sion. And we now work with peo­ple who can carry th­ese ideas for­ward.

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