Music News

David Torn composes music he can't describe

Known for his innovative, textural approach to guitar playing, David Torn has released a number of albums under his own name and under the Splattercell moniker. He's also used his talents for film scoring and collaborated with a diverse set of artists including David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Sting and John Legend.

Torn's musical palette undoubtedly has many colors, and when describing his forward-thinking trio, Sun of Goldfinger, which also features saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Ches Smith, he says, "It's three really crazy guys trying to make something simultaneously beautiful and horrific." We spoke with Torn recently about the trio's aesthetic.

Westword: I know you and Tim Berne go back a ways. When you first started the group, did you have any idea of what direction you wanted to go in?

David Torn: Yeah. I wanted to take the idea of the last band — the Prezens band that was on ECM — I wanted to strip it back a little bit further so it's down to a trio and I'm the only chordal instrument. That was part of it. The other thing was that we just wanted to find another flavor, in an improvising context, that got another step further away from people thinking it's a jazz band, because we all have an association with something that used to be called jazz.

I don't know what it is we do, but I wanted more opportunity for the sound things to grow — all the sonic things.

It's a tough thing. It's easy for me and Tim because we know when we're improvising.... Tim lives in New York, so he's in a very vital scene. I don't live in the city, so my association with the younger musicians has to be through other people like Tim. And Tim went to see Ches play a couple of times and said, "This is your guy. We could do anything."

There's a certain aesthetic; there really are no rules. There's a very specific aesthetic that grows directly out of the same aesthetic that the Prezens band was about, which is that it doesn't need to sound like it's idiomatic. Everybody's trying to create something that is driven by a kind of compositional need, so that it's not really — it's like an outgrowth of what used to be called free jazz, except, of course, it's pretty electric.

And there is no barrier fact, there's an encouragement to find things together, as if they feel they've been composed. Since everybody in the band does compose, that's one of the key elements of anybody who's in any of these bands: Everybody writes something somewhere along the line, so that it's not just like people blowing.

There is some kind of internal aesthetic that I could be incredibly verbose about, and in the end it doesn't mean anything, because I can't describe it — and that's why we play the music. It's about creating a really open but very demanding platform for the musicians in the band to create in the moment.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon