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Experimental jazz artist Eric Dahlman reveals creative inspirations
(Published: August 20, 2017)

Eric Dahlman is an experimental jazz musician whose latest album, Glacier, exists in the space between free jazz and electronica.

Q: The music on your new album Glacier stitches together influences from both the jazz and experimental electronic world. How did it come about?

A: I see no difference between an effects pedal and a trumpet mute - just another method to alter sounds. The aftermath of Miles Davis and his original, sonically creative output from the 1960s to 1975 still resonates. When Davis "plugged in," he opened up new universes and multiple angles for the intersection and explosion of jazz and electronics - less fusion than fission.

Jon Hassell's futuristic electric trumpet with his wonderful use of extended trumpet techniques and groundbreaking ambient textures continues to inspire me. Bjork's swinging voice mixed with her looping and beautiful orchestration have also had an impact.

Q: What artists inspired you to become a musician yourself?

A: I accompanied my parents to many classical and renaissance music concerts when I was a young kid, and growing up with pipe organ music in churches where my dad was a protestant minister had an impact. Hand-me-down records from my older siblings, including Zappa's Freak Out, Revolver by the Beatles, plus classical solo trumpet records later on, influenced me to play. Inheriting my late brother Karl's trumpet made it easy to choose that instrument for third grade band. Before that I was in a kazoo band with life-long friend Steve Ellison when we were six.

Q: How have you grown creatively since you've begun?

A: I didn't really seriously start to improvise until college. Red by King Crimson opened up a new sound world, and experiencing the early '80s version of Crimson live in NYC was epic. For a while I was influenced more by Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew's electric guitars than any trumpet players. The latest eight-piece Crimson continues to inspire me with its orchestral scope and improvisatory surprises.

Hearing Chicago's Hal Russell's Albert Ayler-inspired free jazz and later, playing with him and his NRG Ensemble started me on a somewhat asymmetric path from free jazz to eventually studying more traditional jazz in Boston with Dave Frank, plus taking a great class on jazz composition with Anthony Davis at Harvard.

My interest in ethnomusicology no doubt led me to learning Mongolian overtone "throat" singing and broadened my interest in drones acoustically and electronic. Composing became a major focus more recently. My writing method frequently will start with some ideas I play on my looper which can then eventually be expanded to a more fully developed piece. Linear composing is generally the exception at this point.

Briefly studying with John Luther Adams introduced me to unconventional techniques in time signatures and new ways to work with timbres and textures; for example, eliminating the attack on a piano, leaving only the decay and overtones which I utilized on "Amundsen" on Glacier.

Q: Glacier was recorded in unconventional areas such as train tunnels and kitchens. Was that a conscious decision? Explain the thinking that went into that process.

A: Hearing the beautiful cacophony of insects, birds, frogs, etc., in late spring in a swamp in western Massachusetts inspired me to purchase a Zoom portable recording device. My late friend and amazing sound sculptor Jed Speare also led me in that direction. Logistic and financial reasons would have made it impossible to lug a heavy reel-to-reel player around. Hence, I was able to record a train horn on the New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts border, echoing three state natural reverb from the mountains in the Pioneer valley near the Connecticut River. An abandoned railroad tunnel in Clinton, MA captured Erik Nugent's didgeridoo with its unique echo. I recorded Nugent, Michael Knoblach, and Ken Lovelett playing water percussion for "Esopus Creek" on a stream near Woodstock, New York. Walking along Lake Michigan in Chicago and recording its five-foot-plus waves led to Bob Moses immersing his drums rhythmically with the waves on "Cake Michigan." Also, I used my phone to record an escalator (end of "Big Sky") and a friend's windshield wipers from inside his rental car.

With recording tracks and overdubs my sound engineer's laptop mobility allowed us to record in my kitchen, my basement, his apartment, walk-in closet, outdoors, etc.

Q: Was it more difficult to record the album outside of the studio? What difficulties did you encounter, if any?

A: It was not usually difficult, though it was an evolving process with me to get the gain and placement of my zoom to optimal levels and placements. Recording the train horn bouncing off the hills required three trips to that snowy field.

Q: How closely do you work with your co-producer Mike Mayo? What is that creative relationship like?

A: Mike's patience with my occasionally unusual recording notions and his sonic wisdom were a major part in the realization of Glacier. An example of this was when I envisioned a trumpet playing from a mountain cliff overlooking a valley and he found a way on his laptop to make that so in our mix. Mike was also very adaptable with the various instrumentalists we recorded. He also instigated many of the electronic elements on the album. He's a fantastic studio engineer and sonic explorer.

I should also mention my friend Steve Ellison in Los Angeles who plays stick and acoustic guitar on the album who mixed two songs on Glacier ("Once Again" and "Esopus Creek").

Q: What instruments do you play?

A: Trumpet is my main instrument. Overtone singing is my second instrument. Other instruments - piano, electric autoharp, exotic bells, etc - are more of a spice to season my music.

Q: What are your plans for the future, musically speaking?

A: I was recently part of the music for a theater adaptation of Samuel Delany's post-apocalyptic sci-fi book Dhalgren in which I utilized my trident multi-bell trumpet built by Erik Nugent with other experimental musicians, dancers, etc.

In the spring I performed a trio interpretation of Glacier and other pieces at the Museum of Science and Innovation in Waltham, MA with Tim Mungenast on guitars and Michael Knoblach performing percussion. My sister recently gave me a concertina which I want to learn.

I am playing in a new trio with flute maker and master flautist David Williams and Knoblach, which is challenging and fun. I have some new compositions I'm working on which utilize some new effects pedals which seem to be leading me to new sonic spaces. In particular, I have a "superego" pedal by Electro-Harmonix which goes in unexpected directions bordering on random looping which I plan to expand on. I would also love to play more free jazz and continue to meet and play with more creative musicians and artists in general.

More Information: http://https://ericdahlman1.bandcamp.com

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