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Forbes Graham

Trumpet player and electronic musician Forbes Graham is part of a dynamic new generation of improvisers in Boston. In his solo work and as part such groups as the Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble and the Calliope Quartet, Forbes traverses a wide spectrum of genres and styles including experimental, jazz, noise, metal and more. On October 18, he will perform live on Rare Frequency. In the week prior to the show, he kindly consented to do the following interview by email.

Could you tell me a little bit about your musical background? For example, when did you begin studying the trumpet and how did you become interested in using electronics and in making more abstract music?

I started playing cornet at the age of nine. For some reason, they (somebody) picked me to be in concert band. We all got sent to Mr. Overton’s room and we had to pick from a list of instruments. I picked the cornet. I really don’t even know why honestly. Two years later I started taking lessons with Robert Phillips from the U.S. Navy band. I never heard him play a wrong note. All my lessons growing up were classical, but I played mostly jazz in school. I was even in a real book combo when I was 16. We would jam for 8 hours on the weekends, shit like that.

I got into more experimental music gradually over the years. I always was interested in hearing and doing something different ever since I got into metal back in junior high. So I was always ready to hear new sounds and I’m not afraid of aggressive music. I started using electronics back in high school, just plugging a keyboard into a distortion pedal and bugging out. In college I studied sound synthesis. About 7 years ago I started doing more and more solo stuff. Once I quite Kayo Dot last November I really, really, started focusing on it. Now that I have the time, I’ve really been able to develop it.

I know you’ve been involved in a lot of really varied musical projects in the last couple of years. Other than your solo work, what ensembles, groups are you involved with now?

Yeah, I have worn many hats of the years. Hardcore, death metal, hip-hop, free jazz, noise. Right now I am trying to get this quartet happening with Ryan McGuire (bass), Kevin Frenette (guitar), and Luther Gray (trapset). These are truly some cats I respect on a personal and musical level. I am playing in the Calliope Quartet which is led by Ricardo Donoso. I also play in Dennis Warren’s group Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble. Beyond that, I just get together with people from time to time. I’m trying to put something together with this guitarist Andrew Hock. He’s got a fantastic harmonic and melodic sense and he also comes from the metal background.

In your solo work is there a particular process that you follow? What kind of set-up do you use to make your music?

I take a concept and make it musical. That’s really what it’s about and that’s really the challenge. It’s not about “oh look at me, I’m so novel, I’m so talented, I’m so smart” or whatever. The concept could be a set of techniques or a sound synthesis idea or a set of data structures. I make music using the following instruments: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, and cornet. Hardware: MacBook Pro laptop computer, Logitech Attack 3 joystick, Nintendo Wiimote, and Silent Brass practice mute. Software: Plogue Bidule and MacCsound.

To what degree are your solo sets composed or improvised, or is it a mix of the two?

They are almost always improvised. The recent exception was when I performed at Festival of New Trumpet recently and even that composition had structured improvisations in it.

Are there any musicians or artists who have particularly influenced what you do?

Greg Kelley was really the dude who opened my eyes to the possibilities of the trumpet. The first time I saw him play was really one of those life changing experiences. I just had not imagined anything like that before. I owe a lot on the same level to Bill Dixon and Wadada Leo Smith. I think we all do really. Also, I really look up to Anthony Braxton and George Lewis.

Tell me a little bit about your label, Ricecontrol. What releases are you currently planning for the label? \

I’m trying to get it back off the ground. I used to do this label years ago and I put out hardcore and emo records mostly. Now I am going to focus on releasing my own work. I have a solo CD that I recorded called I Won’t Stop. It’s really a big ol’ mix of stuff: noise, free jazz electronica, drum n’ bass, drone, and so on. After that, I’m not really sure. I did a recording session with a trombonist named Dan Blacksberg recently. So we’ll listen back to that and perhaps we can release that too.

Do you have any new projects and/or recordings in the works? Also, do you have any upcoming shows?

I’m trying to develop my polyrhythmatic system. It’s my way of writing music based on the prime numbers. I also want to write some buck tracks, or something in that genre/style. And do a “lowercase” record. Basically, I have too much to do and I will probably never finish it all. Me, Ryan McGuire, and Kevin Frenette are playing at 186 Hampshire St in Cambridge on October 20. You should go.

—Susanna Bolle


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