Steve: Could you describe your creative process? What you factor in when you make music, which you make many different types, whether you factor in an audience or if it’s coming from a sense of self or a combination of the both?
Caroline: I watched this video today where David Lynch and Patti Smith are sitting and talking in this room covered in red cloth. Patti said, “I am not obscure my choice, there are a small amount of people who are super into what I’m doing and that’s really great but I’m never trying to be one way or another”. I totally identify with what she said. I am just trying to make my art, make my music, and play the way I want to play. If people really like it that’s great but I’m not trying to think about what I’m writing and what the audience will think about it. I’m trying to uneditedly get it out without trying to stop myself or shape it for someone else. Shaping it to fit the vision I have first.
S: So, you’re not necessarily factoring in perception when you’re writing, you’re being creative. How do you balance that with the idea that as musicians we have a skill set and a job and our goal is to make a living, we want people to come to our shows, and we want them to enjoy this part of ourselves that we are sharing?
C: Obviously I like it when people come to my shows and I get sad when people don’t come to my shows as anybody would. There’s a lot of stress and strife and personal judgment when people don’t show up, a reflection of what you’re doing. I am obviously considering other people’s perception of my work. It’s definitely something I think about and it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot with regard to how much complexity people can handle. How much information people can handle in terms of cognition, sort of the relationship between familiarity and complexity. There’s a lot of music cognition research in that arena. Familiarity, preference, and complexity; the relationship between those three areas of what you you’re listening. It seems that people on the whole tend to not like things that are too complex. There’s a threshold of things where people sort of turn off and they don’t want to go with you in that way. I’m trying to combine these aspects; I understand that there is complexity in one area, and I will tone it down in the other. I’ve studied what people can handle and it could be in the back of my mind somewhere and it could be in the back of my mind somewhere in some way. There are pieces that I’ve put out that I know I might go over people’s heads, but I don’t really care.
S: You are the perfect person to talk to about this because when you say you’ve studied this you literally have. Can you talk about what accessibility means?
C: I went to this talk at Columbia yesterday from this person in my life at northwestern when I was getting my PhD, Elizabeth Margulis she’s on the faculty at Princeton. She wrote a book about cognition and music and repetition. That came up a lot, the amount of repetition people like. There’s this inverted U function where after a certain point of repetition people stop liking it. A good example is a Pop song that everyone is super into, but after hearing it so many times repeatedly people start to hate the song. Often in comes down to familiarity. How often have you been exposed to this music before? There is a lot of work that shows the more repetitions of something you have and the more complex it is the more you like it after many repetitions. Sometimes people don’t have the patience to sit through and listen because they don’t understand it upon first hearing, and they turn it off. There isn’t a surefire answer though, it comes down to the type of music and your affinity and motivation for listening to it. It comes down to wanting to listen to it.
S: For you what does it mean to be authentic when you play or when you write?
C: I have multiple identities so its constantly shifting. There can be an idea of me playing straight ahead or singing in RB group or playing more in with alula or that context. I feel like the authenticity for me as. A musician shifts with each sonic landscape. I think it has to do with how much music you’ve checked or how much work have you really put into it. If you are not really working on something, then it’s not authentic to get on stage and do that thing. It’s fine and you can do that, but to me you didn’t do the work then it’s not authentic. You can tell when someone tries to play swing and they can’t, or they try to play new synthesizer music, but they haven’t checked any of it out. I’m not saying I’m done; I have a lot of work my myself. You have to constantly be working to find what’s in the ancestry of the music we are playing. Whether you are playing straight ahead, more open, modern jazz, R&B or whatever, you have to deal with the people who came before you and who laid it out. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to do the thing, but just try to know where are coming from.
Listen to Caroline’s Music:
Caroline and I improvised together but the recording has been lost forever :~( we are working on a new one !