[ c o n v e r s a z i o n i ]
L’universo segreto di Bob Downes   di Claudio Bonomi

 

Your first lp Dream Journey (1969) was a commission for music to accompany dance by the Ballet Rambert. Your relationship with dance has always been very strong and in your career you have composed pieces for many ballet companies or contemporary dance groups. Can you explain the origins of this interest?
It all goes back to when I was 4 years of age and used to sneak into a cinema, find myself an empty seat in the darkness. The films were meant for adults only, very dramatic and so was the music, which had a great impact on me. It lasted into my adulthood. Later being involved in modern dance it was I who was creating the "sound track" to the dramatic "pictures" taking place on stage. My first score for modern ballet came about because I happened to know a classical percussionist.  who was called Derek Hogg until he asked me to find a better name for him. He became Derek Davison and "oh boy" could he make the timpani roar. Derek worked with the Ballet Rambert. Derek came around to my “pad” for a visit curious to know what I was doing musically. 
I played him a recent 2 ½ min. solo flute composition of mine. He suggested that I orchestrate it and extend the length to suit a modern dance work. I saw this as an interesting challenge, went ahead, composed it in two movements and it ended up about 26 mins. The 1st  movement for 2 flutes and 3 percussionists: Davison, Stevens and Smith. The 2nd movement I added 2 tenor saxes, bari sax, 3 trumpets, which included Kenny Wheeler punching out the high notes and a contrabassist who was required to play an ostinato in 3/8 time for 14 mins. I'm glad that I didn't have to undertake this task. One time it was Harry Miller another occasion Daryl Runswick who was Ray Russell's regular bass guitarist. 
Also at this time I met Wendy Benka, who later worked with me as a musician. Now, Wendy knew a choreographer with the “Rambert” who was desperately looking for something new and different. So, with the recommendation of Wendy and Derek, a meeting was arranged with the choreographer. Hence out of that came Dream Journey.

Did you also play "live" with dance companies? Could you speak about these “live” experiences?
Sometimes I was commissioned to create music for tape which was music concrete. The recording was used for the performance and when the dance, costume and lighting had been made to it, I would then add new sounds and play “live” to what I saw before me and improvise freshly at each performance. Mostly with percussion, as I had many gongs, various kinds of Chinese cymbals and self made instruments of dry bones, snail shells, bamboo sticks and anything I could find, making an interesting sound texture. 
Composing and of course playing live for dance is fascinating, for it makes you experience your music within  a totally different media. You live in the idea of the stage production and complete and widen it with your own musical creativity. When we played Diversions with The London Contemporary Dance Theatre my Open Music Trio was even part of the stage set. There were certain passages in the music that had to be played to correspond with the dance, but there was also ample opportunity to improvise. 

 

 

The work was 45 mins duration and sometimes when the performance was over, we were so high that when we got back to the dressing room we would continue jamming together.

Another big area of interest is poetry. You write poems and you performed in poet festivals with poets like William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Could you tell us something about that?
Yes, they took place in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Paris and Rome. I was quoted as poet and was the only one who at the same time combined it with music. On one of the festivals I sang a song of mine which contained the words "Coke…some people sniff it ..burns your brain away". Gregory Corso was in the audience and screamed out "No it fuckin' don't man, no it fuckin' don't". Gregory was a very lovable guy. I also was on a Poet festival in Rome situated in a park of the Villa Borghese with several thousand people in the audience sitting on the grass. At one point whilst Steve Lacy was setting up his soprano sax stand on stage, I went to the back of the audience and, in my "West Side Story" voice called out "Maria"!!! and as I expected it, hundreds of female heads turned to see who was calling them.

In the late Seventies you moved to Germany where you’re living now. And you also changed your artistic directions: no more jazz but meditative and ambient  music. Why?
It could have had something to do with all of a sudden living quite isolated in the countryside after having lived for almost 20 years in London. One day my wife came into my studio and suggested to think of a work with "Stonehenge" in mind. At that time I had a bassflute made in ex East Germany. It was particulary good in the overtones, which I used in the composition to bring out the magic side of the 5000 year old Stone circle. Also I'm sometimes asked to compose music in communication of paintings and sculptures. One time at an Art Exhibition, Tina came out with the suggestion to play along with a recording of some tibetan monks, singing the "OM" heard over the speakers at the venue while I was "setting up" my "horns". The result was that in the following 3 years I produced 3 cd's with this OM, on which I play tenor, alto and soprano sax. Concerflute, altoflute, bassflute, contrabassflute, Japanese bambooflute, ocarina and glass flute. The glass flute I played at a concert one time and someone in the audience called out that he didn't believe it was made of glass. I said Oh yeah? I 'll hit it against the mike stand and if it doesn't break you get a thousand euro, but if it does smash to pieces, then you give me a thousand euro. He curled up in his seat and remained silent. Mind you, I would not have been happy to have won the bet if I had been taken on.

Is there anything unreleased in the archive? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Funny you should ask that, as at any moment the postman will be dropping in my letterbox, tapes of my Open Music Trio in concert, that were recorded by a fan of mine back in the good old 70's. As far as new projects are concerned, I'm busy working on new compositions for my flutes with the appendages. I've also re-shaped all my sax mouthpieces recently and discovering a fresh approach to my playing.

 
 Interview (engl) 3    
Translation of introduction by Marco Bertoli