Kathryn Ladano is a name you might not have heard before, unless you caught Stump LeBrain Week on Dave FM, or you’re a fan of free improvisation. She’s the sister of LeBrain, is a world-class bass clarinest player, but originally came from a rock background. We sat down and asked her 10 questions about music. Check out the first five below.
1. What were your earliest musical influences? I know you listened to a lot of John Williams, pop music, and hair metal like Bon Jovi. How do you go from that to a 10 minute improvisation on bass clarinet?
My earliest musical influences really don’t have a lot of impact on me today in terms of my professional career. I mean, I was into the 80’s hair bands and pop music for the most part growing up. However, it’s true that movie music really spoke to me and I was intrigued by the connection between music and visual images. This is true of 80’s music videos too actually, and I would often (and still do) picture images in my mind when I hear a song. For movie music, I was fascinated by the fact that a certain musical treatment could greatly enhance the emotional impact of a movie scene. I didn’t really understand why, but the idea of it really made an impression on me. As a teenager, I realized that it was the “weirder” soundtracks in particular that affected me the most. For example, the opening music of Planet of the Apes did such a great job of making you feel like you were on another planet, and it’s still one of my favourite examples of movie music. However, I think the soundtrack that affected me the most and opened my ears the most was 2001: A Space Odyssey. In particular, the compositions by György Ligeti — Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, Requiem, etc… I think that early exposure to highly dissonant music and seeing how brilliantly it could enhance a scene in film really opened my eyes and my ears to the experimental, and Ligeti is still one of my favourite composers today.
2. As a listener, what type of LeBrain reader would be likely to appreciate your music? Is there a track on [your album] Open that is more accessible than others?
That’s a difficult question to answer. If I speak very generally, I would say probably readers that enjoy progressive rock and more avant-garde music would enjoy the album. I tried to throw in everything I could because I wasn’t sure when i’d have a chance to make another one, so the album features a fairly wide variety of sounds and styles. The most accessible tracks are “Something I Can’t Know” (a jazzy sounding trio for bass clarinet, piano, and drums), and “Art Show” (a more upbeat sounding trio for bass clarinet, guitar, and drums). However, the track that has gotten the most airplay is “Further Reflection” (a duo for bass clarinet and percussion that features a very atmospheric opening and minimalistic ending).
3. What do you think about “jam bands” such as the Grateful Dead or Deep Purple who often would go up on stage and improvise for 20 minutes with no script?
I think the concept is fantastic! Essentially, this is what we do as free improvisors. You pretty much throw musical genre out the window and just focus on sound, using your ears as your guide. I also really admire bands that can come up with a meaningful and interesting improvised piece that lasts as long as 20 minutes as it can be very difficult to do. When there is no script and no plan, the form and the personality of the piece can be difficult to find, and the more players you have, the more directions there are to take the music. Granted, bands like this don’t always succeed at creating a successful 20 minute improvisation, and it can be a lot for an audience to absorb, but the basic idea of making it up on the spot and just using your ears and your instinct to guide you is something I would welcome more of in popular music.
4: Bands that do 20 minute jams were extremely popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but today they are not mainstream anymore. Why do you think that is?
It seemed that there was a lot of musical experimentation and exploration happening in the 60’s and 70’s and for some reason, much of that stopped in the 80’s. I think audiences changed and they wanted different things in their music. Today, I really wonder how audiences would respond if more artists started incorporating long jams and improvisations into their music. It seems that it’s not something that people want anymore, and it’s too bad. Popular music has changed and I think audiences no longer expect the unexpected – most people just want to hear their standard three chord songs – unfortunately that seems to be all the modern ear is capable of absorbing. Music and popular culture moves in waves though, so I’m hopeful that at some point more experimental live performances will come into fashion again.
5. What should the role of visuals be in live music?
I am personally very intrigued by this concept and that of interdisciplinary art in general (mixing more than one art form together). I think visuals can greatly enhance music as I said before regarding film music, and it’s an area that I have been exploring a lot lately. For example, last year I directed Wilfrid Laurier University’s Improvisation Concerts Ensemble in a performance of a live, improvised soundtrack to the classic silent film Nosferatu. The ensemble created musical pieces within the context of the film that was unlike anything they had done before without visual imagery. I think adding visuals opens doors to new ideas and greater creativity and allows a musician to react and respond to something other than just what they’re hearing.