Drummer Billy Martin on the Limits and Ranges of Instrumentalists

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Best known as the drummer for the celebrated avant-jazz/funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood, Billy Martin has long been an integral part of New York's downtown scene. His eclectic list of collaborators includes Chuck Mangione, John Zorn, Iggy Pop and Min Xiao-Fen; he's also a composer (he's currently working on a bass clarinet quartet), record producer (he founded Amulet Records) and visual artist.

On April 22, Medeski Martin & Wood release a new album with Wilco guitarist Nils Cline and on April 18, Martin appears at John Zorn's venue the Stone for a celebration of Beat icon William Burroughs.

Billy Martin writes the following of his Mixtape:

Olivier Messiaen – O Sacrum Convivium

My dear friend and mentor Bob Moses (aka Rakalam) sent me a couple of  CDs in the mail back in the late 1990’s, including a collection of symphonic works with Des Canyons aux Etoiles and Couleurs De La Cite Celeste. This introduction to Messiaen's orchestral work was a revelation for me. Many years later I discovered his 7-minute choral work called O Sacrum Convivium. I had started experimenting with filmmaking and needed some music for a particular jellyfish I had filmed at the Long Beach Aquarium in California. This choral music married so well to the fluid movement of the jelly that I reached out to Olivier Messiaen's foundation asking them about using that music for the video exhibition. They kindly replied that he made it very clear that any of his music never be used with any images of any kind.

Morton Feldman Neither

About two years ago I had the great pleasure of witnessing this incredible new staging of Neither at the David H Koch Theater (formerly New York State Theater). This is where my father spent half his life playing in the New York City Ballet and Opera Orchestras. John Zorn invited me to come see the premiere of his short opera La Machine de l’Être. Zorn's piece was fantastic – a flash of powerful images and music that lasted about 15 minutes – but what also captivated me was Feldman's music in the second half following intermission. I was not really aware the subtle power, nuance and complexity of Feldman's orchestral work until that evening. This took me by surprise! And the stage design and imagery really blew me away. I described this experience to others as "prismatic" and "phosphorescent." Once again, dear John Zorn introduces yet another life-changing experience for me. Bless those men.

Jean Dubuffet Aguichemen

"In my music I wanted to place myself in the position of a man of fifty thousand years ago, a man who ignores everything about western music and invents a music for himself without any reference, without any discipline, without anything that would prevent him to express himself freely and for his own good pleasure." -Jean Dubuffet

Benedict Mason Aahk Pit-It-It Skaaak! & Whiffling Seesaw Rhythms

Benedict Mason often pushes the limits and range of the instrumentalists when he composes. He goes out of his way to make your instrument sound out of this world. I like the wide range of cohesive expression in a short amount of time while retaining a feel that it could have been improvised magically. It's very "painterly." It doesn’t feel overly conceptual to me. I particularly enjoy the detuned pitches, bending notes, colors and textural use of voice with ensemble. A lot of musical vocabulary expressed here.

Lou Harrison Suite For Symphonic Strings

I am a sucker for lush string arrangements. Thanks to my dad who played in many orchestras and turned me on to such lovely timbres. This suite hits me right in the kisser. It’s very romantic. I fully admit to the nostalgia. Akin to Copland, Ives and Bernstein (Leonard and Elmer), Harrison is a true American composer.

Igor Stravinsky The Song of the Nightingale

I heard a lot of Russian composers music as a kid that which Balanchine used in the New York City Ballet. As a child I spent many summers at SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center) watching Balanchine work with the dancers and orchestra. I don’t seem to get bored with Stravinsky. His rhythmic sophistication puts him on another level.

Morton Feldman Patterns in a Chromatic Field

Check out this performance. Pianist Aleck Karis and cellist Charles Curtis getting down and dirty with it! Thanks to the Tzadik label for putting this one out into our ears.

Edgard Varese Ionisation

I almost had the opportunity to perform this when I was a substitute drummer in the original Bob Fosse Broadway show Dancin’ back in 1981. Ionisation on Broadway. Can you believe that? And I was 17 years old. My first drum teacher Allen Herman gave me the book for that show to learn after I had sat in the orchestra pit watching him perform. After a couple of months of practicing I was ready to substitute the drum chair when he took a leave. But after I joined as a sub they cut Ionisation. I was kind of relieved though. I wasn’t very good at reading all those odd time signatures.  But I really wish I could have seen those Fosse dancers moving to this one on stage. I wonder what that must have looked like.

György Ligeti Poeme Symphonique

This piece fascinates me. Using 100 wound-up metronomes, a dense rhythmic landscape morphs continuously until one-by-one, only a few metronomes are left to bounce and phase out patterns until they die out.

A great example of Ligeti’s use of very dense sounds that morph impressionistically. It is not possible to hear everything at first listening. And this is why I enjoy this type of music. Everytime you listen – you discover something new.  This encouraged me to complete my percussion miniature scores  Stridulations for the Good Luck Feast, a 13-part suite / game for percussion ensemble which was released on Starlings (Tzadik).