Mark Whitecage: Free Music with Purpose
The ‘60s saw Whitecage continue playing and developing his voice, but it was another momentous event that would cause him to make a change that, again, redirected his life. “I was setting up this little piano tuning business in Waterbury, Connecticut,” he says, “and the only other guy into the music was Mario Pavone, who was just getting started, so we’d get together and play. Then we started going to New York. I went to New York for John Coltrane’s funeral, and I stayed at an apartment down on Houston Street, and just decided to stay. I wasn’t doing too much musically when Coltrane died, and I figured if he wasn’t here anymore then I’d better start getting back to work. We had the lofts and they were cheap; we were putting on our own concerts and that worked pretty well for a while; then the real estate got too high and we got priced out.”
In the early ‘70s Whitecage began an association with multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel that lasted for more than ten years and resulted in numerous recordings. “Gunter was playing all these nice European festivals,“ Whitecage explains, “and these festivals were packed with people, making a lot of noise. When you played the festivals it was almost like you were pantomiming the music rather than making it, because you really couldn’t hear anything. But it was very exciting; Gunter gave me a little Citroen car, and [reedman] Perry Robinson and I and a young violinist just drove all over springtime Germany and played every night. It was an education for me, the first time I had the chance just to play; Gunter was basically interested in the alto clarinet, so I learned to play that horn as well.”
With a career that was becoming more established through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s, one of the more notable associations Mark had was with Bernard and Francois Baschet, who gained a name for themselves by creating sound sculptures, literal sculptures that could reproduce unusual musical sounds. “I met Bernard,” says Whitecage, “and he had these fantastic large pieces of steel that he shaped into things that looked like flower petals. And he’d attach these to glass rods; you’d dip your fingers in water and rub these rods, get them vibrating, and you’d make music. It sounded like about 16 French Horns at the same time. There are a few records out with his stuff, mostly in France.
“There was a loft in downtown New York,” continues Whitecage, “and we had permission from the Baschets to use them; we were doing a dance piece, and we used a couple of these sculptures in the dance, which we took to Greece. I played in the Acropolis with these sculptures, it was a beautiful experience. The Baschets had these things impeccably tuned and they could play classical music on them; what we liked to do was detune them so that they’d vibrate against each other; they didn’t like us doing that with their instruments so I said, ‘I’ll make my own.’
"So I did, I made a crystal that was very out of tune because I didn’t have the machinery to cut the metal. The way I cut my steel, they didn’t pick up all the vibrations equally, so some notes would be really loud and others really soft, and they would have their own patterns, which I liked; it was different. So we explored that; I spent a few years doing that, I even dragged them down to the old Knitting Factory one time.
“I still play one of them with [clarinetist and partner] Rozanne Levine’s band, Chakra Tuning,” concludes Whitecage, “I use one of the sculptures I’ve saved. The rest of them, they’re just too much to carry. I have one recording that I never released, with Gerry Hemingway playing my sculptures and drums, Mario Pavone and Joe Fonda on bass, and Rozanne playing the sculptures and clarinet.”
Focusing on a Solo Career
By the early ‘90s Mark was leading his own groups, including Liquid Time, whose self-titled release garnered positive critical attention, and featured a young Dave Douglas on trumpet. Unfortunately, work for the quintet was hard to find, so Whitecage began a trio that featured bassist Dominic Duval and percussionist Jay Rosen. The trio, ultimately named No Respect, continues to this day. “Dominic has an absolutely vast knowledge of music,” says Whitecage, “he knows almost anything you’d want to play. We don’t need to rehearse, although we spent a year rehearsing in the early days before it dawned on us that we didn’t need to.”
Free Music With Purpose