Watching Adam Rudolph conduct the Go: Organic Orchestra is witnessing the embodiment of music. Rudolph takes on the role of sound sculptor, leading the specially-trained musicians through channels of sound as they occur to him in the course of performance, mixing and editing with hand signals, facial expressions and bodily torque. The only constant in the swirling world of change that characterizes the project is the near ecstatic Rudolph, shaping and molding the music as it appears, in the form of an improvised dance.
"You're just flowing with whatever you're receiving," he says. "If it's something that's beamed down from the cosmos or you're dredging it up from your unconscious, whatever it is you're flowing in the moment and of course the surprise. What's thrilling to me is I can conduct these different kinds of cues but they allow for interpretive possibilities for the musicians so what I hear coming back to me all the time is always surprising and I'm always responding to it."
Finding an inviting space to bring up to 50 improvising musicians can be a challenge in itself, but fate smiled on Rudolph when he hooked up with Roulette. "I've been very fortunate that Jim Staley at Roulette has allowed us to do a residency," he said. "Biannually or triennially, we do a month of Mondays. Because there's an improvisational component to the music, it's important to perform it, to develop it, so for the last three years we've been doing these series of Mondays and it's been great. The music has evolved tremendously. In New York I've probably taught the approach and the concept to over 100 musicians."
While the audience will certainly be surprised by the shifting currents of sound and rhythm created by the orchestra, Rudolph deliberately places himself in a context of free fall with every performance. "The thing that's exciting," he said, "is that not all the musicians can be there all the time, so the chemistry and orchestration does change and so it requires a kind of courage, because I never know what the music is going to be when we start.
"This music is a celebration of the eternal now. It's all about being in the moment, no future, no past, you're just in the moment of what's happening as it unfolds. We're prepared, we spend a lot of time preparing the materials, but how it's going to happen, how it unfolds, nobody knows. I think what's exciting for an audience, if somebody comes to the music to share that moment with us, if they come in the spirit of seeing that the music is going to go in an unanticipated direction, that can be very exciting.
"The element of surprise and spontaneity has always been an element of African American music or so-called jazz. Spontaneity has always been the prize. So we're celebrating that and sometimes you have to do things that sabotage what you love to do and what you know works in order to create the environment for something spontaneous and unpredictable to happen."
While the conceptual roots of the Go: Organic Orchestra developed in the fertile artistic sand of Venice, California, New York has added its flavor to the stew. "Here, for whatever reason, there's been a lot of string players gravitating toward playing in the orchestra. And the thing about the Organic Orchestra is, it doesn't matter what the orchestration is, the orchestration can be anything. It can even change from week to week or night to night.
"In Naples, I had a Renaissance recorder choir as part of the group. And in Norway, three Nepalese musicians were involved. Recently with one of the concerts here, one of the greatest Mongolian Khoomei Singers, Shinestog Dorjnyam, came and sang with us. So the music is designed in a way where it's open for any kind of instrumentation at any time. Still there's a kind of cohesion and direction to what's happening and a context for things to happen in. So on average there's been 8-12 string players showing up for the Organic Orchestra in New York."
Already a busy year for the multi-percussionist, Rudolph's second commission from Chamber Music America will result in a premiere performance of a new work with his Moving Pictures octet next month at Le Poisson Rouge. Also in April he plans to release two duet CDs: one, Yay Yee, is a recorded concert with longtime collaborator Ralph Jones while the other is with mentor and friend Yusef Lateef, boasting two concertos, each written by one for the other.
"He [Lateef] received the NEA Jazz Masters' award," Rudolph recalled. "He and I played a 15-minute duet [during the January ceremony]. That was a pretty magical night. It was great to see him honored. We just did a miniaturized version of what we do. We played a concert in October for his 89th birthday, a duet concert. And then we're going to Europe this spring to play more concerts.
"He's in his 90th year. Whenever he calls me I'm always glad to work with him because I've learned so much from him. I still learn from him. You know, this music is an oral tradition. There's an informational aspect to what you learn, but a lot of it is what you learn being around these elders, things that can't even be put into words that have to do with a creative attitude or a spiritual stance, a way of living, a way of working with materials, looking at process, creative process, looking at materials in fresh ways. And Yusef is always inventive and he really taught me. We began working together in 1988 and I really learned from him how to develop my own creative processes, how to think, how to trust your imagination and cultivate your intuition."
Rudolph sums up his approach this way, "Music comes from something greater than music and it can be about something greater than music."
Pharoah Sanders/Hamid Drake/Adam Rudolph, Spirits (Meta, 1998)
Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph, Beyond the Sky (YAL/Meta, 2000)
Wadada Leo Smith/Adam Rudolph, Compassion (Meta/Kabell, 2002)
Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph Go: Organic Orchestra, In The Garden (YAL/Meta, 2003)
Sam Rivers/Adam Rudolph/Harris Eisenstadt, Vista (Meta, 2003)
Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, Dream Garden (Justin Time, 2006)