Matthew Shipp / Knives From Heaven: Heavy Meta

September 22nd, 2011 | Category: Interviews, Videos

In the 1980s, professional skateboarder Mark Gonzales used to disappear from media coverage for months at a time and every time he would return, he’d introduce the next, new trick. Once it was the kickflip, once the the stalefish, but he always set off a new trend. Antipop Consortium have cut a similar path. Their records are few and far between, but they always bump the bar a bit higher than it was before. Their 2002 record Arrhythmia (Warp) set the tone for 21st century metaphysical Hip-hop, and after a seven-year hiatus, Fluorescent Black (Big Dada, 2009) re-established what had been lost on heads in the meantime. Oddly abrasive to your expectations and undeniably smart in their creation are the way they work. Intelligent, innovative, and insightful are the watchwords.

The same can be said for Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Thirsty Ear Recordings. The latter’s Blue Series, which includes collaborations with the former, as well as El-P, DJ Spooky, Dave Lombardo, Guillermo E. Brown, Vijay Iyer, and Mike Ladd, among many others, has consistently pushed the boundaries of Jazz, Hip-hop, and the expectations of all those involved. In 2003, it was as a part of this series that Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Antipop Consortium previously met. Their aptly titled Antipop Consortium vs Matthew Shipp record sounds more like tension than balance, and it is on this tension that the grooves on their self-titled second outing, a collaboration with William Parker as well as Beans and High Priest from Antipop Consortium, Knives From Heaven, rely. Sometimes it sounds like the jostling of traffic swirling around you. Sometimes it sounds like dishes tumbling down stairs. Sometimes it sounds like the incessant churn of machinery. Sometimes it sounds like planets locked in wobbly orbit. No matter: It always sounds just like the future.

I first heard Shipp on the David S. Ware Quartet’s Dao (Homestead, 1995). I’d gotten review copies of that, William Parker’s Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy (1996), and Williaw Hooker’s Armageddon (1995), which I was planning to review together for Pandemonium! Magazine of which I was then editor. Though I submerged myself in these three records and several similar releases, The Rocket‘s Steve Duda beat me to the review, and I never wrote mine. My taste for the fringes of progressive Jazz had been expanded though, and I’ve checked in with these folks on a regular basis since.

@vijayiyer “old music good! new music bad! except for mine!” — some jazz musician, every other damn day

Matthew Shipp not only plays, composes, and collaborates on Jazz’s edges, but he also thinks deeply about all of the above. When I heard Knives From Heaven, I knew it was time to get the man on the line.

Roy Christopher: This isn’t the first time you’ve been in the studio with these guys. How’d you end up working with Antipop Consortium in the first place?

Matthew Shipp: Beans use to work at a record store here in New York City, and I use to talk to him. He approached me before I had ever heard them. Of course when I heard them, I was blown away by their forward-looking aesthetic.

RC: What is it about their work that attracts you to collaborate?

MS: There is nothing cliché about how they go about it, and it has the feel of the same modern, New York zeitgeist that informs my own work.

RC: Are there any other Hip-hop acts you’d like to work with?

MS: Not really… I use to want to do something with Madlib, and I use to want to work with Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon, but I am completely involved in my own Jazz universe now.

RC: Hip-hop has flirted with Jazz regularly over the past twenty years, but the opposite hasn’t been the case. Knives From Heaven (again) illustrates the untapped potential of their mating. How do you see elements from the two genres working together?

MS: well first I am not sure if Knives From Heaven is Hip-hop flirting with Jazz or Jazz flirting with Hip-hop—

RC: I’d say it’s both.

MS: Well, first, music is music, and if you melt down the particulars there is room for dialogue between the various so-called genres. I think the so-called freedom of Jazz can be a point of inspiration for certain Hip-hop artists of a certain mental bent, and both musics have their own particular swing: The pulse of Free Jazz is a vortex of information, and all electronic musics thrive off of information, therefore it is up to the imagination and talent of the producer to cook a good meal. The palettes of both musics are different in some respects and similar in some ways so a good cook will figure out a blend that makes sense.

RC: Your work blends the architecture of composition with the spontaneity of improvisation. How does your process manifest songs? How do you decide where to start versus where to stop?

MS: I am always working or thinking about my musical language, so how do you start a sentence when you talk? Well, you know the language so well that you just start with the faith that words will come to you that match some internal imagery and the words will match whatever vague emotions and feelings you want to get across to the person you are talking to. It is very similar in this. Also, the deeper you get into your language the deeper the merger between form and content is which means if you have a deep organic concept. The architecture of composition and the spontaneity of improvisation will merge because they come from the same matrix, and form and content are one actuality, so there is some impetus that grows the structure of the piece or improvisation together with the content. And as far as stopping, that is instinct: If you know your language and your phrasing and your flow, you know when the ideas have played themselves out, therefore you know when to shut the fuck up.

RC: You bend time by mixing tradition with futurism. Do you see music in terms of eras?

MS: Yes and no. I see music as vibration that emits pulse and coheres in different ways. I see eras as each time period has its own constructs and organizational worldview… I don’t really believe in linear time so eras are an illusion to me, but a very real illusion: Every so-called time period has its own questions it asks of vibrations… But I do melt down all so-called time periods in Jazz to find some language that I can proceed to move into timeless period in.

RC: You’ve been making music long enough to have seen the changes in the technologies of recording and releasing, as well as listening and consuming. Are things getting better or are they getting worse?

MS: Worse. The world is too complex for its own good. There are too many possibilities and with the proliferation of all the technology and possibilities that we have, with all that, people are no smarter. In fact, you could argue that they are dumber and operate with less focus and concentration about what is really real.


Check out the Knives From Heaven collaboration, and look for the new record called Elastic Aspects from the Matthew Shipp Trio out on Thirsty Ear in 2012.

Here’s a clip of Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Beans, and Priest working on the Knives from Heaven record at Spin Recording Studios [runtime: 3:06]:

… and here’s Part 2 with Shipp and Priest [runtime: 2:50]:

Further Posting: