Primary Instrument: Electronics
1.Describe your discovery of Music.
I’m 51. When you say discovery of music, I am assuming that you mean what we affectionally call “the music”. While still strongly into a jazz-fusion bag musically during my teens (Brand X, Return To Forever, Passport, Gong, etc.,), I sifted through my father’s record collection and came across a John Coltane LP entitled ‘Last Train’, a late 50’s Prestige release. The opening selection ‘By the Numbers’ with Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Art Taylor, forever opened my ears up towards this music. I played this piece over and over for many days. It continues to be to the opening selection of each new calendar year of my radio programming on WPFW. WPFW, 89.3FM and www.wpfw.org, is Pacifica’s Washington, DC outlet. This progressive network also has stations in New York and Houston, and two stations in California. WPFW is the only station in the network where jazz is a formal part of its aesthetic mission. I’ve been an on-air programmer with WPFW since 1983 and currently produce and host alternating Thursday nights from 11PM until 1AM.
I am also a member of the group MOM2 (Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind), an improvisational creative music trio of laptops, freeboards, wave stations and MPC, for which I perform on record players. Currently, some of our music is available on various District of Noise compilations.
2.Describe your research into various periods of the idiom as an ad hoc scholar and fan.
As a fan of the music I read and learn from Wire, Signal to Noise, Wax Poetics, and Cadence magazines on a regular basis. I continue to purchase most of my music via Cadence (Note to artists and labels: I’m open to being serviced. Just contact me at email@example.com).
The three books that best provided my foundational understanding of the music are Amiri Baraka’s ‘Blues People’, Graham Lock’s ‘Forces in Motion’, and John Litweilers’s ‘The Freedom Principle’.
The three books that I am reading and enjoying currently are David Toop’s ‘Sinister Resonance’ and Philip Ball’s ‘The Music Instinct’. I also recently completed Caleb Kelly’s ‘Cracked Media’.
And the three books that I would recommend to anyone to read for a better understanding of the music and it’s associated cultures through its three principle artist-based organizations are George Lewis’s ‘A Power Stronger Than Itself’ (Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians or AACM), Steve Isoardi’s ‘The Dark Tree’, (LA’s Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension of UGMAA), and Benjamin Looker’s ‘Point From Which Creation Begins’ (St. Louis’s Black Artist Group or BAG).
I also try to attend a few major festivals each year. My wife and I make an annual trip to NY for the Vision Festival. Earlier this year we had an opportunity to attend a few days of the Sons D’Hiver festival and also traveled to NY many times this past summer to catch different installations, discussions and performances of the Whitney Museum’s exhibition on the multi-media works of Christian Marclay. The DC area also offers it’s own yearly High Zero and Sonic Circuit festivals, which I attend.
When I started DJing on WPFW in the Fall of 1983, my first program was an overnight mixture of fusion and mainstream jazz. Within that initial year I made more avant expressions my primary on-air program focus. The wealth of my early illumination came from listening to legacy WPFW programmers like Art Cromwell (currently a professor in Ohio) and Greg Tate (writer and guitarist/band leader with Burnt Sugar). Their early 80’s programs were called ‘Out of the Afternoon and Strange Vibrations from the Hardcore’, respectively. This was also around the time that District Curators, led by now-filmmaker Bill Warrell, was presenting near-weekly avant jazz music shows at an iconic club called D.C. Space. I saw my first avant garde jazz show at D.C. Space. The club was located just a few blocks from the National Gallery of Art and other such more venerated institutions. This early-period D.C. Space show that I caught was a duet between trombonist Ray Anderson, whose music I knew, and multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, who I was only familiar with then by name. Braxton was playing the very large-sized contrabass saxophone. Of the maybe dozen or so people in the audience, some were asleep, some clearly wished that they were somewhere else, and the rest of us were pleasantly mesmerized.
In 1987, I began hosting an producing a progressive Hip Hop segment of my WPFW radio program called The B-side. The B-side ran for 9 years, and created the opportunity for me to further extend my knowledge through developing and teaching a Hip Hop Culture course as an adjunct professor at George Mason University. While there are many books that illuminate the subject in different ways, Jeff Chang’s ‘Hip Hop Don’t Stop’ and Fricke & Ahearn’s ‘’Yes Yes Y’all’ are vital reading.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to and creating recombinant sounds. I do this live through MOM2, and on air radio through of a live layering process that I’ve done since 1985 called ‘ReStRuCtUrInGs’.
3. Describe the attractions and appeal of your favorite periods.
Three periods move me most.
The 60s, because it birthed the music and organizations whose artists and sounds I most appreciate - Chicago’s AACM, St. Louis’s BAG, and LA’s UGMAA. These musicians all reflected the brave new musical travelers of this, my bourgeoning generation.
The 80s, because it reflected the music of those artists that built on these 60’s frameworks with their own conceptions and ideas. From Steve Coleman’s (m)acro (b)asic (a)rray of (s)ystematic (e)xtemporizations, to William Parker’s Tone worlds, to Butch Morris’s Conductions. It’s a wealth of music waiting to be re-explored.
Regarding Hip Hop, 1988 to 1995 is considered Hip Hop’s Golden Years. Some of its most diverse creativity occurred during this period. It was over these same years that I had the pleasure of hosting and producing The B-Side.
4. Describe the trajectory of your work as an advocate.
Never thought of describing myself as that. I usually say something more slushy like…I’m about the music.
My launch pad was my work as a music programmer/DJ at WPFW, which I began in 1983 and continue to do today.
Again, WPFW is part of a world-renowned progressive radio network called Pacifica. It’s the original and still current home of Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! In that way, my now 28- year participation there has gone beyond the music, and has also included leadership positions on our local governance board.
I was privileged to serve as the Program Director at WPFW from 2007 � 2009. I am happy to have had the chance to implement a new programming schedule that, through the efforts of the many existing and new programmers, resulted in significantly increased listenership while also increasing our overall jazz programming, particularly programs devoted to more avant expressions. The 11PM to 1AM late night jazz slot that I host is also heard Monday through Wednesday with alternating hosts. My alternating host on Thursday night is my MOM2 band mate Thomas Stanley.
It’s a very tough financial time right now for much public radio though, and WPFW is no exception. Support of such non- commercial, non-corporate public media outlets is really vital.
The 1987 start of the radio program called The B-Side created the opportunity to present a staged production called “Dialogue of Transformation”, where in 1999, NY and DC- based poets recited the works of MCs such as Public Enemy, Leaders of the New School, Monie Love, The Roots, Aceyalone, and many others. Poets featured included Tracie Morris, and Michael Ivey of Basehead.
During much of the late 80s and early 90s I was a journalist for the Washington City Paper and Washington Post, writing exclusively on music, authoring Post feature articles on Butch Morris’s Conduction and The Roots still mostly underground debut.
This further led to co-developing and teaching a Hip Hop Culture course as adjunct professor at George Mason University from 2001 to 2007.
In 1997, I and a handful of other WPFW music programmers (Larry Appelbaum, Thomas Stanley, Herb Taylor) and then new city dweller Vince Kargetis formed a creative jazz presenting group called Transparent Productions as a vehicle for presenting cutting-edge jazz by both national and international artists in the DC area. It has also broadened my understanding of the music through the invaluable discussions that I have had with artists, other presenters, as well as patrons and listeners. Thomas is the only other original Transparent member that remains, and Guy Fraser joined us during the past year. Transparent is all volunteer and not for profit. Transparent organizers in attendance even pay full admission for the performances that we present, which have ranged from $10 to $15 for individual admission. Transparent group members take care of all advance performance coordination such as press, radio, and flyers, and list serve management. We also secure the performance space, which has primarily been donated and has ranged from small galleries to university halls.
During its 13-year existence Transparent has presented well over 200 performances of creative improvised music in the DC area. This 2010 season alone has included performances by The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Jason Hwang’s The Edge, Ernest Dawkin’s New Horizon, Brandon Ross and Stomu Takeishi’s For Living Lovers, Ravish Momin’s Tarana, Lisa Sokolov and Yuko Fujiyama, Trio X, The Nu Band, Dave Burrell, Matthew Shipp, and Tracie Morris. One of my favorites is our presentation of the djTRIO at the Hirshhorn Museum, with turnablist Christian Marclay, Toshio Kajiwara, and DJ Olive.
Over our lifetime, I’d say that our most well-received solo shows in terms of audience size were by William Parker, Matthew Shipp, and Jean-Paul Bourelly (all solo performances), as well as Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble, Dave Douglas’ Tiny Bell Trio, Steve Coleman’s 5 Elements, and The Thing with Joe McPhee.
The djTRIO show is one of three Transparent performances captured on publicly available CD recordings. The djTRIO’s 2002 performance at the Hirshhorn Museum is captured on the recording djTRIO. And William Hooker’s The Gift as well as The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s Mama’s House Live: 35th Anniversary Project, are both recordings that were captured live at Takoma Park Maryland’s famed Sangha, which is now defunct.
5. Describe evolving methods that are a facet of your advocacy.
The things I do and advocate through radio, writing, teaching, recording, performing � are all general categories that many of us participate in, and each contribute to differently. I hope to continue to do just that.
6. What role does Web2 and other tech have in your work?
My aesthetic needs are for now pretty minimal. Remember, I simply play records on the air and in an improvisational band that also utilizes MPC and wave station like technology. MOM2’s other members are Thomas Stanley,Chris Downing and Luke Stewart. They are the truer technoids.
7. What old media elements are used?
Wax (LPs). Tape. The occasional transistor. Film. Luke Stewart is also a very nice reedist and bassist, but we haven’t yet incorporated that yet into MOM2.
8. How has change in the economy impacted your work?
Regarding WPFW, as I mentioned, times are tough financially. A bright light is that support for the more avant and experimental music that I share continues to grow. The support that my program received during our recent Fall on-air membership drive was the highest in my 28 years on the air.
Regarding Transparent, for 11 of our 13 years we were able to obtain donated space, so that the full 100% of all proceeds (admission and CD sales) went to the artists. While the music has often been glorious, what we do is basically a glorified door gig. In these last years we’ve given financial renumeration to the presenting spaces. These very generously and reasonably reduced space fees are then deducted from artist’s admission revenue. Though there is no financial gain or advantage to Transparent Productions, and no real gain to the venue because of the price reductions offered, it has lessened the financial glory of the artists. As I do feel that those spaces that lovingly support the music should somehow get to be a part of the economic equation, it is something that we hope to work out better for the interests of the artists. We have been able to keep our performance admission fees to no more than $15, which helps the audiences to continue to be able to come and experience the music.
9. Describe aspirations, projects and future hopes.
I’ll be on break from Transparent curating in 2011 to step back and assess ways and means of presenting.
I’ll also be aspiring to learn the upright bass, and continue with my radio, personal writing, MOM2, and my own personal music projects.
All that, and always trying to live up to these words from John Cage: “The wisest thing to do is open one’s ear’s immediately and hear a sound suddenly, before one’s thinking has a chance to turn it into something logical, symbolical, or abstract”.
Source: Bobby Hill