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Random Touch

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Christopher Brown of Random Touch from 2010
MSJ:

Can you give the readers a bit of a look at some of your musical history - both individually and in terms of the group? 

James Day started with the guitar initially, which is what he played when we first collaborated in high school.  The bass player in that group was dating the older sister of Scott Hamill.  Day began learning piano, organ and composition right after high school.  A bunch of us dove head first into Bartok, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Subotnick and many others, right on the heels of Weather Report, electric Miles and Hancock’s Mwandishi group.  Day and I each had quadraphonic reel to reels and together and with other musicians we experimented with invented instruments, improvisation, unorthodox structure and multi-media projects. 

In 1978 we put together a rock band called the Benders.  It included Scott Hamill on guitar.  In 1979 we created Random Touch as a duo and an extension of our work with non-traditional instruments and our reel to reels.  For the next 19 years we made music in my car using industrial scrap, toys and household items.  We recorded often but never played in public or released any material.  Sometimes we fooled around with four hand piano. 

In 1998 we returned to public performances using both traditional and non-traditional instruments.  At about that time Scott Hamill began playing with us periodically.  He had been self-taught within a community of guitar players and with an emphasis on blues.  By 2002 he was joining us on a regular basis and he became the third member of Random Touch. 

I started drumming as a wee tike using coffee tins and tinker toys.  In 1963 I began snare drum lessons and in 1965 drum set lessons with jazz drummer Dick Dickson, who was an extraordinary influence.  Rock bands, jazz bands and the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra followed.  By 1979 it was clear – at least for me - that music as bliss and music as paycheck were mutually exclusive.  That was a very freeing realization and served as the jumping off point for Random Touch and the pursuit of musical freedom.

MSJ: Your sound seems pretty closely related to the whole RIO movement, but yet it's not really tied down to it. The sound seems to change from album to album somewhat dramatically. Is that a conscious decision or does it just happen naturally?  
For the most part the albums are released in a linear sequence, but when we are recording we have no idea what future CD we are making.  Like the music, the CDs seem to assemble themselves.  The nature of each is revealed to us as they come together – usually a year or two after the recordings were made.  As to the RIO movement: none of us heard of those bands or the movement until Random Touch reviewers began making references to the movement.  Curious, we checked them out.  While I certainly enjoy listening to Faust and Henry Cow, any similarity is likely one of common experiences and shared aesthetics.
MSJ: You recently released a disc strictly on vinyl. What was the reason for that decision and are you surprised by the return of vinyl as a viable music medium? 
I have to thank my band mates in Bosch, Charles Greenleaf and Kevin Sims, for my re-appreciation of vinyl.  They are 15 or 16 years younger than me and their generation seems to have led the return of vinyl.  I listen to a lot of music.  If it’s all on CD I will hit a wall because my ears get worn out.  If I’m listening to 24 bit, 96 kHz music on Pro Tools that doesn’t happen, and if I listen to vinyl records it doesn’t happen.  It’s ironic that as video resolution keeps getting better and better, audio resolution has been on a continuous slide since the early ‘70’s quadraphonic 8-track recordings.  There’s a velvety quality and a nuance with vinyl that CDs lack.  For Turbulent Flesh – which has no traditional instruments – vinyl offered a tastier, more organic expression of the music than did CD.
MSJ: How would you describe the sound of Random Touch?  
Cinematic, emotional, otherworldly.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?  
Early on we did some soundtrack work.  We’d like to do some more.
MSJ: Are there musicians you'd like to play with in the future?  
Probably, but I haven’t met them yet.
MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?  
The quality of mp3s aside, I’d say it’s a clear case of time wounds all heels.  Without the Internet and easy downloading Random Touch wouldn’t have fans in Macedonia, Malaysia, Argentina and Belgium.  CDs have become promotional items first and a collectable second.  Live performances and the use of music in TV and film is where the money is.
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?  
How great!  Thank you, Grateful Dead.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?  
Philip Glass.  He’s all smoke and mirrors.  Everything he does is a variation on one idea.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it?
A piano trio of Peter Tchaikovsky, Bela Bartok and Leonard Bernstein.  I’d love it if they’d improvise.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?
Hmm.  My listening habits differ considerably from my music making.  Here goes: Morton Subotnick, Steve Reich, Red Hot Chili Peppers, k.d. lang, Battles, Mary Black, Robert Plant/Jimmy Page, Adrian Belew, Radiohead if they promise to stick with Kid A and Amnesiac, and Smashing Pumpkins if they adhere to Adore and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately? 
My last purchase was Marco Kappeli and the Even Odds’ Prisoner of Time - great musicianship but jazz of a too-traditional form for my taste.  I’ve been listening to and watching Leonard Bernstein’s Omnibus television series from 1954 and ’55.  He is quite the professor, cigarette in hand, succinctly outlining jazz and its meaning.  It’s a visual and auditory treat.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?  
I think it was Johnny Winter at a local venue.  He was in poor health but awesome nevertheless. 
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?  
Many years ago, while in a band that will go unnamed, we tried out someone with one of those V-shaped guitars and a hair-band do to match.  He had the requisite 4 or 5 fast licks and not much else.  He took himself quite seriously.  I remember thinking, “What a strange world is this”.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?  

 

Yes, and thank you for your questions.  I have two bits of advice: 1. Follow your bliss, and 2. Forget Antarctica and the Moon – all the great adventures today lay in dimensions outside the familiar three.  Go in.  Go deep.  We can only change the world from within.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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