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Bobby Previte Records First Solo Improvisational Work at The MacDowell Colony

Wendy Lazear Werner - June 9, 2014

Type: Artist News, Artist Profiles

Six-disc set began in improvised recording studios created by the composer and bandleader during residencies.

One of the great benefits of a MacDowell Colony fellowship is the opportunity to do experimental work. Recently, drummer, composer, and bandleader Bobby Previte took it a step further, turning his studio at the artist residency program into a veritable recording studio for his experimental solo work, VISITOR.

“At what other artist colony could I have conceived, performed, and then recorded an entire five-disc set, other than MacDowell?” Previte asked. “The impact this place has had on my work these last 12 years has been incalculable. I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how important MacDowell has been for me.”

Previte came to MacDowell in 2009 to re-imagine TERMINALS, a set of concertos for soloist and percussion, as a solo percussion ensemble piece. During his stay, however, another idea occurred to him.

“I started thinking about how we experience the world through various filters—culture, the past, gender, race—and it occurred to me that a lot of my musical knowledge came through the filter of my main instrument, the drums,” he said. “I began to wonder, ‘How do I make music if you take my drums away from me?’ ”

So began his “grand experiment,” starting with the 1867 E.&G.G. Hook pipe organ at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church. It is a magnificent instrument, which he had been invited to play, but on which he had limited experience. “Over the next couple of days, I recorded some music, just me, all by myself, and when I l listened to it back, I thought it sounded interesting,” he said. “Yes, this person has limited technique, but there’s something here. Improvising with an ‘island of skill’ lopped off, you’re left with a kind of disembodied skill – and that’s exactly what I was after.”

Previte’s idea morphed into a full-scale plan to record a solo album at The MacDowell Colony. Future visits to various studios, including Adams, Watson, and Nef allowed him the opportunity to record himself on electric guitar, electric bass, and piano, respectively. He added to the piece a 60-minute drum solo that had been previously recorded as a gift to his wife. The complete recording, entitled VISITOR, will be released as a six disc set.

Previte’s previous improvisational work TERMINALS, originally performed as a concerto for soloists with full percussion ensemble, also began as something of an experiment.

“I wanted to combine two very disparate parts of my own personality—my love for precise music that ‘gets it right,’ with my love for the something that happens onstage that’s wild and dangerous and unplanned,” he said. “I wanted to bring these worlds together.”

TERMINALS has become a popular piece with soloists, many of whom have never had the opportunity to improvise on a recording. Currently, the piece is being taught in the percussion studio of NYU, where a live recording of the full ensemble piece was first produced. Previte’s future plans include recording the work in several international venues. “In a few days I’ll be in France with the Percussion de Strassbourg and some of my favorite French solo artists.”