Serving the San Francisco Bay Area New Music Community

Henry Kuntz

What has kept me going
Date of Interview/Article:9/10/2003
Originally, beyond my enjoyment of it, I felt music as a political force. I use that word in the broadest possible sense, namely as a force capable of inspiring and bringing about positive cultural change. I particularly felt that possibility -- as did many people -- on hearing the transcendent qualities of Coltrane's later music, which seemed to transport one to a state of BEING ONE with all that IS. Coltrane was likewise incredibly restless, always searching for a path beyond that which he had already traveled. This has inspired me -- and others -- to try to do likewise.

Much other music of the period (Coleman's, Ayler's, Taylor's, Shepp's, Sun Ra's, NY Art Quartet's, many others) and that immediately following it (at least two revolutions in the revolution(!): one from Chicago: Mitchell, Bowie, Jarman, Braxton et al., and then from Europe: Parker, Bailey, Bennink, Schlippenbach, Brotzmann, others) likewise suggested possibility upon possibility, expansion upon expansion of language, and numerous paths forward. To be exposed to all of this at once was absolutely to get the message that "everything" is open, "everything" is possible. The message was to "experiment" and go forward!

Further, the collective aspects of this "new" music syncretized with my New Orleans roots (where I was born), and the possibility of moving that "old" aesthetic into new times seemed incredibly exciting.

In the mid-seventies, the similarities I noticed between the feeling and intonation of some of Ayler's playing and that of certain indigenous music I heard recordings of from Mexico (Michoacan & Chiapas) set me off on a journey to those parts to find that music myself. It was an incredibly influential journey. The first thing I found out was that virtually all of the music I was attracted to was "ritual" music, played for people's pleasure to be sure, but essentially existing as a kind of "glue" which bound people together with the events they were marking. It also struck me how fundamentally different in feeling this music was than almost any music I was familiar with. One thing that was different about it is that people still literally had their feet on the ground. It was extremely "grounded" music. People were really "there" with their music, music they were making only for themselves, their families, their friends, their "deities". No one was getting rich; no one was going to New York, or trying to get there.

So I thought that this was a feeling that I wanted to try to get into my own music. I also felt it was good that we all remembered that we are in a BIG world, a world of animals and spirits and nature and magic. And I thought that I would like to bring that feeling into what I was doing as well. I felt that using native instruments was one way to get at or to suggest that feeling (and, later, masks and other accoutrements came along), but I also wanted to combine that with concepts of new music so as to stay fully in the modern world as well. So in a sense, OPEYE was born out of this very first journey, and I've continued exploring old musics and cultures with as rabid an interest and with as much excitement as I explore the latest musical developments from anywhere. This is alot to do with what has kept me interested.

It was also from these journeys that I began to think of myself as primarily a "folk" musician. That is, like most musicians everywhere, I do not primarily make a living playing music, nor do I spend most hours of every day playing music. Like most people, I work and go to a job, but redefining for myself how I see myself has helped me to not feel bitter about having to do this. Obviously, I would rather not have to work, but I feel like I am making music like most people in the world do. Balinese, for example, practice relentlessly in their spare time (and, as you know, create incredible music), but they also have families, raise children, plant and harvest rice, carry out any number of cultural duties.

How has my thinking changed over the years? I see now that the type of musical impact that someone like Coltrane could have is relatively rare, though there are of course various transcendent moments of music all the time. We are also in a period where there is an incredible "dumbing down" of culture. And there is, of course, incredible violence in the world that we are continually being exposed to. It is so bad for our spirits. It dulls our senses, makes us doubt our higher selves and the possibility of actualizing our selves on this planet. So what I feel now is that EVERY cultural attempt is valuable. In fact, I feel that it is INCREDIBLY valuable, for every such effort of our higher intelligence keeps alive our hope and encourages hope in those around us.

Naturally, we must continue on!