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Kettle Black Features


Ernesto Diaz-Infante
by J Mundok

Ernesto Diaz-Infante's latest release, Tepeu, is a brilliant glance into the work of this California based pianist/improviser. Sometimes sparse and sometimes very energetic, the music floats through the room engulfing its inhabitants. Diaz-Infante received a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Studies from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an MFA in music composition from California Institute of the Arts.

Since 1997 he has been operating the Pax Recordings label based in Monterey, California and has released two works for solo piano, Tepeu and Itz'at, a collaboration CD with David Dvorin called Triptych and Morgan Guberman's solo contra-bass disc Hamadryas Baboon. I recently corresponded with Ernesto via e-mail to take a more in-depth look into his work and the future of Pax Recordings.

Kettle Black: Why piano and how long have you been at it?

Ernesto Diaz-Infante: Piano is my main instrument, I've been playing keyboard-related instruments for about twenty years...I decided to record for solo piano mainly because it's the most efficient way, financially and creatively, to document one's work... plus I wanted to create my own solo piano music, after being inspired by the solo piano music of Morton Feldman, Marilyn Crispell, Cecil Taylor, Keith Jarrett, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Erik Satie, Toru Takemitsu, Luciano Berio, Giacinto Scelsi, Sun-Ra, and Arnold Schoenberg, to name a few...

KB: I'm becoming familiar with the piano/improvisation side of Ernesto. Is all of your work done in this fashion or do you do other, more structured, compositions as well?

ED: My goal that I work on everyday is balancing the creative energy between free improvisation, structured improvisation and traditional notation...I recently finished a large-scale orchestral work, For Wyoming, and now I'm currently composing a chamber trio, For Tsegi, for alto saxophone, clarinet and piano...

KB: If so, could you describe the other sides of Ernesto and the differences between the different aspects of your music?

ED: Besides improvisation and composition, I also draw, paint, and write poetry, which I incorporate into my music... I've been doing all these things as long as I've been composing, I've been working on a series of improvised drawings (102 at this point), that help me to study improvisation more concretely, on a page, a physical space, rather than working all the time with sound which is sometimes difficult to understand the overall form, my intention, it's quite exciting to create and discover all these symbols, gestures, shapes, personal vocabulary that happens when I'm improvise-drawing...

KB: What other instruments do you play besides piano?

ED: Besides the piano, the other instruments I play are acoustic/electric guitar, mbira (thumb piano), button accordion, dumbek (middle eastern percussion), marimba, xylophone, and various small percussion instruments...I recently bought a didgeridoo that I'm learning to play...

KB: A question I always have for improvisers...when you improvise in the studio and then release the music on an album it is captured forever as a piece of music. When performing live do you attempt to recreate the improvised music from the album or is each performance essentially it1s own piece?

ED: hmmmmmmm. good question! It really depends...on the Itz'at CD, the Pax Preludes for solo piano are pieces I composed to use as spring-boards for improvisation, so I don't have a problem recreating them live...however on the Tepeu recording, most of the CD is freely improvised, but there are obvious melodic and harmonic motives that I could improvise to conjure a Tepeu mood, essentially each performance would be slightly different, like a Calder mobile sculpture, the form remains fixed, but it may take a different shape depending on its environment...

KB: When either performing live or recording is there a basic outline that you follow? If so, please describe the process for the initial outline.

ED: Yes, I jot-down ideas/drawings all the time in notebooks, I try to focus on a particular area of music (melodic shapes, rhythmic motives, harmonic motion, textures, extended techniques etc.) and create a map/guideline/strategy of some sort to help generate an improvisation, while retaining focused intention, when I'm either performing live or recording in a studio...

ex.1 - play rhythmically-sustained passages (pedal) in lower register while exploring clouds of overtones, dynamics, timbres overlapping, super-imposed harmonies

ex.2 - constant drone in left hand (which becomes percussive), add motivic and textural material in right hand (reinforce harmonic ring of drone)

ex. 3 - experiment with different modes of attack and pedaling, silent depression of keys which free strings to resonate, slide or glide over keys.

KB: How often do you perform live and do you prefer performing live or in the studio?

ED: I like being able to document my work in the studio, I really feel aligned with the creative process of visual artists, I perceive each CD recording as a solo exhibit gallery show of my work, but I also enjoy traveling and meeting people interested in new music when I'm performing live...I try to perform at least once a month around the Monterey Peninsula or the San Francisco Bay Area in festivals, alternative music venues, coffee shops, bookstores, and art galleries ...last year I received a grant from my local arts council to organize a concert of my music for string quartet...

KB: How did Pax Recordings come about?

ED: My wife, Jennifer (classical guitarist/improviser), and I formed Pax Recordings in 1997 ...After graduating from CalArts in 1996, I wanted to begin documenting my work as a composer / improviser and not have to wait around until I was 90 years old to have my music recorded... at first, I sent out demos to labels only interested in hearing my work, but nothing happened beyond that stage, so then I decided to do something about this futility...It's a lot of HUSTLE but worth the time, sometimes you need to take initiative and make things happen because you can't always depend on others!

KB: You have released four albums on Pax, two solo, one collaboration that you were involved with and Morgan Guberman1s Hamadryas Baboon. Are you planning to release material from other artists as you did with Morgan or is Pax going to primarily remain an outlet for you?

ED: Yes, I do plan to release material from other composers/improvisers, once I establish Pax Recordings a bit more...I just recently finished recording solo piano material for three future CD releases, Morgan Guberman is working on his follow-up CD to Hamadryas Baboon, and David Dvorin is planning to release his solo release, Incommunicado, on Pax...I'm also working on releasing a CD of live improvisations of my experimental trio: Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Pat Harman, Jen Jones Trio ...which calls for more string-related instrumentation and some poetry (acoustic guitar, fretless electric bass guitar, classical guitar)...

KB: Generally what does the future hold for Pax Recordings?

ED: I'm keeping a positive outlook for Pax Recordings by keeping the momentum going...and HUSTLE HUSTLE HUSTLE compose/record/perform!! It's exciting to see things slowly happen: favorable reviews and radio airplay in Australia, Canada, Europe, South America and the United States...

Contact Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Pax Recordings: POB 697, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 USA or