Jeff Greinke

An AmbiEntrance Exclusive Interview

Jeff Greinke:
"Places of Motility" Interview

(AmbiEntrance© - 1998)

We'd like to thank Jeff Greinke for speaking with us about his current re-release, Places of Motility, as well as further illuminating his past works and many assorted side and future projects.

(Photo: Lisa Amorous)

Link: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your music?

Greinke: My interest in music began in the middle 1970's when I discovered experimental music radio programs. I began buying a lot of imported music then. When I went to college in 1977, to study meteorology, I immediately began doing radio. I played all sorts of non-mainstream kinds of music. I also arranged concerts for musicians doing more experimental music-Fred Frith, David Moss etc.. Then I met a guy studying music at the University. We became friends and he invited me to join him in the studio. I began to improvise with my voice (inspired by the work of David Moss) and he would manipulate my vocals with electronics and tape. It was then and there I decided to focus my life on making music.

Link: This guy would be Rob Angus? Are you still working together?

Greinke: Yes, it was Rob who got me started making music and I'm eternally grateful for that. My world changed after meeting Rob. He opened me up to new ways of listening to my environment. He also has a very strong visual sensibility and influenced the way I see things around me. I also began doing photography then and later video.

Rob and I moved to Seattle together and performed quite often throughout the 80's and into the 90's. We also recorded one CD together called Crossing Ngoli. We haven't done much together for a few years as I have become more involved with other projects.

Link: How did the "Places of Motility" re-release come about?

Greinke: Mike Griffin of Hypnos approached me with the idea. I had just rereleased my 1985 LP Cities in Fog and a year earlier two mid-eighties cassette releases (Over Ruins and Moving Climates. Motility was all that remained to be rereleased. It had been years since I had listened to it. So I pulled it out hoping the tapes were still salvageable. I had had serious problems (due to tape deterioration) with the original tapes of Ruins/Climates and was barely able to retrieve that music. I feared the worst with Motility. Although there were some difficulties, I was fortunately able to work with it.

Going back, I heard a lot of roughness to the work... not surprising, considering the equipment and approach I was using at the time. I felt that with digital remastering tools at hand, I would be able to clean up many of these "flaws". Simultaneously, I found this more raw quality to be rather appealing, creating a feel to the music not heard in more work today.

Mike at Hypnos did a fine job remastering the album, yet it's still rather crude in some ways. I feel we attained a nice balance. I'm delighted to have it out now on CD.

Link: I had to look up "Motility" (and I fancy myself to be quite the little wordsmith!); how and when did this title emerge? What does it mean to you?

Greinke: I arrived at this title after I completed the collection of pieces and began arranging them for release on LP. This is my typical approach for titling albums. In fact most of my individual work titles also come after completion of the album. I wanted a title that conveyed both a strong sense of motion (hence the use of the word Motility) and place.

Link: How would you compare/contrast these works with your more recent output?

Greinke: As I mentioned earlier, this work is rougher than my more recent material, production-wise. It's also more experimental in a way, a bit more bold, a little wilder. It's similar in that more than half of the album consists of a fairly strong rhythmic component. Most of what I'm doing today and over the past few years now has been very much groove-based. I think Motility was the first signs of my interest in encorporating rhythms into my otherwise very textural sound.

Link: Tell us about LAND and what's up with that project.

Greinke: LAND began in 1993 as a trio of myself on keyboards and voice, Lesli Dalaba playing trumpet, and Dennis Rea, guitar. From the start I wanted to bring in drums and percussion, and soon thereafter percussionist Ed Pias joined the group. Ed played various Asian hand percussion instruments and electronic drums.

We recorded an album together in 1994, released on EXTREME. The group added another percussionist, Bill Moyer, and Chapman Stick player George Soler; Ed left the band around then and we added Greg Gilmore on hand percussion and live looping. We recorded our second CD together, then went to China to play the Beijing International Jazz Festival followed by a tour of China.

We finished our CD (Archipelago) in July 1997 and then the group went through some more changes. Greg and George and Bill are no longer with the group. We are currently a 5 piece of the original core members plus the rhythm section of Bill Rieflin (drums) and Fred Chalenor (bass).

I'm very excited about the current configuration. We've been gigging around Seattle a bit and are in the process of recording a new CD. The sound is a bit more aggressive with the strong rhythm bass. Fred and Bill are very powerful players. The 'world beat' aspect of our music is no longer there. Still very hard to define the music. Strong beats, elements of jazz and rock, trip-hop, electronica etc.. I feel blessed to be playing with such fine musicians.

Link: I hear that you're collaborating with members of Sky Cries Mary, Nirvana, and Ministry/Revolting Cocks (Roderic Romero, Krist Novaselic, and Bill Rieflin respectively). How did this get started and what's it going to sound like?

Greinke: The project with Krist and Roderic and Bill is an occasional performance doing live soundtracks to Krist's films. His movies are very surrealistic black and white super 8 shorts. Our music is moody, spacey, and at times quite intense. Roderic and Krist were looking for someone to help create a more visual music and thought of my work, so Krist called about a year ago to invite me on.

I'm also working with Sky Cries Mary vocalist Anisa Romero. We have just finished an album together called Hana. Anisa sings (some lyrics, but mostly instrumentally) and I create atmospheres and textures and rhythms, as well as treat and manipulate Anisa's voice. I'm very pleased with the recording- a fairly laid-back album, about half of which is somewhat groove-based, the other more meditative and ambient.

Link: When/where will we be able to hear these works?

Greinke: The collaboration with Krist and Roderic hasn't been recorded. Some day, perhaps ; Krist is behind the project, and if it does get recorded will most likely end up on the net. But we're primarily a live soundtrack group. Our next performance/film showing is Sept 8th at a big Seattle festival called Bumbershoot.

Link: What's the story on your newest solo release (Swimming)? It's only being released in Europe?

Greinke: So far only Europe on a German label called Prudence. I have yet to find an American label to put it out. A bit frustrating.

I now have just finished yet another new solo project I'm beginning shop around; this CD is called Ride.

Link: You've got quite a substantial reputation and a large body of work... What's the problem(s) with labels?

Greinke: Various things happen. Sometimes the label dies (Linden, Raum 312). Often, these labels are run by one person with a day job. They might release 3 or 4 albums a year. By the time I've got another one ready, they're already backed up a year or so. Smaller labels rarely do multicontract deals.

Link: Two new releases? What can we expect from Ride?

Greinke: Ride takes up where Swimming left off. Very much groove-based, but this time I use a rhythm section (drums and bass) layered over my looped grooves. I also encorporate other musicians for various parts. The album includes cello, rhythm guitar, and bass clarinet in addition to my more textural parts. More than any other release, these works approach what one might consider to be songs. But they're still entirely instrumental, and very textural.

Link: I'm listening to (and thoroughly enjoying) Lost Terrain as I write. Do you have any specific memories to share about this recording? I think alot of people rate this as an ambient "classic". (see this month's overviews)

Greinke: Nice to hear that. Yes, pleased with that one. Of all my releases it's the most 'ambient' or atmospheric. I concerned myself less with using more earthbound sounds, playing more with shades of light and placement of sounds in space. No grooves, really. I was interested in creating a music that was more contemplative and abstract with a rather ambiguous tonal center.

That one is out of print for the moment; however, Mike at Hypnos and I are discussing rereleasing it before too long. I think of all my works this one would fit best with what he's putting out. I look forward to seeing that happen.

Link: Your project/track titles often refer to geography/meteorology. Why is that?

Greinke: I have a degree in Meteorology from Penn State University. As far back as I can remember I've been fascinated by the weather, particularly interesting meteorological phenomena. Although I never pursued it as a career, I still follow it rather closely. I soon realized that much of my work runs parallel to my interest in the weather. It's not a conscious thing, more organic, just a part of who I am.

My attraction to the weather has always been more intuitive and experiential than scientific. I like to be in it, and the stranger the better, which makes Seattle, ironically, a very boring place to be in this regard. The weather makes up a very strong component to a given place, and my music is very much about place. The same can be said about geography, in that it's so tied to place. I've also for years been fascinated with sound in the environment, and how geography effects sound. This works its way into my compositions.

Link: Where's your favorite weather spot, and why?

Greinke: If I were to chose a place to live solely based on the weather I would likely chose the Texas panhandle for its intense thunderstorms and tornadic activity.

Link: When I interviewed M. Griffin, I gave him the musical topic of El Nino and he suggested you'd be better to compose that piece. How *would* you do a track about El Nino?

Greinke: Well, I'm not sure. It's rare for me to compose music from the basis of a theme. I see the corollations between meteorology and my music more after the fact. It's never premeditated. Since the phenomena of El Nino effects weather in such diverse ways depending on where you are, I'd need more specifics to go on, so as to limit my thoughts. If commissioned to do such a work I would request a specific place to begin with, consider the effects of El Nino on that place, and then begin creating sounds and moods that conveyed my take on what it might be like to experience such an event.

Link: Can you tell us anything about El Nino that we laypersons might not already know?

Greinke: Probably not. I'm pretty lazy with regard to my interest in meteorology. I don't research it much. Just follow it a bit more closely than most people.

Link: M. Griffin has built a nice website for you, and re-released POM; is he like your number-one-fan, or what? Has he tried to wrangle you into collaborating with him?

Greinke: Mike's a great guy; hard working, honest, respectful, puts a lot of care into his work. I'm truly grateful for his help in spreading my music around. I'm also very glad he encouraged me to rerelease Places of Motility and was willing to put it out. It was the last of my earlier works to be released on CD. It's a fairly rough recording (low-budget) and he did an excellent job remastering it.

It seems Mike likes some of my music and perhaps that's what inspired him to contact me and offer his assistance to develop a site for me; I'm sure, however, some of my work is not to his tastes. No, Mike has never approached me to collaborate. Perhaps he would if he felt there was something possible there, but it wouldn't be his style to "wrangle" me or anyone else, for that matter, into working with him.

Link: You've been in the "business" for some time now; is the ambient/electronic/experimental music scene going uphill, downhill, or where?

Greinke: Well, depends on how I chose to look at it, I guess. There's no question that this sort of music is being accepted and heard by a larger percentage of the population then ever before, and that's exciting. On the other hand, there's so much of it out there, so many artist and CD's, that it's very difficult to get heard and that can be frustrating. I suppose I'm fortunate in having begun 15 years ago. But even for someone who has established something of a world-wide reputation, it's very, very difficult. To me the whole notion of making CD's is becoming less interesting or meaningful. Where's it all headed? I don't know.

Link: If you weren't recording music, what might you be doing?

Greinke: I can't imagine myself not being involved with something creative. It would be something visual-photography (which I do a little of) and painting. Filmmaking interests me also. I used to involve myself more with visual art, but with limited time I focus most of my artistic attention on music.

Link: Anything in particular you'd like to comment on while you're "on the air"?

Greinke: I often get asked by musicians just starting up for advice. I say: follow your heart, do what you love, share it with those who are interested, don't have any expectations, don't compromise your art, stay with it unless your interests change for good reasons.

Link: One last thing; you've mentioned film and visual arts... I'm going to the video store tonight. Have you got any favorites to recommend?

Greinke: I'm a big Tarkovsky fan. Such visual films. Very slow-moving. Quiet and deep. The Mirror and Nostalghia are wonderful. Also like Bergman, Ozu, Kurasawa. I'm also a big Wenders fan. Recently saw Lisbon Story and liked it a lot. There are so many. Americans too. I don't just like foreign films. Just not thinking of any at the moment.

To learn more, visit Jeff Greinke's website

This interview posted August 19, 1998

a-h i-q r-z