David Krakauer: Laughing and Crying

The Compositional Process

FJO: What about your own compositions?

DK: I’m a pretty unschooled composer. I write klezmer songs. And, working with the band, I’m an arranger in the sense that I’ll say, “Let me hear that crazy sound there.” So I’m like a collagist in terms of composing, not a pen and paper composer so much. But I work with improvisers. I give them directions, but then they take it and make it happen.

FJO: I really love your “alt(dot)klezmer” and I’ve heard two very different recorded versions of it. How did you put that together?

DK: It was actually composed in a taxicab on the way to a session with the Klezmatics. We were doing film music and I really wanted to have something in there. So I thought I better write something. Alicia Svigals had said just improvise a doina and this’ll be for the film. She said the film was about a woman’s family who had a red house that they were going to put some dopey aluminum siding on. It was kind of a strange documentary. Red house no more. It was supposed to be very sad so I played [sings]. So I’m in the cab thinking, “I wrote that thing. Maybe I should be thematically consistent, so [sings].” Maybe I could use the old form of the chosidl [sings]. So I wrote it down and brought it to the band. But then on Live in Krakow, I’m playing with an amazing group of improvisers—Michael Sarin, Will Holshouser, Nicki Parrott, Sheryl Baley—these are people that you give them some material and they just go with it. The band has become really adept at taking little bits of material and just doing open form improvisation. So we had the thing, it’s fours short parts—A, B, C, D—and then we go.

FJO: But the thing that’s exciting to me about that piece is how that klezmer melody works so well with a sort of hip-hop grove underneath it, but you didn’t conceive of it that way.

DK: In the beginning, I conceived it as a khosidl, using that old dance rhythm…

FJO: So, in terms of what constitutes a composition, do you write these things out as leadsheets and everyone works off of that or is it done by ear? How does the group learn the material?

DK: Basically I write out leadsheets, but sometimes it’s just by ear. Like, one tune I’m really proud of right now which is called “Tribe Number 13″ where I took a klezmer scale and then I fragmented it [sings] and did very pointillistic things. I think it’s Zorn‘s favorite piece of mine. He said, “Yeah, ‘Tribe Number 13,’ that’s cool!” And then I was thinking I wanted to combine a klezmer bulgar with a blues. It’s a 6-bar piece not an 8-bar piece so if you double-timed it, it would be a 12-bar blues. And then the chord structure is based on the blues, but doina-esque, so I’m kinda referring to klezmer scales and klezmer forms and then trying to set it in new ways. Another tune I wrote, “Klezmer à la Bechet” uses the turkische. But then I thought of Bechet’s rhapsodic style and rubato on top of it and that’s how that tune was created.

FJO: So in terms of how your music is interpreted. Are there other groups doing your music at this point?

DK: Now and then. There’s a guy in Berlin named Paul Brody who took “Klezmer à la Bechet” and made something else out of it. He calls it “Klezmer à la Bechet” and he gives me composer credit, but he really made a new piece out of it. I’m happy and flattered, but it really isn’t like him covering that tune. He chopped it up and did his own thing. That’s good. I’m glad. But no one has really grabbed on to these things. The next step for me is to publish a songbook.

FJO: But you wouldn’t want anybody doing “Period Instrument” David Krakauer…

DK: Probably not!

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