Isadar Talks About “Active Imagination”
by Ian Thompson
“Active Imagination” is the title of a new solo acoustic “New Age/Jazz” piano project from Isadar. I spoke at length with Isadar in February about the new project and the following interview is what resulted…..
I understand that you are playing out “live” to promote this project. What has changed your attitude and view regarding your strong reluctance of not performing you spoke about previously when we were talking about your last album?
Well, I feel better equipped to accurately reproduce this album relatively easily. That’s what was stopping me before – - the complexity of the other music which would have been much more involved. This time around, it’s just me and a piano. Very simple. I still prefer the idea of just “recording”, but at this point the live playing seems to be my best shot at getting people to hear the new music so I’m anxious to get out and play.
In my last interview, you also mentioned that “there were so many other things you wanted to do before coming back to a piano project. . . .” Why is it suddenly now your focus less than two years later?
I completed a pop/dance/vocal oriented project in my new home studio. I have about 16 or 17 songs ready but realized that unless I had strong radio support (which takes lots of money and major label backing) or from the other side of the table: lots of “club” play, (which would require intense remixing which I wasn’t emotionally prepared to do nor did I have an interest, in order to “fit in” to the current dance market), I was pretty much constrained. So, really….I almost called it quits, sold the studio equipment, moved back to Louisiana, etc., etc. I had enough of the instability, the run-around, the dead ends and the unending “drama” of the music business. Not to mention the war within myself – - not wanting to conform or feed into the current market which is where I was heading if it were going to be considered “pop”. I honestly, do not like nor would want to listen/buy 99.9% of what is “out there” in the mainstream. Instead, I came to the conclusion that I no longer wanted to work on music that was “disposable”.
I noticed that most of the music that I wrote four or five years ago was kind of “dated” and didn’t impress me, nor did I feel proud to say that it was mine. All of it was “written with a purpose” – - to be “pop” and mainstream/radio friendly. In the end, what for? I almost feel like it was a long tangent that I went on for absolutely no reason and without benefit. But when I reflected on “Near the Edge of Light” and “Dream of the Dead” I had the exact opposite experience even though they are well over 12 years old. I was extremely proud to have done this type of sound and music. Both projects have an element about them which I know stands the test of time. Thus, my focus turned to concentrate on more music which didn’t have an obvious shelf life.
When was the new material written?
The music from “Active Imagination” was all written between the years of 1991 and 1993, before I moved to New York and when I had access to a nice piano. The music is more “performance” oriented due to the quality of the piano I was writing with and my exposure to more solo piano works. It also contains a version of Liz Story’s “Wedding Rain”. I was a bit reluctant to include this recording on the album because I was afraid of what people might think of it, or compare my playing to hers. I’ve seen Liz play live in Baton Rouge, LA back in 1988 or 1989. I was sitting on the very front row and was in awe of her technique. She really is an amazing pianist and brilliant writer. I think my biggest fear is what SHE would think of my version.
Although the composition is published in written form, I do not read very well, and I can’t sight-read a thing to save my life. It took me MONTHS to learn simple Bach inventions when I was studying in college. I tend to learn music in motor/muscle memory. I have a real problem with the way music is notated and I just don’t “get it!” This was the case with “Wedding Rain”. I watched the Disklavier version being played on a PianoDisc system of her performance (a MIDI interface installed on pianos which is the equivalent to a modern day “player’s piano”) and learned the song by watching the keys move. It’s very different from her audio recording, but the “feeling” is what I was trying to capture. It’s the one song by her that just “feels good” to play. It’s usually the first piece I play when I sit down at the piano to play or practice….thus, which is why I had it on tape – - from the sound check of the recording session.
I know you usually approach projects conceptually and visually, so I’m curious to know what is the thrust of “Active Imagination” and how do the songs fit together and how did you name each song?
“Active Imagination” is a C.G. Jung process in which you have a “dialogue” with characters that surface within your dreams. If you believe that every character is actually a part of yourself, then the process is to create a dialogue with the characters in an awake, conscious state with the intent of finding out why they surfaced and what purpose they have or “messages” you may need to learn from them. It’s sort of like sitting down and writing dialogue for a play (at least that’s how it feels for me) but you are not controlling the outcome – - therefore, in my opinion, it’s also a little bit like “automatic writing”. In any case, it’s extremely difficult to do and I don’t like doing it – - and I don’t do it that often unless something is REALLY hassling me.
When I write piano music it takes forever for me to attach a name to a song because it almost seems silly. It’s just “music” there are no lyrics, so there is no story to link the title. What I try to do is find a “state” that comes close to the feeling of what the music is expressing. This is how all the songs here were named. It just so happened that I was very much involved in the total “Jung” process at the time the material was written and all of that surfaced here in the concept and titles.
Which song has the most interesting story?
I’d have to say “Feu Follet” (The Spook Light) – - my Dad use to tell me and my brothers this story about my grandfather and his experiences with a phenomenon way back before electricity and before automobiles were invented. The Cliff Notes version is: on the way back from the Cajun dances, these spheres or balls of light would follow them home. If they made the horses go faster, the lights would keep up. If they slowed down, the lights would halt as well. Legend had it that the only way to get rid of “it” or “them” was to stick your pocket knife in the top of a fence post, and the light would evaporate into the knife. I also understand that the horses would “freak out” at the presence and it would be challenging to keep them in check.
This legend has been seen in all parts of the world and has many different names (i.e. The Foo Fighters) and I understand it is the source for the “legitimate” crop-circles that have shown up in England near Stonehenge from the past two decades. Whatever! All I know is that they do seem to be “real”. But whether or not they are just “swamp gases” has yet to be confirmed in my opinion……
So what are your plans with this album and what next?
Well, I’d like to get as many people as I can to hear the music and performing seems to be the way to go. I’m trying to play wherever anyone will let me. It’s just I find it extremely challenging to find a decent piano with good bass response to perform the material. I’m very picky in that regard. Of course, I’m still working with the Fairlight and have worked up a few vocal tracks which remind me of the “Dream of the Dead” stuff but is a little more rhythmic, so I’ll probably continue working along those lines.