Another Interview

02009-09-05 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

Since some of you liked the interview from Thursday, here is another one from this past week:

Looking at your tour schedule, it looks like you have a break from touring right now. Hope all is well with you, and you are happily relaxing, or perhaps traveling or doing absolutely nothing with grace and style. I am not a great interviewer, and certainly not a fast one, but I was wondering if I could throw you a few more questions via email to round out that interview I did with you AGES ago. No worries on timing; I certainly can’t ask for speed considering how long it’s taken me to wrap this.

Not so much going on this week. Next week we’ll have rehearsals for the new trio, then a trio-gig at Villa Montalvo in Saratoga on the 18th. On September 29th I fly to Europe for two weeks of solo-concerts.

Here are a few questions to answer at your leisure. Feel free to not answer any particular question either. Thank you!

1) You once quoted Carl Bielefeldt,

“If we have an historical obligation to criticize our tradition, we must also recognize that the more we fix the tradition to our liking, the less power it may have to challenge us to fix ourselves.”

and added how important you felt the need for us to have something to push against is. How is that relevant in your music, and/or in your spiritual growth? Any specific examples?

Trying to play something on the guitar that doesn’t come natural, for example.

I often either play either a melody or rhythm, but playing solo-concerts has made me try to play melody while playing a chord or developing a harmony that moves with the melody.

Or, some of the Flamenco techniques I use did not come natural since I learned them in my late twenties and early thirties. I had to really work at them.

Spiritual growth is similar, isn’t it? We seem to fall back to the things we do well or that come easy, and avoid the stuff we don’t like. Real growth is learning new things, and that often means stuff that doesn’t come natural.

I don’t think I have natural patience for things, but have developed some over the years. The practice of playing guitar and the practice of sitting (and getting older) have taught me that. But, man was it hard sometimes!

Zen-specfic I would answer that while I love sitting, I don’t like ceremony, and I don’t like crowds. Therefore doing a sesshin can be hard for those reasons. But it is a good way to learn.

Playing to one’s strength is easy and can be very useful, but one should never forget to train that which does not come easy. At some point it may even become a strength!

2) You were ordained as a Zen Monk by Dennis Genpo Merzel, at the Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. What led you to that? Who was your Roshi there?

I was introduced to Genpo Roshi by Ken Wilber and met Roshi at Ken’s house in Boulder in February of 2004. In the Summer of that year I asked him to be my teacher, in December I experienced my first sesshin, in May of 2005 I received Jukai (ceremony of becoming a Zen-Buddhist), in May of 2005 I became a monk. Being a Zen monk is quite different from being a monk elsewhere. Roshi said something like this to me: “What you are becoming is neither monk nor priest, for those are Western words. It is something similar, but different. You are becoming a Buddha-apprentice.”

I went to Japan in 1978 with Zen in mind. As a teenager I had decided that Zen was the most stripped down religion of them all – if it is a religion at all.

None of the glorious colors and sounds and ceremonies of the Catholic church, none of the thousands of Gods of Hinduism, none of the fancy geometrics of Islam…I kept trying to move towards the essential then, and Zen seemed just that. (I have heard it said that Tibetan Buddhism is complete Buddhism and Zen is essential Buddhism.) Anyway, I didn’t stay in Japan very long, but I kept reading about Zen. I met and listened to several Zen teachers throughout the years, but didn’t make the right connection – until I met Genpo Roshi.

3) What about the great imagery you’ve photographed set to your music, and shown in the background of some of your shows. How did that come about?

I have done solo concerts since April of 2006. After the first tour I decided to add projected imagery to the performances. I went to art school and wanted to become a photographer or designer before I decided to become a musician. While I disliked darkrooms, especially the way developer and fixer feel and smell, I loved getting back into photography when it went digital. I almost always travel with at least one camera. I probably have 15,000 images on my harddrive, from which I selected about 700-800 to be projected at random for about 9 seconds a piece. What I like about the randomness is that, in combination with the music, every member of the audience creates their own story. The brain in action… like watching TV with the sound off and a Pink Floyd album playing on the stereo. It always fits, it always makes sense.

For this year I am using a different approach. I am no longer using randomness. Photographs are grouped according to different visual or location elements, and I added “long” photographs – videos about a minute in length that are done with a tripod, i.e. the camera does not move at all, but waves or leaves move… I want to shoot a scene from a rooftop in Manhattan that appears to be a photograph of the street from above… but in the last 5 seconds a yellow cab drives through the image and we realize that it is indeed not a photograph… So, the new slideshow combines still and moving imagery plus a few words in different languages… little snippets of poetry…

4) I counted 27 albums spanning 16 years on your website’s catalog and i think it added one more while i was counting. How have you come to make so many albums?

I started late, received my first recording contract when I was 30 – I felt I had a lot of catching up to do. Once I started I couldn’t stop. The record company tried to slow me down – too many releases they said, but I couldn’t help it.

5) You recently went to Tibet through a Upaya program. Please tell me a little about that. I know there was a guitar involved. (you can keep this short)

In fall of 2006 I went to Kham, in Eastern Tibet, with a group of people from Upaya. I bought a cheap guitar in China, on the way to Kham, to practice while I was in Tibet and also to entertain my fellow travelers and the Tibetans we met. The main focus of the journey was to bring medical care to several remote areas. At least half of the participants were doctors and we set up clinics in several monasteries. We also delivered sunglasses to people. Many Tibetan eyes suffer from prolonged UV exposure!

I loved walking at the altitude, loved the Tibetan culture.

In fact I want to do another long walk, this time in Japan, perhaps following the footsteps of the great poet Basho.

1 Comment

  1. Brenda

    Thanks Ottmar! So nice of you to share your thoughts of life with us!


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