In the past year or so, gabby fluke-mogul’s work has stuck with me like no one else’s. The way they construct sound with their violin is ageless. They are sounds built from the ancient geology beneath us; from shards of broken cosmic glass; from hidden corners within their heart and mind. By listening and never resting, always pushing their practice and technique, fluke-mogul plays the moment to its fullest amplitude. Even in the sonically restrained moments, there is no restraint. They are always moving, listening until the next pathway presents itself; the opportunity to pounce, explore, grow.
I don’t do rankings or anything like that, gabby fluke-mogul’s threshold is among the most important, most memorable pieces of music I heard in 2021. I cannot recommend it enough.
gabby answered my questions in October and November. Their work can be found via Bandcamp.
I always like to go all the way back on interviews like this and ask about your earliest memories of music and sound. Are there any songs or records or even environmental sounds that really made an impression on you when you were young and have stuck with you?
My earliest memory of sound is from being four years old. My grandmother would bring me to a park close to the Everglades in Florida. There was a wooden boardwalk in a super densely foliaged area far away from the children’s play structure. I would play with another child there. This person always had these very beautiful dresses that matched their shoes and the beads in their hair. We’d walk hand in hand on the boardwalk in silence and look up at the cypress trees. I can remember the sound of our feet on the creaky platforms, the shifting trees, the endless swamp sounds. I think I can remember the sound of their laugh and the softness of our palms touching. Being engulfed in sound and sensory, expansively. I can also remember the sound of my grandmother enraged by our behavior and being in trouble big time and never returning to the park again. In terms of recorded music, I started listening to the radio a lot when I was seven or eight… Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, Charlie Parker, Itzhak Perlman live in Russia, 1990, are some salient memories of repeated listening. It all checks out!
What pushed you to first start to learn an instrument? Did you start with the violin?
When I was seven, I remember opening a letter from my elementary school offering group instrument lessons and circling the word violin. I brought the letter to school with me the next day. The rest is history! I have no answers to why or how I was compelled to circle the word but I remember feeling very certain about it and I am immensely grateful for the privilege to have learned an instrument from such a young age. Prior to the violin, I grew up singing in choir. Growing up singing shaped my life and ears profoundly as well.
I’m sure I’ve used the word ‘visceral’ 100 times to describe it, but tactile is another descriptor that always comes to mind. I always feel like you create sounds that I can physically touch. I remember when I first started digging into your work, I thought a lot about Keith Rowe in the sense that he really changed the perception of what is possible with a guitar (and this may be partially because Keith is fresh on my mind because of the documentary premiere last month, but it still holds). I’m curious when the way you play first started developing and what sort of things or ideas helped inspire this practice?
Some of my earliest memories of playing violin involve my body moving a lot while playing. I remember my group lesson teacher trying to reign that in and I remember being made fun of throughout the years by other kids. I think playing has always been and continues to be where I make contact with all my selves, all the parts, all the sensations, sensualities. I say that all without wanting to sound too precious about it. It just is what it is. I’m queer, my violin playing is queer, my body is queer. The way I play has always been queer. I remember only wanting to play really kinda “out” emotional music as a kid. I would hear violinists in youth orchestra play these classical violin solo standards and I never felt compelled to play those. I always wanted to play stuff that I connected with more.
When I got older, I’d get together with friends and improvise — I definitely didn’t call it improvising then but that’s what it was. Listening to free jazz, hip hop, folk, pop, rock, hardcore all influenced the way I played. I spent a lot of time experimenting with how I played violin. Right and left hand stuff — I didn’t learn ”extended” technique from anything or anybody. Perhaps it’s kind of like figuring out how you like to get off. You figure out what you’ve got going on and you try to figure out what you like, what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, etc. Even if you don’t get there… All of the sensations in between, all the hues, I think, are good information. Oh, this makes this sound, oh if I put more pressure on the bow with just the slight of my first finger this sound happens or I can consistently find this overtone there… it wasn’t until I was introduced to Ornette or Leroy Jenkins or “extended technique” in school that I realized what I was doing had a certain name or practice or existed within a deep history and continuum. I am always listening, learning, exploring, failing. To me, that is the nature of being an improviser, and most certainly the lifelong journey of playing the violin. I don’t use pedals because I want to find all the pedals in the violin. Acoustically, psychoacoustically, amplified… this is my politic. Maybe it is stubborn. It is definitely insane, but it is my lifelong commitment, practice, ritual, and worship to the violin.
When you’re playing or composing, are you trying to channel certain ideas or emotions into your work or is there something else that’s happening when you play? For me, there’s always this huge emotional undercurrent to your work and this great mix of tension and release that feels so cathartic to listen to. threshold is one of my favorite records so far this year. Did you approach this one differently than any of your previous work? Is it mostly composed pieces or are the elements of improvisation as well?
I play whatever the moment is — whether I am alone or with others. I try to listen past, present, future. I was striving for clarity when I recorded threshold. It was August 2020 — quarantine summer heat. Every part of my life and body felt like it was being pushed to a threshold or many thresholds. I had been carrying the music with me for a while. It was a long labor and a 2-hour recording session birth. It is an entirely improvised record. No cuts, no edits. Thank you so much for listening to it!
You’ve got a duo record with Joanna Mattrey in the works, right? And I just saw that you are doing some kind of project with Ava Mendoza. This is all incredibly exciting. What else are you working on right now?
Yes! I have a duo record with Joanna Mattrey and a duo record with Ava Mendoza in the works. Nava Dunkelman, Fred Frith, and I are recording our trio in the winter. I am composing for solo, a duo with Dunkelman, and a trio with Zeena Parkins, Ava Mendoza, and myself for the spring. I also have a new solo record that will be released in the late spring. I am deeply appreciative.
I also wanted to ask about Alejandra Piznarik. There’s a piece on your Bandcamp What is it about Piznark’s work that inspires you? When I saw that piece on Bandcamp, I thought of her poem “All night I hear the noise of water sobbing.” – well, particularly that phrase felt very connected to your work and what you can do with a violin.
What doesn’t inspire me about Pizarnik’s work! I connect with it very deeply. I found her around 10 years ago and she’s been with me ever since. A Musical Hell/El Infierno Musical is my favorite compilation of her poems. Pizarnik changed my life. The way she listens through her poems, the way her poems listen, her sense of composition, and of course the many depths of what she writes about I find profoundly resonant. Her poems sound and silence so specifically to me. I think Pizarnik is queen, patron saint, and goddess-ghost. Pizarnik rules.
What are you looking forward to most this coming year?
2022, wow. What a thing! I look forward to more listening, more music, and more love.