Who: Kari Besharse and Philip Schuessler
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: WTUL New Orleans Studio
Q: What is a part of you—internal or external—that is the most linked to an animal that you’ve had?
KB: I don’t want to make anyone sad, but I’d say it’s my heart. It’s linked to my cat Jasmine. She was with me for eighteen and a half years, and she passed away last year. She was my composing buddy and with me all the time. She slept with me under the covers.
A friend gave her to me, and we had an instant bond. She was this tiny grey fluff ball who was half Siamese. She was really special.
PS: Jasmine and Kari had a very tight bond. I wanted to be a part of it because I loved Jasmine so much, but it was hard to get into that inner circle. I had my own guy, though.
His name was Cornelius, and he wasn’t quite as old as Jasmine. He was thirteen. He was a big, beautiful tabby cat. Cornelius and Jasmine wouldn’t always see eye-to-eye, but both of them would help with composing.
Actually, Jasmine was more of an aid for Kari while Cornelius was more of a hindrance. I would compose at my keyboard synthesizer, and he would just jump up on my lap and put his paws on the keys. I’d then have to compose around him because I’d let him stay on my lap.
KB: Jasmine would get in the way too. She’d lie on the desk, lie on my music when I was trying to write, and she’d bat my pencil. But she was a calming presence.
Q: What three things would raise a red flag for you if someone did them really well?
PS: Jell-O shots
KB: [Laughing] Maybe.
PS: Most composers I know are self-deprecating. They have crippling self-doubt. If they think they’re really good at it then they’re probably really bad at it. Or, if they’re really good at it then I’m going to be incredibly jealous. So either way it’s not good.
Q: When a human is practicing something, what do you find fascinating about that action?
PS: When you said ‘practice’ I first thought you meant field of study, and the first thing that came to mind was astronomy or cartography.
But for someone practicing, the sheer willfulness of someone pushing through a repeated passage over and over again to get it right is interesting. It’s like you have to turn off your frontal lobe to get your motor memory down. To me that shows a high level of devotion. They’re in the trenches at that point, and I hear that all the time when I’m in my office and someone is practicing a piece. I really admire that.
Q: What do you often daydream about?
KB: The mountains. Hiking. I don’t come from mountains and hiking, but when I was young I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, so the Appalachians were pretty close. We’d go hiking there sometimes.
I’ve hiked in the snow and in desert environments, so the weather doesn’t matter much. It just needs to be in the mountains.
We do hike around here. We do a lot of swamp walks, which is a bit different than mountains. We’re not in as good as shape as we’d be if we had to hike up hills. Although, here you have the exercise of being forced to continuously walk because you get swarmed by bugs if you stop.
PS: For me, I have this notion that most, if not all composers, are failed rock musicians. Somewhere deep down they want to be rock musicians, and they didn’t get there. I fall into that.
So I’m always thinking about my life as a rock musician. To some extent I’m thinking about what our set list is going to be, how we’re going to jam out, and how the night is going to play out.
It always starts with Grateful Dead for me, and then from there it’s Phish. So I’m always thinking about jamming.
Q: What’s a connection or theme you look for when you’re piecing something together?
PS: The first thing that comes to mind is a piece that has ridiculous contrast. When I’m thinking of music, specifically, there are pieces that have an almost spastic, rhythmic action. I like to think of that wide gulf between sporadic activity being a thematic connection.
Maybe that’s just me screaming for attention. [Laughs]
KB: I was actually thinking the same thing—making connections based on contrast.
PS: I’m always stealing ideas from her. Titles too. Anytime I come up with a title it’s never that good. She makes it better. We fit well together.
Phillip Schuessler and Kari Besharse will be presenting “Workers Union” (Louis Andriessen), “Durations I” (Morton Feldman), and new works for the opening of Versipel’s second season at Café Istanbul on October 14th at 8:00 PM. Their new season will include four concerts at various locations, which you can learn about on Versipel’s website and Facebook page. You can also follow them on Twitter.