Live In-Studio: Vijay Iyer, Jazz’s Incredible Hulk

Interview + Performance

Friday, April 18, 2014

Vijay Iyer Vijay Iyer (Bart Babinski / ECM Records)

The pianist and MacArthur genius Vijay Iyer is one of the great living jazz musicians, although a lot of his music isn't what you'd recognize as jazz. In addition to leading a trio and playing duets with a saxophonist, Iyer programs laptops, has composed a song cycle about Iraq war veterans, and writes chamber music.

The heart of Iyer’s new record Mutations — his first for the prestigious label ECM — is a suite for strings in 10 sections. This might come as a surprise to those who know Iyer for his keyboard improvisations. He jokes with Kurt Andersen that he’s like the Incredible Hulk: his Bruce Banner plays jazz, until his hidden side comes bursting through. Mutations is about bringing those two sides together.

Other jazz musicians have worked with strings, but Iyer’s background gives him a unique perspective on collaboration. “I had 15 years of violin lessons — Bach solo partitas and Mendelssohn concertos, and I played in orchestras. I know what it feels like to be that kind of musician who doesn’t really feel empowered to improvise,” he tells Kurt. “Even though I am an improviser on piano, I was never an improviser on violin.”

Iyer also holds a PhD from UC Berkeley in a program he designed: music perception and cognition. It reflects his understanding of music not as a passive position of absorbing sound, but as a physical process. “Music is something we do,” he believes. “We have this constant influx of sensation on multiple channels and we respond to it by doing things: turning our heads in the direction of a sound, or reaching for something. When I listen to Thelonius Monk’s music — and that’s like the most important music in the world to me — I hear his hands,” Iyer says. “I hear actions in the music, I don’t hear just sounds in the abstract.”

Iyer performs “Vuln, Part 2” (from Mutations) and “Spellbound and Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells and the Shimmering Sea” (from Memorophilia and Mutations) live in the studio.

    Music Playlist
  1. Mutation VII: Kernel
    Artist: Vijay Iyer
    Album: Mutations
    Label: ECM
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Vuln, Part 2
    Artist: Vijay Iyer
    Album: Mutations
    Label: ECM
    Purchase: Amazon

    Live Performance

  3. Mutation III: Canon
    Artist: Vijay Iyer
    Album: Mutations
    Label: ECM
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Spellbound And Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells And The Shimmering Sea
    Artist: Vijay Iyer
    Album: Memorophilia
    Label: Asian Improv Records
    Purchase: Amazon

    Live Performance

Guests:

Vijay Iyer

Produced by:

Julia Lowrie Henderson and David Krasnow

Comments [3]

sepiae

With so much music around and to catch up with I'm often a little late.
Despite an already large output, Vijay Iyer was a new name for me. I've since [the episode] acquired 'Mutations.' It's absolutely mesmerizing, from start to end.
Thanks, studio360, for closing this gap of knowledge in me. :)

Apr. 25 2014 12:05 PM
sepiae

Vuln, part II - repeat listened because of this piece. Goosebumps throughout.
Thanks so much for this segment!

Apr. 24 2014 06:19 AM
Maja from Oakland, Calif.

The beginning of “Vuln, Part 2” puts in mind the works of early electronic pioneers, particularly Delia Derbyshire (Doctor Who theme) and Louis & Bebe Barron (Forbidden Planet).

Apr. 20 2014 04:49 AM

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