What, exactly, is Melonhead?
Melonhead is an eight-piece band made up of some brilliant personalities and improvisers – friends and collaborators of mine for many years. The band was set up to explore improvisation and instant music creation through set pieces and situations.
Melonhead will be performing a special opening concert for the 2013 Belfast Children's Festival at The MAC on Friday, March 8. What is it like performing for a young audience?
Playing to a young audience is just brilliant. It means that you can make just about anything you want. Young people are the most sophisticated and honest listeners, capable of absorbing the most complex sounds and approaches without prejudice or baggage.
They are also naturally intolerant of things that do not connect to their worlds. They see and hear the possibilities far beyond regular adult ears, and are permanently connected to the richness of sound and shape and invention.
Is improvisational performance the best fun?
Oh yes. There's nothing more exciting than exploring the unknown and the possibilities of the moment.
You've forged a career for yourself as an unorthodox composer, someone who thinks outside of the box. Wouldn't life be easier if you kept things simple?
If only it were a choice! The problem, of course, is that I am only concerned with making new things that interest or fascinate me. I have no desire, or little emotional nostalgia, to revisit music on any level. I want to make and move on. I can only make and perform things that make me feel alive. Besides, why on earth would anyone ever want to go with the flow?
I feel so blessed to have the possibility and luxury of making my own choices. I am reminded of the moment in Monty Python's Life of Brian when, as the crowd chants 'We are all individuals', one solitary voice at the back utters, 'I'm not!'
I know only that if you engage totally in the act of making, it will take you somewhere. Somewhere fantastic. Somewhere you have never been. Somewhere unimaginable that can only exist by the act of 'the doing'. For me it is always better, more rewarding, more thrilling not to set out with the purpose of going somewhere specific, but just to begin to swim.
What drives you to continue to create and be inventive as a composer?
I feel it is an unattractive and often dangerous thing when lots of like-minded people get together and decide that this is the way we are and this is the way it is and should be. As Groucho Marx would said, 'I would never want to be part of a club that would have me as a member'.
One of my proudest reviews was from the Sunday Times, which said: 'Brian Irvine takes polystylism to new planes, rupturing taxonomic barriers while scaring the bejaybers out of the diehards.' That was the first time I ever heard the word taxonomic and that is a quote that I always try to live up to. I want also to be slightly scared by everything that I try and make. I want to know that nothing is ever completely in the bag – hence my deep love of improvisation.
Which artists influenced you as a young musician?
Many artists have had a profound influence on me. Frank Zappa, Cy Twombly, Sergei Kuryokhin, David Lynch, Charles Ives, Varese, Roy Anderson, John Zorn. Many, many more. I am not sure if they made me think differently, but I did and do recognise something in all of these people that I connect with, on some sort of level, particularly the Russian improviser/composer, Kuryokhin.
These artists' relentless commitment to the pursuit of realising something – a feeling, a thought, a moment – is a marker or a measuring stick for me. I only have to think about these people to straighten up and get back to work.
For those young audience members who might be inspired by Melonhead to take up an instrument, what advice would you have?
Play music all the time. Don't let anyone take the instrument off you. Find some sound that you love on your instrument and join it up to another sound that you love. Continue in that vein for the next 100 years.
Play with many different kinds of people. Make up music on a daily basis. Continually explore. Find new sounds. Invent new ways of constructing and delivering sounds. Improvise continually on your own. Improvise with as many people as possible.
Listen to the inherent rhythms and pitches in conversations. Imagine the shape of sound. Invent 3D objects made of sound in your head. Close your eyes. Listen to the world at different times. Play with musicians who are massively accomplished and experienced. Play with musicians who have no experience of playing. Make music of quality all the time with all the people.
Be critical of yourself, but not too much. Tune up. Care nothing for the great or awful things that may be written or said about you and what you do. Work with dancers, actors, painters, artists, singers. Make up stuff that goes with what you see. Visit galleries. Write words. Make up stories. Draw. Read out loud. Watch many films.
Listen to things you have never listened to before. Look and hear more closely everyday. Find new things on a continual basis. Use new words everyday. Try never to repeat. Try never to repeat. Be always and utterly curious in everything you do. Only do the things that scare you a little or a lot.
Melonhead perform Downstairs at The MAC at 5pm and 8pm as part of the 2013 Belfast Children's Festival. The concert is for ages 4+.