return to the zine

avec Adam Kinner

Adam Kinner is an eclectic artist. He’s well known for his work as a reed player, performing with groups like Thee Silver Mt Zion, Suuns, tUnE-YaRds, Grand Trine, Kalmunity, the SMCQ and more. In his upcoming performance for Innovations en concert on January 21, we’ll witness another side of his performance work at the Sala Rossa.

One of the big surprises for me in One Thing You Can Do was to hear a jazz saxophonist move into a territory that I’d associate with text and theater. What inspired this adventure in your performance practice?

At the time I started working on the piece, I was playing a lot of music and really loving most of it. But I was also getting restless and feeling that musical performance had a lot of sameness built into it. The conventions around performing music seemed like a limitation I wanted to break with. I also began to realize that a lot of the art that really moved me was not music. And for the first time, I thought, “Well, why not do something else?” It’s a lifelong struggle to make what you’re doing meaningful to you, in the hope that if it’s meaningful for you, it will project meaning most clearly. I suddenly realized that in order to revive music in my life I had to start moving around within these perceived limitations, to see how limiting they really were. I looked to literature first, then to dance.

I should also mention that I always thought of myself as a writer, and I always felt very close to dance. Mostly, I was interested in how these art forms offered a kind of experience that was unavailable to me as a musician. I wanted to try to bring that to the musical stage, because that was where I was – that was my world.

Once I got started working with text, it felt right and it rolled from there. I began to understand the power in borrowing from another art form and confusing genres. Is it text or is it music? Is he speaking or playing or dancing? These were questions that I felt carried a lot of weight.

Your new material suggests a preoccupation with the dividing lines between art and life. Or maybe a desire to erase these boundaries. Is this a direction your performances are moving in?

When you watch a musician play, more than when you see a dancer or an actor perform, you usually think that what they’re doing is more or less “who they are.” It’s something that I think we take for granted as concertgoers: the more authentic the personality of the musician, the more authentic their music is. In a lot of ways, this makes for an uncomfortable life in music making. But it’s also very powerful – in that you feel you can be ‘honest’ on stage and people will respect it. Actors, on the other hand, can’t be honest in the same way.

All that to say that we bring our lives—our identities—on to the stage with us, as musicians. And the expectation is that we’re not lying about it. But once you start to look at other art forms, you begin to see the power that lies in confusing identities—in lying about it. One thing I recognized in these confused identities was their ability to project a different kind of honesty – one that is more confused, yes, but maybe identities are more accurate when they are confused. I am both the person that comes across in the piece and I am not. And this paradox actually seems much more accurate than trying to convince a public that I’m a kind of perfect musician personality (which, of course, no one is.)

You’re currently studying different aspects of performance art, dance, choreography. What new directions are you encountering? Does this influence how you think about music?

Yes, I’m getting ‘schooled’ in dance and performance, and maybe just art in general, in a big way. I’m doing some work at Concordia and I also have some great friends that have been taking me around and showing me what’s what. It’s wonderful to know that all of the concerns I’ve had about music and performing have already been looked at and written about by some amazing people. And I’ve also had some nice opportunities to actually make dance-like performances. Dream come true.

Now the challenge for me has been to bring all the other stuff back into the music I’m playing. Having been trained as a musician I have a lot of baggage about music-making. There are ideas so engrained in my mind that I can’t even see them—I don’t even know they’re there. It’s daunting to confront them. But it’s also the kind of process that feels good, because it makes the work closer to me. Slowly, I’m trying to bring all the questions and experiences I’ve had outside of music, back into music. It’s a nice challenge. I’m sure there’s a way; we’ll see if I’m getting closer.

Do these new pieces still carry a memory of your role as sax player? Is this a completely new Adam Kinner that we’re experiencing?

I like to think that it’s always the same Adam Kinner. The funny thing is that I’m still working as a saxophone player all the time and still loving it. A lot of my friends don’t know that to some people in my life I’m a ‘dancer.’ It’s a bit of double life. The truth is that playing music with friends is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Not the only one – because making strange dance-performances is also great – but it’s a big one.

 – Isak Goldschneider, January 10, 2013, Montreal

Attend Adam Kinner’s concert with Andy Costello, January 21, 2013