7 Questions for… Mark Cunningham

©Frederic Navarro

©Frederic Navarro

Playing bass in New York no wave band Mars, trumpet experiments in Barcelona with Convolution and Bèstia Ferida, Mark Cunningham’s latest project is Blood Quartet, a collaboration with Catalan noise trio Murnau b. In response to his 7 Questions, Mark talks influences and transcendence…

1. Name an experience that contributed to your becoming a musician?
My uncle was a jazz drummer and gave me my first trumpet when I was 7. He also turned me on to 50s jazz and blues: Thelonious Monk, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Miles… this is what first marked me musically. A few years later I was given an old shortwave tube radio set, and I used to stay up late listening to all the strange noise to be found between stations, which I presumed was coming from outer space.

2. What was the first, and most recent music you bought?
The first that I remember was the original US single release of “I wanna hold your hand”. This was 1963, just before The Beatles exploded there and I had no idea who they were yet, just bought it for the cover picture with the hair and the boots. Strangest on reflection is that on the first listen it sounded really noisy and raw compared to the pop I’d been listening to on the radio.

The most recent? Truth is I can’t remember. I subscribe to Spotify and apart from cassettes and LPs I receive as gifts, I listen to everything there or on YouTube.

3. No Wave (and Mars) is credited with having been enormously influential rather than ‘influenced’ – these days, does anything influence or inspire you (musical or otherwise)?
Well, nobody speaks about Mars’s influences because they weren’t so direct or obvious but we had plenty – The Velvets, free jazz, Charlemagne Palestine, Mozart, Bukka White, primitive African stuff. Nowadays in fact, it’s more difficult for me to find inspiration in music, but occasionally something just bowls me over.

Mars at CBGB's, March 1978 (pic courtesy of MC)

Mars at CBGB’s, March 1978 (pic courtesy of MC)

Not so long ago it was Giacinto Scelsi, who I discovered by reading a pseudo-novel about him called “Infinity: the story of a moment” by Gabriel Josipovici. Scelsi showed the infinite possibilities inside of one “note”, something very close to my own feeling on the trumpet.

4. What have been the best and worst moments playing live?
Best and worst moments are relative, they come often, and sometimes very close to one another. What I’ve found is that the feeling you have playing is very important, but doesn’t necessarily correspond with audience perception, which doesn’t matter particularly but is curious. I like to enter into a trance onstage, but I get distracted easily sometimes, especially by technical problems.

5. A current project is Blood Quartet with Murnau b. – how did that collaboration come about, but more to the point, what do you feel you bring to the party?
We were invited to play together by a local magazine, Shookdown, for a release party of a no wave issue in which Murnau b. and I appeared. I was game and it went well, a bit too improvised but the feeling was wonderful, and we decided to get together on our own. It quickly became a solid musical project that we’re all really happy about, that is quite different from either Murnau b. or what I’d been doing lately. So it’s not a question of what I bring to it but rather what we all do, and the result, for me at least, is very transcendent. In some ways it’s the closest thing to Mars I’ve done since that time, not in any direct or obvious way, but certainly in terms of group catharsis and potency.

6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
It’s all still in flux, which is ok. We are in a long transition towards a new way of making, promoting and selling or sharing music. Hopefully the damage that’s been done to the possibility of artists profiting from their work will be compensated in the long run, hopefully allowing us to eliminate the middlemen and find a mutually rewarding relationship with our public. I suppose the answer, as the initial problem, lies in further technological development. But the big companies, as in all sectors, are doing everything they can to manipulate the process.

7. What’s next? (musically, geographically, recording, tours, ensembles, anything…)
Blood Quartet is taking off, and we have a number of shows coming up, including the Primavera Club festival and LEM, and hope to go international soon. We also plan to record the latest songs and expand our “Dark Energy” album into a full LP, hopefully on vinyl. Apart from that, I’m doing some long distance recording projects, at the moment with a band from Massachusetts, Curse Purse, and some Nordic experimental metal guys. It’s so easy now to share files and work from home.

“Dark Energy” by Blood Quartet is available for download via Bandcamp.Dark Energy cover