Ned McGowan

Ned McGowan

photo by Clara Ko

Born in the United States (1970) but living for more than a decade now in Holland, Ned McGowan simply makes music for, and with, his friends. These friends play piano, recorder, trumpet, fretless electric bass, mredangam, kanjeera, and many other instruments. Amsterdam, where he presently lives, encourages different musics to co-exist, often sharing the same venues and, as often than not, the same players. New music sometimes grows from such co-habitation, and the CD Tools (KLR 011) proves it.

A brief look at McGowan’s own background shows some of the roots of his musical thinking. He studied both composition and classical flute, yet spent as much of his youth listening to rock and jazz as he did to classical repertory. The rhythmic nature of his music, often groove-based, is audibly related to his love of popular musics; but this goes hand-in-hand with a strong feeling for European classical tradition, especially as regards formal issues in his compositions. Moreover, both as player and listener he has long been strongly attracted to jazz and to improvisation of various kinds, supporting himself during his conservatory days by playing in jazz clubs; a commitment to live music-making remains an important part of his activities today. Coming to Amsterdam following the completion of his studies in Cleveland and San Francisco, he pursued several of these lines of development simultaneously. He continued his study of the flute, developing a range of virtuoso skills from the integration of “extended techniques” into his playing to the use of microtones with their associated complexities of fingering and lip technique. (Moonrise, played on Tools by McGowan himself, shows this aspect of his work.) Equally important was his growing fascination with the study of south Indian classical music, a wholly different world, musically, from the European avant-garde. McGowan’s recent music doesn’t so much attempt to fuse the Carnatic and the western influences but to strive for an idiom in which all of these various musics – American popular, European classical and avant-garde, Carnatic, a fascination with metrically and proportionally intricate rhythms, the use of microtones in the search for new subtleties of melody – in which all of these, and many others, rub against each other and generate new meanings.

text by Bob Gilmore