5 Questions to gabby fluke-mogul (violinist, improviser, composer)

gabby fluke-mogul is a violinist, improviser, and composer whose music experiments with the boundaries between free jazz, improvisation, and noise. After studying with the late Pauline Oliveros and performing with Fred Firth, gabby moved to New York City where they recorded their most recent album, threshold, out now on Relative Pitch Records. threshold is a freely improvised collection of six tracks recorded in one day in August of 2020. 

Featuring a slew of extended techniques, gabby’s playing is both extremely expressive and virtuosic, in the sense that they have developed an entirely unique language for the violin. You can hear gabby’s innovative approach to their instrument at the New York Catalytic Sound Festival on October 24, 2021 at the Fridman Gallery with Nava Dunkelman. In advance of this performance, we caught up with gabby to talk about the relationship between music and text, the boundary between composition and improvisation, and more.

I’m curious about how much pre-planning went into the recordings on threshold.Are these tracks based on previous improvisations and ideas, or is the album entirely made up of spontaneous concepts?

I root myself in thinking about improvisation as continuum — my listening and playing comes from the vibrations of my ancestors, birth to present, and the queer time in and of my future — in relation to every thing and every body I’ve ever heard. So in this sense, “pre-planning” was gestation. threshold was a long labor; less “spontaneous concepts’” and more wanting to record a world of improvisations that spoke as clearly as possible to the gestalt of my breath. I think the ritual of playing solo and dealing with myself in this way also requires simultaneously witnessing myself and being as “in it” as possible. I was striving for clarity internally and wanted to communicate that internal as clearly as possible.

You have a lot of evocative one word titles for your tracks; kairos, bruise, etc. Are you improvising with the titles in mind? How do you view the relationship between music and text?

Words sit in my bones, swim in my blood, find themselves in my mouth, wedge into my throat. I am particularly fond of text that I carry throughout time. I am curious about duration in this way. What does it mean to embody a word or text? Can text imbue the body? In this sense, the vibration of words in my body is akin to how I also carry sound in my body.

The titles of the tracks came to me after I recorded the music. I wasn’t thinking about their names while I recorded. I isolated myself to finish the record in August 2020. The titles came to me during that time, as if they had been sitting in my palms throughout the months, staring at me.

I recently recorded a new solo record entitled LOVE SONGS, to be released in 2022, that had a very different process. I recorded each piece with a title and a set length in mind. I’d like to record a new solo record every year. We’ll see what happens. I wonder what text will be resonant with me next year.

gabby fluke-mogul and Ava Mendoza--Photo by Pickerill Photography

gabby fluke-mogul and Ava Mendoza–Photo by Pickerill Photography

Some of your previous work has made very deliberate and explicit references to the jazz canon, but threshold seems to avoid direct references of any kind. Is this a sign of general change in your work, or a decision exclusive to this release?

What is the “jazz canon,” and what does it mean to make deliberate and explicit references to the jazz canon? I wonder what Leroy Jenkins or Ornette Coleman would say about this. Are there no direct references in threshold? I disagree. It was Ornette Coleman who said, “Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night, but differently each time.”

Words sit in my bones, swim in my blood, find themselves in my mouth, wedge into my throat.

After recording a solo album and presumably having little group playing during the pandemic, how is the show on October 24 going to be different for you?

I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to be playing solo and in bands throughout the scope of the pandemic with safety measures in place. It has been a deep honor to have performed recently with Ava Mendoza, Joanna Mattrey, Amanda Irarrázabal, and Cecilia Lopez, among other incredible musicians.

The performance on the 24th is in fact different because I finally get to play with my long term collaborator and friend Nava Dunkelman in New York! The first time since we’ve both moved here! Nava and I have been playing together since 2014. We met in Oakland. Nava is a force of nature. It is pretty powerful to grow and change and develop individually and collectively with her over time. I am truly looking forward and feel real honored to have been invited to play the New York Catalytic Sound Festival with her. Nava and I will record together next year and collaborate on a new commissioned work for Roulette Intermedium and the Jerome Foundation that will premiere in May 2022 with Zeena Parkins, Ava Mendoza, and myself.

gabby fluke-mogul and Nava Dunkelman--Photo by Tom Djill

gabby fluke-mogul and Nava Dunkelman–Photo by Tom Djill

You’ve had an active performing career on both the east and west coasts. How does geographic location affect the improvised music community?

Improvised music is inherently relational and speaks to and from communities. Settler colonialism, the violence of systemic oppression, gentrification, and the degradation of ecosystems all impact improvised music communities and vice versa. Geographic location intrinsically affects improvised music communities because an improviser’s relationship with their geographic location is so intimate, complex, and varied.

Leyya Mona Tawil founded and fosters an amazing space called the Temescal Arts Center in Oakland, CA, which she describes as “a subsidized rental space to hundreds of Bay Area artists, musicians, healers, educators and activists, prioritizing service and access for BIPOC and LGBTQI+ communities to which we belong. We are a sanctuary space.” TAC holds space for so many incredible improvised music gatherings, and the opportunity to have conversations like these with realness and potentiality.

I moved from Oakland to Queens on March 1, 2020, so I have a very unique perspective on space here in New York. I’ve primarily experienced living in New York in quarantine and limited capacity. When I lived in Western Massachusetts in my early twenties, there were both fewer community spaces and fewer places to gig.

I think any kind of space can have a potentially awesome, generative vibe where people can play and rad conversations can be had — from bars to basements to record shops, rooftops, and halls. Geographic location is intrinsically in dialogue with improvised music communities because improvised music communities are intrinsically in dialogue with geographic location! I am forever thankful for elders, mentors, teachers, and dear friends on both coasts. So many people doing such vital work. As Pauline Oliveros used to say to me, “We gotta keep on keepin on!” Keep on keepin on.


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