Reuben Derrick made one noisy kid in his earlier days. He was always interested in sound, the noises things could make. It was the beginning of his musical carrer, that is currently taking a turn towards improvised music, using environmental sounds on clarinet and saxophone.
He was first introduced to the clarinet, which he thoroughly enjoyed, while at primary school. When he became slightly older, his parents supported him to get the regular dose of keyboard lessons, saxophone and clarinet lessons. Once he became interested in jazz, he also developed an interest in saxophone. This is due to the kinship between clarinet and saxophone, both being breathing instruments with a single reed.
“Actually, I stopped playing the clarinet for few years when I was at the music school. Then, my interest sparked again,” he shares. Currently he improvises with both.
His higher musical education was at Jazz School in Christ Church, New Zealand. “I was 16 at the time and for me it was great having lots of other people to play music with. It was the best thing to do at the time really,” he confides. Halfway through his time there, I started getting interested in other musical ways of playing jazz which weren’t necessarily endorsed by the institution.
Usually, when one goes to a jazz school, lots of things are taught within a very short time. It is like a programmed system.
“I have different ideas about it. Contemporary jazz has become kind of classical music. It is sort of an institution and sometimes it is elite. There are expectations about how to play it. I don’t care much about that. I wanted to find something from jazz that is more meaningful for me,” he shares.
Reuben then moved to Australia for few years and went to music school there to finish his degree. Since then he has played different sorts of music and been involved in different projects.
“There are few people with whom I have a really good musical relationship. When I write I like to write with individual people in mind. I don’t really care what the instruments are but I think about the people and how it is going to work out with them,” he says.
His next trip to university was triggered by his interest in environmental music.
Environmental music is about making sense of environmental sounds through music. It can be anything in the environment that is not normally considered music.
“I got really interested in field recording when I came to Sri Lanka. I travelled around the country,” he says. He has done the same in Australia and in New Zealand as well.
“Environmental music involves improvising on instruments, some of these situations I come across in my field visits,” he says.
In Sri Lanka, he spent some time in jungles, mainly in Sinharaja and Knuckles mountains. The experience was exciting to him because the natural sounds in Sri Lankan jungles are different from that of New Zealand.
“It was completely different and nothing in New Zealand equals it,” he says. While he was in Knuckles, he experienced unique people sounds. One experience he remembers is of a beautiful scene where a farmer was tilling a paddy field. “The water buffalo was going round and round and the farmer’s singing complemented this rhythm. A few minutes of the sound and you could hear it going round and round in your head. For me it was really compelling to listen to,” he says. “There was nothing there to improvise as there was plenty there already,” he opines.
Sometimes in caves there is an amazing acoustic resonating quality. “I go in and explore that sort of phenomenon. I try to find certain notes on the musical instruments that resemble that particular sound. I guess one has to be very spontaneous because I found from my experience that planning to improvise on it later doesn’t exactly work,” he shares.
Reuben enjoys collaborating with other disciplines such as dancing and theatre when he is improvising. He frequently plays in different musical festivals around New Zealand. When he was in Australia, he took part in the Now Now Musical Festival, which is an improvised musical festival there. He also takes part in art festivals, jazz festivals and creator music festivals in Australia and New Zealand.
“To me, music is the obvious way to try and relate to the rest of the world. I think about what I am doing here and music is a very big part of that process,” he shares.
(Pics by Eshan Dasanayaka)