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Based in Vancouver, composer and musicologist Randy Raine-Reusch has been called “the Beethoven of the avant-garde,” and is credited with helping to foster a generational shift toward preserving indigenous music and cultural practices in Thailand and Malaysia. Along the way, he has collaborated with a diverse spectrum of musicians that includes everyone from Aerosmith to Pauline Oliveros, and has learned to play just about as many exotic Eastern instruments as is humanly possible. Raine-Reusch has also acted as a cultural ambassador of sorts, playing a key role in the creation of the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival [see our “Postcard” section in this issue], where he performed in July 2007 for the festival’s 10th anniversary. He’s also planning to work with singer Hanitra Rasoanaivo to set up a traditional music festival in Madagascar.
How did your interest in music begin?
I began experimenting with tonal music as a child in the late ’50s, primarily as an escape from a difficult childhood in a dysfunctional home. My horrible eyesight made reading standard western musical scores an exercise in visual torture.
What was the first non-traditional instrument you learned?
Outside of the normal European traditions, the Appalachian dulcimer was the first instrument I learned. It’s actually quite wonderful because it’s a diatonic instrument, meaning that it doesn’t have any of the black keys of the piano on it. You have to play in modes, not in scales—the modes being ancient modes, found in both Western and Middle Eastern traditions.
What instruments did you then progress towards?
I bought African lutes, a gyzheng and other world instruments from junk stores, teaching myself to play them by imitating what I heard on records. I found that it was easier to learn and read Japanese and Chinese notation as opposed to the rabbit droppings of western notation. The staff lines of the latter would move when I looked at them.
How did you really get into Asian music?
My studies in 1984 with Nukan Srichrangthin were life-changing. I practiced for days and days and still couldn’t grasp the rhythms or the feel of the music. Then one day, I felt my brain turn sideways and I instantly understood, deep within myself, how the music worked, but I couldn’t intellectually explain it. My whole way of being changed then, and that’s when my lessons really started.
What has resulted from your journey of exploration into world music, and specifically Asian traditions?
I feel an affinity with traditional Asian music. I like its attention to introspective and philosophical aspects. To play Asian music, it’s taken me years to learn a new way of listening, thinking and even moving. If you take Chinese or Japanese traditional music, most of the gestures come from the center of your being, where your energy comes from—the hara in Japanese or dantian in Chinese. One of my teachers could tell exactly where my focus was from the way I was playing. It wasn’t my finger position she was talking about, but the focus of my hara. It changes the way you walk and the way you interact with the world, just like martial arts.
What did you learn on your journey?
I realized that the context of a sound is more important, than the sound itself. The sound is a medium it’s not the real content. Where and what am I producing this sound from? What is that sound’s relationship to my environment? These are all questions that musicians have asked for thousands of years and I felt I needed to be mindful of them if I was going to make a sound.
It could be said you’re saving the rainforest culture as others are worki