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Polar Music Prize Press Conference Print-ready version

Polar Music Prize
May 7, 1996

Photo by Mats Sivertsson

Wally: My thanks to Susan McNamara, for being kind enough to type up and format the entire press conference, and to Mats Sivertsson, for taking the wonderful photo.

Stockholm, Sweden

Question: First of all, welcome to Sweden. Excuse me for addressing the lady first because we are very happy to have her here as a prize winner, and I hope you don't mind me asking if you have any kind of relationship with Maestro Boulez?

Mitchell: No, we are sitting beside one another, that's our relationship!

Question: When you received notice of the award, I assume you knew of Maestro Boulez?

Mitchell: No, I'm sorry I don't. I live in isolation.

Question: Maestro Boulez, I assume you have received many awards in your life, is this one particular to you?

Boulez: Well, not a lot, first. I am old but not that old. Certainly it means something because while you hear of prizes, they are far from you and you don't know very well about it, but when you have the prize, you begin to inquire about it and you know more and generally that is very flattering, because you are very surprised but surprised in the best sense of the word.

Question: Do you like to be introduced as a composer or a conductor?

Boulez: As a musician.

Question: Mrs. Mitchell, I would like to know how you are going to use the money?

Mitchell: Well, that should pay my manager's fee for a year--he gets it all!

Question: Maestro Boulez, one of the reasons you received this award is for breaking down barriers between German music. Do you think that's possible?

Boulez: It's not the first time I am breaking down this kind of barrier between what the Germans call A music and OO music. Each time I meet journalists I am asked, why did you work with Zappa? That was the first time I broke down this imaginary but real barrier between the world of symphonic music and a music of another kind. I always make the same answer because I find it is the only thing to do. We in the kind of serious world have a lot of heritage and sometimes it is very heavy to assume that this heritage is yours and you have to continue in that direction. In the other world, you don't have this burden and they are more spontaneous and vital from this point of view and surely I think both worlds would have to benefit from each other. The vitality of the one world should be introduced in the world of classical music and vice versa. A kind of values should be introduced in the world of actuality, I think this exchange should happen more often.

Question: Maestro Boulez, were you familiar with Mrs. Mitchell's music?

Boulez: Not familiar, I would like to say, but I certainly knew of it.

Question: Since you have inspired so many artists, what do you think inspires them?

Mitchell: When I was thinking about what you were saying, I think what you generally say is true: that pop music is building off itself and its history is brief, whereas you are building off a longer history. In my case, my roots are generally considered to be in folk music, which is inaccurate. That's where I appeared on the scene, but my roots are in classical music and as a child I lived in a small community in Canada and my playmates were classical music protoges, and our play involved me leaping around the room while they played prodigious things on the piano. One of them is an Italian opera singer, so at the age of 8 I dreamed that I could write music beautifully. I saw myself in my dreams playing the piano fantastically and the first piece of music I fell in love with was the most beautiful melody I've ever heard which was Variations on a Theme by Paganini. It was in a movie called "The Story of Three Loves," it was the theme song, and I used to sneak into these glass booths, take it out of the brown wrapper, play it and swoon. So my firstinspiring piece of music was that classical melody. I think my early music has more of that classicism to it than my later music, but I also loved jazz; I was also a rock and roll dancer, so I had a lot of various musics to assimilate. So I'm not building so much in the pop tradition as many of my peers are.

Question: There are some artists who emulate you, do you see the comparisons?

Mitchell: Not really, you can see some stylistic imprint, but the system of chordal movement that I've devised, the way I play the guitar, which is more like Indian ragas, you know, open tunings, they are not employing this system, so as a result if they are playing the guitar harmonically they are not playing as wide a voicing. The chordal movement is quite different. They pick up little vocal things, superficially I think, but not really.

Question: How did you come up with those great harmonies, for example, in For the Roses, Blonde in the Bleachers, I think it is great piano playing.

Mitchell: Thank you.

Question: How did you come up with it?

Mitchell: It's just my music, you know. Everything that you admire, I would say in a lifetime I have listened to and enjoyed a lot of music. I could go into a bar and hear a bad lounge band and not be intolerant of it. I could have a good time and look at it as theater, and say isn't this a colorful place and not be offended by the music. If you took me to a concert of that music I would walk. Music leaks into you and I'm not critical of it as I move through the world but the things that have genuinely inspired me gives me goosebumps, and are few and far between. They can come from any field. Anything you admire goes into you and doesn't necessarily come out immediately. It becomes an influence, not something that you emulate or say "I'm going to make music like that," but maybe 20 years down the line suddenly there it comes out of your music; this thing that you appreciated. Edith Piaf was my second thrill musically. I can't say that I emulated Edith in any way, but every once in a while I'd hear a note or a timbre or a dramatic phrasing and I feel her presence.

Question: I think you should play more piano!

Mitchell: Well, my chops are very down on the piano. My housekeeper painted it brown while I was away on tour at one point and killed it and I've lost my virtuosity, which was dubious to begin with!

Question: Do you miss Jaco Pastorius on your recording sessions?

Mitchell: Jaco was doing something I was dreaming of at the time that I came to work with him. I kept asking bass players to do certain things and they'd say the bass doesn't do that. Then I'd say why? And they'd say because it doesn't! It seemed, in my field at that time--you have to understand that I started in this much music, the voice and the guitar. There is much more music below it, and much music above it, symphonically speaking. So just myself and the guitar, we made about this much of the spectrum. So I began to add up. I started by adding up because I could do it myself, stacking vocal harmonies, beginning to see how harmony working moving upward, then stacking down within the limitations of my voice and my instrument. I needed help, so then I began to say to the bass player and the drummer, "what if you did this?" Oh, no, it doesn't do that. They were very stubborn. Sonically, they were very stubborn. There were things that were hip and they wouldn't budge from them. They would not be "un-hip" because hip is like a herd mentality. So finally what I wanted the bass to do was more like symphonic music. Why did it have to just stay and poke a dot all along like fence posts. Why couldn't it lift up and play counter-melody in the middle and then come back down? Ok, it's not like it has to drop out, just seem to drop out, just go into the mid-range so that the bottom gets some relief. Nobody would do it. Then the beginnin g of synthesizers that you didn't have to be a jet pilot to operate began to appear and there was one in the hall that someone had rented and it was waiting to be picked up. I dragged it into the studio and put my own bass line on and said, "OK," to the bass player, "play this." And he said he wouldn't play it--it was wrong, he said. Then somebody finally said to me, you know, there is a kid that plays in Miami--he plays with Phyllis Diller and Bob Hope. He's really weird, you'd probably like him! So I sent for Jaco and he was doing everything that I wanted a bass player to do.

Question: What are your thoughts about being the first woman to win the Polar Music Prize?

Mitchell: Oh, I don't like to think about that so much, this Man-Woman-Man-Woman thing. I wish we could get over that.

Question: Maestro Boulez, what do you think of Nordic music?

Boulez: That is also a question you cannot answer because I cannot divide music in slices like that. I say there are good composers and not so good composers as everywhere and I am not here to make a catalogue of my liking and disliking so I think that the situation here is not different than any other country.

Question: Do you have a favorite though?

Boulez: A favorite? No, certainly not.

Question: Was there any particular quality in the music of Frank Zappa that made you interested in him? Did it have any relation to what you have in composing yourself?

Boulez: The connection came through him first, before knowing his music even because the person himself was a very interesting character. He was attracted to conducting music. His big love was Juarez and he knew pieces of mine before they were known by many people. So the connection went through a very personal channel. Then I discovered not only the man but also his abilities in music, his ear especially. He had a very clear conception of what he was doing and therefore I remember the first conversation we ever had he said he would "like to show you something, and if you would agree, to conduct some pieces of mine." That was the time I left the New York Philarmonic, so I was involved with my own group I began with. I said if you write for this group, I will play the pieces. So he said, "I will try it" and he sent me, maybe a couple months or a year later, some pieces which I found absolutely positive from my point of view. Then I performed them. Since then I kept a connection with him until his unfortunate death which was very early, and he was involved with research until the end. He had a studio in his home and for me what attracted me to him was that he was always experimenting, always looking forward to something new, and that's the kind of mentality I agree with and I am very enthusiastic about sometimes.

Question: Maestro Boulez, what is the City le Music and what is the difference between that and other music?

Boulez: I will keep that answer for this afternoon, if you don't mind.

Question: I won't be there!

Boulez: You should come, well, I invite you because this afternoon I will speak specifically about the concept of the City le Music, that's very important and I cannot answer that in two sentences.

Question: Joni, you produce your own records.

Mitchell: Some of them-most of them.

Question: Steve Katz did some of the audio?

Mitchell: Steve Katz? No, he was a second engineer.

Question: It says on one record ...

Mitchell: Steve Katz? No, David Crosby pretended to be a producer on the first record but all he did was stick me in front of a microphone. It was to keep them from turning me into a folk rocker--laminating things artificially. Then I worked without a producer, I wouldn't even say I produced myself, I made my own music. I'm a painter first so my idea was, what is this producer thing, you know, if you are earning your livelihood and you are a professional you are not in training. You are no longer a student, so why do you need this force standing over you telling you how to do it, basically gearing you toward commerce and away from your muse. So I eliminated that which was easy enough to do as long as you brought it in cheap and the record company made a profit immediately. They kind of left me alone.

Question: But if you brought someone in like Katz?

Mitchell: I had no producer for my second, third, fourth, fifth, all the way up till I moved to Geffen, I had no producer. There was no producer. There was just myself and an engineer. The engineer was my print puller. He held up his end, I held up mine, he didn't meddle in my experimentation. There was no authority figure so the music, for better or worse was ... if you don't like it, I did it. If you like it, I did it. There was no go between. Then I married a bass player, Larry Klein, and as we entered into the 80s the process of recording offered more options. The process became more complicated and the time in the studio was longer and longer and longer and so to see me he accompanied me in there and began to write co-production and the technology got more complicated. I relied on him to set up colors for me on synthesizers and so on. So from then on you'll see a co-production. Up until then you won't see production printed on the records. It wasn't necessary.

Question: When are you coming to Sweden to play?

Mitchell: I don't know. I don't know when I'm going to play anywhere. I'm recording.

Question: We were disappointed last year because you didn't show up.

Mitchell: Oh, there was a tour booked last summer but it was cancelled almost as soon as it was booked. I've been reluctant to ... I'm a painter first. I've been trying to get back to my brushes.

Question: We're waiting for you!

Mitchell: Okay, thank you.

Question: At what stage are you in your career?

Mitchell: At what stage am I in my career. Well, I have my contract, four more albums to produce. I guess that's the stage I'm at.

Question: When will the first of these be out?

Mitchell: The first of this one? Well, by contract I have to do five, so the last one is out, that was the first of the contract for five albums. I'm working on the second for that contract now.

Question: Will you tour again?

Mitchell: I have no idea.

Question: What does your art mean to the music?

Mitchell: What does the painting mean? Well, it was a farmer's trick for the most part, it was like summer following ... with the music I am very prolific. I can sit down and play an instrument and the music would pour out. As a writer of lyrics, as a poet, less prolific. It's a slower process. It's more subject to blockage. So frequently when I would come to a writer's block I would take to the brushes so as not to notice. Generally in that process, which leaves the mind quite vacuous, wonderfully empty, you know--RED IN THE UPPER RIGHT HAND CORNER--NYUH, NYUH, NYUH--BLUE IN THE LOWER LEFT--the clearing of the mind in that way when you turn it back to the meditation required to write the text for the songs, the mind would be refreshed. So I used it mostly in that manner.

Question: Do you know many Swedish artists that you have inspired?

Mitchell: Swedish musicians? We met two people who made a tribute album. I can't recall their names. A fellow from Vancouver and a Swedish girl. We were just listening to the record. As of this morning we were on the third band.

Question: When Ulf Lundell took your song "Carey" and made it into "Happy Again" what did you think of that?

Mitchell: He took the music and re-wrote some words?

Question: Didn't he tell you?

Mitchell: No, no! I'll sue!

Question: In what direction are you bringing your music right now?

Mitchell: Well, last year I was going to quit and there was a merchant in Los Angeles who knew that the main reason was that I had built myself a trap with these open tunings, an instrument is not designed to play and it was wreaking havoc on the neck and I was in pitch hell all the time. Going between 50 different tunings the left hand is always unstable. It's like you were a typist and in the middle of the night elves scrambled your letters all around, so you never really get to know your neck. There was all kinds of reasons why I was frustrated. It's a wonderful compositional tool but it was terrible for live performance. Then Roland invented a synth guitar which has the capacity to store in memory--and I will be playing it tomorrow. It still has some bugs in it as a piece of equipment but the week before my swan song performance in New Orleans this merchant built me a stratocaster, built a neck to my specifications, because he knew this will keep Joni in the business. He built me this beautiful guitar and when the Roland man came to demonstrate it the Sunday before my swan song performance, he had it all ready. So what should have been or might have been the end has given me kind of a new beginning. It's eliminated some of my problems. I now have ordinary musician's tuning problems instead of extraordinary difficulties.

Question: Will you say something about the depth of the music, the dimensions of it, and where it is headed?

Mitchell: The dimensions of it? Oh, gee. I think of music as a painter, you know. Unschooled to the staff, numerical or operatic system, I think of it metaphorically and in terms of fluid color. So this new instrument affords me a palette of new color. If you play in standard tuning this instrument has a tremendous color box. I don't. I play in open tunings, but I've written my second song in standard tuning and I can access these colors by once again going back and putting it in the tuning. There are horn sounds that are better than synth keyboard horn sounds, I think, because you don't have to portomento, you can bend the string, you can get a fairly good trumpeter's lip off this instrument. So the palette has changed in that this guitar affords me new coloration to play with. It is synthetic and some will be critical of that, but it is spontaneous and I can get at the lines as fast as I think them and since I can't think and write them, I have to think them and play them onto the tape. This instrument gives me an immediacy for orchestrating my work directly onto tape so it is producing a different coloration then before. It is producing more of a--I don't know what you say--thirties or forties. It's more horn oriented, but not typical, not big band swing but sonically it is a bit in that direction.

Question: Maestro Boulez, how do you feel that the interest behind pop music is obviously much bigger than the interest behind your kind of music?

Boulez: Well, that's for sure.

Question: Everybody here is asking about your work with Frank Zappa. I would like to know what you are working with right now. What projects are you working on?

Boulez: Well, I have quite a lot of projects. Life is difficult for me because I have to share my activity between conducting orchestras and composing and that's not an easy task to try and keep time enough to compose. The project that I have is to write a big piece for orchestra for the Chicago Symphony and because the Chicago Symphony is in the process of renewing its hall and enlarging the hall and especially enlarging the stage, they want for the opening of the 1997-98 season a piece from me. Then I have just the beginning of a piece for the 90th birthday of Paul Zarov(??), and he had his 90th birthday and I began a piece and gave him the beginning of this piece for his birthday as a present and now I will finish the piece by the end of the summer. That's the first of two projects I have and there is a Seattle project that is much further.

Question: So we don't have to ask if you paint at this time because you are too busy with everything else.

Boulez: What? To paint?

Question: Like Mrs. Mitchell.

Boulez: No, I am not gifted, I must tell you!

Question: Mrs. Mitchell, I would like to ask you an earlier question maybe put another way. For a long time it seemed that every male singer with a guitar was compared to Bob Dylan. The same thing seems to be the case with female singers with a guitar writing their own songs. They all get measured against your work, at least from the late 60s/early 70s. When you write you didn't think about starting some kind of tradition.

Mitchell: I tend to discourage it although it's supposed to be flattering. I think it's not good for either party. You know, although an artist is measured by the size of the school that is extended from them historically. I think that pop music--or the American market is trained to the "new improved." You go through a supermarket and you'll have all these products with yellow stickers on them saying "new improved" because the public is fickle, you know. They want the new improved whatever ... in my case, the new improved Joni Mitchell. So these poor girls get reeled up and they are called the new improved Joni Mitchell. It's discourteous to them and any originality they might have and it's discourteous to me in that they usually bear less resemblance or a superficial resemblance to my work--harmonically, and on so many different levels. I don't think they do it anymore because for some reason in painting innovation is encouraged whereas in pop music there are copy catters and generally if an innovator springs up in that arena it's too strange for people and it's the third generation of that that finds the public appeal. They need that decompression time to adjust to anything different so perhaps there is an end to reeling up the new Joni Mitchells. I think we all got sick of it.

Question: What do you think about your albums from the late sixties and early seventies compared to your later work? Are you, sort of, not very impressed at what you did at that time?

Mitchell: The early work? Well, I had never looked back at it until recently, unless I ran into it playing in a restaurant someplace. I did tend to dismiss it mainly because for so many people time seemed to stop in 1973. I had my period of favor and then it was popular to say that after that I did nothing. Well, I disagreed with that so I tend to go the other way and say the early work was nothing. But having just looked at the whole catalogue, I was forced to review it recently, the early work was much more classical in a certain way. More like German meter song form, less pop. There's more pop and more jazz influences as the work goes along. I don't think it's better or worse, it's just different. Lyrically it's the work of another time. It's a much more innocent time and the writing is that of a girl. The text gets more literate as it goes along, less song and more poem, but there would be those who would disagree with that also.

Question: So a lyric for a song like "Woodstock"--how would you feel about that one today? Does it still ring true to you or very childish?

Mitchell: Oh, no. I know what I meant, you know. It was very optimistic. An impossible dream, one might say. I felt at that time that the mounting of electricity, for instance, we don't really understand how unhealthy it is to have so much electricity around us and that we needed to cut back. Well, we've gone completely the other way. I think we find out more and more illnesses are being created by so much exposure to it. You know, we've got to get back to the garden, that concept. You know there's a romantic notion, the bombers that went out in formation to fly over Woodstock. I found that historically an interesting image. That these soldiers in planes flew across this enormous crowd and that, you know, "I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky, turning into butterflies ..." That's a romantic flower child notion but at some point or another everyone has craved an end to war, I think. The song sits as a document of a particular event but I saw it in Germany at one point come to life again at a later date as they went through their greening, so to speak and later in Australia. I don't think it's necessarily a dead song.

Question: Are you Swedish? Are you of Swedish heritage?

Mitchell: My mother is a Henderson, but you have to trace it back (that's Scottish) to the ninth century, but yes, the Hendersons left Sweden in the ninth century swinging their cutlasses and they said, ok, ok, we'll give you the Shetland Islands if you just lay down your arms. My father is Norwegian. Anderson is my maiden name, with an "on" which is the Swedish spelling.

Question: So being of Scandinavian descent, does winning this Polar Music Prize mean anything extra special to you?

Mitchell: Yes, I think it does on account of that. I think so. There is something about the seedling that drifted across the Atlantic that plays into the picture.

Question: Can I ask you, Joni, about your lyrics. Is it true that you went to Staten Island to buy yourself a mandolin?

Mitchell: Yes, yes!

Question: You are a multi-artist because you are a singer, a musician, you are a poet and a painter. You are everything. How can you do so many things at the same time?

Mitchell: The western world, with the exception of a few historical pockets, renaissance pockets, is a society of specialists, and although academically in school you are supposed to carry a lot of academic subjects and nobody thinks anything about that and you are supposed to get As. When you carry three arts people get all in a flap about it. I think I had a wonderful opportunity at the age of 11, a teacher who I would have the following year saw me pinning up my paintings for a parent-teacher day and said to me in the hall, "Do you like to paint?" and I said yes, then he said to me, "If you can paint with a brush, you can paint with words." So he gave me permission at the age of 11 to be both a painter and a poet. The music--I had my knuckles rapped by my piano teacher for wanting to compose. She called it playing by ear. "Why would you want to play by ear," she said, and rapped my knuckles, "when you could have the masters under your fingers?" So the desire to compose in that community at that time was misunderstood as declasse. There was no father standing over me like Mozart, striking me to compose--they were striking me not to compose, you see. So that got pushed away for some time and came blooming out later.

Question: One very practical question--when are you coming to Finland?

Mitchell: When and if I tour--I love making albums, I love the creative process, the compositional aspect of it.

Question: When she comes to Sweden she will go!

Mitchell: When I come to Sweden, I'll come to Finland!

Question: Joni, we were talking about the "new improved" Joni Mitchell--we were talking about people interpreting you, what do you say about your "new improved" Van Gogh?

Mitchell: That was satirical, you know that, you realize that?

Question: But do you see yourself as a person who continues to work or keep alive Van Gogh. Do you see yourself in a tradition?

Mitchell: I try to innovate. In the 80s I even stepped into abstract painting which because I started painting so young, I had a contempt for it. So I had a prejudice to break down and in the 80s I painted large and abstract and I learned a respect for it and made one or two good pieces I would say, but my heart was always back at that point where color and the brush stroke came alive. Gauguin and the impressionists, and of course, I'm a huge fan of Picasso, but he kind of left no stone unturned. He almost brought an end to painting in a certain way. I just gave up on being an innovator and started saying I like this kind of painting and once I let go of trying, the painting is now quite exciting. I have hundreds and hundreds of paintings I want to make. I just need the time to do it.

Question: Do you see a big difference in the way you paint and the way you compose your music? I'm thinking of all these very free flowing vocals and chords you are using.

Mitchell: If I was to do a retrospective and take three rooms and put the music of the 60s and 70s with the drawings, then take the music of the 80s and put it in a room with the work of the 80s and so on into the 90s, I think you would see quite a correlation. When it was just voice and guitar, it was line drawing, the sketches. When I started to stack voices, I began to stack color onto the line and there is an aesthetic correlation. Sometimes it will break from the painting and the music will follow. The first album cover is very ornate, the writing at that time has a lot of adjectives; there are a lot of grace notes on the music. As the drawing gets bolder the chords get more rhythmic. There is an aesthetic correlation that runs through all of them, definitely.

Question: You were talking in your last interview which I saw on Swedish television, you were talking about small orchestral developments in your music with the new guitar you just described. Could you imagine yourself working together with someone like Maestro Boulez in a real orchestral setting?

Mitchell: I've done that on several occasions and I have invitations but it's just a matter of organizing time, you know. My time is really intensely spoken for, but the Montreal Symphony, for instance, has set most of the first album, which I thought was a peculiar choice at the time, but in listening and reviewing it, it's very melodic and they had done arrangements of the songs, but it was a little too harpisimo for my taste, and Debussy, who I love, colored it. I would rather it stuck to my own compositional style rather than imposing Debussy on me, but I love him. I'd have to work with the fellow, but we've talked about that--Steve and I--I have invitations to perform with symphonies.

Boulez: It's a question of meeting of the minds.

Mitchell: Yes, it is.

Question: Maestro Boulez, you said you have to share your time between conducting and composing but most other composers just compose. What is the joy of conducting?

Boulez: Well, I suppose I was born to conducting because it was very obvious that if you want to organize concerts you cannot only play new pieces. Especially if you go to institutions which are not created for that, and therefore you have to dominate your fear regarding these kinds of big institutions, and then progressively you learn not only to dominate your fear, but to dominate also the repertoire, which is less easy than to dominate your fear. I suppose it began like that and I suppose also that I discovered my gift for conducting this way because I was not at all prepared to conduct first. I never studied conducting, I studied composing on the contrary, and therefore it has developed quite a lot and I was involved in many projects first. I was music director in New York, I was music director in London, then after when I gave up these positions I was involved in the big project of the Sainte Pompidor in Paris, coming to this institute for research between acoustics and music, which took quite a lot of energy and also time, of course. I also began a group for contemporary music, the L'Ensemble InterContemporain, 31 musicians exactly and also you have a lot of budget problems, which have to do with a group. Certainly I was involved very strongly in the Opera Varse which as a complete failure, not for me but from the organization point of view, but luckily we also had the project of Lafayette which was successful but which required quite a lot of energy. When you have people in the government or ministry you are first incompetence, and second style and it's not very easy to get to the project as you want to get it accomplished. I have this price in front of me but finally if you have the right ideas and the strong ideas you have the last word very often, but not always.

Question: Joni, maybe this is a stupid question at an occasion like this but have you ever considered giving up smoking?

Mitchell: I've taken every smoking cure known to man and nearly everyone has nearly killed me so I've decided, for my health, to remain a smoker! Question: Monsieur Boulez, back in the 60s you hated the opera as an institution.

Boulez: I still hate the opera as an institution!

Question: Since then you have been in support of that institution. How come? Has the situation changed?

Boulez: I will tell you, the situation is very clear. What I hate is not opera houses, I have no reason to hate opera houses themselves, but I hate the routine in opera houses. You know, I had a terrible experience in '66 therefore the interview at that time 30 years ago. I never knew who would play in the orchestra in the evening. If you had oboe A, you had flute C, the next day or the next performance you had oboe C and flute B. So you never had the same people. How can you have a good performance and even on the stage sometimes there were replacements, and I was aware of the replacements on the morning of the performance. How can a singer learn the production just with a short rehearsal of one hour? Therefore, I was absolutely sure that I would never begin this type of adventure again. So therefore, each time I conducted opera in different circumstances, I had always the conditions I asked for--the same musicians, number of rehearsals, the place of rehearsals. All that was on the contract. Therefore I did very few performances. I never conducted very many operas but I refused to be involved in a kind of situation where I was not completely the master of the situation. Then I like very much to conduct opera. Recently I conducted in Amsterdam the M??? by S??? which I will repeat in Salzburg this summer. I have exactly the conditions that I asked and I think that some opera directors are very much aware of this type of definition of the opera, let's say. If you are expecting that everyone plays approximately and A can replace B, can replace C, then you don't have a performance. You are just like a policeman, you avoid crashes and that's not very interesting.

Question: What music do you listen to?

Mitchell: Currently, you mean? Currently I've been listening to Miles Davis, "My Funny Valentine." It's a period with Philly Joe Jones and Wayne Shorter--very strong band. My favorite band of his came next with Herbie Hancock. A beautiful pocket of Miles. Debussy and for the honest vocals, Deep Forest--both of them--the Pygmies, especially I find excruciatingly thrilling. Did you hear that record? It's the most sincere music--they go out on field trips and record ethnic music and then create a track, and it's tastefully done; beautiful chordal movement. It's the honesty of the singing which I find quite lacking in pop music, increasingly lacking in pop music. Honest emotion--that I'm drawn to in this particular series of records.

Question: Have you taken any interest in Nordic music?

Mitchell: I don't know of it. I mean, I have a friend, Eric Anderson, who is an American Norwegian living in Norway who is making some recordings over here and occasionally with local musicians, but as far as the ethnic music--Same music interests me. My father has Same blood. There was a time I was supposed to go to Finland, as a matter of fact, and there were parkas made for us and everything and I got a terrible flu. I got sprayed with malothyon in an alley while doing a video in Los Angeles so I couldn't go, but we were to go at the time when they were sorting the young deer from the older deer which apparently is very rhythmic--the music at that particular time is extremely rhythmic and it was suggested to me that my peculiar rhythms may have come from this heritage so I was curious to go there.

Question: If both of you were on the jury for the next Polar Music Prize, who would you give it to?

Mitchell: Gee, I don't know.

Boulez: I'm never on a jury.

Mitchell: It's hard to judge, most of the music I love the creators of it are dead. I don't know.

Question: Speaking of pop music, do you like Steely Dan?

Mitchell: Oh, I love Steely Dan. There's a good choice!

Question: Would you let them produce you?

Mitchell: It will not be, I don't need a producer nor do I want a producer. Why do you want me to have a producer?

Question: Have you ever worked with a female musician?

Mitchell: Yes, I've played with Bobbye Hall, a drummer, and of course, Chaka Khan and I have done vocal things together. Mostly singers.

Question: Monsieur Boulez, what do you think of modern opera?

Boulez: Modern opera is good when it is good. That's all I can say. That's not very often the case. What I find really is people don't think too much about the theatrical aspects of opera. I was educated more or less in connection with the theater. The play theater, or spoken theater. I am very sensitive to the theatrical qualities and generally composers have no real great theater education and they write an opera with a libretto and so on and after you give that to an opera house director to try and save the situation. There was nothing very drastic about thinking of the geography, I would like to say, or topography, if you prefer a complex word. Of the opera, for instance, if you've seen some productions by Peter Stein in Schauvilla in Berlin or a production of Schiller in Paris when he was in Nocturne you could see the theater as a place where the actors were playing was changed. You didn't have the Italian space anymore. You did not have the actors in front of you which was generally the case. They were organizing the space according to the play and then there was absolutely no reflection of this kind put in the opera world, which I regret because maybe the directors were not aware of that. The acoustical problems are big because I remember in Paris once Joseph Louseze did a production of Mussorgsky's Boris, and he wanted a tragedy and a kind of drama so he did not want the pit to be there so the orchestra was at the end of the stage and the singers were in the front and the chorus was in the front. Of course, you could hear the singers very well, and extremely well the chorus, but not the orchestra at all. It was very dramatic from this point of view, but not in the sense that Louseze meant. So there was another kind of drama. What I regret in the project of the Bastille that was not accomplished but there was a special hall conceived for experimenting this kind of thing. The kind of relationship between music, theater, singers, instrumental music and so on and so forth. Now there is a completely empty space in this building because it was not built and I think every opera house should have a workshop for just experimenting like people in the spoken theater have experimented for 30 or 40 years. We are late.

Question: How come conductors get so old? Is it because they always hold their arms up?

Boulez: A doctor would give you the right answer I suppose. I can just tell you that we really cannot conduct when we are drunk. So you cannot really drink much in this profession. So it keeps you healthy. You cannot eat so much before a performance either. So you see, you have to live a sober life generally.

Question: Can you smoke?

Boulez: I don't but I've known people who are very old and smoked, and I've also known people who died quite early and did not smoke!

Question: (inaudible)

Mitchell: I would be better able to answer that after Thursday. It's still so very abstract. We're here, we're honored to be here.

Question: (inaudible)

Mitchell: Well, I received it, yes. I've know for several months about it.

Question: You are the first woman to receive it.

Mitchell: I try not to think about gender distinctions. It's kind of like you are the first black to receive it--how do you feel about that. I find it an isolating question and I hope there will come a day when this distinction is not made. I'm a musician and I leave gender aside. I'm an accomplished musician.

Question: You received the Billboard Century Award in December, now the Polar Music Prize. Why do you think you got this prize now?

Mitchell: Well, it never rains but it pours, I guess. I don't know if there is a correlation between the two. I don't know when they decided to give me this but the Billboard prize was decided in 1990. They picked their winners for a ten-year period in advance. It's come at a good time, it's given a boost to my career.

Question: When you did the jazz album then went back to your pop career, do you think there is a danger of popularity now.

Mitchell: Popularity? I don't know, but at the time I did the Mingus collaboration it left me in a commercial no-man's land. No one knew what I was. Was I a jazz singer, was I a folk singer, was I a rock singer, was I a pop singer? Not knowing what I was there was no radio format, so I lost my outlet for exposure. A couple of years ago there came a new radio format in the States called Triple A, or album-oriented music which is very similar to the way radio was when I first began although it too is changing a bit commercially. Anyway I've faired well there and I began to be played on the radio again so recently things have changed but for about 20 years because I didn't belong to a genre, I was persecuted by the industry for that. But I would do it again in a minute because you have to make the music that is your music. All is well now at least temporarily.

Question: Do you think there will come a time when you will have to choose between being a painter and making music?

Mitchell: Well, I thought the time had come but apparently it is gone. I got fed up, really fed up with the music business. It's a corrupt business, the business end of it. There is much to complain about from that aspect. I love the creative aspect, it's the self-exploitive part I don't like so much. You know, it's more than unpleasant. It borders on--not even borders on--it is inhumane. They treat animals kinder than they treat public people at this particular time in the history of the world. It's not a pleasant thing to be a public person.

Question: Thank you very much.

Mitchell: I don't mean to be a complainer!

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JoniMySavior on

Geez, this interview is almost cringing to read. . You can tell she is irritated by the questions they're asking lol...