Travis Laplante and Battle Trance explore the edges of technique
The Brooklyn tenor saxophonist Travis Laplante, at the age of 32, has built up a reputation for his incredible technical ability and uncompromisingly bold creations, and his inspiration comes from sources including John Coltrane and the Chinese practice of qigong, involving meditation and deep breathing.
His latest project, Battle Trance, was born from a spontaneous idea to assemble an all-tenor-sax quartet that would employ advanced methods like circular breathing—playing without pauses by simultaneously inhaling and exhaling—and nontraditional extended techniques.
The quartet’s debut album, Palace of Wind on New Amsterdam Records, has received substantial critical acclaim, and Laplante took the time to answer questions via email in advance of Battle Trance’s Jan. 31 show at Barking Legs.
The Pulse: What goes through your mind during a show? It is total concentration?
Travis Laplante: Concentration, yes in a sense; however, the idea of concentration has the feeling of focusing on something or controlling something with the mind. I find that it’s equally if not more important to quiet the mind and not let it create illusions, self consciousness or distractions while inside the sound of Battle Trance. Ideally my mind is simply a tool during the concerts, meaning it’s in right relationship to my heart, which is the real me. Of course the mind needs to be used to play the correct notes and rhythms when necessary and to keep me from falling off of the stage. It’s a tightrope walk, letting the mind go while still being able to execute the composition. I definitely have much more focus on my heart when playing, not necessarily trying to do anything. Not trying to say “OK, send more love to everyone in the room” or “I want people to feel this music more” because the second I start down that road, I’m right back in my mind.
TP: How does the group prepare for a performance?
TL: We all have our own personal practices before each performance that vary greatly from member to member. Everything from eating pizza to praying. Most of the preparation actually happens on the stage before the first note is played. We always spend a few minutes breathing together, letting our thoughts and worries dissolve, feeling time and space, then letting time and space go.
TP: What is the most challenging part of Battle Trance?
TL: It depends on what level we’re talking about. Of course there’s a larger picture challenge of needing to find a way to cover the cost of living while spending so much time inside of the music of Battle Trance, which does not compensate one in a time = money earned formula. It’s not a challenge for me to have enough faith to keep going with no real sign of anything getting easier or “better” in terms of basic life stability, because underneath it all I know there is no real question. It’s definitely still a huge challenge to make it all work and maintain sustainability in life.
More specifically to Battle Trance and this particular piece it is challenging to keep the embouchure [mouth muscles] and fingers in shape enough to execute certain parts of the piece to their fullest potential. It’s also an added challenge on tour when we have very little time to get warmed up, and we often play at venues that don’t have green rooms or places where we can warm up beforehand. So we have to get creative. Warming up in public restrooms or behind dumpsters; I’ve done it all.
TP: What do you want audiences to get from your performance?
TL: There’s no set formula for what “I want” people to get from the music. I would like people to get what they need. It would be wonderful if the music makes people remember something of who they really are and that there is a part of each of us that is eternal. This process can look very different from person to person.
TP: Can you discuss your thoughts on the possibilities of extended techniques?
TL: The aspect of extended techniques that currently resonates with me the most is their use in an ensemble setting, specifically in composition. As far as saxophone extended techniques go, there have been many great players who have really dove deeply into the instrument’s capabilities. However I feel like there is still a lot of space to work with these techniques alongside/inside/on top of each other that is completely uncharted territory. It is as if those who have come before me (some are still alive) have shown me the ocean, but now it’s time to dive in more deeply to experience the world that lies under the surface of the water.
Battle Trance with Amanda Rose Cagle and Bob Stagner
8 p.m., Jan. 31
Barking Legs Theater
1307 Dodds Ave.