Audeze speaks with drummer/percussionist/composer Tyshawn Sorey

November 18, 2020

Tyshawn Sorey is an artist whose compositional work and performances are about the search for musical genre mobility and which defy stylistic boundaries and categories, both real and imagined. He is a drummer with seemingly unlimited power, and a composer with unlimited imagination. Tyshawn has worked with scores of artists including fellow Audeze artists Craig Taborn, Ingrid Laubrock, David Breskin, and many others. He was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Genius Fellowship in 2017.

Tyshawn Sorey poses with his LCD-2 headphones

Here's our talk with Tyshawn:

Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Well, I am particularly fond of all of my work. But if I had to make two top three lists - as a conceptualist, composer, and percussionist - one list would include all three of my most recent albums: Verisimilitude, Pillars, and The Adornment of Time. As simply a drum set player, my performances on John Zorn's album Valentine's Day, Steve Lehman's Mise en Abime, and an upcoming trio album with pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist Linda Oh - are indeed my favorites.

What's the best place for those new to your work to become familiar with what you do?

Probably best to start listening to recordings I have done as a side person before getting to my own recordings. My music demands a lot from the listener (as all great art should) and is not exactly accessible for the masses, as many would say. If the listener wants to hear some of my drum set performances that are more or less aesthetically familiar, whether it's jazz or groove-oriented music, then my recordings are not the right place to begin. Rather, they should listen to the work I have done with Iyer, Lehman, Zorn, guitarist Lage Lund, among others.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?

Composer or conceptualist/bandleader.

How did you get started in music?

Music and I found each other from a very young age, mostly through listening to a lot of mainstream stuff on the radio and very shortly thereafter I ventured into listening to more sophisticated forms of music. Put another way, I listened to music that I understood and some that I did not understand but appreciated because of how the music made me feel. The music, no matter what the name of it was, resonated with me in a way that would be very difficult to put into words. Of course, the more curious I became about the sounds I was hearing, the more I got into music to the point where I wanted to create/make it with people.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

The current moment of frustration that I am experiencing with my work as a composer, performer, and teacher is this COVID19 situation. This has eliminated opportunities for me to make music with and in front of people. First performances of several of my compositions have been either canceled or rescheduled up to nearly two years from now. For all of my courses, I will not get to be in a classroom with any of my students. One would think that this is enough to really stop me, and to be honest I have been feeling very uninspired, nearly giving up. However, the way that I have since approached this frustration was reminding myself that being a musician/artist is in itself quarantine. By nature, we quarantine ourselves - be it in a practice room, in a basement, or otherwise - to strive towards greatness...for me, this is nothing new as I have always "quarantined" myself, so to speak. So, greatness is my destiny - it is what I continue to strive towards to the best of my ability. This led me to an even stronger belief that I am an individual; I do not need to match someone else's level of greatness or copy somebody in order to feel that the work that I do is valid. A pandemic might loom over my head as I say this, but the work itself is what will reward me in the end. Thusly, I can only just keep working and hope for better days ahead.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

The drum set and the piano will always remain number one in my heart. Beyond that, inspiration from important people in my life is what I also draw from.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to get where you are in their own careers?

Be true to yourself - first, foremost, and always. Do the work you do because you must do it.

How long have you been working with headphones, and what inspired you to start including them in your workflow?

I have been working with headphones for as long as I remember. But since 2014, I have become more interested in the sound of headphones and the variations of clarity and sonic honesty that they provide while listening. I generally like to have two pairs of headphones: one pair for when I travel (and I do travel a great deal), and one pair for late night listening on my audio system with no distraction while my family is asleep. I would also like to own a third pair dedicated exclusively for mixing and mastering recordings as I generally am detail-oriented and have very high standards for mixing and mastering of my music, so doing it with the right pair of headphones is what will make it much easier for me.

The open-back LCD2's are by far the best headphones I have ever heard! I have used these headphones for listening at home during the last three years, and these planar headphones are full of air, well-defined, and full of image. They feel very comfortable on my head, and everything that I heard on these headphones has definitely increased my attention to detail and subtlety in dynamic range as well as the most honest, direct representation of the sound of a singer's voice to the playing of an instrument, even without EQ. It has aided in my ability to hear things more clearly, as a composer and performer who is heavily involved in the mixing of my own albums. I've never had to adjust any EQ settings on these LCD2's while listening to anything; they are amazing as they are, and I'm very excited for new things to come out in the future.

(It's worth noting that Tyshawn also has a pair of LCD-2 Closed-Backs for use when playing drums or any time he needs a bit more isolation.)