Interview with CMT Assistant Tony Geballe

Tony Geballe is a guitarist, composer, and producer who’s worked with Karin Coonrod, the Trey Gunn Band, and Braindance. He worked extensively with Robert Fripp in Guitar Craft, and is currently working on the second album with Zero Times Everything.

Photo by  Beth O’Brien

Please let us know why you are joining Creating Music Together?

It’s apparent to me that at this moment in our history, creativity and working together are more important than ever, actually essential to our survival in a way they perhaps haven’t been since the dawn of humanity. CMT can be a direct method for opening to both.

What piece of work that you've been involved in across your career are you most proud of?

There is no one piece of work that stands out – there are many! I am always excited to work with Karin Coonrod on her theater productions, because I know they will always be profound, deeply moving, insightful, and top-notch. The Trey Gunn Band was exciting, musically fulfilling, and totally kicked my ass. My work with Braindance and Vora Vor was a tremendously educational, exciting, and intense and the resulting album “Master of Disguise” is possibly the greatest musical work I’ve ever been involved in. Lately, working with Zero Times Everything, and the mixing and producing I’ve been doing have been very fulfilling. And of course, the years I spent deeply involved with Guitar Craft were incomparable, and have shaped everything in my life and work.

Can you share a bit about your work in Guitar Craft? Perhaps one or two experiences that stand out?

I was there for several moments when pieces of music arrived “out of thin air,” so to speak. These experiences were just extraordinary. Because of the work we were doing and the way we were doing it – in a circle, after much preparation – music unlike anything that had ever been heard before descended from somewhere else into our hands. Often it was largely through one person or another, sometimes through a group effort where many people would contribute parts and the group would recognize the right tones. It is so clear when the right part arrives, it is a remarkable process to recognize and move towards it. To have been there when this unfolded is a gift I will never forget.

Is your involvement in Creating Music Together somehow reflected in your day-to-day work?  And if so, how?

CMT has directly influenced my listening, and has encouraged me to find useful sounds everywhere, especially smaller sounds and components of sound that I might otherwise overlook. It has also taught me ways of working with others to bring out their own voice, their own approach to sound and music, their own inner and outer hearing. These things are very important in my work as producer, mix engineer, and contributing band member.

What do you find at CMT that you don’t find elsewhere, or that is particularly useful for you? 

It’s a chance for me to listen deeply in a way that “normal life” rarely affords, especially for such an extended period of time and surrounded by people with a similar aim, and in conditions created to focus on that aim. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to drop all expectations and judgments, observe and move away from habitual responses and actions and find a new way into sonic creativity. This also relates to how CMT impacts my day-to-day work, it opens me to new ways and depths of listening and experimenting.

Can you describe one experience with the Creative Impulse?   

There are some people I’ve known and been privileged to spend time around, who at times manifest that impulse very profoundly, sometimes almost all the time. They seem to have access to another world, to live and breathe in a world of creativity, and what’s interesting is to look at how that happens and how they deal with it – it’s not an easy thing, to have that kind of energy running through you all the time! But that’s another subject, though one that does come up in the CMT setting.

In talking about the Creative Impulse: something happens that is completely recognizable in a purely energetic way. When a theater director is creating a scene, everything is almost in place, and then she says to one of the actors “please take a half-step downstage and one step to your right,” and everyone gasps as a previously good scene suddenly becomes balanced, focused, and feels undeniably right – even if you didn’t notice anything wrong with it before. Or when a composer is working on a piece of music, and the next bit presents itself, “here, this is how the next bit goes,” and even if you don’t believe it at first – “it can’t possibly go like that!” - it proves true. Or conversely, “of course! Obviously, it goes like that!”

One moment I was there for: in the ballroom of Claymont Mansion, December, 1985, in a circle of guitarists of widely varying abilities and backgrounds and experience, already exhausted by several days of intense work, we are playing a simple pattern of fives and sixes in A Minor. The Director of the Circle begins adding things to the pattern – a tag of 4 notes, a tag of 9 notes…then “on a count of 4, move it up a minor third…1, 2, 3, 4!” Then: “here back to A Minor but in this inversion” (not those words at all, but that’s the essence). And, “here’s a bass line…” As we worked on playing each part, the Director would walk to the side of the Ballroom and a few minutes come back to the Circle with the next bit, or the introduction. In this way, the Guitar Craft Theme called The Eye of the Needle was created, or really descended through those hands to Earth. Over a period of weeks refinements were made and new rightnesses were found, but the essential piece descended over about an hour in that Ballroom. We all knew that something extraordinary was happening; time stopped, energy was there for us that we didn’t have on our own. Something new was born that day, and the ripples of that creative moment continue to be felt by an expanding circle of people to this day – in fact, Creating Music Together itself, from my seat, in part an echo of that moment, perhaps intersected with echoes of other past creative moments, and maybe even some new ones!