10 questions - with Sabrina Siegel


Lives and works in Eugene, OR USA
Sabrina Siegel was raised in New York and later Santa Monica, California. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon and now resides in Eugene, Oregon. Sabrina's multi-disciplinary work includes Photography, Performance, and Video Installation Arts along with a background in classical voice and flute from childhood. Aside from her solo work, she has performed with Eugene Opera, SIECOX, Onomatopoeia, and other experimental musicians and ensembles. She explores improvised composition exclusively and has created sixteen CDs of improvised music.


1. People who compose or improvise within a framework of modern contemporary improvised experimental music cite some experiences with music or in their life as the factor of inspiration? What about you? How did it start with making music in your case?

 I always loved music. As a little girl I loved to sing and dance to the music that was playing around me. I made up songs and recorded them on a little tape recorder and really enjoyed singing in the shower with my sister. When I was about 7 or so my mother started to study belly dancing in Manhattan with Serena and I would go to her classes. I fell in love with the Arabic music; maybe it was Turkish or Armenian. There were live musicians playing for each class and I was so moved and mesmerized(it was also a very warm environment with the individuals that were there). And then my mom would practice all the time at home for years, mainly to the recordings of John Berberian on the oud, Bob Tashjian ‘s beautiful evocative voice. And Souren Baronian on clarinet. I loved these recordings, especially Ode to an Oud, They awakened many feelings in me - -something very deep -- it was sensual and spiritual at the same time, it was bodily, it was a deep yearning, it stirred me in all the best ways : )) .
When I moved to southern California from Brooklyn, at age eleven aside from developing a hyper self awareness and listening, as I was diligent in losing my heavy new york accent (paying attention to every vowel and so on) I started to take band and orchestra (I played the flute) and choir with Santa Monica’s excellent public school music teachers…. I had two great teachers in Jr. High School that were a huge influence on me… Lida Beasley was the band and orchestra director/teacher who was extremely passionate and a perfectionist. She treated us like adult musicians. She yelled at us if we didn’t know our part or were off pitch. She gave us her all on all levels…. her love. I could really cry thinking of her conducting us in and imparting to us the feeling she wanted from our playing Mozart’s Trauermusik. Her father had died just a while before and this performance was in honor of him… and I remember, as I was so close to her in the front row in the flute section, the way she moved her arms as if they were weighted down with tension and heavy emotion, like trudging through sorrow …. and her tremendously expressive face all communicating to us how to play it. It was a tremendous experience… and imparted a very embodied or wholistic relationship to music for me.
She was so loved and appreciated by all of her students. I recently heard through her son and his wife Denise that Lenny Kravitz, who was a percussionist in our band/orchestra, made a pilgrimage to see Mrs. Beasley before she died.
I also had Linda Allen Anderson who is an excellent choir director… with impeccable taste in classical works; she also imparted a great seriousness, perfectionism and respect for music. I am eternally grateful to both of these women.
I continued studying voice in college and but focused mainly on visual art. And received my degree in fine art.
Later, when I moved to Eugene, OR I was showing my work at a gallery and I met the experimental band Onomatopoeia in the late 80’s (they were playing blenders and banging on metal and wailing in an elevator) andI learned about the freedom of improvising and opened up to noise. They opened up to me and I started to play with them a bit and we all even lived together for a short time : ). I really loved playing with them … this sense of total freedom.
Later I studied opera for a bit and was part of the Eugene Opera for a little while. And then I started to listen to the works of Sun Ra, John Cage, Fred Frith , john Zorn and others a lot through the influence of a friend Shawn Mediaclast (DJ and sax player) who I met at his Museum of Unfine Art in Eugene. He had great radio show and I was grateful to be exposed to many creative musicians through it. Then I finally started to record and produce on my own and I was sharing my music with him and sometimes he would play them on his show and it helped me to develop further. Around that time I met Charles Coxon who gave me my first electric guitar, {and later a son : )) He was there when I started playing cello and created SIECOX with me which was a wonderful energetic experimental duo where I developed further. We also played with some other wonderful musicians here in Eugene, like the guys who are now LetGoGod with Chuck… I love to play in this constellation when it happens sometimes these days, great energy (sometimes called Libera). And have enjoyed and grown playing with other wonderful musicians like Ernesto Diaz –Infante, Jeff Kaiser, Bryan Day, Thollem McDonas, Lucio Menegon, Matthias Boss, Paulo Chagas, Maresuke Okamoto, Marcello Magliocchi ………
Recently I heard “This Earth” by Alfred Harth and “Luminous Emptiness” by Marcelo Toledo and these really inspired me and opened me to think in a new way…. Learning and inspiration is ongoing : ).
2. The world is going through probably one of the worst moments of history, rather than the end of the world I think we are about to enter a new dimension of thought. what moves you going out of bed every morning?
Yes it is quite a precarious moment for the earth. We really have to start as a community right now to make change, especially for the environment, with global warming, pollution of the water, soil, air, genetically modified plants (destroying the bees, soils, health of animals and humans, dangerously changing human, plant, and animal genomes) and all, before we reach a point that will be too difficult to return to a natural balance.
What gets me out of bed is a general excitement for life, for what the day will bring, what joy, what thought, what connecting, what face of the mystery will be revealed. The thought that I can be helpful in some way and helping! Also, you know, I have a family and I must get out of bed to care for my little one : ), and there are also projects to help the environment, and my visual art and of music of course which inspires me and quenches the thirst in the most important ways.
3. How does music resonate with social problems in your improvisations? Do you try to separate sociological aspects from your music, leaving it rather to a vast terrain of associations generated by a listener's mind?
Exploration of sociological problems often comes up in my music. I think about and engage these issues a lot, and so whatever is on my mind when I am creating it is part of the music. I can think of several times where this was so prominent and remarkable, CELDF, and their legal ordinances, for the creation of a truer democracy and securing the rights of Nature.
I went into a whole vision/state of how if we passed many of their ordinances throughout the United States, the people could have true sovereignty – as opposed to the sovereignty of corporations as it is now (It’s really remarkable work they are dong that gives me great hope actually). This vision was so strong and exciting and was facilitated by the energetic elevation and “meditation” of working with it through music. Nietzsche once said something like “only trust those thoughts that come while moving” (he was a great walker – he often walked for many hours at a time with a notebook to jot down ideas -- and improviser on the piano) (What does this say for the importance of music education in schools?!)
Another time, recording a piece “The Sounding Wood” with Mathias Boss and Maresuke Okamoto, the emotional energy of Boss’s violin playing evoked an emotional state where I experienced my own feelings so deeply about Monsanto’s and other biotech/chemical corporations’ destruction of our agricultural system. It was a devastating vision, and I ended up singing/screaming to shoo them out of the United States (or off the planet, in my vision). Many times, singing against war (it is unbelievable that war is even permissible in this age! It is so barbaric! We have to make it unacceptable!)
But I think I like it best when the music is just about music and the act of creating with the body – deeper into the simplicity of the unfettered moment. Exploration of sociological problems often comes up in my music. I think about and engage these issues a lot, and so whatever is on my mind when I am creating it is part of the music. I can think of several times where this was so prominent and remarkable, CELDF, and their legal ordinances, for the creation of a truer democracy and securing the rights of Nature.
4. Nature vs. Culture. Who is an artist?
The artist is perhaps a balance of culture and nature. The artist is aware of culture – all that is – in art and music, and then attuned to nature, with his/her “natural body,” with self, aware of the ways that culture has conditioned him, and so on.

The artist is one who sees, one who is paying attention to the play of all, all these things, and frees (or attempts to) himself through his attention/work, and shares his vision and hopefully inspires self reflection and freedom in others
There are so many types of artists – a whole spectrum, really – and some that are much more on the cultural end of the spectrum … I prefer and aspire to be the deep seeing/listening/visioning kind, like John Cage – making a commentary/exploration of music/sound and of consciousness and culture (but I am concerned with self/Self through the intimacy of sound/expression, through the physicality of the body).
5. How would you describe the feminine aspect of creativity and relate it to your work?
I don’t really think in terms of gender, but if I have to, in terms of creativity, the ‘feminine’ aspect that comes to mind is receptivity… receptivity, which requires deep feeling, listening, seeing in the moment. Receptive to the instrument, each sound, the energy of the body and that of the other musicians when playing with others, receptive to the whole. I think all great improvisers have this quality, especially the deep listening. I feel this is very important for my work. If it’s not there, I feel like something is missing and the work is of lesser quality. I suppose there is also some aspect of the feminine that has to do with physicality in my work, - the role of the female body in creating – which I notice often, as when I am playing it is sometimes a very sensual experience where I am almost being directed by lower chakra yearnings, if you will : ). And when I sing, my voice is that of a female (or different females). But I really don’t identify as one consciously, but I do notice sometimes my own social conditioning which comes out when I sing sometimes – - you know, there are layers of social conditioning that one can observe, a whole gamut of sexual, psychological, musical conditioning, and the great moments perhaps come when we are free of all these.
Just thinking, along the lines of freedom, or somewhere between freedom and lunacy…. just like in the time of the menses where (I hope this doesn’t support the stereotypes of female instability) a woman might feel a little mental looseness, less in control emotionally to varying degrees (personally I’m not affected too much during this time lol but I feel it). It’s kind of a little taste of what contractions are like, when giving birth, where the body of the woman is almost completely overtaken physically, as if the body of the earth itself is moving/quaking. This requires a great openness, so there is no resistance and thus no “pain”. Maybe all improvisers seek this state to some degree? I think when speed is employed and the energy states are heightened, it allows the magic to flow through easier. Where we can be wild and wildly expressive. Where some other powers come in, in the awesome flow. Playing my instrument with rocks too, for me, helps to create a circumstance that produces this state of organic engagement with the unknown/unpredictable/uncontrollable, and opens up to the magic… unlimited … Grace…… (a different type of authorship)
Actually on the subject of gender I think I feel more “masculine” than “feminine” when I play, if I have to pick a gender.
6. Imagine you can create your own island including your dreams, emotions, positive projections. How would it look like?
My own island I used to dream, or think, of having a sort of artist community – all making work to uplift the world (to help facilitate self knowing and liberation) – film, music, television, etc. A place where we would behave with love and kindness, meditate, stay awake and aware, grow. Now, because of the great problems we have in agriculture (which is destroying the Earth and health in many ways), I think a lot about growing food in healthy and sustainable ways and inspiring a great connection to Nature and the “Natural”.
7. Interaction with other musicians - what is important for you to make a collaboration a worthwhile quality?
I think the most important thing is that the musicians are listening very well to each other and deeply ride and build energy and vision together, maybe something like making love as far as sensitivity and sort of becoming one in the sound. It helps if you can be really deep in the music and sincere. I also enjoy highly energetic playing. Playing with Thollem McDonas recently was so great in this sense as he is an awesome listener, super energetic, and such a creative musician.
8. Can you relate yourself to any kind of esoteric understanding of your creative process?
 I am learning more and more about my creative process. It is most often working with self/body in the moment through the musical challenge. It does end up in esoteric realms I suppose. When I am really “there” …. flowing and there is no resistance, just flow…. A heightened state… a super aware state… maybe we can say one with the divine or the great flow or all potential. Like “the will to power” (often misunderstood, which is the bridge to the Eternal Return, the view of eternity). What i believe Nietzsche was referring to in part was an actual physiological raising of the energy or frequency of the body.
9. What does "peace" means to you?
To me peace means stillness, silence, or space (in mind). It means no fear, no suffering, full presence in the moment, love and acceptance of what is. To be flowing with all, which perhaps takes trust, full trust in the moment and of self/world…. when one is not thinking or projecting one’s story. Empty (of content so that everything is self).
10. How do you communicate with the idea of musical development in the years to come? What seems the most tempting and challenging?
I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean. Maybe you’re asking about the future of music, and developments in music? What I am concerned with and what I think is emerging in new music is a more direct and bodily expression that is less artifice and habitual and more sincere, naked and awakening in a visceral sense. Perhaps it is a sort of new primitivism that has organic or more natural and true foundations/inspirations.
For me personally I feel that I am developing … I think this is around listening primarily, the ability to hear in new ways and go deeper in the sound body/instrument relationship.
Sometime I would like to finish my film about Nietzsche which would be wedded with my music … also would like to play with and perhaps lead more ensembles of players.


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