Stephen Flinn spent the ’70s gigging in hard rock bands, and the ’80s immersed in honing his jazz technique. Today he considers himself an “avant-garde-ist.” Aside from the ambient, minimal, often Asian-flavored soundscapes found on Flinn’s latest recording, Square Circle, what sets him apart from most drummers working in the realm of experimental music is his unorthodox approach to the kit.
“I often play what is called ‘prepared drumkit,’” Stephen offers. “I have two suitcases full of everything from found objects like pieces of metal, rubber, and Styrofoam, to combs that I put on top on the drums. I’ll also play with something other than drumsticks. Most of what’s on Square Circle is played with knitting needles, 16″ dowels, or car antennas.”
The drummer’s unique approach was inspired by his 1999 solo tour of the UK. “I listened to tapes of those performances and realized that by using drumsticks I was playing too loud. I wanted to get the attack, but I didn’t want the volume, and it’s difficult to get one without the other. I decided that I needed to stop using drumsticks, and I started to put things on top of the drums so that I wouldn’t sacrifice the attack.”
For Square Circle, on which guitarist Noah Phillips joins him, Stephen explains his objective of going for “texture matching” with the guitarist. “In many places,” he says, “if you listen closely, you might not be sure what’s drums and what’s guitar. That’s a lot of my approach to improvisation; whether I’m playing with a guitarist, bassist, or a cellist, I’ll try to match their texture or sound.”
For more info on Flinn, check out www.beyonddrumlessons.com.