Where did those two weeks of my life go? Writing in retrospect, my time at the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid seems too surreal to have actually happened… being flown to the other side of the globe to end up in a room jamming with the likes of Bootsy Collins and Tony Visconti, really? Surely someone just knocked me out, dosed me up, and played a mixtape of Bowie and P-Funk on repeat… surely. However, photographic evidence would suggest that these events did take place, and that I was indeed lucid… but I’m still a little skeptical.
Life at the Red Bull Music Academy allowed for around four to five hours sleep a day, with lectures beginning at noon, followed by jams/workshops/studio time, and then heading out to the evenings show (or continuing studio geekery) until the wee, very wee hours of the morning. The excitement and exertion was a little like being on tour; making new friends, playing shows, being hungover… while getting to know each of the mini United Nations of fellow musicians felt like scaling the Earth in a way.
I could rattle off something about each lecture, but personal highlights were Nile Rogers, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, Morton Subotnick, RZA, Peaches, and the aforementioned Tony Visconti & Boosty Collins. Usually afterwards there was time to hang out and chat with the guest lecturers, or even head to the studio with them to jam and record a track on the spot… as was my experience jamming highlife with Gyedu, thrashing out some shoegaze with Tony, and tracking some funky leads with Bootsy!
The nightly gigs allowed for all the participants and some of the guest lecturers to show off their musical finesse… one particular event, ‘Sound & Colour’ at the Palacio de Cibeles, featured myself and fourteen other participants making music from small, individual stages perched on the floor above the audience, who were free to move between the stages and interact with the live visuals being projected throughout the venue. Another personal highlight included a 40 minute improvised performance between pianist Francesco Tristano, Brian Simon aka ‘Anenon’ on sax, and myself on guitar, all being manipulated and remixed live by a group of six other participants, huddled together over a table covered in laptops, cables and controllers.
Things got a little nostalgic on the final evening during the listening session, where everyone handed in a CD of what they’ve created during the two weeks… many a drink, hi-five and group hug were shared in-between each track, which eventually lead to a succession of emotional “thank you… no, thank YOU’s” and nonsensical chanting by the end of the night. Leaving the next day, the backed up hours of sleep deprivation began to kick in, and everyone got a little quiet for the first time while contacts were being passed around… we all got something different out of the Academy, but the experience was genuinely shared between us.