Matana Roberts © Paula Court

You’ll be presenting a new piece called “For Pina” in Berlin. What are your feelings about Pina Bausch?

She was a true visionary and one of my biggest creative heroes. She understood the importance of instinct, feeling and intentional devotion in the creation of a work. She understood the importance of representing an idea as it was, giving expression ofttimes to ideas and images that some had forgotten the inherent value therein.

Have you had a previous involvement with dance?

Yes, many times over the years. I collaborated intensively with the dancer Savion Glover and also Claire Elizabeth Barratt. I have also  collaborated with various modern American dance collectives. I have also done work for a few choreographer titans: Merce Cunningham and  Bill T. Jones.

You’ll be performing in the Martin-Gropius-Bau, an art museum. Last year you played at the opening of the new Whitney Museum in New York. Is it there a value in performing outside the normal environment of concert halls and jazz clubs, and in art galleries in particular?

Yes, I’m not that into fitting my work into spaces considered “normal” as it doesn’t really work for my vision. I am a mixed-media sound experimentalist. I make visual art as well as sound art, and being a composer-performer I also do some performance art work, which is what the Whitney experience was, in a sense. I had my first exhibition of some of my visual work this year at the Fridman Gallery in New York City. It featured my film and digital-medium work as well as some of my paintings that sit as music scores. I enjoy merging different mediums in my sound and music composition work, and so this cross-disciplinary output doesn’t generally fit well in a concert hall or a club. I prefer spaces that leave more open to the imagination of categorization. I don‘t really consider myself a “jazz musician”. I do not fit well in categories. I do not like being boxed under a label. I am more of a hybrid of many different American traditions.

How much time have you spent in Berlin, and what are your impressions of the city’s music and arts scene?

I have been to Berlin a handful of times and always enjoy coming here. I’m a huge history buff and I find this city so full of so much interesting history. I find the feeling on the streets and in art and music circles quite electric and inspiring, and the people who come to see my offerings are always quite loving and warm to me. I hope I will be back for many years to come.

You’ve chosen four Berlin-based musicians to work with you on “For Pina”. Who are they and how did you select them?

Christina Wheeler (electronics), Nikolaus Neuser (trumpet), Andrea Belfi (drums) and Dan Bodan (wordspeak, vocals). They are all long-time Berliners whose sound work I’ve admired for quite a while. They all have a very distinct openness and an original approach that I found thrilling for this particular piece about quite an original artist.

What sort of visual material are you incorporating in the performance, and how did you gather or create it?

As part of my art practice I explore film and digital media for the purpose of expanding my creative territory as a composer. The visual projected imagery is part of the written score. Some of the imagery is New York-specific, based on Ms. Bausch’s own documented love of the city and the affect it had on her early development, and some of the imagery is about the contradictions of various types of human migration and movement, scraps we psychologically leave behind unaware: something I feel she often commented on in some of my favourite parts of her work. But all in all, the entire sound quilt is my sound and visual ode to an artist that affirms to me what is most important in artistry: a search for one’s true self, through tireless hard work, unlabeled vision, and un-cautionary fear facing risk. She was an artist “of the people”, despite the fact that her art was sometimes quite misunderstood. I feel this act of being misunderstood I can relate to greatly. I hope to one day have a level of artistry that at least touches lightly the phenomenal heights of hers.

Matana Roberts’ “For Pina” will be shown on 1 November at Martin-Gropius-Bau, as part of the Jazzfest Berlin 2016 (sold out). Starting 4 November a video of the work can be seen on Berliner Festspiele’s website.