As part of our “Fellows Friday” web feature, we focus on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges. This week, we speak to 2013 Pew Fellow Bhob Rainey, a soprano saxophonist and composer, one half of improvisational duo nmperign (with trumpeter Greg Kelley), and leader of the BSC, an eight-member ensemble that uses both acoustic and electronic instruments.
What do you most daydream about when you are working?
Having someone else finish whatever project I’m working on. Or finishing it in my sleep. Of course, this only happens at those points where I start to daydream during a project—a period that usually follows one of intense, obsessive engagement.
How does residing in this region contribute to your artistic practice?
Although I grew up here, I’ve only been back relatively recently, (after 18 years elsewhere). My impressions are still those of an outsider.
I’ve found it difficult to see much momentum or sense of cohesion within the “experimental” music community. There are a number of people doing interesting work, but their efforts do not appear to be translating into a lot of local energy. There is no shortage of shows, but the overall feel is one of fragmentation and low stakes. I would like to be wrong about this. If I’m right about it, I’d like to help change it.
On the other hand, I’ve had numerous opportunities for cross-discipline collaborations that are incredibly interesting and fruitful. The degree of artistry, vision, and effort present in the theater and dance communities, for instance, is impressive and inspiring. I had hoped to find this cross-discipline work when I came back to Philadelphia, and I’m pleased that it has already begun for me.
When did you know you were going to be an artist?
I’m not sure that I’m an artist now. I feel that artistic practices are, at their core, experiments in being human, and it’s a shame when they become confined to merely making art. That said, when I was 17 and got lucky enough to be sent to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School of the Arts, where I met a lot of people my age who were deeply engaged with a variety of artistic disciplines, I started to feel like it was a good idea to stop pretending that I wanted to be an “engineer.”
What images or things keep you company in the space where you work?
Years ago, when I was essentially floating from couch to couch, I bought a wooden egg man with a clock in its mouth. It was made by a dentist who had some sort of breakdown, moved to Peru, and made a career out of carving these things. Interestingly, the egg man, whose mouth is absurdly large and wide open, has no teeth.
I had hoped that this object would provide some sort of anchor as far as living conditions go, and perhaps it eventually did. Its causal role is difficult to nail down with any certainty.