Tashi Dorji is a Bhutanese-American musician who’s been unfurling his dissonant, explosive guitar improvisations for nearly a decade, with a new composition or collaboration being released almost every other month. His prolific discography maps a journey through sonic spaces very few others choose to explore. I got a chance to speak with Dorji before his first show of a joint tour with Magik Markers’ Elisa Ambrogio tonight at Out of the Blue in Cambridge.
What brought you to making music? Did anyone close to you play?
I grew up listening to lots of short wave radio since TV didn’t come into Bhutan until the late 1990s. So I listened to whatever came on the radio, dubbed into cassettes, also lots of bootlegged cassettes. The music consisted of everything from Bollywood to Nirvana. Having limited access I think created more urge or the curiosity of the “other” and that navigational tool was the radio for me. And this is mostly how I heard the “western music.”
I come from a household of traditional musicians. My grandfather from my mom’s side was a very innovative Bhutanese lute (dramyen) player and my mom is a traditional flute player, so I was exposed to music early on, but not necessarily motivated to learn it. The traditional music was always there, it was our context. It was at our home, at the monastery, at village festivals, rituals etc. It was not a performative thing but more of a lifestyle.
Do you go into a composition with a set idea of where you can see it going or do you let it flow as it comes?
There’s really no set rules to my playing. Sometimes, well actually most of the time ideas form as I play, and then they elaborate or disrupt, but again this is all situational. It happens when it happens. I find improvisation the best way to move away from the idea of centrality, tradition, traditional or ascribed methodology. I find improvising most horizontal and rhizomatic. The idea of defying any form of hierarchy or binary oppositions in the way we approach music is very attractive for me.
What influences do you bring together? Are you thinking about them actively in your process?
A lot of different people, players, friends, families and places.
Do you feel your sound or the way you make music has changed across your many releases?
I think so. Everything is imperfect, hybrid and messy. So I hope the sounds I make are constantly in flux.
What’s one of your favorite experiences that had an impact on your music?
I think when I first heard Derek Bailey‘s album Standard.