OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS with Mike Nielsen
Ahead of his performance at Signal Series, on Thursday 7th November, Sligo-born guitarist Mike Nielsen and head of TU Dublin's Jazz Performance spoke to us about his approach to music-making. Described by the press as “one of Europe’s most distinctive and iconoclastic guitar voices, equally innovative on electric and acoustic guitars,', Mike Nielsen pioneered TU Dublin's Masters in Jazz Performance, tutors with the Sligo International Summer School and has given workshops at Berklee and the New School.
Central to his music-making, Nielsen says to us, is the drive 'to be creative and not afraid to take risks'. This sharp focus has become his signature in a performing career of extensive touring and recording, placing him as one of Ireland's leading jazz guitarists of recent decades. Among many other highlights, he has premiered Ronan Guilfoyle‘s Concerto for Jazz Guitar Trio and Orchestra, performed the music of Duke Ellington with the RTE Concert Orchestra, has taken the stages of jazz festivals including Cork Jazz Festival, ESB Dublin Jazz Week and Wangaratta Jazz Festival Australia, and has collaborated with an array of artists across the world. One of his longtime collaborators, Dave Liebman, has commented that his music is 'Truly a unique, one-of-a-kind voice... [it] burns with creativity and passion.'
Unsurprising then that Nielsen retains so many different strands to his career. In addition to his work as a teacher, performer and researcher, he has published a book on rhythm, emerging from his work on rhythmic concepts. Precision Timing for All Instruments: the Ultimate Rhythm Workout includes six original compositions and was published by Schott. He has also been commissioned extensively as a composer including by the Kilkenny Arts Festival, Improvised Music Company and Newpark Music Centre.
What are some of his inspirations? 'Microtonal development: creating new challenging music.' Nielsen is certainly one of the pioneers of microtonal music in Ireland, both in the academic world and the performing world. His research led to Masters and doctoral theses on microtonal systems and guitar composition, available for download, while on the practical end he has been awarded funding to pursue a number of projects exploring microtonal music, notably with his Crimo Trio, and a in a collaboration with vocalist Ellen Demos.
At the Signal Series, Mike collaborates with innovative Galway guitarist Aengus Hackett. The pair have performed together before, he tells us: 'We played at the Galway Jazz Festival a couple of years ago'. They immediately found commonalities in their approach, focusing again on creativity and musical risk-taking. They also see this focus on high-quality innovative music from the audience's perspective, Nielsen commenting that the audience should ideally have a really 'great musical experience'.
And finally, we discussed the future - what does he see occurring in the music industry perhaps 20 years down the line?
'Not sure really, but great art never falters; quality music should always be present in our lives as we pursue happiness, and we should never forget the masters of the musical universe. We should research and develop our tastes in music and the arts in general - challenge ourselves - and not be dumbed down by fashion music which is, in my view, the reason for the ludicrous suggestion of getting rid of Lyric FM.'