Radim Hanousek: I definitely don’t get bored

5 May 2021, 1:00
Radim Hanousek: I definitely don’t get bored

One of the few positives of the otherwise tormented musical year 2020 is the unusually rich Czech jazz harvest: sixty (!) albums and projects either purely jazz or significantly affected by jazz were released last year. Many of the most highly acclaimed ones are connected to Brno in various ways – for example, the debut Bigbandová elektronika (Bigband Electronica) by the increasingly prominent Cotatcha Orchestra and the ensemble’s second album Dust in the Groove, testing the boundaries of classical music and jazz through refined improvisation.

Both albums are interconnected by, among others, bass clarinetist, saxophonist, great composer and improviser Radim Hanousek. The breadth of his creative scope intertwines contemporary classical music with experimental fusions on the border of jazz with an emphasis on various forms of improvisation. For the festival Bachův varhanní podzim (Bach Organ Autumn) 2017 he composed improvisation-based jazz variations on Bach’s Aria. The composition for jazz orchestra It Could Happen won the 2018 Karel Krautgartner Composition Competition. While Hanousek has honed his performance and improvisational skills in a number of bands from his musical past and present (including Gulo čar, the international quartets NOCZ and Fabio Delvo´Roots, the Didrik Ingvaldsen Ensemble and the big band Cotatcha Orchestra), the still-living organism of the Dust in the Groove ensemble offers a reflection of all three sides of his musical personality – authorial, interpretive and improvisational. We talked about the paths of his life, not only in music.

Do you come from a musical family (or a real clan of musicians), or is your current profession unique in your family?

The whole branch of the Hanousek clan – the Ostrava one – is completely musical, starting with the uncle (dad’s brother), the aunt, all three of their sons and their children. And my grandfather on my mother’s side used to play piano.

How did you come to music as a profession? Was it clear from childhood (PAS, conservatory)?

It was a very winding road. I graduated from the PAS (Primary Art School) in my native town Ústí nad Orlicí on clarinet. My teacher Zdeněk Černý introduced me to swing and traditional jazz. Thanks to him we had a small student jazz band and a big band. And then, when I was still a PAS pupil, I got into the excellent Junior Bigband in Lanškroun, which is still led by Josef Pilný to this day. At seventeen I gave up playing, but I listened to a lot of everything: Bach, romanticism, metal, punk, art rock. The Party at the time tried to keep a strict eye on what could and could not be listened to, but you could still get a lot of music. Occasionally something was released in our country, and records were brought from Hungary, Yugoslavia. There were exchanges, records were constantly circulating among friends. We recorded everything we could on cassettes, even programmes from Austrian and Polish radio stations. At the university (I studied computers at the FE of BUT) I started with bigbeat – I played keyboards, saxophone and sometimes even shouted something into the microphone. I was well into my twenties when I rediscovered jazz (Chick Corea’s Return to Forever was the impetus) and finally started practicing the saxophone properly. Then I became friends with Vilém Spilka, who was a remarkable phenomenon at that time because he knew jazz theory. So thanks to him I started to practice systematically. By then I was playing jazz publicly and working as a programmer at the same time. And then came a crucial moment: the jazz department at the JAMU Faculty of Music opened. I entered it and stopped being a programmer. And I have been at JAMU for ten years.

hanousek_radim_foto_Iva Vlesiva

Most of the students or graduates of the JAMU Faculty of Music I have interviewed cite the time of their studies as the initiation for their further musical direction. Does this also apply to your musical career?

Yes. I started writing music; that was a major turning point. And as a performer, I crossed the boundaries of mainstream jazz. An infinite musical space opened up to me.

What is your relationship to the current music education?

A functional teacher-student relationship is always essential. A good teacher will cultivate in the pupil a love of music and the joy of playing and listening to music regardless of the curriculum. I guess there’s still an exaggerated scale and etude drill, but it’s changing a lot. But I don’t teach at any primary music school, and at JAMU I was and am lucky to have excellent teachers.

Jiří Kotača likes to describe the members of his big band, where you also play, as “proficient brass players”. Does that apply to you?

That’s not my case. I can’t play brass music at all. I used to play backup in a dance band, alternating between swing, pop and brass sets. My bandmates were desperate for me during the brass set, I kept swinging. Like any genre, brass music has a wide range. It sounds different in the Balkans than in Bavaria.

You came to my attention as a member of the “white brass section” of the great Romani family funk band Gulo čar.

At the same time with Gulo čar I played in Chorchestra, which was led by Jirka Hradil (today e.g. Tata Bojs). That was a good band, too. But I used to play in various jazz ensembles. I like to remember the quintet with the great Cuban trumpeter Lázaro Cruz, who lives in Kroměříž. And before jazz I used to play bigbeat, as I mentioned. One “hardcore” band I played in and screamed in was called Vlky z lesů žene hlad (Wolves are Driven from the Woods by Hunger).

Where and with whom can we hear you today?

Since 2014 I have been leading my own project Dust in the Groove. I’m lucky to work with such great, creative musicians (I don’t like the Czech word referring to female musicians, sorry, but women have always been an important part of the lineup). I also collaborate with artists and dance performers from the Orbita association and organise music and art workshops for children and clients with mental disabilities.

Another long-standing project is the Norwegian-Czech quartet NOCZ, led by Norwegian trumpeter and composer Didrik Ingvaldsen. NOCZ also occasionally collaborates with other musicians from the Czech Republic, Norway or Germany, and occasionally Iva Bittová performs with us, with whom we recorded our second album. I have also been a member of Cotatcha Orchestra since the beginning, a big band that is very actively (in a positive sense) led by Jirka Kotača. I shouldn’t forget the peculiar bluesman and guitar maker Jan Fic, with whose band I have been playing for over a year.

And I enjoy the contemporary improvisation scene; I belong to an association of improvisers from all over Europe called Just music. The “base camp” is in Vienna, but concerts and meetings take place in various places in Europe. Last year, I played a concert at the Chilli jazz festival as part of Just music in a random trio with Romanian singer Claudia Cervenca and Swiss drummer Samuel Dühsler. We decided to keep the trio and we are planning several concerts in Europe this year.

I would like to mention my work for Café Ponava. Vítek Kalvoda, who manages the popular café in Lužánky, Brno’s largest park, is a very hard-working culture lover and organises and manages many activities around the café. I have been taking care of the dramaturgy of the jazz part of Ponavafest for several years. This year, the festival should take place on 21–23 May. We’ll see! Could be a nice reboot after the cultural vacuum. The prepared programme also includes some foreign delicacies for music connoisseurs. And we are also planning to launch a new internet Radio Ponava soon, where I am again something like a musical administrator. The radio station will focus on podcasts from the world of progressive and creative music and should make the listener want to listen to something new and unknown. And a beautiful collaboration with Roland Dahinden, Swiss composer, trombonist and alpine horn player. I will perform with Roland in June at the Expozice nové hudby (Exhibition of New Music) festival in Brno and in August at the Alpentône festival in Switzerland. I have been cooperating with the Orbita dance association for a long time. In addition to joint improvisations and concerts, we put together a dance and movement performance called Děti dětí (Children of Children), which is a physical reflection of three post-Holocaust generations. The premiere took place in September at Dům umění (House of Arts), but we expect several more performances in other venues.

You really do not get bored ... I am also interested in your somewhat secret activity in a remarkable quartet with roots in world music – Fabio Delvo´Roots. And also one touchless musical instrument – theremin – played by Edgar Mojdl.

I have been friends with Italian saxophonist Fabio Delvo since 2011. We have played many concerts together since then, both in Italy and here. For his latest project, Roots, Fabio wanted a theremin and asked me if I would recommend someone. And I knew that Edgar Mojdl, a brilliant brain, could play the instrument, as well as anything else that already exists or that he has yet to produce himself. The theremin is a really interesting and actually terribly simple electronic instrument, dating back to the 1920s. We recorded the album Roots in October 2019 in the music studio of JAMU Na Orlí and it features the cellist Dina Kadysheva. The last Roots concert took place in a church in Varese in mid-February last year. At that time COVID was already raging in Italy, but we did not perceive any threat at all and enjoyed a beautiful week in epidemic-stricken Italy.

Many creative musicians, in addition to being active in one or two permanent groups, more and more often choose a form of a (temporary, closed) project, which they invent, find bandmates, rehearse, perform in concert, or make or release a recording – and then they split up... Do you create in a similar way, or do both paths intertwine?

I like to meet new musicians and join new projects, even one-off ones, if they appeal to me. Some projects cannot even be sustained in the long term, perhaps for financial or organisational reasons. I am currently finishing the album ESCAPE, which features five Portuguese musicians of different musical backgrounds (classical, jazz, folk, free improvisation) in addition to the members of Dust in the Groove. I will probably never be able to present this ensemble in concert, and I certainly don’t foresee any continuation of it, yet this recording is of great importance to me. But basically I’m concentrating mainly on my project Dust in the Groove. I believe that this ensemble will play great everything that comes into my head, and I don’t need to look for other musicians in this case. I’m not particularly interested in projects that invite a star just because of the interest of festivals. In general, understanding, joy and friendship are more important to me in any project I am part of than super performance.

Do you compose continuously, do you wait for an idea or do you “brood it” as per the job order? Or does the low-hanging sword of Damocles of a shortening deadline help?

Various musical situations come to mind while running, walking or cycling. I take notes, I keep ideas. But I only start the final work when I have to, I’m pressed by time. It’s important for me to know why I’m writing something. I have to sort out the whole system, the form, the concept, the sound in my head. Then I draw the piece, scribble on piles of paper. And the sheets themselves come at the end. Or they don’t even come, sometimes you just have to draw everything. It depends on who the song is for.

Every jazz player builds more or less on improvisation, but with you this building block of playing and composition is pushed deep into the foundations, am I right?

Improvisation is a very broad term; it means something different for musicians of different genres. A musician in the field of free improvisation or electronic music perceives improvisation differently, a rock or jazz player differently, a performer of baroque music differently, and then there is the whole field of various ethnic music with its improvisation. And the transition between composition and improvisation can also sometimes be very unclear. If I write music for musicians who can improvise and like to do it, which is the case with DITG, I give improvisation a lot of space. I like to combine vague notes, instructions and pictures with classical music notation. This creates unpredictable musical moments and makes each performance of the piece exceptional.

When you relax, do you prefer listening to music or silence (and other “noises”, like nature)? What are your favourite genres of music as a listener?

I prefer listening to music at concerts. At home, I often listen to a lot of music just as it pours out of social media. The amount of music readily available in digital form is a bit scary. A lot of interesting music is then consumed by superficial one-time listening. But I like vinyl. Putting on a record, sitting down, holding the big cover and turning it over after less than twenty minutes... it’s a different experience than at the computer.

As a listener, I don’t care much about genres. I like music that surprises me, that is clever, original, sonically appealing. And the same goes for interpretation. Lately I’ve fallen into listening to the sounds that surround me. So the concert is always going on, you just have to turn on your ears.

Most musicians have a very reserved attitude to sport, whether out of concern for their fingers or innate laziness. But that’s not your case: you ride a bike, you do orienteering. Is there more to it than just trying to keep fit?

I’m not a big athlete. But sitting in front of the computer and the love of beer needs to be compensated with something. I enjoy running and cycling. Moreover, the bicycle is the perfect means of transport for getting around the city, fast, environmentally friendly.

You have a taste for non-traditional forms of musical notation. One of your inspirations was the orienteering map – not only in the framework of the Klínem 2020 project. What exactly is this about – can it be briefly explained? With which artists have you established cooperation – and will the project continue?

I have been attracted to graphic scores for a long time. For some musical ideas, ordinary sheet music is not enough. This is something that composers addressed as early as the 1950s. It then depends on how much information the composer wants to convey to the performer and how much they leave to performer’s creativity and imagination. In the case of Klínem 2020, I thought of using the rules of my favourite orienteering and map work to create a new composition. The musician, like the competitor, works with coordinates, areas, control labels, scale. The rules are quite extensive, but can be mastered relatively quickly. During the lockdown, the orienteering training sessions were organised so that the participants did not meet each other at the start. I did the same thing. Each musician played for themselves, they did not “meet” anyone else. Nevertheless, thanks to the given musical material an interesting collective music was created. And I hope it’s entertaining. For one of the recorded disciplines – relay – the artist Veronika Vlková and animator Kryštof Kučera created a beautiful animated video (https://youtu.be/3VZCMSXImOI).

We often perform graphic scores with Dust in the Groove in concerts. We project the scores onto the screen so that the viewer can follow the inspiration of the music with us. I recorded some of the scores myself, for example, with Olga Piperová we created a whole cycle of interpreted drawings. Apart from Olga, I collaborate with other artists – Natalia Perkof, Lenka Pilařová, Rose Vinda, Roberta Legros Štěpánková, Irena Iškievová. The results of the joint work are posted on the website www.malujemehudbu.cz.


Musicians writing for child audiences rarely include them as co-creators, but for you it is obvious. I see two versions: Paint the music / Play the picture. What’s the response?

The interactive website Malujeme hudbu (Painting Music) was created as a response to the interruption of workshop activities due to school closures and the transition of teaching to online mode. I had a good experience of music and art workshops for children. At just music workshops, the children are a bit stiff and shy, while artistic expression is more natural for them. When music and painting are combined, they lose their shyness and listen attentively to musicians who actually play contemporary or experimental music. At the summer workshop in the House of the Lords of Kunštát, the children, under the guidance of Olga Piperová Taušová, painted long rolls of paper together and then unrolled these rolls in front of us musicians. In fact, a kind of musical film was made. Another strong experience I had was an art workshop for clients with mental or intellectual disabilities at Galerie 13, led by artist Irena Iškievová. The very first client brought a picture with a minimalist drawing of water drops. Until now, Irena said, she had only painted animals from photos.

The Malujeme hudbu (Painting Music) website is actually a simple environment where you can insert an image or music, so you can create music for any image in the gallery or you can add your own image to any saved music. Or you can just watch and listen. On one surface there are pictures of children and professional artists side by side, and the same goes for the music. I wish there were more contributions from children, surprisingly the adults are leading the way.

Last year you released a very well received album with Dust in the Groove; you even managed to do a gala release party. Is this (again renewed) line-up planning any new project?

There were even two launches of the record, both in August 2020, in the short break between the no-concert periods. The first one was at the international showcase of Hevhetia (the Slovak label that released the album and also released all four NOCZ albums) in Košice. The concert is recorded here: https://youtu.be/iiteZV8PRho. The second gala launch took place in all the exhibition areas and corridors of the Brno Dům umění (House of Arts). The album was officially launched by artist Natalie Perkof, the author of the beautiful album cover, and Norwegian trumpeter Didrik Ingvaldsen from NOCZ, who also rehearsed a special programme for the launch. The dance of Roberta Legros Štěpánková was also part of it.

With DITG in June, I hope to perform Roland Dahinden’s Chat to Charlie, led by the composer, at the Expozice nové hudby (Exhibition of New Music) event. We will be at an artist-in-residence stay in Poschiavo, Switzerland for the whole month of August. Here a new programme combining electronics, field recordings and acoustic instruments is planned to be created. The stay is combined with concerts in Switzerland and Italy. I was approached by Viktor Pantůček and Pavel Strašák with an interesting idea related to the Brno Káznice venue (former house of correction). The project, which is due to take place in September, includes a sound survey of the organ, which was taken away from the institution’s chapel, a sound installation in the chapel and an associated composition for DITG.

And I would definitely like to continue workshops for children and clients with intellectual disabilities.

The COVID age has had a very suffocating and depressing effect on many musicians (and artists in general), yet some have used the lack of opportunities for traditional interaction with listeners and the time not filled with rehearsals to work on other compositions or perform on social media. How do you spend the year without concerts – are you planning something new?

Through forced musical isolation I discovered new possibilities – the world of field recordings. I record the sounds that catch my attention, whether they are natural or civilization sounds. I then work with the sounds, combining them into rhythmic-melodic motifs or noise planes. What I find interesting is the connection of these sounds with the sounds of musical instruments. I’ve bought some basic studio equipment and spend a lot of time exploring its possibilities.

Right now I’m finishing work on the ESCAPE album I mentioned earlier. The album will be released in May on the new label Ma Records. It is a collage of my field recordings from Portugal, where I was last November, with recordings of five Portuguese and six local improvisers – mostly DITG members.

How does this virtual cross-border work on a record actually work when you can’t meet in the studio?

The musicians sent me the recordings according to the attached score. I was surprised by the quality of the recorded music, which I only received through email communication. They all put a lot of energy, creativity and personality into the recordings. From start to finish, I consulted with Ulrich Krieger, composer, saxophonist and professor of composition at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, which was impeccable. Ulrich had listened carefully to much of my previous compositional work, so he knew my musical thinking well. My work went quickly under his guidance. I started with a bunch of unsorted audio recordings and within a few days I had a very clear idea of the result. We worked very intensively, Ulrich analysed every step in detail, but he left me free to decide what to do next and motivated me a lot. Due to the American time shift, I received his extensive reports at three o’clock in the morning, so I got right to work the next morning. When he was working this hard, I had no choice but to work hard too. I have never been so quickly finished with such a large work, and with the good feeling that I have not neglected anything. Now we are finishing the final mix and master with Tomas Vtípil (another person who has entered ESCAPE in a very positive and significant way). Tomáš perfectly understood my intention and without long explanations he brought the work to my dream goal. I am very happy about this project, actually such a child of COVID. It’s completely different from what I’ve been doing.

I’ve also recently started working on a micro-opera in a public space. The micro-opera is created by the team of Jana Vondrů, Lenka Sedláčková, Ivan Palacký and Petr Kačírek. I’m looking forward to this new experience as well, it’s another entry into new territory for me.

I’m definitely not bored. And I also notice some positive COVID manifestations: practicing the bass clarinet, running in the woods daily, reading, watching movies, and spending more time with my son.

You are intertwined with the JAMU Faculty of Music in two ways – you are still studying, and at the same time you yourself lead other students. What do you teach and what do you learn?

My current studies at JAMU are related to the border territory between composition and improvisation, between jazz and contemporary classical music, between music and noise. I’ve been in charge of a student inter-disciplinary ensemble that we’ve been working with in this area for a couple of years now. I also invite various guests from abroad (Franz Hautzinger, Roland Dahinden and Frank Gratkowski).

And I am very lucky that my dissertation is supervised by Jaroslav Št’astný, alias Peter Graham, a man of immense education, wit and radical views. He’s the main reason I’m evolving the way I am.

Head pfoto: Eva Svobodová



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The upcoming 69th season of the Brno Philharmonic is centred around three numbers - 90, 200 and 150. The entire season will see the celebration of numerous anniversaries, the performance of several masterpieces and a wealth of world-class soloists such as soprano Chen Reiss, tenor Christoph Prégardien, pianist Alexandre Tharaud, cellist Steven Isserlis, percussionist Adélaïde Ferrière and violinist and conductor Fabio Biondi.  more

Some of the big names coming to Brno in the autumn include Al Di Meola, one of the greatest ever jazz-rock guitarists, and cult American saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Jiří Slavík will be appearing with the nine-member ensemble Polka-boys to perform their Polkatime project, radical reworkings on the polka that in places even border on ragtime. The autumn will also see the continuation of the Club Life series at Cabaret des Péchés. This time with the singer and "jazz artist for the hip hop generation" José James and a double concert featuring two of the Czech Republic’s leading jazz line-ups - the Robert Balzar Trio and the Matej Benko Quintet.  more

The new programme of the Ensemble Versus chamber choir pays homage to the Feast of Pentecost. Along with other 20th and 21st century choral works, the première will feature three new compositions on liturgical texts commissioned by the ensemble. The concert will be conducted by Patrik Buchta.  more

The last concert from the Invisible City series is entitled Samá láska (Love Alone), based on the poetry collection by Jaroslav Seifert. For the first time ever, an orchestra will play in the Brno Underground Reservoir with the première featuring three compositions written specifically for this space. The pieces are by three Czech composers, Petr Hromádka, Naomi Savková and Tomáš Šenkyřík, and they will talk about music that cannot love.  more

The samba and other Brazilian rhythms will have the summer streets of Brno packed with music and dance. The city will welcome Brasil Fest Brno at the beginning of August. This year's fifth annual festival will feature two-time Latin Grammy winner, guitarist and singer João Bosco, as well as pop singer Marina Sena. The festival will host a carnival in the streets, accompanied by concerts and workshops.  more

Terroir, a term used especially in the wine industry, is the subheading of this year's 31st annual Easter Festival of Sacred Music. It refers to the set of natural conditions, especially soil properties, which give a crop its distinctive character. Terroir perfectly describes the dramaturgy of this year's edition, which is focused exclusively on the work of domestic composers in the Year of Czech Music.  more

The Brno Culture Newsletter brings you an overview of what is happening in theatres, clubs, festivals and cultural events in Brno.  more

The Musica Florea ensemble is preparing a new concert programme to be performed for the first time this April. This year marks the 170th anniversary of Leoš Janáček's birth, and to mark the occasion the ensemble has taken up his earliest compositions to set them alongside works from the early Italian Baroque. Musica Florea will be performing with conductor Mark Štryncl. The soloists will be Barbora Kabátková, Stanislava Mihalcová, Daniela Čermáková, Hasan El Dunia and Jaromír Nosek.  more

Easter concerts are already a tradition at the Brno City Theatre. This Easter, the Rock Mass will be performed on Friday and Saturday at the Music Stage of the Brno City Theatre.  more