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Dave Clark

Dave Clark of The Woodchopper’s Association

Dave Clark is an esteemed studio musician, drummer/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist, composer, improviser, writer, educator, live performer, and the leader of The Woodchopper’s Association Improviser’s Orchestra. He has collaborated with a diversity of artists, including Charles Spearin (see The Happiness Project), Gord Downie, The Inbreds, Jane Siberry, Julie Doiron, and the Sun Ra Arkestra, among many others. Clark is perhaps most known for playing drums—although he often contributed vocals and his own lyrics—in the indie rock band Rheostatics from 1980 until 1995. After departing from the group, Clark focused his energy on his own band, The Dinner is Ruined, and formed The Woodchopper’s Association, a multi-genre, often improvised, artist collective. Led by Clark, The Woodchopper’s are a collective of musicians, often augmented by dancers, painters, photographers, poets, writers and filmmakers (from Toronto and beyond), who specialize in freestyle improvisation and multi-disciplinary presentations. Based in Toronto, The Woodchopper’s have an engaged and vibrant focus on developing and strengthening community ties vis-à-vis the mentorship of young artists and through a series of music education workshops at all levels of schooling, in art galleries, and in their varied, daring, and exciting performances at music festivals.

Aside from much collaboration, Clark has also released two solo albums, Dave Clark and Sketchbook #2. Clark began playing music early in his childhood, and had his first gigs by the age of fourteen. While Clark only studied music for one semester at Humber College, he has taught drumming and has organized workshops and art performances throughout Ontario for more than twenty years now. He also published a book of his poetry entitled, A Month of Sundays, and a music instruction text entitled, How To Conduct Yourself! Conducting Cues For Instant Musical Composition.

This month’s Oral History interview is conducted by Steve Sladkowski, who at the time of the interview was an Undergraduate Researcher for the ICASP project. Steve has an active interest in musical improvisation, jazz historiography, and the development of musical aesthetics in Western culture. Steve remains an active performer, bandleader, and session musician in Toronto where he is presently based and where he is currently part of the indie-rock band, Topanga (now called PUP). When asked what he is up to today, Steve replied with his wry sense of humour that he is “a musician and recovering scholar currently misbehaving in Toronto,” and that when he is not touring he “can be found making noise with guitars, digging in vinyl crates, and hustling to learn more about the rap game.” In the interview Steve asks probing questions, while generally remaining off camera, about the various origins and influences of the Woodchopper’s Association. The interview is principally focused on The Woodchopper’s Association, and covers everything from the origins of the association, including past and current members, the multitude of influences upon the association, various aspects of improvised performance, as well as on Clark’s own approach to music, pedagogy, and his perpetual interest to maintain vibrant active musical communities which are united through the dialogue of improvised performances. The interview is amplified by the interspersed fine musical chops of The Woodchopper’s Association throughout.

“Running with it”: Dave Clark of The Woodchopper’s Association

A full transcript of the interview is available here.

So one of the things that improvisation has come to mean in the context of highly technological performance is that improvisation is the last claim to the legitimate presence of a human in the performance of music.

– Bob Ostertag