Han Bennink hears sonic possibilities in many objects beyond the typical drum set. The Dutch drum maestro, one of the leaders in European free jazz and free improvisation, has performed using a drum kit made of cheese, his own body and whatever found objects — or space — he happens to find himself in.
Bennink came to the Fresh Air studios in January for an in-studio interview and concert. By the time he left, he'd played a regular snare drum, as well as a book, some paper clips, a gumball machine, his chest, the floor, the studio microphone and table, a container of rice and a metal book stand. He put a drumstick in his mouth — hitting it with his other stick — and drummed while taking his foot on and off the hat of the snare. He sat on the floor of the studio, drumming the floor. He threw down his drum sticks several times, whistled and made bird calls.
Bennink also performed several improvised numbers with Mary Oliver, a classically trained American violinist and violist who now lives in Amsterdam and performs with the avant-garde group started by Bennink, The ICP Orchestra.
Bennink started his improvisational career as a teenager, when he was playing with his father in a band that would entertain Dutch troops.
"We played in a tent, and the heat in the tent was so high that all the drum hats were broken," he says. "And I was crying to my daddy, because my dad and I were an imitation of Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. And then my father said, 'Come on, man, think about it. Simply sit on the floor and you play on there. And you do what you can.' It was such a wise lesson."
Bennink never looked back. He sat on the floor, and drummed the floor, and then drummed whatever he could get his sticks — or hands — on.
"You can do entire concerts with that, what outlets, what you can do with music," he says. "What is music, anyway? It's just like organized sound. And what's organized? Who decides that?"
Bennink can make music out of just about anything. But he can't read musical notes.
"For me, it's all fly poop on white paper," he says.