The keys to Tiber Reardon’s musical improvisation are eloquence and empathy

Improvisational musician Tiber Reardon enjoys making music that evokes a feeling in the listener rather than conveying a distinct message. “That combination of sounds is up to you how you feel,” he says. (Ritche Perez / Submitted by Lynette Adams)

Tiber Reardon says he wants his first solo album to start and end with the sound of an airport.

“Airports fascinate me,” he says. “It’s not really a place. We’re going there to go somewhere.”

“Not really a place” might be the number of people who would perceive his ambient and improvisational performances. This summer, Reardon was one of two recipients to receive the Gerry Porter Prize for Creative Improvised Music at the 2022 Sound Symposium in St. John’s. The award honors the life of Gerald C. Porter, a St. John’s visual artist, designer and comedian who loved music that pushed boundaries.

Reardon says he intends to use the $1,000 prize to support an upcoming recording project.

“I’m trying to get funding to record an album in the fall, so that’s probably where the money will go.”

A veteran musician

The 44-year-old St. Anthony native has been an active member of the St. John’s music scene since moving to the city in 2005. He has backed numerous musicians, including Kellie Loder, Mark Bragg and Chris Picco. A volunteer at the Sound Symposium, Reardon is a regular at Night Music, an experimental music event that takes place at the Ship Pub on the third Thursday of every month.

In addition to solo improv performances, Reardon plays in a band called Atomic Clock with Chris Donnelly, Michelle LaCour and Josh Ward.

“Our schtick is that we never, ever plan. We book gigs and show up with instruments.”

They sometimes create artistic constraints to guide their improvisation.

“On one occasion, we walked into a gig with four prescribed chords, like, ‘Let’s play these four chords together at some point.’ all of a sudden we’ll be playing like crap and that’s deadly.”

A man with long hair, dressed in black, wearing glasses and a baseball cap, plays an electric guitar.
Tiber Reardon is one of two recipients of the 2022 Gerry Porter Prize for Creative Improvised Music. “When you listen, you bring your own unique experience to the observation.” (Christopher Deacon / Submitted by Lynette Adams)

Music as an experience rather than a message

Reardon says he enjoys making music that creates an emotional or aesthetic experience for the listener.

“Even when I was a kid, I was fascinated by music, I listened to music all day, every day,” he says. “And it wasn’t until the last few years that I even started paying attention to what the words were.”

Rather than conveying a distinct message, he is interested in “word sounds, alliteration, words as percussion and words as melody”.

“Mindfulness has changed my life,” says Reardon, who advocates mental health awareness for everyone, not just people with mental illness. He uses social media to share short pieces of improvised music, which he calls two-minute meditations.

“When someone hears it, because there are no words and there is no suggestion as to the tone.… This combination of sounds is up to you how it makes you feel. “

Improvisation in the form of conversation

When asked to compare the value of improvised music to that of conventional prescribed songs, Reardon compares it to a conversation.

“There’s a topic sentence and there are topic changes. I’ll talk a bit, then I’ll step back, then you can say something. Then all of a sudden we’re all talking at once. And then abandon us.”

This also goes for when it’s time to stop playing.

“It’s like when you’re having a conversation, you can tell when you’re done talking about a particular thing. It’s not like, ‘OK, we’ll stop talking about it now.’ You just feel it.”

In dark black and white, a man in dark clothes plays an electric guitar.
“There is always a risk of a train crash,” Tiber Reardon says of his improvisational musical work. (Brandon Reid / Submitted by Lynette Adams)

Like a good conversation, says Reardon, an improvised musical performance requires more than skill.

“We’ve all had a situation where someone in a group conversation gloviates and uses big, catchy words to show off. This is a person who is eloquent but doesn’t care about the conversation.”

Reardon likes to temper his musical eloquence with empathy, combining expertise and sensitivity towards his comrades and audience.

“When improvised music is done right – and I use that term very loosely – it’s when the people involved are connected and listening to each other.”

Does jamming sometimes get into a jam?

“There’s always a chance it could be a train wreck, but it never was, because everyone can play their instrument and everyone listens to each other.”

An album to “be present” with

For his upcoming album project, you could say he’s playing it by ear.

“The goal is going to be to elicit some sort of feeling or emotion, maybe images.” He says he wants it to be a combination of what he calls “real songs” and ambient soundscapes. “The goal is for there to be some sort of emotional continuity.”

Reardon continues, “People go to great lengths to say something meaningful, but I’ve always been focused on how a piece of music, which has lyrics, makes me feel a certain feeling.”

Of this planned album and its meditation tracks, Reardon says he wants to provide a musical space for the listener to “be aware and present with the sounds”.

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