Hailing from Cherry Hill, NJ, tenor saxophonist and composer Peyton Pleninger claims Steve Coleman, Milford Graves, and Henry Threadgill as some of his most important recent musical influences. Now currently studying at The New School, Pleninger transferred to the school after a year at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His quartet, Biotonic, “explores the relationship of cardiology and human experience through sound” and will be performing for the first time at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, April 6, 2017, on the eve of Pleninger’s 21st birthday.
We caught up with him recently over oversized mugs of coffee in the Village on a rainy, early spring day:
The Jazz Gallery: When did your interest with integrating the body and sound start?
Peyton Pleninger: I guess it was just two years ago? Like two or three years ago. I got Steve [Coleman]’s record, Functional Arrhythmias, my last year of high school, and that was the first Steve record that I got. I loved it. He was talking about being inspired by Milford Graves for all this stuff, so I was like, “OK, this is the guy I need to go and find.” Then, when I was at Berklee two years ago, he [Graves] played a free show at Brandeis University. You could take a shuttle bus from Back Bay, Boston over to Brandeis to see this show for free. That was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
TJG: He was performing solo?
PP: Just Milford, solo. He plays and he sings, and he was talking about what he does. I went up and talked to him afterward and ended up coming down to his place. The first lesson, or thing you do, you can go in and you get your heartbeat recorded. He’s got a stethoscope with a quarter-inch output, and he goes into ProTools, and you get your heartbeat on an EKG.
He’s built these computer programs that will read your EKG and then convert it into musical pitch. He’s also got these things where it will overlay your heart beat with an imagined heartbeat that’s faster, but at the golden ratio between them. It’s stuff you’d hear in Cuban music or in West African musics, really fantastic.
TJG: What was the feeling you had hearing Milford’s concert?
PP: Wow, man. I got to the end and … well, Milford even said after the concert, “Man, you were smiling the whole time.” And I was!
For me, he’s one of the only guys I see where I feel totally energized after seeing him—like this feeling of just wanting to jump up and down and run around the block. I just feel good.
TJG: Why do you think that is?
PP: I think he’s figured it out. He’s figured out a way to play that’s more than just sound and the way that we perceive sound with our mind. I think he’s figured out a way to play that affects you on a physical level in some way. I think it comes for studying all the heartbeats and all of that, getting deep into the cardiology and figuring out why we function the way we function.
TJG: Could you tell me when Biotonic started?
PP: It didn’t have a name at first. You saw the first gig we played, at SEEDS!