Plonsey, Dan

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Plonsey, Dan

Plonsey, Dan , plays a variety of clarinets and saxophones (including soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone) in addition to more unusual horns like the Laotian mouth organ; b. Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 1, 1958. Dan Plonsey started playing clarinet in the second grade. Three years later he picked up the alto sax. He credits his exposure to Charles Ives, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Mauricio Kagel in his freshman year at Yale as “life-changing influences.” A couple of years later, in 1979, he had an impressionable first encounter with Sun Ra. He took off that summer for the legendary Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, N.Y., where he studied with Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, and other luminaries of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and beyond. From 1986 to 1988, the Bay Area composer-improviser attended classes once again with Braxton, while earning an M.A. in music composition from Mills Coll. As co-founder and curator for two years (from March 1995) of the Beanbender’s weekly creative-music series in Berkeley, Calif., he fueled the Bay Area improv scene. In an effort to make the venue “an otherworldly presence,” he booked both up-and-coming locals and renowned innovators like Parker/Guy/Lytton, John Butcher, Rova Saxophone Quartet, and Nels Cline. As a recording artist, he is just beginning to come into his own. His ability to fuse the absurd, intellectual, and emotional sides of his personality into both compositions and improvisations gives his music a distinctive voice, which he says arises “from the drama of conflict.” A wide-eyed experimentalist, his work ranges from simple melodic frameworks to extraordinary polyphony, at times incorporating elements of over-the-top Dada theater in a bid to make real the unreal.


Dire Images of Beauty (1991); Another Curiosity Piece (1995); Ivory Bill (1997); Child King Dictator Fool (1997).

—Sam Prestianni