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Hey, all! It’s been another wonderful year here at Wild Rumpus. We’ve premiered a ton of new works, including pieces by Joshua Carro, Leaha Maria Villareal, Lee Weisert, Eliza Brown, Per Bloland, and Ruby Fulton; we’ve added the fabulous Mia Nardi-Huffman (violin), David Wegehaupt (saxophone), Eugene Theriault (bass), and Weston Olencki (trombone) to our roster; and we’ve played music by emerging and established composers of new music alike, from our commissions to György Kurtág’s eloquent Kafka Fragments, from Caroline Miller’s dreamy, surreal Berceuse et Jeux to John Luther Adams’ expansive, crystalline The Light Within, from Asha Srinivasan’s intricate, sinuous Dviraag to Lee Hyla’s blistering We Speak Etruscan. We’re so proud of the fantastic talent we’ve been able to showcase, and the vibrant, challenging music we’ve gotten to share with you this year, and next year’s going to be even bigger! Coming up are new commissions by Ioannis Angelakis, David Bird, Ben Richter, Stefan Weisman, Emma O’Halloran, David Biedenbender, and Christopher Cresswell; another round of the Wild Rumpus Commissioning Project, our open call for composers to commission; recording our first album; and more stuff we’ll be so excited to announce! We’d like to celebrate 2014 and welcome 2015 with you in style: with the first-ever…
New Year’s Countdown!
If you donate $25 or more, then every so often throughout December, we’ll send you a fun little thing via e-mail, until we ring in the new year together!
For every additional $25 you donate, you’ll get more little fun things: $50 gets you something every few days, and $75 gets you everything we’ve got—something for every day, December 7-January 1!
What kind of fun stuff?
It’s a surprise! But you can give us a few hints about the kind of stuff you like below, and we’ll keep it in mind! They’ll be small, but fun, and we think they’ll be a fun addition to your holiday season!
Where do donations go?
Donations go to our general operating fund—your donation will help us:
All donations are tax-deductible thanks to our fiscal sponsor, San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music. Payments are securely processed using Stripe.
Thanks so much for your support, and happy new year!
— Love, Wild Rumpus
I recently spoke to Ruby Fulton about her background and her new work, you & me, written for Wild Rumpus. The piece is receiving its premiere on Friday, September 5, 2014 at Old First Concerts in San Francisco. More information on Ruby’s work can be found on her website: http://www.rubyfulton.com – Sophie Huet, Wild Rumpus development director
Can you tell me about your background as a musician and how you got into composition?
I started off as a string player playing the violin since I was a little kid in a small town in northwest Iowa. I had a band in high school, and we wrote music, so we were writing, but that didn’t even occur to me as a career path until I went to Boston University and studied violin. I had to take a theory class and I really really liked it. I hadn’t really done music theory before but it was a lot of fun. I had a cool teacher who encouraged me a lot and, one thing led to another, I started to compose. My first piece was a violin duo I performed with my teacher, which was really cool. I remember he came down and played in the Composers Forum, and everyone was like, “Oh my God! Yuri Mazurkevich is here playing violin!” I didn’t know that was weird, I just asked him.
By the end of college, I was pretty committed to being a composer, so then I went to the San Francisco Conservatory, and I studied with Eli Armer and a little with Dan Becker. That was cool. From there to Peabody, and that’s where I am now – Baltimore.
Are you still studying at Peabody?
No, I got my doctorate there in 2009. Now I teach at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. I teach there and I teach a little at a lot of different places. I also teach violin.
For the piece you wrote for us, the fundamentals that we saw in the reading session didn’t change so much to the final piece, but how did the reading session and what you heard influence where you took the piece afterwards?
There were a couple really important things. First of all the trombone part was really really high. I guess I knew it was high – I’m a brass player too, but it was kind of a composer faux-pas to realize that really doesn’t work. I thought about taking it down an octave, but that was not the voicing that I wanted. The whole layer that evolves but stays steady, that ended up shifting down. That triggered some other changes. There’s two main layers – a steadier thing, and then the one that’s really erratic. I think one of the big changes after the reading session was, sinking it down, and then letting the erratic line start to infect the steady line a little bit. The grace notes came in as this element of something that’s not quite right, and the piano as it builds started to get some dissonant notes that didn’t quite fit. And then there’s a point in the middle where they switch and the steady people start playing the more chaotic material. It helps so much to hear it with real instruments, and it was really nice to be able to hear you guys play that even though it was not everybody was there.
Can you talk about where you got the idea for this piece, or how it came together?
Basically, this music is about the interaction of two really different things, and how over time the evolution of both those things over time kind of collides and influences the other part. Two layers, one layer being steady, and the other layer being chaotic and jamming those two things together and seeing what happens. For me it was musically interesting to start off with those two things and actually not know what going to happen. For instance, I didn’t know the layers were going to switch places part way through the piece. It’s a dramatic moment in the music. I didn’t plan that out, it just made sense at the time. That’s one of the things I love about composing, you can work through things, or set up a scenario and see what happens.
I’m imagining those little brick things that you set up in rows and you just push one and watch it expand.
Exactly. Set something up and put it into motion and see what happens. It’s kind of a minimalist approach, although the music isn’t really minimalist because it’s kind of dense.
It’s a really great piece – I’m really looking forward to it. I also wanted to talk a little about Rhymes with Opera, because I know you are one of the artistic directors.
Rhymes with Opera is a five-person collective. We do all brand-new opera type music, experimental vocal music. There’s three singers and two composers, me and my friend George Lam, are the co-artistic directors. It’s a bit like Wild Rumpus, actually, because you have the composer-directors too, and the performers. We just do new pieces written for our group. In November, we are doing a Dolly Parton show with an opera based on some Dolly Parton super-fans – those are the main characters, and their lives and how they interact. We’re previewing that piece and then also getting some people to come in and do Dolly Parton covers. It’s a show featuring Dolly and things about Dolly. And then next summer our friend Anna Meadors is working on a new piece, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Coffee and Cigarettes, it’s like short vignettes that aren’t really about anything, but people sitting around talking over coffee and it’s kind of dark. She’s working on an opera in the spirit of that. We also recently now have Rhymes with Orchestra, a chamber ensemble. So we’ve expanded and those are with the same people, the family is growing.
I recently spoke to Per Bloland about his background and about his new work Solis Overture written for Wild Rumpus. The piece is receiving its premiere on Friday, September 5, 2014 at Old First Concerts in San Francisco. More information on Per’s work can be found on his website: http://www.perbloland.com/ – Dan VanHassel, Wild Rumpus artistic director
Why don’t you tell me a little about your background as a musician.
Sure. I started down the whole compositional path fairly late in life. I played guitar in a band in college, and that was great, it was really fun. This was back in the 90s, when alternative rock and grunge were all the rage. We were all interested in a variety of sounds, but generally I leaned toward the heavier stuff while a few others were more into folk. The result was songs in a bunch of different weights, you might say. After my undergrad years I moved to San Francisco to be a rock star, but that clearly didn’t work out, and I was less and less satisfied with that scene. At the same time I was working as a substitute teaching in the public school district. One day I arrived at what I thought was to be a day-long gig at a high school, and discovered the band director had just gone on medical leave. They heard I was a musician and asked me to give the music classes a go. So I started teaching band, though I didn’t really know what I was getting into. At least I knew how to read music, having played clarinet for a number of years. It was a great experience, and I can’t even express how much I learned. After that year I decided I needed to fill in all the holes, and actually get a degree in music, so I enrolled at San Francisco State. I already had an undergrad degree from the University of Michigan, so I didn’t actually need the piece of paper, just the knowledge and experience. One of the first classes I took there was the history of 20th century music, and I was completely floored. The music I was suddenly exposed to so thoroughly grabbed me I decided during that semester to do whatever it took to be a composer. Of course I had no idea if it was even possible at that point, and it certainly was a long slog to get there, but that was my beginning.
Then you went to Stanford for grad school.
Eventually, yes. I was able to get through the program at San Francisco State in just a couple of years, since I had everything but the music classes already. After that I spent a number of years building up my portfolio before even considering applying to grad school. I ended up going to the University of Texas for my Masters degree and then Stanford for my Doctorate.
The piece you wrote for us is from an opera you are writing. Can you talk about the opera and the piece’s relation to that?
I’ve written a number of compositions based on literature – specifically non-vocal pieces based on novels. I became very interested in the process of translating ideas presented in one medium into another. The process is problematic, and probably impossible anyway, but it is nonetheless a fascinating exercise. My research, which started during my years at Stanford, has focused on how other people have approached this task, and how to incorporate these ideas into my own practice. My dissertation at Stanford was a cycle of pieces based on a novel by the Norwegian author Pedr Solis: Stillaset. These pieces drew on my research on the novel itself, and on the author who was quite an interesting character. This has been an ongoing project – since then I’ve written several pieces based on his other novels, and on his life and ideas. When I was contacted by Guerilla Opera Company in Boston, I immediately thought of doing something related to all this. I met up with a former colleague from Oberlin, Paul Schick, who is a librettist and the artistic and executive director for Real Time Opera, and pitched the idea of doing an opera based on some aspect of this guy’s life. He made a connection with a play called The Tower by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and, fusing the two stories together, came up with a really amazing libretto.
There is a tremendous amount of backstory and research that has gone into the libretto, and many musical ideas from previous pieces. The goal is to selectively synthesize this material for the opera. The Wild Rumpus piece, Solis Overture, was a perfect opportunity for me to start sketching some new musical material for use in the opera. I’m calling it an overture in that I will revisit this material in the opera, but it’s atypical in that the composition of the opera had barely begun when I wrote the piece.
One of the things I’m really struck by in the piece is the electronics. Can you talk about your approach to using electronics?
In this piece I demonstrated greater restraint than I usually do in that my pieces are usually much too complicated electronically. I tend to end up with a really impractical piece that is very hard to set up with tons of strange electronics. For this piece I decided I was going to stick to pre-recorded electronics. There is a Max patch that plays back the pre-recorded electronics at specific times, so it did end up getting a little more complicated. The audio files were all generated by a Max patch as well, one that I wrote at the very beginning of the composition process. The patch has a fairly distinct character, and I plan to use it for much of the electronic material for the opera as well. It’s pretty noisy, and I have to say I was influenced by Bauhaus, – the band, not the art deco style. They’re one of my all-time favorite bands. When I started messing with the patch, some of the initial results reminded me of their sound, so I went with it. It’s not a bright and cheery piece.
It is very dark, and the electronics are very visceral and intense at some points. They sound almost like industrial music.
It’s a big influence on what I do. I actually call my recent works chamber industrial. Do you know about “saturation”, the contemporary French musical style? I didn’t know about them until after I’d started going down this path, but their stuff is really interesting. They have a very specific approach about saturating instruments and getting noise from the acoustics as well as adding electronics. For me it’s less about specifically saturating the instruments and more about achieving that heavy post-industrial sound world, often with electronics.
You mentioned that there was some Scandinavian folk music influence in the piece as well?
Part of the backstory is that this author, Pedr Solis, who the opera is named after, might be described as a Samuel Beckett-like character, a bit of an isolationist. His second novel, Stillaset, was released around the same time as another, much more famous Norwegian author, Tarjei Vesaas, died. This was in 1970. Unfortunately that event completely overshadowed Solis’ release. In fact there was no English translation until around 2004, but don’t quote me on that. He apparently started a third novel, but at some point before finishing, dropped the project and disappeared completely from the public eye. Apparently he moved up to the very northern part of Norway but he didn’t really communicate with anyone. That is a significant element in his ethos, this isolation in the north. And thus the perhaps tenuous connection with the Sami people, who inhabit a swath across the north of Scandinavia. I did some research on them and discovered this amazing vocal music called yoiking. I sought out as many recordings as I could find, and came across a traditional melody that I though would work for this piece. I took many liberties, the melody is altered, and slowed to a snail’s pace. It was incorporated near the last end of the piece – a violin-cello duo which slides around. I did run into the problem finding information about my recordings, which generally had very slim CD booklets. The melody I ended up using was performed by a Finnish vocal ensemble, and is not actually a yoik, though it certainly sounds to me as if it were heavily influenced by that style. The words to the song are drawn from the Kalevala, a collection of Finnish epic poetry based on folktales. This particular song looks to be a blessing to the sun and the moon. Which is definitely fortuitous as the images of the sun and of the moon are very important in Pedr Solis’s work. In fact his first novel is called The Electric Moon. It tells the tale of a village in Norway in which an unexplained sound eventually drives the inhabitants mad. Collectively they come to believe the moon is in fact the source of the sound. Stillaset, his second novel and the one on which I based my dissertation piece, is basically an investigation of literary Modernism itself, and the interaction between of subjective modernism and objective modernism. He uses the imagery of the sun and the moon to represent these two sides, though which represents which is constantly in flux. It worked out perfectly that this song is about the relationship of the mythical sun and the mythical moon.
Anything else you think is important for the audience to know about the piece? Is the literary influence important to understanding it?
I don’t think it is. With all these literary connections it’s important to me that the music be completely comprehensible, and most importantly interesting, as music. It’s not a vehicle for disseminating any greater extra-musical ideas. If you are interested there’s a lot of stuff to look into that will illuminate aspects of the piece, but that’s more of a research project. It’s by no means expected. I love to do that with other people’s music, dig into the extra-musical aspects and learn about the piece from those connections. If I’m not drawn to the music by itself though I wouldn’t bother, it has to start with interesting music.
Wild Rumpus presents “Kafkaesque” at Old First Concerts in San Francisco on Friday September 5, 2014 at 8PM. The performance marks the first in a series of three concerts featuring winners of the 2014 Wild Rumpus Commissioning Project. Two world premieres explore expressive extremes: Per Bloland’s wildly expressionistic Solis Overture and the serene, hypnotic loops of Ruby Fulton’s you & me in a concert exploring the surreal, the complex, the bizarre, the illogical and the shadowy. The ecstatic Music in Similar Motion by Philip Glass, the dreamscape of Caroline Miller’s Berceuse et Jeux, the heavy funk of Lee Hyla’s We Speak Etruscan, interwoven with excerpts from György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments, form a truly Kafkaesque journey through the contemporary landscape.
$17 General, $14 Seniors, $5 Full Time Students (Children 12 and under are free)
Lee Weisert’s Minutiae will be performed on Wild Rumpus’ upcoming concert on May 3, 2014 at the Center for New Music in San Francisco. I talked to Lee about his influences and the piece, and you can find out more at: www.leeweisert.com. – Jen Wang
Can you tell me a little about how you got started composing?
I started in my junior year of high school in Jakarta, Indonesia. I can’t remember what the class was called, maybe music theory, and I had a really cool teacher, and he played pieces by Ligeti, Lux Aeterna and Rite of Spring. Those were the ones that made me realize you could write music that sounded cool. I wrote some incidental music for a school play, a Bertolt Brecht play. Then I decided to major in undergrad at Colorado and just kept going.
Had you been interested in music before that?
Yeah, mainly guitar. My oldest brother, who is six years older than me, he went off to Stanford and learned to play the guitar. He came back over the summer and had a guitar, so, this was when I was a freshman in high school, I got interested because he was interested. I played in some rock bands and stuff, mostly cover bands, Jimi Hendrix, that kind of stuff.
I was noticing in your piece for us there are these very finely-wrought textures, and there’s a beautiful timbral sensitivity in working with electronics as well. I was wondering if you could talk about what your current musical interests are and how you arrived at those interests.
Most of the stuff in the last couple years has mixed live instruments with electronics. I’m more interested in formal ideas than sonic or timbral ones. I mean, I’m interested in those too, but the main thrust of a piece is some formal conceit. I’m trying to think of ways to use algorithmic and intuitive structures together, going for a kind of in-between-ness where you don’t know if it’s narrative or if it’s some kind of procedural structure. It’s kind of not clear what you’re listening to, from the listener’s point of view, not clear what’s driving the piece. To do that, I’ve used a lot of algorithms on the kind of local level to give gestures and the elements an algorithmic quality. But I’m playing with them intuitively, so that there’s a large scale kind of organicism to it, hopefully, but it doesn’t have that expressive gestural quality that you get when you just write note to note music.
How did you arrive at that way of working? Aesthetically, is there something particularly interesting about algorithmic material, or do you find it a useful way to generate material?
It is useful, once you come up with a system that you like. It does make it easy to generate material. When I went to CalArts for my master’s, I made a big shift toward large scale algorithmic and minimalist algorithmic techniques like you’d hear in process pieces – James Tenney, Alvin Lucier. With that kind of music you have to be a genius to really pull it off in the long run, time after time. I wasn’t there yet, so I was disappointed in the pieces because I liked the algorithmic quality, but it wasn’t compelling enough. When you’re lacking anything to add, it can be boring or predictable. I remember I had a lesson with Steve Takasugi, who teaches at Harvard, and he told me, “Don’t worry about the structure or having purity to the work, having everything lock mathematically in every direction. You have to get your fingers in there and be comfortable with leaving your fingerprints on the piece.” That stuck with me pretty strongly. After that I started tinkering and cracking things apart and rearranging them, and that’s how I got to what I described to you.
I was also interested in what you said about ambiguity for the listener, that you wanted material that had the marks of the algorithmic origins still present, but your fingerprints are in there as well, there’s this muddling of the two. I was interested in the idea that the listener should be able to detect the presence of both, but not necessarily be able to tell where one thing begins and the other ends.
That’s like looking at it from the other way, that you can detect different ones at different times. I was thinking about it from the other way, but it’s interesting that they could know [which one is which]. I’ve used the analogy of Bladerunner, you know, the whole time you’re wondering, is he a robot or is he a man? That’s the ambiguity I’m talking about. I am also fascinated with quasi algorithmic things in nature, for example, related to chaos theory or emergent behavior, they’re not always pure and it’s cluttered.
Let’s talk about Minutiae. Can you talk about the origins of the piece and your concept for it?
That was a fun one. I really had a good time writing it, or drawing it. I drew it first. I learned about an object in Max MSP that would allow you to draw pictures, and I kind of quickly realized that all of these little tiny algorithms that I’d been talking about before, instead of having them drive oscillators or sample playback devices, could hook up to a digital pencil. Instead of hearing these shapes you could see them. I thought that would be fun to do. I played around with it – it took a long time to figure out how to draw them correctly. The drawings themselves are composites of a bunch of little things that I made separately. They each had a kind of essence of some of the sounds I was interested in. I liked that, it was kind of the same but not the same. The idea for the one minute duration came from another practical thing: that I could draw one picture, that’s a page, but you can’t really pack enough into a page to make an 8 or 10 minute piece. You can either engineer it where you can tape the pages together or have it continue, but then I thought, well it would be cool to have it short, like a picture. A picture and sound. Also, everyone loves Webern, including me. You cannot not like him. But you don’t really hear a lot of tiny pieces, which is interesting. I always talk about how much I love his tiny little pieces and I’ve never done it either so I’ll take the chance.
The crux of it was now I have these pictures that have sonic characteristics. Instead of giving [the pictures] to the ensemble like a Cardew or Earl Brown or Christian Wolff kind of thing, which is what a lot of people thought I would do when I showed them the score, I thought it would be interesting to see how it affects the compositional process, for me to interpret it compositionally. It’s like I just added another step in there and transcribed them in a way. But my transcriptions were very imprecise. They weren’t consistent. Some of the drawings I would actually get precise measurements, fractions of a centimeter, for where this dot is on the page, or scaling xy coordinates to vibraphone range, that kind of thing. Some of them were much more conceptual. When you hear about Earl Brown’s December 1952, how he clues the performer in that you can hear it in 3 dimensions, you can look into the page and flip it, rotate it on a 3D axis. I did that for a couple of the gestures, instead of having up and down on the page be pitch, it might be timbre or amplitude or compress everything into one chord. That was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had, composing. It’s like improvising with a safety net.
I like that idea where you are behind all of it, ultimately, but there’s this idea of your interpretation of the images, and then Max patch’s interpretation of the images, of those two being paired together and so there’s translation happening in multiple ways and by different methods.
If you look at it at that distance, I guess you could characterize it as just trying to mess with myself. Try and rig myself up to make decisions that I normally wouldn’t think of having to make. There were times when it worked in the drawing, but I said, “I would never put silence here,” or “I’d never make this keep going,” but it look good in the drawing, and I’d have to do it. There are some parts that are just awkward, musically, but I think that was the idea.
The connections between the pieces and the images are really clear, and I think we’re all enjoying that. We’re also enjoying the sound worlds a lot. I was wondering if you could talk a little about your palette and what your influences are.
The electronics are really rudimentary, very retro. When I hear them, I hear Risset and Stockhausen and FM synthesis. Most of the electronics has that kind of retro 50’s, 60’s sound. With the electronics, I tend to use some kind of multidimensional aspect like a field recording or, in this piece I used an old cheap radio that I hacked to get the noise, so the noise is not pure white noise but a chaotic interference noise. It’s a little richer. You can tell it’s not computer generated. That mixture is attractive to me, that organic electronics with digital sound purity.