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At our upcoming concert on Friday, October 16 at the Berkeley Arts Festival, we will be premiering “For the Sea” by our very own Joanne de Mars. Joanne will also be performing this work for solo cello. Wild Rumpus soprano Vanessa Langer interviewed de Mars about her piece, the contrast between composing and performing, and her history of working with Wild Rumpus. Join us on Friday to hear this and other amazing works!
What inspired you to compose For the Sea for unaccompanied cello?
I was commissioned to write this piece by a family friend of my mom’s. His daughter is graduating from college, and he wanted to giver her something that was a little unusual as a graduation gift, and that is how the commission came about. Musically, it’s a piece for unaccompanied cello and the theme that he wanted was something about ocean or relating to science and life as his daughter was an ocean science major. So, the topic was pre-chosen for me, but I have a deep connection to the ocean of my own, being from the West Cost not only on the Pacific Ocean but the Puget Sound. I’m fascinated by the way that the water has a certain rhythm but it is totally random in its movements on a smaller scale. Using a lot of those influences is where my music came from.
How does that oceanic randomness tie into musical ideas for you in this work?
I used a series of randomly repeating groups of two’s and three’s that I generated with a random generator online to create the middle section of the piece. From there I extended it into an overall wave form that I worked outward from the middle into a larger palindrome.
What are the challenges and advantages of writing for unaccompanied cello?
The advantage is I can play the piece myself. I don’t have to depend on anybody else to recreate my idea of how it should sound musically. Harmonic structure is an important element of music for me personally, and definitely in writing for any kind of solo instrument, there is an element of harmony that has to be there. To create a sense of harmony other than melody and rhythm with a solo instrument can be challenging. But at least with the cello you have multiple strings so that you can create chords and play off of that, so you can have an implicit harmony.
As you know, Jenny Johnson’s piece Reflect Reflect Respond Respond makes reference to Bach’s “Jesu meine Freude”. Do Bach’s unaccompanied suites influence you at all when you think about unaccompanied cello?
Either consciously or subconsciously I am influenced by them. They are the greatest works for unaccompanied cello to date and most iconic. So I cannot say that they did not influence me. The harmonic aspect definitely influenced me in how he incorporates that element into a work for a solo instrument, having bass notes and voice leading was a key element in my head. That being said, I came at it from a different angle. For the Sea is a very stand-alone piece whereas the Suites are a collection full of those now famous dance rhythms.
Has the piece evolved since you performed it in the workshop at the Center for New Music back last fall?
No, you know I finished it. I feel like it’s done. I haven’t changed anything. Maybe it sounds weird to say but the more I practice it, the more I’m discovering about my own writing and the piece. Kind of like finding the places in which I can lead more, bring out more of the melodic structure. I wrote it very thoughtfully but pretty quickly and even now having the chance to perform it gives me more insight into the piece as a musical endeavor rather than just a compositional idea.
What is it like performing your own piece versus someone else’s composition?
It’s different in that I have no one to blame for how hard it is but myself. I’m trying to come at it like this is someone else’s music and trying to make the music out of it from what I see on the page, rather than feel like I have the freedom to change what it is because I wrote it. So I’m really trying to stick to what is on the page and what I can do with the notes that are given.
Does it help you to disassociate somehow? What does it help you to do?
Absolutely! I think I can create more music from it. Especially having had the break from when I originally wrote it in 2014 til today, I feel a bit of a fresh eye and a fresh ear to the piece having a little distance, not feeling so married to it as a piece of mine. It’s just a piece for cello now.
Has this process helped you feel inspired to continue composing?
I would really love to continue writing music. I don’t know if it will be for cello. Obviously, it’s a convenient medium. I would like to perform this piece some more and I’m really excited to have this premiered for this concert.
How long have you played with Wild Rumpus, and how did you discover you were interested in new music and even in composing?
I’ve played with Wild Rumpus since 2012. As far as new music goes, I first discovered new music when I was fifteen years old. I played in the Seattle Youth Symphony, and we played Aaron Jay Kernis’ Symphony No. 2 and I was obsessed from that point on. Its funny; everybody else did not get the idiom. They couldn’t stand it, what is this crap, whereas I felt o my gosh this is amazing! So I knew there was something to it, which led me into discovering new works. In my undergraduate training at University of Washington I was active in the new music ensemble performing new works and performed in a contemporary improv quartet. I’m really happy to continue my passion for it with Wild Rumpus. It’s exciting to work with composers at this close a level.
How do you want the audience to approach this piece on a first listen?
Even though the piece is based on a random repeating motif, it is very repetitive in a classical composition sense in that I have a mode and I modulate with the mode and play different transpositions of such mode. So if you listen with a classically informed ear it will be pretty self-explanatory. The sonority is a little different than you would experience in say a piece by Brahms or Bach or anything classical.
What role does the audience play for you in this context?
Well since I’ve been a performer, I feel like such an intermediary between the theoretical composition of music and what it actually is – I believe to communicate and grow some sense of deeper connection with other people. I believe it’s a very connective force that we have as humans to be able to transform sound waves and affect us on a very emotional level. I think it’s my job usually as a performer to effect that change in people. Usually since I am performing other people’s compositions it’s my job to interpret what perhaps their intended emotional construct or communicative construct would be and be able to communicate that using my voice with the cello and as a performer. To communicate that to an audience and effect some change in them or some sort of connection for them with the music. As a composer, I feel that, it’s interesting but it makes you take that one extra step back from that sort of level of connection. I connect to the ocean and this piece is about the sea. Using that sort of connection is how I feel I came up with the tone of the piece. However, I did not have the audience so much in mind. Its more about my connection to the sea.
Join us on Friday, October 16 at the Berkeley Arts Festival for the opening concert of Wild Rumpus’s fifth season! One of the pieces we will be premiering is “From Dreams, We Emerge” by Christopher Cresswell. I recently interviewed Cresswell, where we talked about his piece, career, and arts advocacy. For more information on Cressell, visit his website.
How long have you been in England and what brought you there?
I’ve been here for a week and a half for grad school. I’m starting the first year of a 2-year Masters program. I’ll be here for the next couple years, in and out of America.
What drew you to Birmingham specifically, and to studying abroad?
Part of it was the desire to travel; I never did the study abroad thing when I was an undergrad. I always wanted to live overseas. I don’t really speak a foreign language very well, so England seemed like a good fit. The school here is totally open to creativity; there’s no real school of thought – none of that doctrine that you can get sometimes in higher education. There are people who write pop songs, who write classical music, weird instrumental stuff, it’s very encouraging of creativity. I do sort of singer-songwriter stuff, I do the sort of stuff I did for Wild Rumpus, so I tend to be all over the map anyways, and this seemed like a good fit.
What is it about all of these different things, both the electronic stuff, the singer-songwriter stuff, even the arts admin or arts advocacy. How did you get involved in all of those and what draws you to all of these different areas?
I’m definitely one of those people who constantly needs to be doing something, so that’s part of it. I’ve always loved sound. When I was a little little kid, I wanted to be a singer because that’s all I knew how to do. Then I picked up the trumpet, and then the guitar, and when I was 13, 14 years old I started to write songs on my guitar and play them in coffee shops. They were awful. I would set up little shows in the coffee shop, and I grew up in a small town so there was one coffee shop and my other buddy who wrote songs, we would trade off Fridays. it was totally that wanna-be singer songwriter thing. Then I went to college and Cage blew my brain open. I really fell in love contemporary classical music, so I thought that’s what I was going to be for a while.
I did the arts admin thing initially to survive after college. I didn’t want to go to grad school right away. I got really lucky and got a job at Boosey and Hawkes when I was 23 as an assistant. I got coffee for people and I had fun doing it. That set me on the arts admin thing. The arts advocacy thing – I’ve always been a politics junkie. I actually was a political science major for a year. I was either going to be the musician who knew too much about politics or the politician who knew too much about music. I went into music because it was more lucrative. It’s been all these different streams and what’s been really exciting in the last year or so is they’re coming together, or at least I’m seeing how to build a life out of all of them. Last spring, I went to Congress and talked to staffers about arts education and arts advocacy with the Americans for the Arts for an arts advocacy day.
We didn’t meet any Congress people, we just met their chief of staff or someone. Overall, it was really rewarding and I came away from it feeling totally in love with the process. Granted, I’m a West Wing Aaron Sorkin idealist junkie, so I’m in love with the process anyway. But everyone I spoke to was either really receptive to the arts or if they pushed back it wasn’t, “the arts are stupid, you’re dumb, go away”, it was very reasoned like, the one woman who pushed back, she said, “the congressman supports special education and wants to drive as much of the funding to that.” You can accept the either or premise, and I don’t really accept the premise but she was like, we would love to support the arts but …. our focus is this thing. I came away from it feeling good about our government. And then I left america promptly. I think it’s the difference between the noise of the bullshit and people actually engaging with the process. I think that’s true in our world too. How can we save new music, how do we save classical music. The reply is, “shut up and do it.”
Speaking of the new music community and the idea of just doing it, what was it that drew you to applying to the Wild Rumpus Commissioning Project?
I discovered the opportunity and listened to the music you guys were playing. You guys are doing a crazy cool amount of stuff from all over which is really exciting. You’re a San Francisco group, and I think San Francisco has connotations with it as all cities do, but you’re not that, you’re just doing whatever you think is interesting. I listened to some of the other composers who are in my cohort. We’re all doing very different things and you guys are very supportive of the very different things, which I think is the way to be. That was part of the cool thing about working at Boosey. I was already open-minded to new music person, but it basically pried open my brain and dumped all of the new music that was happening in New York City into it. So Claude Vivier is next to Steve Reich is next to John Adams next to Elliott Carter, and they’re all going to come up in your monthly meetings, so you just learn to listen to everything and appreciate everything on a different level, even if it’s not something you would actively seek out to listen to in your free time.
Could you think of one composer who you at first thought was not going to be your cup of tea and then really did end up blowing your mind while you were working at Boosey?
Elliott Carter. I had a total change of heart on him. My senior year of college, I remember my professor making me listen to the cello sonata or one of the cello solo pieces, and I liked it a little bit mostly because I thought I was supposed to like it a little bit. Then when I went to Boosey, it coincided with his 103rd birthday celebration. I went to his 103rd birthday concert at the 92nd street Y and it was an hour and a half of his music, and almost all of it was brand new. I remember there was a real moment halfway through the concert where I was like, Oh. One: I get it, and Two, oh my god. Since then, he went from someone I thought I was supposed to like to a total hero in my eyes. For his 103rd birthday, you could tweet happy birthday to Elliott Carter, and my friend and I put them all in a giant card and then brought him the card. Luckily I wasn’t the one in charge of explaining what Twitter was to him.
He’s definitely someone I’ve had a total 180 on, in the same way that Philip Glass is someone I’ve had a total 180 on. I kind of hated him for a while, because everyone who is writing for TV or movies is ripping off Philip Glass it seems. I love them as comparisons. Carter is all about the moment. You listen to Carter in this way and then you listen to Glass, and yeah the arpeggios are a really stupid gesture, but it’s not about the arpeggio. It’s about the massive blocks he’s making out of the arpeggios. You can’t listen to Glass the way you listen to Carter, nor should you be expected to. Figuring that out, how composers are using sound in different ways, really broadened my horizons as to what I thought was “good” or “not good”.
To segue to your music, how do you want people to approach your piece? What was your inspiration behind that piece?
I had a long lead time on this commission, which was awesome. When I got the commission I was living in New York City. I had the instrumentation in mind, I knew I wanted to write for Pierrot ensemble and I wanted to write for electric guitar because I’m a guitarist myself. I’ve never written for guitar in that context; anything I’ve written for guitar has been much more in the singer-songwriter style. I was excited to use my instrument in a different way than I normally approached it, which was cool.
Because I had all that time, I would mess around with different ideas, just noodle on my guitar for a while just working on the piece. At some point, last January, I had created a 3-minute sketch of a piece that wasn’t a beginning, it wasn’t an end, it was maybe a middle. I really liked this 3 minute piece of music but I had no idea what else to do with it. So the piece that you guys eventually received ended up being the process of trying to figure out what to do with that 3 minute sketch. Initially, the idea was that the sketch would show up at the end of what I gave you guys, so the piece would be slowly forming forming and then here’s this thing, yay we arrived. I worked in a very different way than in normally do – I had the electronics in Protools and I was building them, and then I was improvising into Protools using a midi keyboard. Working in that way led me to some really organic stuff, like that chorale that shows up with the bass flute, cello, and clarinet. It’s just this little harmonic chorale that if I was looking at a piece of paper I wouldn’t have written. But I was just playing into it and it just felt good while I was sort of performing it. I decided to trust those instincts over thought composing. Eventually, I lopped off the three minute sketch and decided the piece was better as the unit. It’s almost like one big breath or one big organic sound that happens. If it had arrived at the sketch it would have totally changed the nine minutes that came before it. It was a little terrifying, cutting away the three minutes that inspired the whole piece. The piece was sort of inspired by very organically working the process of creating it.
I know I just said the thing about Carter and Glass, so now when I contradict myself, that’s fun. Approach the piece the way you would any piece of music that you go listen to. I don’t really write with an audience in mind, I write for general audience and I just want people to listen. if they like it great, if they hate it, great, and if they want to engage with the structural theory behind it after the concert, buy a beer, and just talk about that for hours and hours and hours, also great, totally game. I hope that however you approach it, whether you are really listening to the musical structure and ideas or just listening to enjoy a piece of music, I hope you are able to get something out of it.
You talked about how you had the electronics part already. Is this something you created from scratch, is it found sounds, how did you come up with the electronics?
The opening sound, that sort of shhhhh sound, that actually comes out of, that was something I had created for a previous project that I didn’t use for that project. That was a sound I had in my world, my life, that I always wanted to go back to. That actually is a couple of folk pop songs sped up a thousand times, so what you hear is all these little clicks and then I looped those clicks a little bit and applied crazy amounts of reverb to them. You get this shush sound. The rest of it is built from a lot of it is reversed piano sounds. There’s a lot of moments where you get the sound of a reversed shink! and then the real instrument almost catches it. There’s some clarinet sounds that are just sustained clarinet that I applied some effects to and manipulated in all sorts of different ways to build that texture. A lot of the sounds are real instruments that are then manipulated, which I like because you get the real versus the almost real. It’s an interesting dialogue between the two. There are some static sounds and weird, like white noise sounds, which hopefully fits in with the moody, ambient, almost ambient world.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
I’m super grateful to you guys, it’s been awesome, thank you. It’s been a great experience.
Wild Rumpus presents
Friday, October 16, 2015: 8 PM
Berkeley Arts Festival
2133 University Avenue, Berkeley
Wild Rumpus presents a program of genre-bending works of chamber music expressing a wide variety of reflections on life in the 21st century. Echoes and repetition provide two threads weaving themselves throughout this program. Paula Matthusen’s The Ontology of an Echo takes field recordings made in abandoned underground tunnels in New York City and orchestrates them for chamber ensemble. We also reprise a work we commissioned in our very first season by Jenny Olivia Johnson, Reflect Reflect Respond Respond which takes its inspiration from the mythical story of Echo and Narcissus and J.S Bach’s chorale Jesu meine Freude. Composed for two sopranos and ensemble, Johnson responds to the story with music that continually echoes and doubles back on itself, with electronic processing further enhancing the effect.
Beat Furrer’s Invocation VI from his opera Invocation makes typically idiosyncratic use of repetition. The aria for soprano and flute with brilliantly varied sonic textures looping in varying and unpredictable ways evokes St. John’s allegory of the soul’s search for God. Jürg Frey represents the Wandelweiser Group of composers from central Europe, still little known in the United States. Frey’s music is marked by its extreme stillness and quiet; despite its minimal materials, the music has a stark hypnotic beauty unlike anything else. Rounding out the program is a world premiere by up and coming composer Christopher Cresswell, part of Wild Rumpus’ continuing Commissioning Project, supporting some of the most exciting young composers on the scene today.
Christopher Cresswell: From Dreams, We Emerge (2015) World Premiere
Jenny Olivia Johnson: Reflect Reflect Respond Respond (2012)
Paula Matthusen: The Ontology of an Echo (2013)
Beat Furrer: Invocation VI (2003)
Jürg Frey: More or Less Normal (2005-07)
Joanne de Mars – For the Sea (2014) World Premiere
After almost 400 submissions and a lot of listening, we’re thrilled to announce the winners of the 2015 Commissioning Project! Thanks again to everyone who applied! Here they are:
Carolyn Chen has made music for supermarket, demolition district, and the dark. Her work reconfigures the everyday using sound, text, light, image, and movement. Recent projects include an assemblage on falling, a story for ASL interpreter strung to chimes at a distance, and an opera mashup of Euripides’ Hekabe and Red Riding Hood. Upcoming projects include works for Wild Rumpus and Klangforum Wien.
Wilder Shores of Love, commissioned for a 2011 Zankel Hall premiere by the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, was described by The New York Times as “evening’s most consistently alluring piece … a quiet but lush meditation.” The work has been supported by the Fulbright Foundation, Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, MATA, impuls Festival, American Composers Forum, ASCAP, Stanford University, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, Emory Planetarium, Wellesley Composers Conference, and Machine Project at the Hammer Museum. It has been presented at festivals and exhibitions in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Israel, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, China, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.
Chen has been fortunate to work with ensembles such as Pamplemousse, Surplus, Talea, Chamber Cartel, Die Ordnung Der Dinge, Dal Niente, On Structure, Ensemble This Ensemble That, Asamisamasa, NorthArc, Now Hear, Kallisti, Ostravska Banda, S.E.M., Prague Modern, Gliss, thingNY, Red Light, New York Miniaturist Ensemble, red fish blue fish, Silent Book, orkest de ereprijs, and Zwo. She earned a PhD in music from UC San Diego, and an MA in Modern Thought and Literature and BA in music from Stanford University, with an honors thesis on Free Improvisation and Radical Politics.
Joshua Clausen is a Minneapolis-based composer, music producer and educator. Clausen’s works often inhabit stylistic interstices between chamber concert music, electronic music and varied popular forms exerting “a dynamic intensity to [their] influence of popular culture (Computer Music Journal).”
Clausen has composed works for the Antithesis Project, AVIDduo, the Renegade Ensemble, Keith Kirchoff, Kyle Hutchins and Sarah Porwoll-Lee and has recently been awarded commissioning grants from the Jerome Foundation and MacPhail Center for Music. Clausen’s work has been presented at numerous festivals and conferences of new music including the International Computer Music Conference, Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States, New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, Electronic Music Midwest and the Spark festival.
Clausen is director of Community Programs at Slam Academy, a business he co-founded that is dedicated to community education in the electronic arts. He teaches theory, composition and electronic music at Perpich Arts High School, and was a composition mentor in the inaugural season of American Composers Forums’ NextNotes workshop and concert series for young composers. Clausen earned a Bachelor of Music degree (theory/composition, minor in philosophy) from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota and a Master of Arts (composition, minor in art – time & interactivity) from the University of Minnesota. His mentors at the University of Minnesota included Douglas Geers, Alex Lubet and Judith Lang Zaimont.
William Dougherty (b. 1988) is an American composer whose works have been performed by ensembles including the Orchestre National de Lorraine (Metz), the Nemascae Lemanic Modern Ensemble (Geneva), the Lontano Ensemble (London), Ensemble Phoenix (Basel), and TILT Brass (New York). His music has been performed in festivals such as the Tectonics Festival New York (2015), the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (2015), the 47th Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt (2014), the New York Philharmonic Biennale (2014), the Bowling Green New Music Festival (2014), and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Dougherty has received recognitions and awards from BMI, PARMA Recordings, the PRS for Music Society, Sound and Music, the American Composers Forum, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, the Institute for European Studies, and the UK Foreign Aid and Commonwealth Office.
As a scholar, William has written and presented research into the life and works of Romanian composer, Horatiu Radulescu, in the U.K., Austria, and Switzerland. His recent article on Radulescu’s 5th String Quartet before the universe was born can be found in the April 2014 edition of quarterly contemporary music journal, Tempo.
William graduated with a Bachelor’s in Music Composition from Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance. As a Marshall Scholar, William earned his Master’s from the Royal College of Music in London after which he completed supplementary studies (Ergänzungsstudium) under the guidance of Georg Friedrich Haas in Basel. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate of the Musical Arts at Columbia University in New York City.
Currently based in Buffalo, New York, Nathan Heidelberger is a composer of diverse instrumental and vocal music. His pieces range in character from the uncannily beautiful to the unrelentingly didactic, dealing variously with lists, texts, distance, ephemerality, repetition, and the distortion of traditional musical objects. Nathan recently received his PhD, with distinction, from the University at Buffalo. He also holds undergraduate degrees in Composition and English from Oberlin College and Conservatory, where he was awarded the Walter E. Aschaffenburg Composition Prize. His primary teachers have included David Felder, Lewis Nielson, and Richard Carrick.
Nathan was a composition fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in summer of 2013 and at the Aspen Music Festival in the summer of 2012. He has also participated in the Copland House CULTIVATE Institute, June in Buffalo, and a residency at the Banff Centre. His music has been performed by such groups as Ensemble Court Circuit, Ensemble Linea, the Mivos Quartet, the New Fromm Players, the Nouveau Classical Project, and the Slee Sinfonietta. As the first composer-in-residence for the Netherlands-based Oerknal Ensemble, Nathan was the subject of their Lunatics portrait concert in June, 2014. His composition Of songs for soprano and string quartet was awarded the 2010 Frank Robert Abel Prize from the University of Louisville. In 2015 he was granted a Special Award from the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music to support the composition of a new solo piece for pianist Daniel Walden.
Sometimes a pianist and a horn player, Nathan focuses on performing the contemporary repertoire. He is a founding member of Wooden Cities, an ensemble committed to introducing new music to audiences throughout Western New York. As an undergrad, he worked closely with Helmut Lachenmann during the composer’s 2008 residency at Oberlin to prepare his solo piano works Echo Andante and Ein Kinderpsiel.
Carolina Heredia’s music aims to blend her musical experiences in the fields of Western Classical and Argentinean Folk and Tango. Her music has been performed in South America and the United States by esteemed groups such as the JACK quartet, University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Cordoba State String Orchestra and Cordoba Metropolitan Orchestra. In Fall 2016 the University of Michigan Chamber Choir will premiere her piece “Virginia” under the baton of maestro Jerry Blackstone. In Winter 2016, the JACK quartet will premiere her dissertation, a piece for string quartet and electronics.
In the summer of 2015 she was a fellow at the Susan and Ford Schumman Center for Composition Studies at Aspen Music Festival and School where she studied with Steven Stucky and George Tsontakis. She is the recipient of the Brehm Prize in Choral Composition 2015, the University of Michigan International Research Grant 2015, the Margaret Dow Towsley Scholarship 2012, the Merit-Scholarship of the University of Michigan 2011 and the Dorothy Greenwald Scholarship 2011.
In 2014, Carolina founded the Khemia Ensemble, a group formed by eight performers and three composers, dedicated to performing and commissioning new music. Khemia ensemble will go on tour on August 2015 to Argentina and Colombia to conduct residencies at the National Universities of Cordoba and Bogota.
Carolina holds a Bachelor in Music Composition from the Universidad Nacional de Villa María (Argentina), a Bachelor in Violin from the Conservatorio Superior Félix Garzón (Argentina), a Master in Music Composition from the University of Michigan, and it is currently in her last year for the Doctorate in Musical Arts program at University of Michigan. Her professors include Michael Daugherty, Evan Chambers, Kristin Kuster and Erik Santos. Carolina has taught as a Graduate Student Instructor for the Chair of Electronic Music at the University of Michigan.
Finola Merivale is an Irish composer and pianist. Her music focuses on intercultural composition, improvisation and person-specific pieces. Her compositions have been featured at festivals such as the Bang on a Can Summer and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festivals, the 21st Young Composers Meeting, and they have been performed internationally. Her music has been published by the University of York Music Press and has been released by Huddersfield Contemporary Records. She has most recently studied composition with David Lang, Ken Ueno, Martijn Padding and Richard Ayres.
She holds an MMus Composition from the University of Leeds, and while there, she founded her own gamelan ensemble which promoted both traditional and contemporary gamelan music. She holds a First Class Honours B.A. in Drama & Theatre Studies and Music from University College, Cork.
Finola is moving to Philadelphia in August 2015, where she will become a doctoral fellow at the University of Pennylvania.
Dan Tramte Ph.D (b. 1985) is an (electro)acoustic composer/artist, a teaching assistant at Harvard University, a new media/music theorist, and the youtube ‘Score Follower.’ He is proficient in frequencies of 0Hz-20kHz (specializing in the upper and lower extremes), and also often works in frequencies of 430-790THz. Listeners have described his music in terms such as “noisy, intense” (Computer Music Journal 34-4), “youthful, energetic” (CMJ 35-3) “glitchy, fragmented, lots of silence” (ICMC 2011 review by John ffitch), “medium rare filet mignon” (Elainie Lillios) “I don’t feel safe in this room anymore” (Joseph Lyszczarz), and “This makes my face feel funny” (Monica Hershberger). His music has been presented on five continents; highlights include performances and research lectures at IMD, IRCAM, Composit, festival-futura, ISSTC, #foetexmachina, NYCEMF (x3), ACDFA (x2), CIME/ICEM (x2), SMC, EMM, ACMC, ICMC (x2), and SEAMUS (x2). In 2014/15 his works have been toured throughout USA and Europe by ensembles/soloists InterSpheres Trio, Patchwork, and Nico Couck. 2016 projects include commissions from Keith Kirchoff and Weston Olencki.
Over the past four years at the University of North Texas, Tramte has worked to develop audio/video granulation tools for multimedia theoretical analysis of independent video games (tA/v\Am), and for dance and live performance. He has presented this research at Darmstadt, Harvard, SMT, & Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
Join us on Friday, May 29 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for the final concert of Wild Rumpus’s fourth season! One of the pieces we will be premiering is “Bloom” by Stefan Weisman. Wild Rumpus soprano Vanessa Langer interviewed Weisman about his piece, career, and other great projects he is working on. For more information on Weisman, visit his website.
What have you been doing since I last saw you?
I finished The Scarlet Ibis. When we last worked together at Bard that scene was the very beginning of everything. We are now beyond the tail end of it. It got premiered at a festival called Prototype, the main outlet for contemporary opera in New York right now. It got great press attention, a really great review in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Opera News Magazine. Before I finished the piece a few scenes were done at Opera America…
We are both Bard alumni. What was your experience like at Bard and working with Joan Tower?
Well I was at Bard a long time ago. She was amazing to work with. She was my first composition teacher. And actually when I went to Bard I had done music my whole life, since I was a little kid. I started on the violin, I played piano. I was obsessed with classical music. But when I got to Bard I was not there to study music. I was there as an undergrad, undeclared, and was interested in seeing about getting into some film classes. And I really couldn’t get into any as they were all so packed. You were there at the conservatory in the graduate program much later and already knowing what you wanted to do. I was there starting from scratch and since I couldn’t get all of the film classes I wanted I just started taking music classes. I didn’t initially take with Joan. I first started by taking a class with a composer Daren Hagen, which was a music history course that I really liked. Then I was looking at the course schedule and I saw music composition and thought, oh that would be interesting. And I saw Joan Towers name and I had actually never heard of her before. I probably should have. But I was young. I knew Mozart and all of the old dead white guys you know. So I thought oh that would be interesting music ‘composition’. And you know how Bard is. I got on the phone and called her office. I introduced myself and said I’d really like to take your class. She asked me about my background. And she said, ok you could take the class if you write a solo clarinet piece over the break in the intersession between the semesters. She chose clarinet because it was an instrument I couldn’t play. She wanted me to write for an instrument where I couldn’t really try it out. Because she wanted me to have the experience of hearing someone else interpret the piece. So I went in day one of the class having finished a piece over the break. A short piece like a one page piece. And it was hard to write it. You know it’s a one line instrument. And just writing a melody. And I thought it was so amazing. I couldn’t believe it, hearing my piece played by DaCapo chamber players. You know I think they are still in residence there. The clarinetist from DaCapo chamber players played it, her name was Laura Flax. I just fell in love with composing.
Was that your first composition class?
That was my first composition class. I had never tried composition before. And so I did it over the next four years or so. By the time I finished I wrote a full orchestral piece, which Leon Botstein conducted and it was amazing. So I went from writing a one page clarinet piece to writing a full orchestral piece and Joan was really incredible. She has her own method. She really didn’t want me to look at music theory. She didn’t want me to think about that. Her process was basically- work slowly, really listen to what you are doing, really know your music intimately. You have to really know exactly what you have and if you get stuck in a corner, don’t think about theory, think about your intuition. Her method was really about working organically, working with intuition, working with your own musicality. For that reason she wouldn’t allow me to study music theory. I had to kind of sneak around on the side and get it. I don’t think Bard is that way anymore, but at the time she wanted me to work that way. It was great. The next composer that I really felt made a difference in my life was completely different. He was all about coming up with processes and schemes and architecture and really kind of plotting out conceptually how the piece works from beginning to end even kind of before you kind of get started. That was David Lang and he had a more kind of (I don’t know if he likes the term) post-minimalist aesthetic and very different from Joan’s. So I’ve had those two composers who I’ve always had whispering in my ear. After I finished at Bard I went and started my masters at Yale and that’s where I started working with David Lang.
Did you have any musical training prior to that class with Joan?
Only playing. I played violin, piano and in orchestra at school. When I did it as a kid I did it because I enjoyed it not thinking it would become a career. I loved classical music. I was obsessed. I was kind of a weird kid. I kind of liked pop music to a degree, but I would sit and listen to classical records and CDs nonstop and read all of the liner notes and listen to things again and again and again. And my mom she would go to the flee market every weekend and find me boxes of classical records and I would absorb them. But I just did it because I loved it. I wasn’t thinking of it as something I would pursue. I was sort of naïve. I must have known that composers still existed, but I didn’t know much about it until I met Joan. And I found, oh, there is a whole world of living composers. It was a brand new concept for me. So Bard really introduced me to all of that.
Wild Rumpus guitarist, composer and artistic director Dan VanHassel tells me that both you and Emma O’Halloran both studied with Steve Mackey whose Fusion Tune is featured as the veteran work on our program. How was it working with him and can you explain his aesthetic to me and what you took away from your time with him? I’d like to and I think our audience would like to understand how this all ties together stylistically.
I studied with Steven when I was getting my PhD at Princeton. And by that time I kind of had a lot of experience. I think Princeton takes people who know what they are doing, who have you know pretty set aesthetic already. It’s a PhD program there. They like people with all sorts of different aesthetics, people with a solid voice and so when I got there it was sort of a dream. I just totally loved it. Everybody, all of the composers, they take only a few, I think maybe 4 or 5 a year, and everyone gets the same great deal. A really nice stipend, full tuition. And its just 4 to 5 years to compose music and to work with Steve and the other faculty. But by that time, they are taking people who are pretty well developed, so even though it is still a student teacher relationship its very collegial like an equal. Its not so much that you are studying. Your producing your work, your coming up with ideas and then you get feedback. And Steve gave the greatest feedback. He gave such good comments. And it was nice too, because I don’t think his aesthetic and my aesthetic are exactly the same. I love his music and I love his ideas. He deals a lot with performing himself, quite a bit with improvisation. And those things are two things that I don’t do at all.
Tell me and those who are not familiar with his work a little about Steve Mackey’s aesthetic as opposed to yours for example.
My impression of Steve is about the old school model. The composer is also a performer. That I feel he gets his ideas by applying them. And he plays, as far as I know his main instrument is electric guitar. He’s had some kind of a rock and roll background. So I feel he developed his ideas by playing them and feeling them. Like getting a groove and feeling them in his fingers and then he’ll kind of come up with improvisations. And I think he will more or less transcribe what he is playing and some of his music is quite complex and very interesting, very multi-layered. Sometimes he has odd little conceptual things he will put into his music. I remember he had a piece in which all of the movements were meant to be in between movements by Mozart – a flute quartet – and he wanted it to be seamless, where you couldn’t even tell where the Mozart left off and then became Steve Mackey and back. And then he had other pieces with interesting concepts like this big piece for orchestra in which there was this wild chaotic thing, and I think he has theatrical thing happening where a pizza man comes on stage to deliver a pizza to the percussionists. These very wild things. I feel like every piece of his is very unique, every piece is its own statement. And I know that performers love his music because since he is writing with the perspective of a performer, he comes up with things that are really interesting, and really challenging, and really fun to play. And I admire him for that. I don’t think he and I do exactly the same thing. And what was really great about working with Steve was that I would bring him something and he would be able to see it through my eyes a little bit.
I’ve come to the point, when I’ve done a lot of different things, and I’ve done a few experiments that I like or don’t like, and I’ve just come to the point where I kind of know what I want and I know what I want to do and I really believe, I’ve come to the point in my life where I would be willing to do anything, like if any group comes along and wants to commission me, I’m open for so many different things, but my heart is in vocal music. My heart is in writing for wonderful sopranos and wonderful mezzos and you know whomever.
What interests you about writing for the voice? And how did you first discover this interest?
It came through the group called American Opera Projects. They have a program called Composers and the Voice. So I applied and got in. It is about a year-long program in which 6 composers each get to write for 6 different voice types. And you get feedback from their music director named Steve Osgood and from the singers and composers. And so you write solo pieces for these 6 different voices. And all along the way you are really learning how to write not just music, but vocal music. Because I think it’s different. To write well for the voice is its own art I think. And it’s different from writing for any other instrument. It’s a really unique thing. I had written vocal music before. But I hadn’t ever thought about it in that way. And I sort of fell in love with vocal music. And right after I finished that- that program ends with writing a 20 minute one act opera, like a mini opera. And I just really loved it. And by some amazing stroke of luck, American Opera Projects immediately asked me, would you do a full evening length opera that they wanted to commission me to do. That was Darkling. And that was just when I was finishing at Princeton. And I kind of fell in love with writing opera and vocal music.
Dan was mentioning as he was developing this program that what ties you O’Halloran and Mackey along with the rest of the composers on the program together is your approach to emotion and developing those approaches musically in a contemporary way. Can you elaborate on that in terms of your own music?
What makes vocal music, I don’t want to say good or bad, but speak to me is it’s a person performing, to me vocal music, even a song, because it has the words to it, it has theater, it has to be getting something across, and the bottom line is it has to get something emotional across. Emotional doesn’t always mean tragic or sad or heart-felt. It could be comic. It has to have a really clear point of view. A human perspective. For that reason, I think Dan is right, the particular piece I wrote for you has its own special quality.
We should tell the audience that you asked me to choose a text that I love, and I have always dreamt about Molly Blooms soliloquy being given a musical setting. I always felt that it was already a piece waiting to be created.
The soliloquy has a clear direct feeling to it. It is really good as a stand-alone piece. I actually sat with the text for quite a long time before I started figuring out what the music would be and it wasn’t a terribly long text, but I read it again and again until I started to feel like it was my own.
I love how that tempo change creates the structure of it. And how the heart beat going along with the sexual excitement that would be natural to a person, I love how you tapped into that part of nature that is universal.
And beyond that I had to find a way to fill it with music and started with the vocal line. I tried to sing it through to myself trying to find a vocal line and some harmonies. Its hard to explain it. I remember there were a few times that I had second thoughts. I think at some point I had it in a different key. I think it was a step or a third lower and I re though that when I realized it was to low. And I transposed it up.