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Nathan Heidelberger is the first composer from our 2015 Commissioning Project to write a piece for us, which we will be premiering at our concert this Friday at the Presidio Officers’ Club at 6pm. Here, clarinetist Sophie Huet interviewed Nathan about his piece, his upcoming projects, and why he chose to write for the ensemble of bass clarinet, trombone, contrabass, and soprano. Learn more about Nathan’s music at his website.
Sophie: How did you get into composition?
Nathan: I started composing in middle school – I was taking piano lessons at the time and I’d started on the french horn. I didn’t really like practicing very much, so my piano teacher encouraged me to try composing. I started writing some stuff for the piano, and then I had a really encouraging middle school band teacher who encouraged me to write more and write for instruments in the band. She taught me the ranges of the instruments and things like that, so I was writing for my middle school band. Things took off from there.
How did you end up in Buffalo?
I came here for grad school, at the University of Buffalo. I got my doctorate last spring. These days, I have a day job as a copy editor at a children’s educational publishing company. I am doing that to pay the bills and writing music on nights and weekends.
I join you in the day job life. I have a day job at a small software company. I feel like more and more people of our generation are doing this. in some ways, it gives you the freedom to do what you want to do without worrying about the money side.
Absolutely, yeah. I thought for a long time that I would try and find a teaching job or something like that but the longer I spent in school, watching other people struggle with adjuncting and trying to get into that world, it just doesn’t seem like something I want to do. Having the pressure to succeed as a composer be coupled with the pressure of demonstrating my success so I can get tenure. I don’t want any part of that. I’m really happy with what I have right now.
To talk about your piece: first of all, I really love it. The rehearsals have been really fascinating. One of the things that really strikes me is I know you had talked about variation in the piece. I was wondering if you could talk about your vision for the movements and how you structured the piece.
I had mentioned at some point that a few of my recent pieces have been dealing with repetition and variation on a very local level. There would be short motive that would get repeated and would evolve over time, over one section or the whole piece. For this piece, I was more interested in looking at the bigger picture and having a larger chunk of music that would then go through this process of repeating and changing over time. A lot of it came out of the text that I was working with. It’s from this work called The Pine Woods Notebook by Francis Ponge, which goes through pages and pages of prose notes he’s trying to describe these woods that he was visiting one summer in 1940. He takes all these notes trying to get the description exactly right, and he’s looking for the perfect word. He keeps going to the dictionary to make sure that all the words he’s using mean exactly what he wants them to mean. He tries to distill all that down into a poem, and he goes through 20 drafts of this one poem, trying to get it right. This resonated with me a lot in terms of the compositional process of working through a process of drafting and reworking your stuff, but I also just liked seeing the way words would change over the course of these drafts. He’d put a different word in where he’d used one earlier, or the order of the lines would change. That really spoke to the way that I work with my musical materials, developing them over time, reshuffling the way they happen, trying to change the ways they relate to each other. I was really hoping to capture that over the course of these variations.
Even with the repetition, there is a sense of growth over the whole piece. The ending is so cool!
One thing I was thinking about, is if there’s one thing that’s repeating or slowly developing, that either some other aspect that goes through this very clear linear progression over time. One particularly clear way to do that is through register, so over the course of the whole piece the four movements, things slowly move higher and higher through register, which I think is very apparent. Working my way up to this higher register at the end of the piece is a culmination of that. And I guess it could work if you’re thinking about moving up a tree that’s being described in the poem, from the roots up through the trunk into the branches and the pine needles at the top.
How did you end up selecting the 4 specific variations from the 20?
That’s a good question. I think I retyped them all and printed them out on individual pieces of paper, and I put them all next to each other. I was trying to maximize a bit of variety – some of them are much more similar than others, some of them follow the same basic line order. The ones I ended up picking, there’s a bit more variety in terms of the order the lines come in, that was appealing. They all bring a different ways of dealing with the same image. For example, the last lines of the second and third movements of my piece:
“But ribbons woven of sleepless atoms” vs. “Beneath taut-strung ribbons of sleepless weave”
They’re both getting at the same image, and it’s clear how, given one, Ponge could have arrived at the other, but they’re also quite different each other. And then, in the last movement, those lines turn into “…to tell of sleepless flies.” So there’s that balance of continuity—being able to trace an image from one version of the poem to another—and variety—changes of wording (“woven” to “weave”), the introduction of small, new elements (“atoms,” “taut-strung,” “flies”). Not all the drafts offered that, particularly the variety part.
Did he end up with a final draft, or did he give up at the end of it?
He pretty much gives up in the end. In fact the last poem that he arrives at, which is the last one that I set, he breaks it down into these modules. Each module is maybe 2 lines or 3 lines and he says, well actually you could put these in any order. Now that I’ve arrived at this particular wording and these particular groupings of lines, we could just reshuffle them however you want and it would work. Which was also really cool to me as a composer, thinking about mobile forms and things like that. This idea that you could have a poem that would shuffle itself around. So in the end the order of the lines that I chose for that isn’t the way it’s printed in the book, but he says you could have reordered them in any of these ways.
Did that resonate you with what you were saying earlier about you moving the musical materials around and reshuffling those?
Absolutely. I think this is the best possible solution – that he arrives at this point where it generates all these other possibilities beyond itself. I hope there’s a sense of that in the piece, that there are these different gesture types or materials that appear in the ensemble in each movement in a different way, developed in a different way, lined up with a different part of the text also, the idea that you could keep reshuffling that for ever and ever.
What are some other projects that you have coming up?
My dream project right now is a solo piece for myself, actually. On piano and melodica, simultaneously, and vocalizing too. In a lot of my music, performers may be called upon to vocalize, non vocalists may be called upon to vocalise. We have a concert coming up in Buffalo, with a lot of pieces like that where performers are doing multiple things at the same time, which is really appealing to me. I’ll also be writing a piece for voice and cello soon, setting a Psalm from the Bible for a whole recital of song settings for voice and cello.
How did the reading session and our approach to this commission, was this helpful for you, and how did this affect the end result of your piece?
That was extremely helpful. When I initially got this commission and I was asked to suggest instrumentations, I was really excited about this really wonky sounding ensemble. Bass clarinet, trombone, contrabass, and voice sounded really great to me, but when it came to actually writing the piece, it became much more of a challenge to juggle that. Having that opportunity to read through the draft of the one movement was extremely helpful because it was really hard to get my head around that at first. I think it highlighted things in that initial draft that were pretty muddy and denser than they should have been given the register and the instruments. Figuring out ways to scale back on that and push things into the higher register as the piece went along really helped.
What made you suggest this combination of instruments to begin with?
I was pretty much looking for the most outlandish thing I could do, I guess. Then I had to follow through on it.
We last interviewed Jenny Olivia Johnson in 2012, when we originally commissioned Reflect Reflect Respond Respond. Soprano Vanessa Langer checked back in with Johnson, speaking more about her piece and her inspirations. Join us tonight to hear the revised version. You can learn more about Jenny Johnson’s music at her website.
Let me start out by saying we are thrilled to be performing this new incarnation of Reflect Reflect Respond Respond for Wild Rumpus. Even as it has its own particular challenges of endurance, it feels like a crossbreed of Wagner, Philip Glass and Bach.
That’s the most amazing compliment I’ve gotten in my life, as those are two of my paragons. I’m a huge Wagnerite despite all of his horrible politics and personality.
You are a native Californian?
I am from Los Angeles. I actually just came from there today, but I’ve been living in New York and Boston for a long time, but I’m a Southern Californian girl. I love the Bay Area though, God!
Well it sounds like you might be coming out to tinker on our upcoming album.
I would love to actually. I love recording. I just did my first album, and I just got obsessed with the whole studio process. It’s also something I would just love to learn how to do myself, be an engineer. That’s a weird aspiration of mine.
What was your source of inspiration for writing this piece, and why do you feel you had to communicate this body of work at this particular time?
I wrote this piece in 2012 and as you know I just re-did a big arrangement of it, but when I think back on the original impetus of this piece, it was really about teaching counterpoint. It was about teaching theory, about teaching Bach chorales and becoming newly obsessed with what those chorales meant to me as a composer, and especially the Jesu meine Freude set, because Bach set that melody in E minor so much. So I became obsessed with teaching through that chorale, through those different settings of it. For me, it’s incredibly sad, and I was interested into in the concept of sadness. What does it mean to lose something? What does it mean to obsess over something that you can’t have, and that erupted for me over this melody that you could set so many different ways, but each way being a different lens into this idea of loss. So I wanted to express all of the various lenses of the different Bach settings that I had studied as a kid into this piece about loss. I wanted it to be this multivalent repetitive delayed miasma about loss. And I wanted it to be this ecstatic version, because that is something I have studied a lot when I’ve done scholarship on trauma. I’ve thought a lot about the energy that is generated around negative feelings and sometimes that energy can be very euphoric. Sometimes it can be the energy that propels you into a new state of being. And so I wanted to think about sadness and loss as this sort of propelling energy to a new phase of life. I wanted to look at sadness from a lot of different angles. That’s when I took this idea of the Jesu meine Freude chorale and set in a repetitive, energetic, intense, circle of repetitions and had these idea of delay lines that would mirror it out into the universe and create this energy that would be propulsive, that would propel you into another state.
In terms of loss and euphoria is there a point in the piece that the transformation happens that the audience can look for?
Well you know after the singers sing “Jesu meine Freude…will you sing my sad songs…if I can’t touch you let me gaze.” That for me is a transformational point where it’s clear that actually what I am experiencing is not real. But let me still gaze upon it, let me still experience this simulacra of my emotional state in the most intense way I possibly can, even though its not real. That intensified, repetitive fast part ‘let me gaze upon you’ which I gather is really hard for the musicians to do, to me that is traumatic repetition. That’s the repetition compulsions. That’s the compulsion to repeat because, as Freud writes in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” we have this drive to repeat things that are traumatic for us that we don’t yet understand. There is a weird way in which we gain another kind of pleasure from trying to understand where we come from, even though we know we don’t have all of the information around it. We gain pleasure from the pain of the past. For me, that’s the point at which the piece hinges and turns toward the recognition of loss.
What can you tell us about the instrumentation you chose?
I was really excited about the idea of any stringed instruments as plucked tear drops, that was something I was playing with vis a vis my studies of Purcell and early music. What we the call the affect and lear, the theory of affects, different types of keys and also instrumentation techniques for evoking emotions is something I wanted to play with a lot. But at the same time that I was obliquely reference early music I was at the same time interested in a big sound. And so at that point and this point as well, what ever you guys have I’m going to write for it. So when Dan said, “Okay, here is out new band,” I said, “I’ll take them all!”
Your mythological reference to Narcissus and Echo and the play between self love and self destruction is a really fascinating one. Is that personal?
It hit home. I had been teaching a couple of classes on psychology and music, psychoanalysis in music. And I was interested in the concept of narcissism and what that means. And you know it always has this very negative connotation. You know, “Don’t fall in love with a narcissist, you are going to get your heart broken. And everything terrible is going to happen to you.” And in a way I’m thinking we are all narcissists. What does it mean to examine that, examine the idea of having a relationship with yourself and examining having a love relationship in which you really confront yourself. Which I think is what happens in all love relationships. I wanted to concentrate on that feedback loop of what happens when you are examining yourself and what happens – why is that necessarily good or bad. I wanted to remove the reductive veillance that our society gives narcissism and think about the fact that we are all narcissists, we have to be constantly examining ourselves when we interact with each other.
In a way, it’s impossible and in a way all of these terrible things that can happen to you when you confront a narcissist or your own narcissism are so important. It’s so rich you know, and I wanted to celebrate that richness. I didn’t necessarily want to just write a morality play about this. It’s just an inevitable fact about being a human being. You are going to be a narcissist and run into narcissists.
In a way we are discouraged from being narcissists. It’s so sad that we are taking selfies of ourselves but in a way with or without the camera we are always doing that. Everybody that we encounter is a selfie because we are always getting reflections of ourselves off of other people. And learning how to acknowledge the other with the inevitable fact that we are going to be “selfie”-ing with the other, always!
Well Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is a favorite no doubt. It’s a beautiful science fiction book about adolescence in space, having to engage in a battle that they don’t know they are fighting. They think they are training to fight a battle and then they find out they are actually fighting this other species and they kill them. And actually that’s what this tattoo is on my arm with the carrots. What happens is that this young genius is charged with killing this race of insectoids, these aliens that are like insects. And he thinks he is training. He doesn’t know that in fact he is going to destroy their planet and destroy their species. But there is one cocoon left that he eventually discovers after the war and it communicates with him telepathically. And the way that that telepathic communication is indicated is with these carrots around the word yes. And that is the word that the cocoon conveys to him. Yes you have found the right spot for us. Put us here so that we can eventually regenerate and regrow. So for me this idea of intuitively knowing something is right is very powerful. And having somebody else just be able to communicate that yes this is right telepathically is like a load stone for me. That is everything.
Oh man, well it’s funny, my girlfriend is writing an opera that she wants to put on a beach and I think that is so great, but that is her dream project, so I’m not going to take that on. For me a dream project is actually having an opera in an art gallery, in a hall of mirrors, and the audience has to be in that hall of mirrors and it’s very disorienting. Definitely sight specific opera, like the Industry in L.A. what they are doing in limos and cars is blowing my mind. That kind of opera really excites me.
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