First Take: Paul Pinto on Unintelligible Response

NEWS FLASH: we just found out that the Silverlake Neighborhood Council is hosting an open rehearsal with wild Up and The Industry tonight at 8. Full details are at http://silverlakenc.org/events/?mc_id=1811. Okay, here’s today’s interview.

Paul Pinto is next up in our series of interviews with the composers for The Industry and wild Up’s First Take 2015. You can read all of the interviews at newclassic.la/firsttake. I’m particularly excited for Paul’s work, as I’ve always found what happened to Thomas Paine after writing Common Sense totally fascinating. Apparently Paul follows Paine into the afterlife. Read on.

Composer Paul Pinto

Composer Paul Pinto

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

Unintelligible Response is one scene of a large opera-in-progress I’m developing called Thomas Paine in Violence. Broadly, the piece centers around the last few moments and made-up afterlife of the American Founding Father, pitting him against the noise of the modern American media landscape. In this scene, Paine’s Spirit, portrayed by Joan La Barbara is in a timeless, placeless radio station. She has just come off the air (whatever that means) and is having a rather colorful dispute with her peers in the control room (the instrumentalists), and the voices in their heads (the manchorus).

Here’s another excerpt from the opera, titled Radio Edit:

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

I’m a singer, but I guess we all are. I’ve used my voice a lot in performance and I almost always begin a composition from the voice – even before I was writing my more “theatrical” tunes. When I was in undergrad and grad school, you know, I wrote some pretty mediocre operetta and songs (who hasn’t) while I was obsessed with music that was in the tradition of Britten. But I was a shitty storyteller, and for me, English just didn’t need to be performed that way anymore. So when I discovered Samuel Beckett, Harry Partch, Robert Ashley and some other fabulous experimenters, I started to care a different way about the English language, and specifically how to set it. So with the collectives thingNY and Varispeed, we started to create work together that experimented with text and sound. After eight years of collaboratively-written stuff, and a lot of shorter compositions, I turned to Thomas Paine and his fucked up afterlife to try to say something in my own style.

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

Not really. I started with a bunch of text, as usual, and sang it aloud a bunch of times, recorded it, listened back, did it again, etc. etc. Lots of edits later, I have a libretto, I have the timbres I want to work with, and I have pulse, a pace and a style. That’s, like, 70% of it. The last part is putting the notes in (probably 5%) and figuring out how to communicate it best (the most grueling and painful final 25%).

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

Loads! But I don’t want to go off message. I’ve decided to write this opera with malleable scenes and versions, so that I can tour with it in bits, solo, or with one or two others while I’m still writing it. So there’s plenty more scenes and segments. I’m so incredibly fortunate that it’s been picked up by HERE, a producing partner in New York, so if anyone ever ventures out there, I’ll probably be doing something Paine related. Come say hello.

Coming up soon is thingNY’s new opera This Takes Place Close By and Varispeed and Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives Jersey City and Perfect Lives Philadelphia. If you enjoy some of this work, I have a mailing list. You can sign up at www.pfpinto.com.

Paul nailed the usual link to his site that goes here for us! What a sweet guy. Tomorrow in of our series of interviews with the composers on First Take we’ve got Nomi Epstein. Complete details on First Take 2015 are available at http://theindustryla.org/projects/project_firsttake15.php.

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