I’m excited to share the news that Brandon Rolle has joined the team of writers contributing to New Classic LA. We posted his first review, of Nicholas Deyoe’s new record, a couple days ago. Here’s Brandon’s bio:
Brandon J. Rolle is a composer and conductor of contemporary music. Fueled by curiosity but informed by classical and experimental traditions, his works employ a singular language that investigates points of connection between old and new, structure and chaos, perception and deception. His diverse compositional output has been performed across the United States and Europe, including orchestral, electro-acoustic and acousmatic music, as well as original interactive computer instruments, intermedia works and installations. Beyond his concert works, Rolle has worked as a composer for videogame, short film, dance, and is an active conductor and ensemble coach. His industry experience includes work as an orchestrator, copyist, editor, audio programmer, and recently as contributor to New Classic LA.
Rolle holds degrees in guitar and political science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and a Masters degree in composition from Mills College where he studied with Roscoe Mitchell and Pauline Oliveros. He is currently a PhD Candidate in Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he works with Clarence Barlow, Joel Feigin and Curtis Roads. Brandon lives in Los Angeles, California, and teaches composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Each album has a distinct narrative, but the two releases are connected — two of Deyoe’s works appear on Walters’ album and Walters appears as both a member of the WasteLAnd ensemble and as a soloist on for Duane.
For this interview, Nick and Ashley reminisced about their collaboration over the past decade. Here, they present stories about their albums, music, and friendship.
First Impressions of Each Other
ND: I first met Ashley Walters in rehearsals for my second jury piece at UCSD (September-ish 2007), but I’d seen her perform with the Formalist Quartet a few times in the year before that. She was really astonishing in the quartet performances that I’d seen and I was really excited to get to work with her. She was detail-oriented, clear and direct in her feedback, and unbelievably positive. When we met, I was still really figuring myself out musically. I had a lot of insecurities that I was desperate to keep hidden and regularly felt like I wasn’t making music that was as interesting as that of my colleagues. Ashley was someone whose support and enthusiasm for my music made an incalculable difference in how I saw myself. As I became more confident in myself and my music, I began to feel much more free to develop my language (I’m not sure I’ve ever expressed these sentiments to Ashley). Daniel Tacke (who wrote a beautiful essay for my liner notes) and Stephanie Aston were two others who played pivotal roles for me. These were people who helped me question my work in a constructive way, helping me understand who I wanted to be musically.
AW: I met Nicholas Deyoe when we were grad students and neighbors in San Diego. I immediately noticed Nick’s presence and energy in rehearsals — he was professional yet sensitive; gregarious yet humble. I found tremendous energy and extreme contrasts in his music, which has biting, severe, and brutal sounds with moments of purity and sweetness. Whether I think of Nick in those early meetings or as a current collaborator and friend the word that always comes to mind to describe him is kind. He is a prominent force in the LA music scene not only because of his professional drive but because our community knows that he is invested in making connections with people and building strong friendships. I think there are many people who would consider themselves lucky to have met Nick.
ND: After this, Ashley and I started working together a lot, especially once we discovered that we were neighbors. Hearing Ashley’s perspectives on working with other composers, rehearsal preparation, and performance materials shaped my own approaches toward all things. I had the luxury of not only learning from her through our collaborations, but by drinking tea and talking about issues in other music, teaching, and life. She is thoughtful, direct, and never negative without warrant. If Ashley thought something was a problem, there was a good reason. She was the person to teach me that cello music is just as much about the person holding the instrument as the instrument itself (seems silly to make such an obvious statement) and that not all cellists have massive hands. She also demonstrated time and again that she would always strive to find a good solution for anything. Her dedication is remarkable and is something I witnessed immediately. In the 10 years we’ve known each other, I’ve only watched that dedication to her craft, her community, and her students deepen.
AW: Our first collaboration, For Stephanie (on our wedding day), was written for a momentous occasion — the marriage of Nick and Stephanie Aston. I am still touched to this day that our first collaboration was presented at such a personal event for two dear friends. During the process of creating this piece we spent as much time drinking tea and building our friendship through conversation as we did experimenting with sounds. This allowed us to connect first as friends and artists and then as collaborators not long after. [There is a work on each of our albums that was written for and performed at each other’s wedding. Six years after Ashley performed For Stephanie at my wedding, Stephanie performed Immer Wieder, which was composed for Ashley’s marriage to Luke Storm.—ND]
Then and Now
AW: In some ways it is impossible for me to imagine my career without the presence of Nick Deyoe — both as a colleague and as a composer. Releasing these two albums on the same day feels like the perfect celebration of a chapter in my life that has been enhanced by our work together.
As a performer, I try to be a portal between a composer’s voice and the audience’s experience. It has been a true honor that Nick has chosen me time and time again to be his ambassador of sound. Nick has challenged my technique and my own creativity; his music constantly inspires me to explore new colors and timbres on my instrument. I am a better cellist because of our work together. Nick’s musical language is unique but now feels completely familiar and comfortable to me. It’s like riding a bike — but his music is much more difficult than that!
ND: My relationship to pieces like another anxiety or for Stephanie are a lot different now than when I composed them four and eight years ago. At the time of creation, I was very focused on every detail, fussing over the sculpting of small moments. Now, as Ashley plays the pieces over and over again, across several years, I’m continually excited by the way she surprises me. At this point, I assume the time she has spent practicing the pieces surpasses the time I spent composing them. She has put incredible thought into every moment of the interpretation. She owns these pieces now, and it is an honor to watch her thought process unfold. In our early meetings refining her part for Lullaby 6, it felt like I was hearing her play an old piece. Ashley’s earliest interpretations were already nuanced and persuasive. It felt like she had already internalized the piece in a way that felt so familiar despite the music being completely new to us. [I truly think this work is a masterpiece, Nick. While it is an intensely difficult to play it was never anything but pure joy for me to uncover the nuances in your notation.—AW]
AW: Nick is often outgoing and effusive after concerts but the two performances that I remember and cherish the most are when he was speechless backstage — it was in those moments that I felt like we truly understood the magnitude of our collaboration. For me the performance of Nicks’s concerto, Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” is my most memorable — that night was not about virtuosity or even about collaboration — it was truly about friendship. Nick and I stepped on stage, he with a baton [“baton” is figurative, because I rarely use one.—ND] and myself with my cello, and together we celebrated the life of Nick’s father, Duane, who had passed away earlier that year. I was again honored to be asked to share a profound moment in Nick’s life through his music.
ND: Each new project we start together feels like it is embedded in everything we’ve already done while still moving forward. My collaborations with Ashley (similar to what I’ve done with Stephanie Aston and Matt Barbier) are what I use as a model when encouraging composition students to focus on building relationships with their peers. With these people, whom I’ve made so much music with over the last several years, a very different set of possibilities emerges. A new piece is a continuation of a long, thoughtful, and mutually respectful dialog rather than a fresh start. I am excited for every new musical relationship I begin, but maintaining the old ones is what I cherish about being a musician.
The Recording Process
AW: The collaboration between the composers and myself on this album extended past the composition/performance stage and into the recording process. Every composer (except Berio) was present when I recorded their piece. For me, recording solo repertoire in a large studio can feel lonely and isolating. However, in these sessions the energy of each composer was palpable through the glass. Wolfgang von Schweinitz brought his masterful ear and bolstered my own confidence with the fragile intonation in Plainsound-Litany. Wadada Leo Smith’s spirit in the booth was as contagious as it is on stage. The flexibility of his notation allows the performer to find her own voice and Smith provided constant support about the decisions I was making and the risks I was taking in my interpretation. Andrew McIntosh, a string player himself, is more frequently sitting in front of the mic than in the producer’s seat. (However, he is a talented producer in his own right, as you can hear on Nick’s album!). Knowing the great difficulty of his own piece, Andrew was my cheerleader throughout the process. Nick Deyoe was the first composer who joined me in the recording studio. Because this recording was documenting our first collaboration it felt like a special moment for both of us.
ND: All of the topics that Ashley and I keep discussing come back to collaboration. Making this album was a giant collaboration, involving 20+ people. My role composing the music, making the scores/parts, and editing the recordings feels, relatively, like a small part of everything that came together to make this album. This was the incredible work of 15 performers, 2 poets, a visual artist, a designer, and the miraculous producer/engineer pair of Andrew McIntosh and Nick Tipp. During our recording days last March, I spent time on both sides of the glass. I conducted Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along and Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” and I sat next to Andrew in the control room for Immer Wieder and 1560. As a performer, I was trying to simultaneously think in-the-moment while considering what would make a good recording. Thankfully, Nick (Tipp) and Andrew (Mcintosh) were paying great attention to everything, taking notes, and also reading the room and managing the overall flow of the session. Recording challenging music is stressful for everyone, and having people who can help keep a productive flow while ensuring that everyone in the room is happy can’t be understated. On the other side of the glass, with the opportunity to listen more objectively (Immer Wieder, 1560), I was no less grateful to have Nick and Andrew’s sensitive ears reinforcing (and sometimes contradicting) what I was hearing. Their notes were crucial to me when I edited the album.
To learn more about the albums and the release party/concert that will take place on October 20th, visit here: http://deyoe-walters.brownpapertickets.com/
Pre-Order from Populist Records here:
Ashley Walters – Sweet Anxiety
Nicholas Deyoe – for Duane
This is exciting. Composer Joel Feigin has his first digital-only release coming out this Friday, September 8, and was kind enough to give New Classic LA an exclusive stream of the whole record, which features the Ciompi Quartet performing his piece Mosaic in Two Panels. Here’s the stream:
Mosaic drops Friday in all the normal spots that records drop these days.
New Classic LA writer Paul H. Muller has collected the reviews that he’s written for this site over the past four years, along with the reviews he’s written for Sequenza21, and released them as a book titled New Music Los Angeles, 2012-2016. The book is available at lulu.com and he’s graciously selling it for no profit to himself, and donating a percentage of the proceeds to the upkeep of both Sequenza21 and New Classic LA. It’s a great overview of many of the happenings that we’ve had in our town over the last few years, and certainly worth having on your shelf. Thanks for all the writing, Paul!!
A couple of years ago the composer Jason Barabba told me I had to meet Julian Day. Julian’s an artist/composer/writer/broadcaster from Sydney, and he just happens to be in Los Angeles this week participating in the closing night of Synchromy and Boston Court’s DuoFest and interviewing people like Henry Rollins (we’ll get to that). Ahead of tonight’s event, we had a minute to catch up with both of them.
How did the two of you meet?
Julian: It was an unlikely venue – a 13th century monastery in Tuscany. But we were as areligious then as we both are now.
Jason: It was the Cortona Sessions for New Music in 2011, an excellent new music festival bringing composers and performers together for performance and way too much eating of stunning food. I remember telling Julian he sounded British to me and not Australian, and he gave me that look that people give Americans when they don’t know how to respond to us.
Julian, what are you doing here in LA? I know you’re a composer, but I’d heard something about interviewing US musicians about their politics…
Julian: I’m jaunting around the country interviewing musicians about politics in the age of Trump. So far here I’ve caught up with hardcore punk legend Henry Rollins and UCLA scholar Shana L. Redmond. But my main task is to dust off my turntables to play in Ludwig Van, a music theatre work composed by Mauricio Kagel for Beethoven’s 200th birthday in 1970. It’s a riotous piece that you simply can’t miss – you may not hear it again for another 47 years.
Tell me about the piece.
Jason: Kagel’s Ludwig Van has always been a bucket-list piece for me. In my circle I’m fairly well known for having a bit of an antipathy for Beethoven, and so it makes sense that I should be involved in a new music concert that is all about Ludwig. Kagel’s score is the centerpiece of the night, surrounded by works by Ludwig himself, as well as John Corigliano and Clarence Barlow. We’re having an absurd amount of fun with it. The thing about the Kagel is, you can do almost anything you want, as long as Beethoven is the source. In some ways it makes it easy, but in many ways it is significantly more work than presenting a normal score. But, I’ve always wanted to do it, and we’re grateful to Boston Court for giving us the space and the support to put it on. Expect a disco ball, Julian on turntables with my complete set of Beethoven on vinyl, and a stage full of mind-blowingly-excellent musicians.
Julian: Jason isn’t the only one with a funny thing for Beethoven. I think he’s been a complex touchpoint for many composers over the past century – too willful, too bombastic, too ‘genuis’ – and it’s time we reclaim his obsessive, brilliant and dramatic ouevre and basically luxuriate in it.
How have the other DuoFest events been?
DuoFest has been a big step forward for Synchromy, and we’re enjoying the chance to try so many things out in one week. We brought along four duos that are either already collaborators us, or are people we have always wanted to work with; Aronson-Valitutto, Panic Duo, Aperture Duo and Autoduplicity. They have all shared the stage this week, and I’m just so pleased with how great they’ve all been to work with. We’ve premiered a few pieces: a gorgeous work by Andrew Tholl and a great new violin and piano piece from Juhi Bansal, and I wrote a new piece for Aperture Duo and Autoduplicity and a pair of singers. It’s a 6 and a half minute opera called Any Excuse Will Serve a Tyrant.
Would you like to share anything about the opera?
Jason: I had an idea for a piece for the Aperture Duo, and we were going to do that, but this year I suddenly felt like I had to compose pieces that were in some way dealing with the world (political/social/environmental) that we find ourselves dealing with. I needed to do something that made some manner of statement. I felt like one of the things we need is to remember how to be part of a society, and how to treat the people around us, so I thought back to the old Aesop Fables, and found The Wolf and the Lamb fit the bill perfectly. Since we had Aperture sharing a program with Autoduplicity, I brought in two singers that I love to write for, Baritone Scott Graff and soprano Justine Aronson to be my Wolf and Lamb, and I couldn’t be more happy with the result. They were stupdendous, under the baton of Geoffrey Pope and directed by the awesome June Carryl.
Julian, with your musicopolitical reporting, what was your take on the piece?
Julian: It’s really clever. Fundamentally it’s a beautifully scored vignette that combines comedy and pathos with dramatic flair. By using a very old fable Jason can also comment, with historical distance, on the turbulent politics the States is currently experiencing. I strongly urge my good colleague to set more Aesop fables to music as he’s a natural.
What are you both working on now that people can look forward to?
Julian:I’m working on an album-length composition for London pianist Zubin Kanga using electronics and theatrical staging, as well as a 24-hour choral piece which will premiere in Sydney in early September. And adjusting my crazy sleep patterns.
Jason: I just finished a commission for playwright Tom Jacobson’s new play, and am planning to take a short sabbatical from composing while I decide what needs to be said next. I hope to be able to create an entire set of Aesop micro-operas in the coming year, because Tyrant was way more fun to do than should be allowed. Once DuoFest is over, Synchromy will start making plans for the upcoming year, and we’ve got some very cool things on the table.
Tickets for Ludwig Van are available at bostoncourt.com/events/333/duofest-night-8-finale-ludwig-van.
A few months ago we heard the premiere of Daniel Bjarnason‘s Qui Tollis at the LA Phil’s Noon To Midnight festival (review here). Tomorrow, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet brings the piece back to LA at the release concert for their album BEYOND. In the third of our series of exclusive videos, Daniel and the members of the quartet discuss the work.
Beyond that, Daniel was kind enough to answer a few questions:
In the video about Qui Tollis, LAPQ member Nick Terry describes it as having a combination of serenity and brute power. I’d say that about a lot of your other work too, particularly Emergence, which also came out recently. Is that balance something you actively strive for, or does it happen almost on its own as a result of your voice and taste?
I would say it is something that is a part of my own voice, like you say, and having realized that I don’t really fight against it but am aware of it. Sometimes I want to emphasize that characteristic and sometimes not.
You mentioned looking to other percussion works for inspiration on this one. Are there any particular inspirations, or pieces you discovered while listening, that readers can also check out?
I would like to mention one piece in particular that I completely fell in love with which is The So Called Laws of Nature by David Lang.
What excited you most about working on this piece with LAPQ?
I felt that they were really willing to go the extra mile to bring the piece to life. Apart from being fantastic musicians they have a wonderfully curious and positive attitude. For example the idea of using electronic triggers was entirely theirs and I thought it worked great.
You’ve been doing a lot in LA lately. What attracts you to the scene here? What’s different about it from Reykjavik or the other places where you are most active?
I’ve had the great fortune of developing a relationship with the LA Phil and I continue to work with them regularly which is an absolute privilege and joy. I have also worked the Calder quartet which is LA based and have been in touch with many other wonderful musicians and artists in the city. I find that there is this energy and curiosity in LA and a general willingness to experiment that I find invigorating. In some ways it reminds me of Reykjavik in that there is a feeling of everything being possible. I think that is what is attracting so many artists to the city now.
Yesterday we premiered The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet‘s video with Andrew McIntosh about his piece I Hold The Lion’s Paw, from their forthcoming album Beyond. Today we’ve got composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir discussing her piece Aura.
The record is out on Friday, and LAPQ is playing a free album release show at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute that night at 7:30. The album and concert include music by Christopher Cerrone, composer of The Industry’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Invisible Cities; Daniel Bjarnason, who was recently featured in the LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival; and rising LA composer Ellen Reid. The evening will also include video and surround-sound audio samples of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Andrew McIntosh, plus a demonstration of an immersive virtual reality video of Cerrone’s L.I.E. from his Memory Palace, heard on the new album.
Come back tomorrow for our video and interview with Daniel Bjarnarson, and pick up the album and concert tickets at lapq.org.
The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet‘s next album, Beyond, drops on Friday, and they’re playing a free album release show at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute that night at 7:30. The album and concert include music by Christopher Cerrone, composer of The Industry’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Invisible Cities; Daniel Bjarnason, who was recently featured in the LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival; and rising LA composer Ellen Reid. The evening will also include video and surround-sound audio samples of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Andrew McIntosh, plus a demonstration of an immersive virtual reality video of Cerrone’s L.I.E. from his Memory Palace, heard on the new album.
LAPQ gave us permission to premiere three composer interview videos they did, and we’ll have them up today, tomorrow, and Thursday ahead of the concert and release. To start, here’s composer Andrew McIntosh and members of the quartet discussing his piece I Hold The Lion’s Paw
Album and concert details are at lapq.org.
Kristen Klehr is a name I’ve seen related to so, so many concerts in LA, but never onstage. We became friends over a shared “I run into you at everything, what are you doing here?” sense of curiosity. The short answer is that she produces events and helps run ensembles. We cover a lot of performers and composers on New Classic LA, and thought it would be interesting to talk to the people who put those performers and composers onstage. So we’re starting that with Kristen, who recently founded her own production company, BEAR, and is collaborating to put on the MARS Festival, which starts tonight. Here we go:
When we met you had just moved to LA, and had most recently been producing the nief-norf festival in Greenville, SC. What brought you out here?
Ha! Honestly, it was on a whim! I had finished with Cabrillo Fest up in Santa Cruz, actually was expecting to wind up in SF, but I thought, “well, I don’t need to go back to New York or Cleveland yet, and I finished my master’s, so I’m not heading back to Florida, hmm, might as well go explore?!” …and so I road-tripped down the 1 with a violinist friend that had a session in LA after Cabrillo, crashed on a friend’s couch – as the typical LA transplant does apparently – and let life unfold!
As I understand it you did some work for Kaleidoscope to their next stage, and then founded BEAR to run your own productions. Since then I’ve seen the name on a few collaborations, like the ones with Kensington Presents at the Viaduct. Your next one is with the MARS Festival, starting on April 14. Tell me about the festival.
Oh, it is super exciting – a ten-day long music, arts, and technology festival in the Arts District – partnered with Art Share LA and Angel City Brewery – featuring some truly killer artists and innovators – totally rad talent – I mean, what could be better?!
I don’t mean for this question to come off as confrontational, more like curious. I had heard rumblings about the festival before you were attached. What does BEAR bring to the groups you collaborate with?
I think BEAR has a unique advantage, the musician/performer perspective in combination with a production focus. Being able to think about creative solutions for projects and innovative concert designs is what sparks me, and I LOVE when organizations get to thrive from a slightly more streamlined experience. Funny enough, I’ve found my hands in a good amount of organizations that are either in their inaugural year or looking to take growing steps forward; I didn’t set out to purposefully help young non-profits launch or grow, but I do like to think about how I can help strengthen their missions, encourage new connections or exposures within their communities, and honestly ease some of the workload off of them – that is a producer’s job after all, to dial in focused productivity while not letting anything slip through the cracks. Easier said than done of course, but it’s my hope that BEAR brings to the table an ability for the founders or directors to focus on the artistic direction and design (while I love doing that as well in my own projects), and to have to worry less about the delegation. When I see all the gears turning smoothly like a well oiled machine, I feel like I did my job.
There’s no shortage of great musicians and composers in town, but being able to produce an event is something special. What would you like to see improve, on average, about the ways groups present themselves? Phrased another way: what advice do you have for concert producers?
Hmm, well – what I’d like to see is a bit different than probably the advice I’d give for concert producers haha. Advice I’d give to other producers is a simple thought, but is so so important: that everything you have, do, and list in a line item budget or schedule, realistically has a body behind it. A physical person must be there – as simple a cue on a headset as, “lights to half, audio stand by, house out, and go: conductor” quite literally means: “there is a physical person that has to be cued to switch the lights to half, there is a team of people that did the stage lighting design prep and programming the week prior, there is a physical person that not only is standing by to turn the audio live but also another backstage prepping and handing the mic to the conductor, there might be a third audio engineer standing by to hit record or go live for radio broadcast (in communication with another human at the station!), and then not only is the conductor a physical person but there also was person that placed his/her music on the stand prior to the house even opening, etc. etc.” …or in a budget sense, “music rental” does not just mean that the music is magically there at rehearsal at X-amount of dollars, but that some BODY picked it up from the shipment, a different person probably wrote in bowing or cuts, another human submitted and paid for the ASCAP/BMI, an administrator organized and distributed the music to the correct musicians in instrumentation, and there are human beings playing said music of course. The point being, they’re all human. Treat people with respect, and account for things with an understanding that it requires a person to complete the task. I think things fall through the cracks when multiple people know that things have to happen, but they all think that someone else is handling it. And then it becomes a “he-said-she-said” scenario…which is never ideal! Staying clear about job responsibilities and communication is key, as well as treating people with kindness and gratitude – stressful times happen, but try to keep it in check as you work through it, and keep your eye on the prize – which is creating an awesome concert experience!
You’re also a percussionist. How does that figure in what you do as a producer? Do you ever feel internal conflict of interest?
Well, funny enough, a few friends have joked that because I have a percussionist’s brain, logistics have always been in the forefront of my planning and coordination, which is super helpful for a producer of live concerts! Internal conflict with that topic doesn’t really happen too much anymore, other than that there are only 24 hours in a day, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I enjoy doing both! I feel that if I was only a producer/entrepreneur or only a performing musician, I would feel a bit unsatisfied – both sides keep me balanced and moving me forward. More to the point, I can’t imagine not playing, or not dreaming up new creative endeavors, or producing cool shows – or working out haha – it’s just a part of what makes me, me – and I think if I cut out one side completely, the other side would suffer in quality.
Now that you’ve been in LA for a couple years, how does it measure up to your expectations?
Well, I’m not sure I had crazy high expectations, however I do feel that I’ve done a lot of random things in my life since moving here – things I never thought I’d get to experience. Like film sets, fitness adventures, new media-tech conventions, photo shoots, truly incredible live gigs, amazing recording sessions, meeting so many remarkable people that are also all about the hustle…and I’m so grateful for that! When I first arrived, my expectations were more centered on a pretty narrow mindset of an orchestral admin career path to be honest, and well, that has certainly taken a new turn for sure! But I see it as being all interconnected, so it’s not a bad thing. I will say, I think I’ve eaten more burritos since moving to LA than I have the entire history of my life prior! Taco stands here definitely exceeded my expectations hands down! So good.
What else in town are you excited about?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m thrilled that you’re taking the time to ask me these questions! I think that as entrepreneurial initiatives keep emerging with musicians after they graduate from great music schools, even with great new programs or tracks with this focus branching out in conservatories, there’s still a bit of a haze in, “okay, but now what…and what if I want to do this?…but it’s not quite been done before…but I have this gut feeling I think I could do it…but what does that actually take?…what does that look like realistically?…” and I know for me it was so valuable to hear other people’s stories as to how they got to where they are now, as well as perspective/lessons learned along the way. I’m a huge advocate for strong arts admin tracks as well as “entrepreneurship for musicians” type classes to be growing at universities, because those people behind the scenes making it happen so that the musicians on the stage can perform great concerts are not two different people. They are often two sides of the same person, and it’s important to make resources available to them on both sides. Thanks!!
On April 8th, REDCAT will host a concert of composer Clarence Barlow’s works of the 21st century, including major ensemble, electronic and intermedia works. Tickets and info for that are at redcat.org/event/clarence-barlow. Full disclosure: I’m a student of Clarence’s, as is my friend Brandon Rolle, who interviewed him for UCSB’s website. The university kindly gave us permission to reprint that interview here ahead of this Saturday’s concert. Here are Brandon and Clarence:
Clarence Barlow is a composer and the Corwin Chair of Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. While Barlow is recognized internationally for his contributions to electronic music and his pioneering work in algorithmic composition, his voluminous artistic output defies categorization, breaking boundaries of style, genre, and form. Recently, the dynamic and diverse output of Barlow’s career was celebrated by a three-day festival of his works in Cologne, Germany—a city that introduced Barlow to Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the avant-garde music of mid-20th-century Germany from which his distinct compositional trajectory launched. This year Southern California, too, celebrates his career and music: January 28th marked the premiere of his recent major intermedia piece )ertur( in Fullerton, CA, and February 24th saw a program of his early chamber works (from ages 14-22) at UCSB.
Many of your best-known works in the academic community are those which utilize algorithmic processes or your original software, but early on you were an active pianist and conductor and your compositions are markedly more romantic—can you talk a bit about your early musical experience/education?
Well as a young boy, age eight, I used to play in a school band in my then home town Calcutta. Then at the age of 11, I decided to make my own music, though I had no formal teaching. At 13, I got into a general classical mode and at age 15 I got into a historical style at more or less Haydn, Mozart, reaching Rachmaninoff at age 17. Then a music critic heard my stuff and told me I was too conservative, and that there was other music I should listen to—he played me Samuel Barber on the piano—and I did move on. But all of these pieces were written for regular classic acoustic ensembles. My first electronic music was written at age 24, so these early pieces from 50 years ago—of which there will be a concert here at UCSB—are all going to be in styles of Haydn, Mozart, Bartók, etc. There will be two string quartets, and a wind quartet sounding a bit like Prokofiev, or Hindemith. Those pieces are a natural outcome of the process of my historic music development through my teen years and early 20s.
How did that first computer piece at 24 come about?
As one of the few people in India—well, the only one—writing Western contemporary music, I got a scholarship to go to Germany to study composition there. After the interview I was told I could pack already, and it was through this scholarship that I ended up studying with Zimmerman and Stockhausen. The Cologne school where I started my studies in 1968 was the place to study electronic music—it had the only electronic music studio in a school at the time. So that’s where I made my first electronic pieces at 23 (Studies) and my first serious electronic piece at 24 (Sinophony I), gradually easing myself unwittingly into the very avant-garde contemporary music scene in Cologne, where I found my roots. But all the same, I broke with rules of the avant-garde in crazy ways.
When I started to do computer music—I was 24—it was because I understood there were certain algorithmic things I wanted to do which could probably only be realized by a computer. I remember that at the end of 1972, I drove a night and a day to Stockholm where I worked for two weeks in a studio over the Christmas break making my piece Sinophony II. I realized, a computer could do anything I wanted it to do, if I learned to program it properly.
In your teaching and lectures you talk about algorithms as a means to an end, compositionally. In the beginning, were you primarily experimenting to find new sounds?
No, I knew what I wanted. I could imagine the first stages of the compositional process and said ‘okay, let me work on that and listen to it’. For instance, my piece …or a cherish’d bard… is written for piano, but it’s highly algorithmic. I computer-programmed a first version of the piece, listened to the result and thought ‘boring, what do I have to change?’ I moved my program in a new direction and thought the result was a lot better, but now this gave me new ideas, which changed the process further until I finally said ‘this is it’. I had my piece.
I can’t imagine everything at the beginning, but listening to test results always gives me new ideas. The imagination is always the carrot, and I am the horse following it, as it were. And this holds for my algorithmic piano, ensemble, and electronic music alike. My electronic music is inspired even in its timbre by algorithms—someone told me recently that there is no such thing as algorithmic timbral composition; I said that isn’t true, I do it all the time.
A major component of your teaching, writing, and composing are your theories on tonal and metric functions as a continuum.
I came to Germany at age 22 writing conservative early 20th century music. But at the age of 24 my style broke completely and I became radical. My piano piece Textmusic was unlike anything I had done before; it was accorded a 20-minute response from the audience at Darmstadt—boos and applause; it was one of the big scandals of Darmstadt that year. From then on I was no longer writing in any historical style, unless I wanted to deliberately.
At 29, I first imagined a variably tonal music, not as in the past where it was simply tonal or semi tonal or atonal—I wanted tonality to go from 0% to 100% and back. It became clear that if I wanted to make this variable tonality—and variable metricity—that I had to develop a theoretical fundament. So I got into prime number theory, looked at Pythagoras and Euler and found my way through algebraic formulae which I programmed all summer in Cologne at the Institute of Phonetics. That is how these formulae became the cornerstone of a lot of my work.
Why was it important to be able to move between tonal/atonal styles as a parameter or variable?
One of my great heroes in literature is James Joyce. He absorbed culture into his work, which is not only fantastic literature but is also a commentary on culture. Looking at music culture of the past—tonal, atonal—I wanted to use all of that. I saw tonality as a kind of magnetic field, the strength of which I wanted to change at will. Joyce often writes in historic styles with a twist—I do that too, in my derived music. But in my algorithmic music I also conjure up and generate styles which might or might not make you remember past history.
What about the incorporation of extra-musical elements into your music?
I have been synesthetically oriented for most of my life. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but I’ve always been very interested in the visual. And language—when learning German at 22, I discovered my great love of language. So I think it is because I love all these things that I start to perceive bridges between them and music.
As a composer for both fixed media and human performers, what is it that you look for in a performance of your acoustic work?
For me it is important to listen to the result—now the humanly played result may not be 100% accurate as in a MIDI rendition, but if it were, it would be without soul. A great human performance has expression, phrasing, nuances. If it comes across as something fresh, something with musical spirit, then I’m happy.
Then do you find it problematic for electronic music that it lacks such human “spirit”?
No, it’s not a problem. It is like being in a planetarium, looking at exact moments in time, exactly placed, with exact frequencies.
Like much modern music, your compositions can be challenging to listen to for many people. Is there ever temptation to adjust the musical language to make the concept more accessible?
I don’t need to be accessible. I believe in the grand body of culture we have behind us, and in the propagation and extension of it. You cannot make it accessible to everyone. You don’t doctor art to propagate it. I love James Joyce: should Joyce have written in a simpler style to be more accessible? I believe very strongly you stick to your guns, you do what you have to do.
So what would you suggest to a listener in order get the most out of your music? Out of modern music in general?
I would say first of all, frequency of listening is very important. You have to listen often. You’ve got to go to lots of events, you’ve got to have an open mind. Get to know the music.
We couldn’t agree with that more. Check out Clarence’s music at REDCAT on Saturday at 7. Tickets and more information are up at redcat.org/event/clarence-barlow