Populist records just posted a new record from Andrew Tholl, Corey Fogel, and Devon Hoff, entitled CONDITIONAL TENSION. As populist points out on their site, the record is a great step forward for them, as it’s their first release of entirely improvised music. It’s also their 10th record (congrats!), and they just got a great review and profile by Will Robin on Bandcamp, which you can read at blog.bandcamp.com/2015/11/10/creating-a-wide-platform
The record is available for pre-order now, and comes out on November 20. The track above is my favorite of the two extended improvisations, but the whole thing is just fantastic.
With a name like “FACE|RESECTION,” you know it’s going to mess with your head. The album title is a merging of the two track names, Facesplitter and Bowel Resection, performed by Matt Barbier and released on populist records. Both use extended techniques transform the trombone into much more than a mere instrument.
The first track, written by composer and guitarist Nicholas Deyoe for solo trombone, imitates machine noises. A lawnmower here, a band saw there, and an electric drill and sink disposal in between evoke a soundscape of quotidian noise as music. Rarely is there a sound produced by Nicholas which does not have some parallel which can be heard from your own kitchen. This catalogue of techniques moves the listener to appreciate these noises more as music than something to be ignored. In short, I would call this music by a human about inhuman subjects for humans.
Clint McCallum’s piece is another technically startling trombone solo called “bowel resection.” It emphasizes circular breathing and uses the sniffs to remind the listener of the human behind the mechanism, of the organic being in machine. Another set of extraordinary trombone techniques, this piece brings a new emotion with each listen, one of which is, as you may guess from the name, disgust. But, like spectacular gore in a horror film, you won’t want to turn away. To compare this track to gore seems both blasphemous and fitting. You’ll have to listen for yourself.
This Sunday, ArtShare LA will be hosting a party celebrating Scott Worthington’s recent release of Prism on Populist Records (out August 14, available for pre-order here), a collection of works spanning 2010-present, all in his singular voice. The program will include pieces from the recording as well as other pieces for bass and electronics. We asked him a few questions about the recording and upcoming party:
How did you go about starting work on this set of recordings? You seem to have developed a unique voice with bass playing and electronics. What do you feel is the relationship here? Are the electronics always more fixed and your bass playing more improvisatory? Do they inform each other? What comes first, and how do you craft the pieces?
Back in 2010 I tried to record At Dusk and Prism. That attempt didn’t turn out very well, so I guess you could say that I started to work on it all the way back then. The recordings on the album are from 2014 and 2015. I didn’t craft the pieces in order to produce the album, but I think I got lucky and they sound nice together.
I’m not sure if there’s a relationship. I just try to make electronic parts that don’t sound like my own *very* reductive stereotype of wiz/band/swoosh electronic music. I like some of that music but I’m just not good at making it and/or am too lazy to try.
Neither of the electronic parts on this disc are fixed. In At Dusk, they end up sounding like a very pitchy reverb chamber. It has an entirely notated bass part. I’ve adjusted some of the rhythms and dynamics as I’ve played it more, but I wouldn’t consider is improvisatory. As for the chicken/egg, I had the idea to get the computer to mimic the sustain pedal on the piano, wrote the bass part with that in mind, and experimented writing some different computer programs until I thought it sounded right.
In Reflections I cue the drones in a way that sort of fakes live processing. It has some melodic fragments and ideas that remain the same from performance to performance, but there is no score. This piece started as a bass ensemble work for five basses and I made a version for solo bass and drones afterwards.
Your work seems to prioritize some traditional musical ideas – there are memorable themes and motifs, as well as more atmospheric materials. Are you concerned with making memorable gestures that can be developed? Or do you have a different way of thinking about thematic material?
I guess I’m a “motive guy” or something like that. Sometimes I like to tell people my music is mash up of Brian Eno and Morton Feldman. I like things that can be remembered but aren’t necessarily played the same every time. I think most of the development in my pieces comes from layering different motives on top of each other, but not necessarily developing the motives themselves. Reflections works exactly like this. I have a bank melodic ideas and I put them together during the performance. I used to just write this kind of thing out in score form, but more recently I’ve been eschewing scores and trying to create environments where these kinds of ideas can live and get a bit of a life of their own from performance to performance.
There are two versions of a quintet, with a note, “After Feldman.” While somewhat static, there is still more trajectory here than what I associate with Feldman. Did you have a specific piece in mind that was influential? I’m curious about the reason for two versions – can you describe the compositional method here?
A specific piece, yes! Piece for Four Pianos. Here’s a youtube recording:
I think I have it right that the pianos each have the same part and progress at their own pace. In my piece, there are five separate parts, but I…borrowed…the “at your own pace” bit. Since it’s not exactly the same every time I thought I’d put two performances on the album. I also think they act as nice palette cleansers between the longer pieces on the album.
I really enjoyed Prism. I can see how you’re working with some potent, dramatic materials that are then refracted and explored, like light through a prism. Your handling of the form here seems really intuitive. Did you have a specific structure in mind, or did the materials themselves suggest the form? Is there anything else you’d like listeners to know about the piece?
Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I think I did have a little structure mapped out (it’s from 2010, so my memory of writing it is a little fuzzy). There are five parts and I think those parts only had to do with the pitches/chords in the sections. I think that was the extent of the formal plan. So, maybe that means it was intuitive? I don’t think I set out with a plan for how long the sections were. It was towards the end of when I was really concerned with pitch sets and things like that and I was (clearly) moving towards using a lot of repetition and being sparse and droney in general.
Your fifth track is in memory of Stefano Scodanibbio. Can you talk a little bit about what his influence is?
He was one of the most incredible bassists (and perhaps musicians) to walk the planet. I never got to meet him or see him perform, but the kinds of things he was capable of on the bass are unparalleled. I wrote the piece shortly after his untimely death from ALS. It doesn’t use any of the techniques or pyrotechnics he was known for and capable of, but I tried to make a contemplative piece in his memory.
Are you excited about the release party concert? Do the other pieces on the program relate to this recording, or are they just pieces you enjoy performing for other reasons?
Yes, I’m excited! I’m also heading off on a CD release tour playing at the Center for New Music in San Francisco on the 14th, the Wayward Music Series in Seattle on the 19th (with Nat Evans), and at the Wandering Goat in Eugene on the 20th (with a lot of other artists and bands). Lots of miles on the car, but I’m looking forward to meeting people and playing some music for them.
I’ll be playing two new works that Nat Evans and Brenna Noonan wrote for me for these concerts. They don’t relate specifically to the album, but I wanted to make a nice concert and not just play the record for people. I met Nat and Brenna through a project that Nat did called The Tortoise (https://natevans.bandcamp.com/album/the-tortoise). The concert will close with Julia Wolfe’s piece Stronghold which is just an awesome piece–it’s kind of a barn burner.
And finally, if you could sit down with your listeners and tell them anything, what would it be?
Hope you enjoy it 🙂
We hope you enjoy it too. For more information, visit:
Scott Worthington – Prism CD Release Party
8.9.15, 8pm, $10
801 E. 4th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90013
See you there!
Editor’s note: Aron Kallay will be performing on Piano Spheres’ Satellite Series at REDCAT this Tuesday, December 16, at 8:30. GO!
Inoo/Kallay Duo – Five Conversations About Two Things
Aron Kallay, Piano Yuri Inoo, Percussion
From populist records comes an inaugural CD by the Los Angeles-based Inoo/Kallay Duo, that includes seven varied pieces from five different composers. Together with versatile percussionist Yuri Inoo, Aron Kallay explores an amazing variety of textures and timbres through premiere recordings of contemporary Southern California composers.
The first track is Like Still Water by Thomas Osborne and this begins with a series of solitary piano notes followed by periods of silence that allow the overtones to hang incandescently in the air. The vibraphone joins in with a series of solid, syncopated chords that at first counterbalances the airy lightness, but this evolves into series of delicate tones that mix and hover overhead. The ensemble of piano and vibraphone here is nicely done, producing just the right conditions for a ghostly interplay. Like Still Water is precisely descriptive of the liquid feel in this piece – it is like hearing the ripples you see when a stone drops into a quiet pond.
The Question Mark’s Black Ink by Bill Alves follows and this has an entirely different feel – cool, remote and with a soft whirring sound like some alien machinery running in the basement. The sound steadily increases, as if we are approaching the source, and the crescendo builds to a single strong piano chord. A series of syncopated rhythms in the vibraphone and piano follow and these mix to form a lovely melody while a warm, sustained pedal tone rises from underneath. This develops a nice groove that is soon dominated by a powerful piano line – the texture here turns bolder and more percussive. Quiet introspection follows, with solitary piano notes heard over a warm wash. In it’s quieter moments The Question Mark’s Black Ink is beautiful music and the playing has just the right sensitivity and touch.
Cantilena III by Karl Kohn is next and this begins with a low sounding marimba trill that immediately creates an exotic feel. A strong piano entrance follows, providing some nice riffs that seem to bounce off the marimba in a mix of the sophisticated and the relaxed. The interplay produces some interesting textures, combining the soft mallets and the slightly harder edge of the piano. Cantilena III suggests a visit by an American to a rural Mexican cantina – there seems to be a gentle clash of cultures occurring and by the end of the piece the marimba and piano, interestingly, seem to be on completely different wavelengths. Cantilena III is an intriguing exploration of contrasting sensibilities and the playing is carefully balanced.
Tracks 4 through 6 comprise the three movements of Elliptic by Caroline Louise Miller. The first of these, Distorted Sundown – Golden Moonrise, begins with a low, almost inaudible hum that crescendos into a series of sharp piano notes. A soft metallic clang is heard along with the sounds of gentle waves – like standing on a distant lake shore at sunset. The piano soon predominates with a series of slow arpeggios that add to the introspective feel. The piano fades softly away, followed by a short silence, and then re-emerges in a stronger, brighter line as the moon rises. There is just enough that is strange and unnatural here to evoke a certain alien remoteness, as if we are experiencing a natural phenomena in an unusual way.
The middle movement, Earthrise – Anarchy, begins with a more pensive feel – with tentative piano flourishes and light, bell-like percussion – we seem to be hovering in space. A sudden piano crash and a series of bass drum rolls add a burst of drama and energy that suggests a chaotic process unleashed. A rapid snare drum solo gives the sense of standing in the center of a battle. This is followed by an ominous rumbling by the piano in the lower registers that explodes upward into a series of crashing chords and thunderous waves of percussion. The movement concludes with a massive chord that recedes like a distant explosion.
The final movement, Exodus, is just a little over two minutes and has an ominous start, continuing the decrescendo from the the middle movement as if rolling outward in the distance. Soft piano notes follow, like watching a ship slowly sailing off towards a horizon. Elliptic is dealing with big, planetary issues and embraces a wide range of dynamics and textures. The playing here is well-matched to the moods as the story unfolds.
The last track is Wagon Wheeling by Tom Flaherty and this starts off softly with a syncopated repeating melody in the piano followed by a dramatic buildup in the percussion. The intensity increases with a good sense of balance in the percussion – always building but always under control. A smoother section follows with the piano and marimba weaving in and around each other with remarkable precision. This piece is quiet at times and at other time boisterous, but with a sound that is always carefully contained and shaped. The percussion especially stands out – so many notes and passages but always finding the right feel. The ending is a crescendo that comes to a sudden halt. Wagon Wheeling is a complex piece with a lot of moving parts produced by just two players.
Five Conversations About Two Things brings together a wide range of composers and compositions performed by two excellent musicians who are ideally suited for each other.
Aron Kallay will perform in the Piano Spheres Satellite Concert Series at RedCat on December 16, 2014.
Five Conversations About Two Things is available from populist records.
Man, populist records is putting out so much great music right now! We just got a review of Andrew McIntosh’s Hyenas in the Temples of pleasure up, and yesterday afternoon Aron Kallay reminded me that his record with percussionist Yuri Inoo is coming out already. Today.
Here’s the first track.
We’ll get a review of the record and an interview with the band up soon. Until then, my wish for 11:11 on 11/11 is that you download it today.
Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure, the new CD by Andrew McIntosh recently released on the populist records label, consists of three distinct sections of four pieces each. Each group is connected not only by the instrumentation and scoring but also in projecting related sets of feelings. The first and last groups are comprised of the Symmetry Etudes and the middle tracks on the CD are the four movements of Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure.
The first four tracks are Symmetry Etudes V, II, III and IV, composed from 2009 to 2012. These are written for two clarinets – in this case Brian Walsh and James Sullivan – and violin, played by Andrew McIntosh. The first of these, Etude V, starts with a syncopated violin line that is soon joined by smooth, sustained clarinet tones above and below. A sense of purposeful activity in the violin is immersed in tension as the clarinet pitches become stronger and more acute – almost electronic in purity of pitch. The violin struggles and is almost overwhelmed by the loud clarinet tones. There is a sense of virtuous purpose in the violin that contrasts with the emotionless and machine-like clarinet parts. As the piece concludes there is the sense that the two opposing viewpoints remain unresolved.
Etude II begins with a simple but elegant clarinet line that flows out, joined by the second in a higher register. This creates a wonderfully weaving and sinuous feel while the violin adds a thinner sound that provides a complimentary bit of definition in the texture. There is a sense of calmness and nature at work, like walking by a lake early in the morning. A very beautiful piece. Etude III opens with the clarinets warbling together, accompanied by higher, sustained tones in the violin. There is a sense of mystery and anticipation – along with a slightly alien feel. As the piece progresses a feeling of remoteness develops that becomes increasingly agitated, although some nice interweaving harmonies appear that slowly die away at the finish.
Etude IV is a series of slow, ascending scales – there are some lovely harmonies that develop as the three pitches rise upward, like watching warm vapors rising and mixing, forming various combinations. Some occasional syncopation in the rhythm keeps the sound interesting and engaging. There is a wide open – almost Coplandesque – feel to this, like looking out at a far horizon. I first heard this piece performed at Disney Hall in 2013 and much of the finer detail was lost in that cavernous space; this recording is a much more satisfying experience. The clarinets dominate most of these Etudes and the playing by Brian Walsh and James Sullivan is right on target, fitting the various moods exactly.
Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure (2012 – 2013) is a four movement work that occupies the four center tracks of the CD and is performed by Laura Barger and Ning Yu on pianos with Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg on percussion. The first movement starts off with two pianos playing scales in different directions and this evolves into separate lines with differently syncopated rhythms. Now marimbas are added in what becomes an almost random pattern of notes. The pace slows and the feeling is like hearing rain drops. There is an exotic, primal feel by midway through – as if in a rainforest or jungle. A growing sense of tension arises, as if far into deep wilderness, perhaps lost. Now a brief repeat of the first piano lines as the movement ends and it is as if we have traveled deep into the unknown to arrive at a strange place.
Movement II starts off with rapid runs of sixteenth note scales by two pianos – now slowing to single notes spaced a few beats apart with the percussion. A single bell sounds at four second intervals accompanied by a low bottle blow sound. A series of lovely chimes ring out, as if in a Buddhist temple, with piano chords sounding at intervals. There is a serene, meditative feel to this, disrupted by the occasional forceful piano chords. A strong sense of contrast here – restful and menacing at the same time.
A low booming drum roll opens Movement III creating a sense of anticipation. A cascade of piano notes develop into mysterious melody that adds a hint of tension. More ringing percussion now, the same bell chimes from Movement II. There is the feeling of standing on a high, windblown hilltop in Tibet. Lovely, yet vaguely ominous in its mystery.
The final movement opens with a strong piano chord that gives a definite sense of menace. High pitched, sharp tones appear – like shards of glass- and this adds to the anxious feel. Now a bell sounds, restoring some calmness. More chimes arrive – less tension but still an uncertain atmosphere. Stronger chimes now, with lighter, metallic bells above. The piano takes up the theme ending the piece with a feel of anxiety mixed with calmness. There is a definite sense of journey and mystery in Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure that unfolds in a satisfactory arc across the four movements. Tension and restful calm seem to coexist uneasily together and the picture that forms is one of a distant, sacred space suddenly defiled. The playing is remarkable for its range and precision. The percussion was especially artful in both the scoring and the performance.
The second group of Symmetry Etudes begins with Etude I and this starts out with a single clarinet producing a sort of wavy sound. The violin takes this up, and now the other clarinet. The sounds oscillate in and out, eventually escalating to loud and piercing tones. Intense and high in pitch, this becomes almost like a whistling sound by the end. Just two minutes long, Etude I starts low and ends very high, one continuous crescendo of pitch and volume. Etude VI starts out softly but with high, sustained tones in all three instruments. There is a sense of relentlessness – like looking at a bright sunrise on a clear day. As this piece continues the sounds become more strident with zero beating occurring between the pitches. The playing is very precise here – as is needed to attain these exacting sonic effects.
Etude VII begins with a single clarinet playing a simple scale. The second clarinet joins in, but is offset by just a fraction of a beat. This produces a playful syncopation that is quite engaging. The violin now repeats the scale and a clarinet becomes the offset part. Only 1:40 in duration, the success of this etude springs from a simple idea that produces a complex and interesting result. Etude VII begins with a low, sustained clarinet tone that is almost electronic in its purity and constancy. There are slight wobbles in pitch, just as if from an electronic oscillator. A second clarinet joins at almost the exact same pitch to produce some zero beating. The violin joins on what sounds like a harmonic and the the three tones move about to various fixed pitches in a close approximation to the sounds produced by a series of oscillators. The purity and stability of pitch is impressive and this perfectly evokes the cool remote feel of electronics. This second group of etudes has a more synthetic and remote feel where the first group was more organic and pastoral. Overall the Symmetry Etudes are an impressive collection, evoking a wide range of feelings and gestures from just three players.
This collection of pieces in Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure combine impressive playing and excellent scoring with artful storytelling. The mixing and mastering by Nick Tipp, along with Ian Antonio and Ressell Greenberg are state of the art and have accurately captured the widely diverse dynamics and timbres.
Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure is available now from populist records.
I’ve been working on getting a better event calendar together to this site for quite a while, and am extremely pleased to say that the new one is live. If you’re on a computer, look to the right. If you’re on a phone, scroll down. Or simply click Calendar on the site’s menu to check it out.
If you’re reading this post today, you’ll see an event called Gnarwhallion listed. That’s Gnarwhallaby’s concert celebration of Andrew McIntosh’s new record, Hyenas In The Temples of Pleasure. It came out today, and we’ll have a feature on it out soon. You can beat us to it by going and grabbing your own copy at tonight’s show.
I’m still working out the most efficient way to take calendar submissions. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, if you post a Facebook event to our forum page, we’ll make sure it gets listed.
wild Up are accompanying Ezralow Dance at the Ford Theatre tonight, so I thought it’d be appropriate to post a track. Plus I heard this as background music on KRCW yesterday and thought “whoa, Chris is on KCRW!” (To be fair, it was an ad for the show.)
Stand still like the hummingbird opens wild Up’s record Feather & Stone, which was released earlier this year on Populist Records. It’s jazzy in a 40’s mellow bop kind of way, but has no shortage of insane left-turns that only an ensemble as flexible as these guys can pull off.
Though based in San Diego, bassist and composer Scott Worthington is no stranger to the LA scene. UPDATE: SCOTT HAS MOVED TO PASADENA.
Andrew McIntosh has a lot going on. His new recording of Tom Johnson’s music came out last week (and is great, and is available by clicking here), he’s a full time member of both wild Up and The Formalist Quartet, he runs Populist Records, and, tomorrow afternoon, he’s giving a free performance of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Mystery Sonatas at the Hammer Museum. He also, based on his photo, takes good care of his cats. They look pretty happy. I’m amazed that he found time to answer a few questions.
Between the cd, the wild Up residency, and performing Biber’s complete Mystery Sonatas this weekend, it’s been a huge couple of weeks for you. How’s it all going?
To be honest, it’s been quite intense. I’ve been up until 1 am or later working pretty much every night lately, because in addition to everything you just listed I also have to finish two compositions in the next week or so, prepare for a violin and piano recital with Dante Boon in Amsterdam in early September, and prepare for a recording session in Berlin of Marc Sabat’s music! The Biber concert is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, though, and I feel pretty well-prepared for it since I started learning the music over 2 years ago. However, it is around 120 minutes of music, so that much material is always going to feel pretty overwhelming no matter how well prepared you are – especially when you are playing in a total of 14 radically different tunings throughout the piece!
As a matter of fact, the whole year has been a bit insane, although very rewarding. For the past several years I have been juggling five different large-scale multi-year projects and 2012 is seeing the completion of all five of them, Biber being the last: the Tom Johnson CD, Wolfgang von Schweinitz’s 80-minute violin/bass duo (performed several times earlier this year), a 45 minute composition for two clarinets and violin (premiered at the Hammer in July), a 50 minute composition for two microtonal pianos (being premiered at the Gaudeamus Festival in Holland this September), and this Biber cycle. It’s an exciting time and I feel very grateful to be able to do all of this work, collaborate with great musicians, and have it all presented!
Tell me a bit more about your interest in Biber. When I hear your name and think about the projects I’ve seen you involved in, music from 1675 definitely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, and the smattering of Bach and Vivaldi on your performance calender is pretty minimal. Is baroque music a passion of yours you’ve been looking to engage with more, or is it this work by Biber in particular that’s got a hold on you?
Well, baroque (and earlier) music is actually something of a focus for me. If that’s not reflected in the calendar on my website than that’s my fault for not keeping it up to date and comprehensive (I’m not as good at that as I probably should be, but a new and more representative website is in the works…). Early music is in fact such a strong focus for me that I actually went back to school at USC recently to do an additional part-time graduate degree in early music performance, which finished this past May. Also, I’ve played a couple of solo baroque concerts in the past year or so (mostly with French and early Italian repertoire), as well as performing with Musica Angelica, the Corona del Mar Baroque Festival, and a variety of other random engagements. A large portion of my CD collection is filled with the likes of Dowland, Ciconia, Couperin, etc.
Biber has been by far my favorite baroque composer since I was first introduced to his music about 10 years ago by my older sister. You may know that I already have an inclination towards music that uses tuning in unusual ways, which Biber does brilliantly. That’s just a starting point, though. Besides that, his music is wonderfully imaginative and playful, using the violin in ways that were not only unique and unheard-of at the time, but which are still very unique and fresh even when compared with the 300 years of violin repertoire that’s been written since. I can’t think of very much music that feels more joyful to me to play, even when the pieces are quite dark or somber. I tend to think of Biber as the 17th century counterpart to Messiaen, another of my favorite composers.
It has been a dream of mine to play these pieces for quite a long time, and going back to school for an early music degree, restoring an 18th century German violin, playing concerts of lots of baroque and renaissance repertoire has all been in a way leading up to this goal. I’ve invested an absurd amount of time and energy in the project so I hope to keep playing the pieces in the future as well.
With a lot of Tom Johnson’s music, as well as music by other minimalist composers, it seems like the challenge in performing it may be more mental than technical (though of course whatever you’re thinking is expressed via technique). How do you go about preparing pieces like these? Is there anything different in your approach to learning and practicing them?
Good question! I’d say that ultimately the challenge of pretty much all music is more mental than technical. I always tell my students to develop their imagination as much as possible, since you can only play as well as you can imagine.
That being said, these pieces are actually excruciatingly difficult from a technical perspective – which is part of why I am attracted to them in a strange way. The simplest music is often the hardest to play, like Mozart, for instance. I imagine that most of the music on the correct music CD would be fairly easy on piano, but on the violin or viola it feels full of risk at every moment. The tiniest little bow squeak or finger movement that you wouldn’t usually even notice sticks out like a sore thumb in Tom’s music. To give you an example, we had to record one of the movements of Tilework for Violin several times simply because it was early in the morning and I’d had a lot of coffee. My stomach kept growling at exactly the same point in the piece and each time it ruined the take – that’s how exposed the music is!
The preparation was a long and multi-faceted process – like the Biber actually. It started with working with Tom in San Francisco at the Other Minds Festival performing a string quartet of his in 2010. I was very struck by the beauty and strictness of the music, and also his charming personality. Naturally, I asked him for some solo pieces and he delivered a great big pile of them. I started incorporating them into concerts and eventually I had enough for an entire solo program of his music. It wasn’t until I was already performing the music quite a lot that I seriously started thinking of recording the pieces. Everything sort of came together very naturally at just the right time (by “naturally” I actually mean “with a whole lot of work”) and Tom was very enthusiastic about the whole thing, so now we have a CD!
The notation in Tom’s music is generally pretty open, so interpretively there are some interesting parallels to early music there: flexible instrumentation, flexible tempos and even register, no indications written for phrasing or articulation. One has to make a lot of decisions when playing Tom’s music, but I always try to approach it from the perspective of figuring out how each piece wants to be played – as if they have their own unique characters and opinions that are just waiting to be discovered.
What, as a composer, initially attracted you to working with just intonation and alternate tunings?
I don’t think I can provide a simple answer to this question. I remember experimenting with tuning quite a lot as a kid. I grew up in a rural area of the Nevada desert and I had a lot of time on my hands to practice, but I almost never practiced what I was supposed to (to the eternal frustration of my poor teachers!). Instead I would spend hours improvising and “composing”, although I rarely wrote down my compositions at that age, and many of those improvisations involved retuning the violin and bending notes and who knows what else. Sometimes I tried to notate these improvisations or play them on piano, but I often couldn’t figure them out once I tried to analyze them – and in retrospect I am pretty sure that it was because I was using microtones but didn’t have the vocabulary to actually understand what I was doing. When I shared some of this kind of playing once with my violin teacher she didn’t know what to do, so she gave me a CD of Alban Berg and said I should see if I liked it, which I didn’t at the time. To her credit, she was actually a very good teacher and I was probably a very stubborn and difficult student to teach. I wish I had some kind of documentation of these improvisations to go back and listen to, but unfortunately no such thing exists.
When I was exposed to the music of Gerard Grisey and Harry Partch in grad school at CalArts I finally felt like here was the harmonic language that I had been looking for all along. My music generally sounds nothing like either of those two, but nonetheless they are the ones who first inspired me to move in this direction. I was also studying microtonal theory and some composition at the time with Marc Sabat (who, together with Wolfgang von Schweinitz, developed the Hemholtz JI notation that I use), and so my path became more clear once I had a way to notate and articulate the musical thoughts that had been percolating since childhood.
Just intonation is more or less just a representation of the way that sound works naturally, and that’s always been a fascination of mine. I don’t exclusively write in just intonation, though, because I believe that imperfection and compromise are also very important ideas for music.
It seems like we’re seeing a resurgence of the composer/performer persona in concert music in recent years, and while I have a feeling it’s got something to do with those of us who are establishing themselves today having grown up steeped in popular music, where that’s the norm, I’m interested in your take on the subject. Are performing and composing, for you, two sides of the same coin of being a musician?
I don’t really have much to contribute to the composer/performer resurgence discussion, other than that it seems to me a very logical and stimulating way for music to be made. As a matter of fact, and this has been said by many people recently, composing and performing went hand in hand for most of musical history. Perhaps the middle of the 20th century will be read about in history books as the time when musicians were uptight and judgmental and thought it necessary to limit ones activities in order to be taken seriously. I tend to see the more recent trend as a logical return to a very healthy way of making music.
For me, they are two strongly related pursuits, but definitely not two sides of the same coin. For instance, anyone who knows me well knows that I hate performing my own music (although I often end up doing it anyway). Composing is something done in solitude and it doesn’t develop linearly, whereas performing is done in a community and happens in real-time. Composing is meditative and freeing, while performing is thrilling but stressful. I guess they are both acts of artistic creation, but they fill very different roles in my own life and it’s an ever-increasing challenge to reach a balance between them.
Also, I often seek out music to perform that will nurture and develop particular ideas in my writing. A few years ago I was performing a lot of Grisey, Nono, and Feldman for this reason. There was something in the music that I could only truly learn and understand by performing it, and now that’s a very valuable experience to have had. More recently I’ve been playing Tom Johnson, Schubert, Biber, and Wolfgang’s music for that reason.
What are your thoughts on the LA scene? What’s good about it, and what would you like to see change?
It’s a little hard to define even what the “LA scene” is, since it’s a constantly-shifting and not-geographically-centered entity, but I can say that there is an exciting community of musicians here who are dedicated to their work, very talented, and great people. My wife and I were confronted with the opportunity to move to Montreal a few years ago and thinking about that made us realize how much we like it here and appreciate the people around us. Obviously, we’re still here!
It would be nice if LA could develop a little bit more of a support system for its modern classical music (and early music!) – in terms of venues, funding, education, infrastructure, and things like that, but these things seem to be gradually developing anyway. I’m excited to see what the music scene will be like here in a decade or two.
Same here. Thank you, and good luck this weekend!
Thanks to you too!
For details on tomorrow’s show, visit wildup.la/events/chamber-music-andrew-mcintosh-plays-biber. More about Andrew McIntosh can be found at plainsound.org.