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Interview: Composer Veronika Krausas on Misfits and Hooligans

This Saturday, Catalysis Projects and People Inside Electronics are collaborating to put on a show called Misfits and Hooligans at Beyond Baroque in Venice. I caught up via email with composer/the-brains-behind-it Veronika Krausas to talk about the show. While it’s nice to pretend I’m an objective journalist (I’m not), I’ve gotta say that the whole concept of this concert sounds completely awesome to me, and that I’m way excited about it, and think you should probably go. Thumbs up/high five, Veronika, I can’t wait.

The concert that your group Catalysis Projects is putting on with People Inside Electronics is called “Misfits and Hooligans,” and features music for all sorts of instruments that are often thought of as such. Aside from my being sad that melodica didn’t make the cut, this is really exciting. Where did the concept come from? And are you concerned about angering violists by including them on this?

AHHH … there are so many wonderful instruments that just didn’t make the cut … bagpipes, tuba, trombone, nose flute, banjo, and yes melodica. I think the violists are thrilled to be included.  Probably everyone not included is wondering how they can get into the club!  The question really should be – are you a misfit or a hooligan?  But then it depends which country you hail from because in the lands that enjoy soccer (aka as non-American football), a hooligan might have a slightly less savory connotation than a hooligan in my less aggressive-less violent-more mischievous-Edward Gorey-esque usage of the term.  Even so, I think I’m more of a misfit than a hooligan although I definitely appreciate musical hooliganism!

But, back to the concert!  The composer Daniel Rothman started a new music series at Beyond Baroque and asked me to organize a concert.  I enlisted my pals at Catalysis Projects, the visual artist, filmmaker, and writer Quintan Ana Wikswo, composers and performers Isaac Schankler and Aron Kallay (also of People Inside Electronics) to help with this extravaganza.  It started out as a ‘so what pieces do you have’? type of thing and slowly emerged as a collection of ‘interesting’ instruments and it went gloriously downhill from there!   On the program there are also some truly wonderful and crazy pieces for harpsichord by the French Baroque composer Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, whose name alone is great!  (We’ve all adopted Pancrace as our Misfit or Hooligan middle name!)  Pancrace (as he is now known by his friends) was a contemporary of, and eclipsed quite a bit by, his pal Rameau!  I heard Arthur Omura play Marche des Scythes and it was one of those ‘AH HA’ moments for me with the harpsichord.  I drank the Royer Kool-aid and that was it.  I’m now officially hooked on the harpsichord.  It was such a wonderfully bizarre piece that it and 2 other of the pieces from Royer’s Première Livre de Pièces pour Clavecin are being performed on the concert.  He unfortunately only has one book of harpsichord pieces.

Aron Kallay is playing a gorgeous piece for toy piano and electronics by Tom Flaherty.  Isaac Schankler has this great duo for accordion and electronics called Chocolate Phase that he’s playing with Daniel Corral.  I’ve asked them to wear lederhosen but that idea didn’t go over so well.   He also has his wonderful viola piece Dear Mr. Edison.

My instruments are harmonica and double bass.  Let’s make the harmonica the misfit and the double basses will be the hooligans!  Jonas is a solo harmonica piece that the harmonica player Bill Barrett commissioned a few years ago and it’s finally having its premiere at this show along with a great text and film by Quintan Ana Wikswo called The Anguillidae Eater.  The text is about the migration of eels to the Coronian Spit in Lithuania (which is one of my favorite places in the world) with a surreal twist.  It goes perfectly with the harmonica music.  The piece is named after my grandfather Jonas, who loved harmonica and smoked eel and was Lithuanian.  He was probably more of a friendly hooligan that a misfit.  I still have his harmonica in my studio.

The musical hooligans are represented in my double bass trio called Gardens of Stone.    This piece was inspired by a poem by the Canadian writer André Alexis:

out of silence, to another silence

from sun and water, dry white salt.

time moves like that, crest to crest,

and our selves, yours and mine,

are what is left from sea …

You often compose for multimedia. What’s your approach to collaboration with other artists?

I’ve been so fortunate to have an amazing group of writers, film makers, artists, acrobats, and musicians around me that they’re always so inspiring.  The process always happens so naturally – someone suggests an idea (or I have an image or sound in my mind) and that small kernel just grows (often like a weed) and just emerges.  Somehow we’re always on the same sort of wave length when working on projects.

Art by Krausas's collaborator Reneé Reynolds

You’ve also done a good bit of work outside of music on your own. Did you study visual art, photography, or writing formally, or have you sort of picked it up over time?

I’ve only studied music but I am an accidental photographer, occasional book-maker, story writer, and filmmaker.  The great thing about ideas is that often they take on a non-aural form, which sometimes gets translated into music and other times into another art form.  I started to collect quite a few photographs of graffiti from all over the world and one year decided to put them into a book.  Definitely an accidental photographer.  Another friend (writer and artist Renée Reynolds)  and I started with the idea of an errata in a magazine and slowly this developed into a project of a limited hand-made book that had very divergent ideas of our interpretations of what is an errata.   The cover was floor tiles held together with duct tape – itself an errata of sorts.

 You’re actually the first composer I’ve interviewed who is on a university faculty. I’ve heard some composition professors say that they only get to compose in summer because teaching and the work associated with it take so much time. What’s the balance like, for you? And are you pleased with it?

Tough during the year but it’s like anything – you make time, especially when you’re inspired or have a deadline.  As those deadlines approach I’m sure my students notice the crazed look in my eyes…I teach at 8am so I’m not sure how much they notice at that hour!

Being that you’ve had works performed all over the place, how would you say LA compares or fits into the world scene for new music? Seems pretty strong to me, but I’ve never spent time in New York.

I never imagined myself living in LA and ended up here a little bit by accident.  Since arriving I have LOVED it.  The musical and creative environment is so vibrant that it’s really inspiring to live and work here.  There so much music and art and dance and performance going on, it’s just a little spread out!  And the weather is pretty darn great.

Anything on the horizon you can tell us about?

I’m off to Belgium in the fall – my chamber orchestra piece analemma is an official selection for the World Music Days.

Also, I’ve been asked to present my films at a series run by Gerry Fialka in the fall.  Although not a film maker – just an accidental one – I have worked with several really spectacular film and video makers (Quintan Ana Wikswo and Nana Tchitchoua – who runs the Tula Tea Room at the Museum of Jurassic Technology).  This event with feature some of the works I’ve done with them and my own ‘accidental’ foray into making a film.  A few years ago someone ran an idea for a short film by me and I offered what I thought was a good (and slightly quirky) suggestion.  They didn’t like the idea or even use it so I thought “it’s a great idea, I’m going to make it.” So I came up with 7 short and silly scenarios that became 7 intermezzi for film that I wrote and produced.  It was shot by Marc Lempert and the music was by friends.   A very fun project.

Thank you!

Get your tickets for this weekend’s show at See you there!

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