WasteLAnd‘s sixth season kicks off tonight at ArtShare tonight with a concert focused on this year’s featured composer, Katherine Young. Katherine makes electroacoustic music using expressive noises, curious timbres, and kinetic structures to explore the dramatic physicality of sound, shifting interpersonal dynamics, and tensions between the familiar and the strange. As an improviser, Katherine amplifies her bassoon and employs a flexible electronics set up for solo and collaborative performances. The LAPhil’s Green Umbrella series, Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW, Ensemble Dal Niente, Third Coast Percussion, Spektral Quartet, Weston Olencki, Nico Couck / Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt, Fonema Consort, others have commissioned her music. She’s excited about coming-soon projects with Lucy Dehgrae for Resonant Bodies Festival, WasteLAnd and RAGE, Distractfold Ensemble’s Linda Jankowska, Callithumpian Ensemble, and Yarn/Wire. She’s releasing new music this year with Michael Foster & Michael Zerang, Wet Ink, and Amy Cimini (as Architeuthis Walks on Land).
Ahead of the show, we got WasteLAnd artistic director Nicholas Deyoe, who has a lot of experience with Katherine’s work, to interview the composer. Here are Nick and Katherine:
Nick: Some of the following questions relate to your monodrama When stranger things happen and the three pieces that it draws from: Earhart and the Queen of Spades, where the moss grows, and just water, no lemon. Would you share a little bit of the background on this project?
Katie: Sure! All of four of the pieces – the three concert pieces and the monodrama – are inspired by a short story called “The Girl Detective” by Kelly Link, which is a noir meditation on loss and a creative coming-of-age-story that follows a girl detective on various cases / adventures. The story takes a very fragmented, nonlinear form, and contains lots of lists of lost objects, references to myths of femininity (Nancy Drew, fairytale princesses, Demeter and Persephone, etc.), and a noir atmosphere. Each of the pieces in my cycle formally explore experiences of loss and modes of detection and creative reassembling.
For Earhart & the Queen of Spades, all of the guitar preparations – fans, bobby pins, keys, jewelry, etc. – are drawn from a list I compiled of lost items the girl detective comes across, plus things that the performers involved in the premieres had lost. So, for example, the fans are a reference to Amelia Earhart (mentioned in the story), and several of the performers told me about losing pieces of jewelry that had lots of personal significance.
It’s funny – I actually borrowed the title for Underworld (Dancing) from “The Girl Detective,” too. So I’d been thinking about that story for a long time!
Nick: While learning the Earhart, I developed my own emotional attachment to all of these objects and how they interact with my guitar.
On Friday night, we’re presenting a world premiere (BIOMES 1.0), something relatively new (Earhart & the Queen of Spades, 2016) and something “old” (Underworld (Dancing), 2008). You mentioned the other day that you feel a certain connection between these three pieces. Would you tell us a bit more about the connections that you feel between these pieces?
Katie: Listening to the rehearsal of Underworld (Dancing) it occurred to me that each of these pieces to different degrees and in different ways blur out of a linear “musical” forms and into sonic meditations through the use of drone, saturating textures, and/or spatialization.
Nick: You are an active improviser, and you also produce meticulously notated scores full of nuanced details. Looking at Friday’s program, BIOMES 1.0 is driven by improvisation between you, Matt, and Weston; Underworld (Dancing) is fully notated, but filled with freedom between the euphonium and the Wurlitzer, and Earhart is very clear in its instructions, but often feels like you’re inside of a structured improvisation including recurring fragments. All of the styles feel very much like “Katie Young,” despite the range of approach. What are the differences in your own mindset when you work in these different realms?
Katie: I think I’m always looking for ways to infuse a little bit more surprise into my notated scores – to give them the energy of real-time exploration that is one of the things I love about improvised music. As you point out, that can be achieved in a lot of different ways and to different degrees. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the function or need the piece is serving for the people I am making it for / with, and then I use whatever notation is best for making that happen. There are things you can achieve with open forms that are really difficult to get from hyper specified notation, but there are things that that notation can make happen that more open forms can’t. But in all cases I start with the people and the sounds and go from there.
Details for tonight (October 5, 2018) are available at wastelandmusic.org/biomes, and the series is currently running a fundraiser with stretch goals of making every concert this season free. You can support their work at wasteland.wedid.it/campaigns/5108.