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Posts Tagged ‘Beyond Baroque’

Interview: Aron Kallay on Beyond Twelve

Pianist, composer, teacher, theorist, writer, festival organizer, man-of-many-nouns-used-as-modifiers Aron Kallay has a concert this Saturday at Beyond Baroque, and it sounds just awesome. For this closing event of Microfest, of which Aron is the assistant director, he’s commissioned a bunch of composers to reimagine what can be done with a piano. With all that this guy does, I’m lucky that he had a moment to talk about the project. See you there.

Let’s get right down to business: you commissioned works for piano using two ground rules, 1) re-tune the keyboard, pretty much in any way imaginable, and 2) re-map the keyboard. How have the composers you’ve commissioned responded to or interpreted these guidelines?

It’s been fascinating, to say the least. I deliberately chose composers for this project whose music I really liked. I wasn’t looking to commission “microtonal” composers, necessarily, but rather composers who I knew would take on the challenge of exploring alternate tunings. For many of them, like Tom Flaherty, this was their very first excursion into the microtonal world, and the results have been nothing short of stunning. Some of them divided the octave into many more than twelve steps. Kyle Gann’s Every Something is an Echo of Nothing, for example, has thirty, and they are all out of order! Other composers went back in time to find their tuning. John Schneider goes all the way back to Pythagoras, basing his tuning on a string of pure fifths. The most novel approach, however, goes to Brian Shepard. He started with the most basic of scales, the pentatonic, and created something so vertiginous that it needs to be experienced to be understood.
What sparked your interest in microtonal music? It seems like a bit of a surprise move for a pianist…but perhaps that’s why it’s working so well.
Ah… it was a surprise move for a pianist, before the advent of physical modeling software and really fast computers. The problem with microtonal music for an acoustic piano is that the number of pieces that can be performed on a given concert is directly related to the number of pianos in the hall. There are an infinite number of tunings available to composers and they rarely choose the same one for each piece. Add to that the complication that pianos don’t like to be retuned, and we have a problem. Often, it takes five tunings to get a piano to hold its pitch, even for something relatively straight forward like lowering the instrument a quartertone. The software I’ll use for this concert (pianoteq) models all of the intricacies of the piano while taking the new tuning into account (how the sound board reacts, sympathetic vibrations, key noise, etc…). The result is something not entirely unlike a retuned acoustic piano. In fact, it’s pretty darn close to the real thing.
As far as who sparked my interest in microtonal music, that’s easy… It was Professor Bob Moore at USC. He is one of the great unsung new music heros of Los Angles. I took two years of his 20th/21st century music theory class while working on my doctorate. He would often start lectures with something like: “One day, I was sitting at the bar with Takemitsu talking about X when Morton Feldmen walked in all mad about Y, and you won’t believe what Bernstein had to say on the subject.” This was a great class… When he played Ben Johnston’s Amazing Grace quartet for us, I was sold.
You’re also known for your work in combining acoustic instruments with electronics. Could you talk a bit about the challenges of both composing and performing in this medium? I ask partially out of self interest, as I’m writing a piece for guitar and field recordings and finding it extremely hard to make the two work together, as opposed to sounding merely juxtaposed on top of one another.
It’s funny to think that I’m known for anything at this point of my career, but thanks for the ego boost!
Not to avoid your question here, but I think that it really comes down to style vs. substance, to steal from Charles Ives. The great monuments of the electroacoustic literature, Stockhausen’s Kontakte, Babbitt’s Philomel, any of Davidovsky’s Synchronisms, for example, work not necessarily because the electronics are integrated with the live instrument, but because of the depth of meaning in the musical material. In other words, the electronics were never conceived of as separate from the acoustic part, they were necessary to the composer’s vision.
Of course, there are tricks that performers can use to help the composer out… Speaker placement, sound projection of the live instrument, effects, etc…
You’ve certainly covered a lot of musical bases around LA – composing, performing, teaching, running a festival, co-directing an ensemble of sorts…do you view aspects of our scene differently when you approach them from different perspectives? Or are there things that you’ve found to be true no matter what role you’re playing?

It’s interesting, and this is something that I think about all the time: the creative precess is pretty much the same for me regardless of the medium. If I’m curating a concert for MicroFest, I come up with a vision, or allow the music to dictate the vision to me, and try to shape a program that will fulfill that vision. The vision can be narrative or abstract, or a combination of the two, depending on the material. The result is like a meta composition–a symphony in several acts to hopefully be experienced as a whole by the audience. Whether or not I’m successful is actually beside the point. If the process is sound and I’ve created something that is true to the vision, people will come, and if they don’t, well, then I need to find a new profession.

The same is true when I wear my performer’s hat. I need a vision, and I need to be true to that vision, regardless of the dictates of “tradition” or “performance practice” or even what the composer is asking for in the score. If I don’t own that piece of music on the stage, then no one will be happy, not me, not the composer, and certainly not the audience!

What’s the most fun for me is something like Beyond Twelve, where I get to produce, curate, commission, promote, and perform. It’s difficult to wear so many hats at once, but talk about owning an event! And, even if it falls flat and there are ten people in the audience, at least I’ve helped to create new microtonal repertoire, which really is the point in the end.

What’s your favorite thing about new music in LA?

The abundance of amazing performers in this city. I’m not sure if it’s having the studios or institutions like USC and the LA Phil or the weather, but I’d put our musicians up against those from any city–any day of the week.

And your least favorite, or something you’d like to see change?

We need a more geographically contained city, or a transporter like they have on Star Trek! The only thing new music has going for it in places like New York is that everything there is closer together.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Nope! Time to get back to practicing!

Info about this Saturday’s show is available at Learn more about Aron and his projects at and

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!