On Monday Night, the composer-performers of Invisible Anatomy are bringing their unique take on the new music experience to The Blue Whale in Little Tokyo, in a concert with the Ben Phelps’ new project, The B Band. Ben had a chance to sit down with two members of Invisible Anatomy, Dan Schlosberg and Brendon Randall-Myers, and interview them about the “slash” (composer / performer), and how that does or doesn’t fit into the modern classical music model. Here’s Ben with Dan and Brendon:
So you are all composers from Yale. Why start your own group? What does Invisible Anatomy do differently?
DS: IA grew out of the time we spent at Yale performing each other’s music. We found that, as time went by, we increasingly chose the music of other composer colleagues who were also performers to play our music in the new music concerts. The system at Yale was such that it required all instrumentalists to perform in those concerts, which can and does have huge benefits but also some drawbacks relating to the extent of certain players’ passion to play new work. We found that, when we worked with each other, everything just clicked. We instinctively knew how to inhabit each others’ music, so to speak, which made for thrilling performances and just overall an intense joy.
BRM: Many aspects of the group also grew out of a project of (member) Fay Wang’s through Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts in 2014. She was commissioned to write a piece after observing members of the microbiology department over the course of a year, and basically had free reign to make her own ensemble and hire whoever she wanted. That group ended up including almost all of the future members of IA, and she wrote this huge 30-minute piece that we performed wearing lab coats with props and lighting and projections. So that ended up kind of being a template for what a lot of what we’re doing now.
Do you feel like you have a “musical style” that unites you? Or is it something else?
BRM: I think our music all sounds really different, but we do all work with aspects of tonal harmony, and we all have performing backgrounds in music other than classical in addition to our classical training. We’re all interested in altered states and narrative, and making vivid and direct music. As a composer/performer ensemble, we’re fascinated by the weirdness and amazingness of performing bodies, and our first couple shows have dealt explicitly with the mind/body relationship.
When you design a program like Dissections, what ties it all together? Where does it start?
BRM: Dissections grew out of the idea of digging deeper into things, of examining and questioning and looking below the surface. Ha, honestly all these things start with a lot of late-night hangs over dinner and booze. We kind of just get together and throw ideas around until we start zeroing in on something that’s interesting to all of us, then flesh out the concept over the course of months of conversations, Skype sessions, and group emails. We’re checking in with each other at every step of the writing process and talking about ideas and writing/revising even through the rehearsal process (which was a little bit of a problem this time around). We also are incredibly lucky to collaborate with two amazing lighting designers – Solomon Weisbard and Daisy Long – and an awesome director in Dustin Wills – that help us tease out the arc of the show and make visual sense of it.
How long have you been working on this then?
BRM: Both Dissections and our first program Body Parts had 8-10 month gestation periods culminating in frantic 3-4 week periods of writing and rehearsing.
Seems like you have some ideas on what the composer’s job is today. How do you see yourself as “composers” fitting into classical music and modern American culture?
DS: It’s hard for me to say what the job of “composers” as a whole is. I am a firm believer in what Hans Eisler and Theodor Adorno called “railing against the cult of unobtrusiveness,” which is a fancy way of saying never giving people what they think they want, what they’ve been conditioned to want. I think part of an artist’s goal should be to bring people up short, to expose things that reach into the deepest parts of our psychosis, things that may be (very) uncomfortable to confront. After all, if we’re just following the norms laid out for us by society or, in this case, the music or new-music establishment, is that truly art?
BRM: Oh god, I have way too many thoughts on this, but I’ll try to stay focused.
As a composer, my job is to make people think about and feel something that’s unfamiliar and challenging, but also provide moments of beauty and catharsis. This is what music has always been to me – at its best it can create a space outside our routines where there’s a window between minds and worlds. I also view it at as my job to create music that I want to listen to, that’s interesting and meaningful to me, that reflects the world I live in, interacts with all the traditions I grew up with, and can speak to a lot of different people.
In terms of modern American culture, who knows. Now that Kanye West has collaborated with Caroline Shaw, all bets are pretty much off.
Invisible Anatomy joins The B Band monday night at The Blue Whale in Little Tokyo. $10.