This conversation featuring composer/performers Mike Duffy, Colin Holter, Josh Musikantow, Schuyler Tsuda, and Jeremy Wagner and conductor Bob Whalen illuminates the preparations the CMW has undertaken toward a performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s cosmic epic Ylem.
Music and Industrial Machines in the Digital Age: Our Changing Relationship to Technology
Abstract: From the publication of Balilla Pratella’s “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Music” in 1911 up until the sudden increase in the accessibility of synthesizer technology beginning in the 60’s, experimental composers of all backgrounds were enthusiastic about electronic music’s potential for liberating sound. The progression of electronic music since those optimistic years could be, perhaps, better described as a domestication rather than a liberation. The colossal labs and studios have been replaced with laptops. The popular domain has been flooded with such tiny and infamous devices as the iPod mini. The futuristic modules have become a thing of the past. The days of analog, of splicing magnetic tape with razor blades and talcum powder, of punch cards, are over, it would seem. Those who remember the early years of electronic music take occasion to recount those days of yore, 20-to-30-somethings gathered round, listening intently to tales of horror and nostalgia. Despite this trend, there remains a continued presence of composers with an active interest not in the processed, digital sounds of the personal computer, but in electromechanical musical instruments. Rising composers, Jean François Laporte and Schuyler Tsuda, exemplify this presence. However, they do so more in the spirit of pioneerism than scientific innovation. Their use of industrial machines strives to reconnect listeners to nature, or perhaps, to a primordial past that (by Tsuda’s own admission) never really existed. I shall explore the musical output of these composers, both to do justice to their fascinating music as well as to illustrate our changing relationship to technology.
Colin Holter interviews Jeremy Wagner.
On music and society:
Even with my son, when it’s bedtime and I play him the guitar and make him sing along, it’s the best thing in the world—I hear his voice and we’re doing something together. And nobody’s hearing it but us, but that’s why music is so important and so powerful. We don’t sit around fires anymore. We don’t sit around talking to each other—we rarely even sit around and listen to music anymore. I hate the iPod; I hate the idea that music is such a personal thing that you can just stick some earplugs in your ears and have an experience with music. Music is a social phenomenon, and it’s about sharing with each other a certain oral tradition, ultimately. Even when music is written down, having it memorized and performed—there’s a power in that, a communication between two or more people, and having that dynamic is getting rarer in the world, but it’s something I value most highly. >>>>
by Nick Zielinski and Ingo Bethke
When I reflect on the best moments of my life, I am struck by the fact that not a single one of those moments occurred while I was alone. In all of them I had someone with which to share the joy. For this reason my primary focus as a composer is on writing music that brings people together. And when I say ‘together,’ I mean together not only in proximity, but in spirit. The togetherness that comes from true cooperation in working toward a common goal. To achieve this I construct musical frameworks where the performers are not only encouraged, but required to contribute, creatively, to the fabric of the music.
About Nick: Composer, drummer and improviser. Descendant of farmers and teachers and meat packers. Likes almonds, dislikes fish sticks.
Colin Holter interviews Nick Zielinski.
On being a composer/performer/improviser:
The playing informs the composing, which informs the improvising, which informs the playing, so it’s kind of a circular thing, and it’s all related. These days I spend maybe 25% of my time practicing technique things on the drums and equal parts composing and improvising after that. I’ll say 40% improvising and 35% composing. >>>>
by Brett Wartchow
stereo fixed media
I fondly recall moments of total wonderment while standing among the trees of Oregon’s old growth forests. Each tree within the forest is a unique ecosystem hosting a myriad of organisms–from the large to the mossy to the invisible–that share dynamic biological synergies. Yet, the true majesty of each tree is fully comprehended when experiencing them en masse as a vast and ancient botanical multiverse.
Germination Variations is a sonic meditation on this experience. As each subsequent section of the piece unfolds, the gestural contour of periodic rhythmic patterns and granular motivic textures become more and more tightly woven. The piece thus emerges as a flourishing sonic landscape comprised of lyric percussive lines braided in gestural polyphony.
About Brett: I like to make music and drink great coffee at the same time.
Colin Holter interviews Brett Wartchow.
On the New Music Scrapbook:
When I was a kid growing up in the resort, we went through some really tough economic times. My dad’s an economist, and probably one of the most creative-minded people I know. I can imagine him having the weight of the world on his shoulders and trying to raise a family with limited means, and he says, “Brett, if a job is not available for you, make one.” If you’re willing to work, there’s always going to be work available for you. I’ve thought about that, and it still befuddles me—is that even possible?—but from a very early age he’s always taught me to be proactive about whatever I’m doing. If things aren’t going the way you like, you do something different to change it so that it goes in the direction that you like. There’s so much back-room water-cooler talk about how things are going here—let’s just shut up and make music. Let’s create something we can all rally around and feel confident instead of victimized. >>>>
by Schuyler Tsuda
Schuyler Tsuda, cello
Ikebana, or Kado, is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. While on the surface an aesthetic art form, the practice of ikebana requires one to experience nature in a different way, from a new perspective. Beauty is found not only in the blossom but in the fragile, withering leaf. Asymmetry, so commonly found in nature, is valued over perfect symmetry. Empty space holds just as much importance as the plants themselves. Flowers are arranged not simply to create the beautiful but rather to place them in harmony with each other, in order to allow their natural beauty to emerge. The practice of ikebana opens a space for the practitioner and viewer to see and appreciate all the things in nature that we overlook and ignore in our daily lives.
About Schuyler: Schuyler Tsuda’s current musical interests involve creating new sound worlds through experimentation and discovery of unorthodox instrumental techniques, physical instrument extension, and instrument invention.
Colin Holter interviews Schuyler Tsuda.
On building instruments:
I started taking art classes at some point. My first class was with Chris Larson, and it was a metal sculpture class. I’m not sure why I took it, to be honest, but I was interested in doing some kind of sound sculpture thing. When I first started, I was sort of a fish out of water because I’d never done anything like it before, but Chris Larson would say “just go ahead and do it.” The class was very heavy on conceptual feedback, which was great, because I got to the point where I wasn’t inhibited about working and learning from other people. That’s maybe the best way for me to work, to be able to experiment safely. The instrument I keep coming back to is the steel cello, which is based on Robert Rutman’s steel cello, which is just a huge steel plate suspended on a frame. I just do it on the floor or hand-held, it’s a smaller version, and I use steel rods on the surface with a spring reverb chamber I put together on top of it. Sonically it’s my favorite because I can do so much with it. But of course I think that it’s probably the least sound-sculpture-like; it’s more of just a DIY instrument. >>>>
by Joshua Musikantow
Whitney Noble (cl.), Dan Hedegard (gtr.), Scotty Horey (perc.), Baylen Wagner (vcl.), and Erik Rohde (cond.)
A hue is not properly a color but an equivalence class of colors. A single hue may occur at many different levels of brightness and saturation; nonetheless, it retains a certain nature. HUES coexists in a physical, associative, and sonic space. Specifically, each of its twelve miniatures explores a different physical interaction between players; a different set of subjective associations centered around a particular hue in the color wheel, moving from the warms to the cools (which, in our human perception, cycle back to the warms); and a different set of thematic and timbral materials. These three spaces all vie for control.
About Joshua: Chicago-born (but currently Minneapolis-based) composer, frame drummer, and poet with a special interest in microtones.
A video of HUES can be seen here.
Colin Holter interviews Josh Musikantow.
On pitch and rhythm:
I didn’t actually know how to notate pitches until ninth grade, so I got a late start, but as a kid I was always trying to learn these crazy polyrhythms and odd meters. So when I started to learn about pitch, I immediately saw a discontinuity between the standard tuning system where you basically have twelve pitch classes versus rhythm, where you have infinite gradations of durations and proportions. I guess in high school I started teaching myself how to convert from ratios to cents and I got very interested in that. La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano was a big piece for me in high school, so it was just sort of serendipity that I was exposed to that. Maybe it was the timing; maybe if I’d been exposed to something else at that impressionable age, I’d be doing something else. >>>>
by Michael Duffy
Joe Peters, oboe; Chris Raddatz, contrabass clarinet; Rebecca Wilson, contrabassoon; Clare Harmon, viola; Baylen Wagner, violoncello
The title Obair Pháirce comes from the Irish Gaelic and translates to “fieldwork.” Over the course of the piece the electronics subject each of the instruments to displacements in time and location. The lingua franca is repetition, often distorted and presented on the micro and macro levels. All of this has a variety of implications as to what it means to be both an American and an American composer.
About Michael: Michael is a composer, improviser, and sonic adventurer.
Colin Holter interviews Michael Duffy.
On expanding horizons:
A lot of it was through the jazz I’d been listening to since before high school, even. I mentioned Miles Davis. I had an uncle who was a jazz fan and liked old Blue Note stuff—the Italian side of my family from Philadelphia—organ jazz, Joey DeFrancesco. It’s a straight line, in a way, from Miles Davis to Stockhausen. It certainly wasn’t through classical music. I wasn’t playing Pictures at an Exhibition in high school. >>>>
Colin Holter interviews Zachary Crockett.
I think the unique position of artists in human society is that we get to work more explicitly with meaning than anyone else does, so I feel like there’s a really deep moral imperative to pick the right meanings. Artists present something that they hope will shape the world, and it goes both ways—but in either case you can pick out those things that line up with your values and that you want to see more of in the world to present. Things that on the surface are really detestable and gross and horrifying and sick can actually teach us a great deal about ourselves, they can show ways in which we are vulnerable; our vulnerabilities are beautiful places. So there is a certain type of art that I think it’s important to create: It doesn’t have to be didactic, it doesn’t have to be pretty, but there has to be some very large, deep sense that I’m presenting something that’s important for people to see, to hear, to imagine, to react to. We make meaning, and the right thing to do is to choose meanings in accordance with your values. >>>>
by Colin Holter
John Cummins (alto saxes) and Scottie Wright (tenor saxes)
Two ideas informed the speculation that led to It Plays You: ﬁrst, the somewhat mystical tradition of post-bop virtuosity in which the instrument may be said to be playing the performer rather than vice versa; second, the media furore that holds popular entertainment such as music, cinema, and video games responsible for the criminal behavior of children. The conﬂuence of these ideas lies in the uncertain freedom of ostensibly free play.
About Colin: Colin is a composer and writer on music based in Minneapolis.
Brett Wartchow interviews Colin Holter.
On tasteless music:
There’s a little bit of a thrill about writing music that’s a little bit tasteless but that looks like contemporary music. One of the things that it’s taken me a while to do is write tasteless music. I’m really kind of invested in that now. If there’s one thing I would say for my music in the past three years, I would hope that I’m more willing to violate taboos now than I was before. I’m certainly more willing to be gaudy and tacky, as a composer, than I used to be, and in fact I think it’s really important for me to do that. Because, again, in order to identify these contradictions in culture you have to be willing to use the words. You have to be willing to cite the material that you’re identifying contradictions in, and that requires sometimes being tacky. >>>>
by Richard Yates
Scotty Horey (perc.) and Clay Whitney (perc.)
About Richard: Richard is a master’s student at the University of Minnesota studying composition and recently finishing his degree in choral conducting.
Colin Holter interviews Richard Yates.
On getting started:
I started writing music when I started playing piano; I think that was the first time, and it must be because of my piano teacher. She must have said, “You can just write what comes to mind, too; you don’t necessarily have to sing what’s on the paper.” And in elementary choirs and things like that, we probably had improvisational kinds of exercises. I can’t remember a specific point where it was like, “Now I will write music;” I think it was always a part of the music-making that we were doing. I don’t know that that’s necessarily typical. I guess in high school, at some point, I started writing music for the choir, so I wrote a few pieces that were performed while I was a junior and senior in high school. I think I also started writing some instrumental music around that time too. I guess when I was little I would do a lot of improvising at the piano and singing and things, and driving my parents crazy. And my brother. >>>>
Colin Holter interviews James Holdman.
There are degrees of ambiguity and multiple meaning, if there’s any meaning at all. Part of the titling in strange ways is that I like the way that words sound juxtaposed, whether they have any meaning or not. Another aspect of these strange titles is that I’m interested in what kind of imagery they bring to the audience’s mind. You’re going to come up with your own idea about what it means—it’s not like “Prelude No. 3.” That in a way biases the audience, or confuses them, which is fine—because ultimately my music is not about anything at all. >>>>
Born of desperation and raised by wolves, NEW MUSIC SCRAPBOOK congeals the musical detritus and burnt offerings of the composers beneath, above, and within the University of Minnesota. Dig here for music and interviews. And we mean deep.
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