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.
On his first guitar:
I got a hand-me-down acoustic guitar when I was probably eight years old or so and started taking guitar lessons. I still have it; it’s this rather bizarre short-scale Kay or Melody or something. My teacher actually made me play her guitar in the recital because mine wasn’t up to stuff. But I have it now and it’s rather fun to play—it’s buzzy and noisy. It actually sounds really good playing Link Wray’s “Rumble.”
On Shield Your Eyes:
Schuyler and I started here at the same time, and we met pretty much right at the beginning. We’d been in a bunch of classes together. We had enough parallel musical touchstones; right before Spark ’07, we decided to sit down and play together. It was just really satisfying—it felt like we complemented each other really well. We had enough common ground that we were able to not spend an enormous amount of time in preparation; we’d separately decide what the pool of instruments and sounds was going to be, then sit down and do something. We both have a handle now on what sort of things each of us likes to do, and we’ll test each other and push things a little bit. I put together this weird no-input variant with my four-track and a bunch of guitar pedals; you have that crazy cymbal sculpture with the motors on it—let’s cram these things together and see what happens.
On percussion music:
I realized that I could sit down and write percussion music like most people would sit down and write piano music. I wrote this rather strange piece for three voices and vibraphone on a text of Allen Ginsburg because it seemed like that was something that I should do—it was an attempt to bridge this more facile easy-out for me. It was sort of an interesting exercise in counterpoint: I’ve never actually heard it performed, and I don’t know that I want to. But it was nice to have something to work on and talk through.
On Obair Pháirce:
Translated roughly, it means “field work.” The musical material’s actually derived from the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s totally obfuscated, of course, but the piano music of the “Star-Spangled Banner” robbed of its rhythmic elements—every attack becomes a chord, and this becomes a harmonic cycle which is given a simple ring modulation amongst itself, the sum and difference tones of the pitches in pure pitch-space. That formed a harmonic cycle to get through almost four times over the course of the sixteen minutes. Each of the instruments kind of takes its path through this harmonic field. The large object is one thing, but then as you look at the field, surface details emerge; it’s the same, but it’s different.