Artist Interview

Tables Turned: André de Ridder Interviews Channy Leaneagh by Liquid Music

BY LAUREN MCNEE

This interview mini-series began with s t a r g a z e's André de Ridder answering questions posed by Pola's Channy Leaneagh (if you missed it, you can read the interview here) as part of Liquid Music's first ever "virtual residency" featuring the two ensembles. This round, it was André's turn to ask Channy a few questions about her favorite things, thoughts on Classical music, and dreams for the future. Enjoy!

Poliça's Channy Leaneagh, Photo Credit:  Cameron Wittig

Poliça's Channy Leaneagh, Photo Credit: Cameron Wittig


Who, What, Where, and Why

Did you have musical parents? Was music present in your house or did you discover it completely by yourself? Do you have siblings and did or do you make music with them?
My mom learned the accordion as a kid. That was a valuable instrument in the small Czech community she grew up in South Dakota with all the polka dances and etc. My dad was a self-taught piano player and pursued songwriting until I was about 9 years old. He is a very talented musician and I learned a lot from him about songwriting and evoking emotion when I sing. They both valued music and put all of their three kids in private lessons and orchestras and gave us access to music both live and on the stereo. I have never made music with any of my siblings though.

What is your experience with and attitude to 'classical' music? Did it change from when you first got into music to how you perceive it now? Do you agree with many that it has an elitist feel and social connotation about it? What interests you about it? Do you go to opera or orchestral concerts when you're at home?
I’ve had four wonderful violin teachers, and they all introduced me to some really great classical pieces for solo violin and also chamber and orchestra; so my first introductions were as a student. I liked classical music as a kid and I still do; it’s soothing to me even when it’s jagged and dissonant. Music with lyrics/vocals can be too stimulating for me sometimes. I often want to listen to sounds without a personal point of viewI just want to feel the music. It’s similar to electronic music to me in that sense. You have to search it out a lot more so than other musical styles; it’s separation from pop-culture makes it seem exclusive but I think it’s just modest. It’s like a shy kid being accused of being snobbish. I don’t discredit classical music’s part in history of being very white and western though; it’s past isn’t as inviting as rap or jazz but I hope that is changing and the future of classical music will be a more inclusive one.

What classical instrument do you like most the sound of and which one are you most intrigued about to feature in our collaboration?
My favorites are the viola and oboe. I like those tones the best. I hope those two instruments will be involved in our collaboration and I am also looking forward to the bass flute.

What's the compositional process in Poliça? Do you personally write songs and then bring them to the band to arrange and develop?
The compositional process is akin to an assembly line. We are very egalitarian. Ryan is always at the head of the line. Most of the time I react first to what he’s made and lay down the lyrics and melody. The bass player, Chris Bierden comes next reacting off of the new combination of Ryan and I. And finally the drums come in to react with their beats. Sometimes I come after the bass and drums but always Ryan starts the clock.

What do you like doing to switch off from everything, what gives you respite and recharges your batteries, creatively speaking?
Walking is my main thing for switching off but I also like reading and drawing for getting away.

Where would you like to live and work/write for a while, if given the chance, outside your home country?
This question was probably the hardest. I never dream about moving somewhere else. I lived and worked in Cambodia for a few years and do miss it now and then. I guess I could see hiding away there for a few years someday.

As a conductor I am often told that life only starts at age 70! On the other hand I have heard people say pop music is a young wo(man)'s game. How do you feel about that and where do you see yourself in say 20 years time? Are you sometimes thinking about musical life after relentless touring and album-cycles? What are your dreams for the future?
I believe that’s true for the life of a conductor; I predict you have a long and fun career ahead of you. I believe the future of classical music is strong and exciting and it is doing such cooler and more rebellious things than pop music! I don’t consider myself a pop musician but the kind of music I make is for sure a young woman's game and; being a “professional” musician also feels like a branding game and a self serving game but I like fighting against those things and seeing if I can still stand on my own two feet.

I always want to make music but I don’t hope to engage in selling myself for too much longer. In the future I see myself screaming into the microphone in a cacophony of noise at night while teaching pre-school during the day and spending my in between time fighting the evils of capitalism.


André de Ridder conducting s t a r g a z e,   Photo Credit:   Emanuel Florakis

André de Ridder conducting s t a r g a z e, Photo Credit: Emanuel Florakis

Favorite Things

Favorite contemporary/modern composer?
Nico Muhly

Favorite old 'dead' composer?
Fritz Kreisler

Favorite recent band/artist discovery?
Oneohtrix Point Never

Favorite recent collaboration (outside your work), in the music world anywhere, recently?
The Body and The Haxan Cloak; I Shall Die Here (2014 via RVNG).

Favorite music festival, currently?
My favorite collaboration thus far was with Alex Ridha of Boys Noize, Orlando Higginbottom from T.E.E.D (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs) and Ryan (Olson). We met up at a studio after a Poliça show in LA and jammed out. Orlando was on piano, Alex on electronics and Ryan was processing my vocals and I just sang over them and we made one of my favorite songs ever. We were listening to each other and reacting without any walls between us. Those are the most treasured moments in making music; when we listen to each other and we are subtracting our own self to combine with others. I hope some truly inspired moments can occur in this Stargaze and Poliça collaboration.


Listen

"Raw Exit" from Poliça's Shulamith (2013)

“Relief” by The Dodos featuring s t a r g a z e orchestra at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in Ireland (2014)

ACF interviews Miranda Cuckson by Liquid Music

We asked our friends across the street, American Composers Forum, to interview Liquid Music artist Miranda Cuckson in anticipation of her November 14th show.  Innova (ACF's record label) Operations Director Chris Campbell took on the task. Learn more about Cuckson's work with electronics, how she gets to the heart of a new piece of music, and her passion for collaborating with living composers.        

photo by Damien Olsen

photo by Damien Olsen

With the “Sun Propeller” concert, you’re performing pieces by composers from all over the world. How do you tie it together, or bring a through-line to such a diverse program lineup?  Or do you?

Sometimes I do programs that have some kind of thematic thread, sometimes not. Either way, I go for a sequence that's satisfying to the senses, emotions and mind: from the way pieces lead to each other or juxtapositions that perk up your ears or mix up the kinds of energy. I love when a program has you, as a listener, on some level continually aware of the experience as a whole. An overall theme can be a fun or thought-instigating way, though, to group music together. When I started thinking about the "Sun Propeller" program, I realized a couple of the pieces I had in mind had titles referring to elements in nature: light and wind. So I decided that would be a beautiful idea for the program. Dai Fujikura's "prism spectra" and Nina Young's "Sun Propeller" both are about light, and Kaija Saariaho's "Vent Nocturne" is about wind, Richard Barrett's "Air" is about air and breath, and Ileana Perez-Velasquez's "un ser con unas alas enormes" means "the being with enormous wings" and evokes many natural elements.

As someone with a mixed background (European/Asian/American/Australian) and as a woman, I do like to involve composers from different countries, and women since they are still under-represented in general. I think programming that way often happens quite naturally for me because there is just a very diverse bunch of composers that I know of and want to program.

What about performing with electronics appeals to you?

I'm fascinated by a lot of things about it. I'm not a tech geek and I'm wary of many implications of technology for human behavior, but the developments are also amazing in what they make possible. Basically I enjoy exploring the relation, and tension, between the human and technological. 

On the one hand, there's something so primal about the traditional instruments and the physicality involved. Essentially you're playing with a wood box and stick or blowing in a metal tube or hitting an object or plucking a string. The instruments have been sophisticated over the yearstechnological advances in themselvesbut the basics of what they are and how you use them are the same. Now we have computers which use all kinds of complexity of coding and software to create sounds, in ways that are not visible or physical to us in that basic sense. 

There are infinite sounds that can be created with electronics so every piece can be a different sound world.  Also the ways of interacting with electronics can range from having a pre-recorded track to play with the pieces in which electronics are triggered at certain moments or by certain sounds, or are molded by a person in a more improvisatory way. Sometime I'll probably learn how to trigger and control the electronics myself during a performance, but I've also enjoyed having someone be the "sound artist" so we are playing "chamber music"again maintaining a human dimension. I'm delighted Nina C. Young will be the sound artist for this concert.

Electronics can produce sounds in ways that would seem technically impossible for human players in terms of speed or crazy jumping between registers or sudden changes of dynamic. This makes for some amazing effects and it's fun when it also pushes you to strive to do some of those things yourself!

How do you discover new work or composers?

A lot of ways. Often I just listen to things and then in that intuitive way, let that lead me to listen to something else I didn't know. Sometimes I have the radio on. Sometimes I get obsessed with some area or group of composers and burrow into finding out more. I check out recommendations and people send me things they've composed. I'm very immersed in music and being a musician, so I am involved in a lot and know a lot of musicians and people doing premieres and newer works and I keep tabs on what's going on.  I work with a lot of younger composers, through programs at schools and universities and summer programs, so sometimes I get to make note of new talent that way.

photo by Damien Olsen

photo by Damien Olsen

You’ve recorded composers such as Ralph Shapey, Donald Martino and Luigi Nono, but you embrace a wide range of repertoire. What qualities draw you to a piece and compel you to commit to its realization?

I'm basically looking for vividness and some quality that is very strong. That sounds general but I am open to different aesthetics. I just want the piece to create its own world and suggest something that makes me feel something very strongly emotionally or want to try to understand it more fully. A piece might take you through a compelling progression of moods, a structure that's somehow meaningful, it could be remarkably static or slow, it could offer astonishing sounds, or provoke surprising emotions. I do like technical challenges and to explore what my instrument can do, but if the piece is just a collection of sounds or tricks, I get bored with it after a little while and want to do something else.

What is classical music to you?

I think at this point it comes down to intention and the framing of the music as a defined work of art. There are no templates of form or harmony or anything anymore, every parameter has been challenged and upended, and it doesn't even have to be notated in the conventional way, it could even be just verbal instructions. But the piece has to have a clear intention as a distinct work of music, and a concept about how it is put together, whether in time or content. 

I like to think/hope that even people who have upended those parameters still put their work in the context of classical music's history. The term "classical music" as we've known it has referred mainly to Western, European-derived culture. Its origins are seen as coming from medieval chant through to the music of European Baroque and Classical/Romantic eras, which was exported to America and the rest of the world.  But as the world has gotten smaller, classical music has become less European per se and more inclusive of anything, in the best American sense of embracing all origins and ethnicities.

You play both violin and viola. Can you speak about your approach to both?

I've played the violin much of my life and I took up the viola about six years ago. I just love the expanded sound possibilities of playing both and adapting my playing style to each. It's comparable to wind players, who often play the full range of registers of their instruments: flute goes from piccolo to C flute to alto to bass, clarinet has the E-flat, A, B-flat and bass clarinets, etc. There are players who double on violin/viola but it's not as usual a thing for string players.

I relish the upper and lower extremesthe high E string of the violin, which can be soaring and radiant or delicate and whispery or even charmingly squeaky,  and the low C string of the viola, which can be rich or dusky and velvety. In the middle range which the instruments share, I'm always intrigued by the difference in tone colorthe viola has its grainier sound, almost reedy, which I find particularly beautiful quiet in the upper positions, and the violin has its own kind of warmth but tends to be more focused and direct, and with a more nimble response to quick motions of the bow.

People often ask how it is to switch between violin and viola on a program. I've found the physical adjustment is pretty simpleyour kinesthetic memory as a player becomes quite intuitive with years of playing and I get a physical sense of the viola quickly. The approach to sound production is certainly differentwith the viola, it's more effort to draw the tone.  When I go from viola back to violin, the violin feels like a toy instrument, it seems so small and light!  Of course there's the matter of reading the viola alto clefI occasionally still second-guess myself!

Besides viola and violin, I'm also going to be featuring a sort of hybrid instrument, because Nina Young's piece is for scordatura (de-tuned) violin. The lowest string is tuned down a fourth so it has a sound color all its own! 

photo by Damien Olsen

photo by Damien Olsen

I’d like to ask about your process. How do you get beyond the mechanics of a complex piece and get to the expressive heart of it?

Part of it involves being so immersed in new musical languages that you start to hear and feel the emotional meanings and tugs and nuances as spontaneously as you do with traditional tonal classical music. For both performers and listeners, that takes time to listen to enough of the music so you can internalize it and just tap into those feelings and the colors that you hear in your mind. Once you do that, you can also make more purposeful decisions about how to get across the shape of a piece and how it evolves. 

The other aspect is that for me performing music is basically a form of being an actor. You are an actor embodying and conveying the personality of the creator, the composer, and within that you are also conveying a great range of emotions and moods and states of being that the composer is communicating in that piece. On a conscious level, I sometimes read about the composer, not necessarily drawing heavy-handed connections such as "he/she was going through this at that time so the piece is about that", but just getting a sense of the composer as a unique individual. If the composer is living, of course I like to talk with them, spend time with them, so I get a sense of who they are and what it is they felt they needed to convey through music. And on a less explicit level, I often try to sense the person in the music, kind of acting in a non-verbal way... it may sound vague but at my communicative best, that's pretty much what I am doing!


Liquid Music's Virtual Residency: Channy Leaneagh Interviews André de Ridder by Liquid Music

BY LAUREN MCNEE

Collaboration is at the heart of Liquid Music's 2015.16 season. Each show is unique and presents an avenue for unprecedented collaborations from rock meets contemporary classical to poetry and even puppetry. Nothing epitomizes the definition of collaboration more than Liquid Music's virtual residency with Poliça and s t a r g a z e. In order to enhance the collaborative nature of the residency, Liquid Music presents an interview series with the two ensembles. To kick it off, Poliça's lead singer Channy Leaneagh asks s t a r g a z e's founder André de Ridder a few questions about his favorite things, earliest influences, and the sounds he'd like to create with Poliça. 

Read on and stay tuned for de Ridder's interview with Leaneagh in October!

Poliça's Channy Leaneagh

Poliça's Channy Leaneagh


DISCOVER

In what space do you best form creative ideas?  
In any space really, if it’s ideas coming up, but mostly in transit, on trains especially, or walking down a road, and often while talking to people/friends. I then have to stop and apologize for taking a moment out to write something down.

Do you consider yourself an extrovert or introvert?
An introvert personally, extrovert musically

If not in music, what other fields can you imagine yourself working in?
Producing radio plays. And if that's too close to music... photography. And if that's too arty... classics/humanities.

One of your top favorite movies?
Le Mépris, Jean-Luc Godard

One of your top favorite books?
Recently 1Q84, Murakami, as a younger person: Stiller by Max Frisch (identity crisis!!)

One of your top favorite records?
Dinosaur Jr You're Living All Over Me

Favorite scent?
Oooh... Basil... mint?

Since both of your parents were involved in opera; do you have a favorite piece of opera?
Yup. Wozzeck

de Ridder conducting Lee Ranaldo's "Hurricane" with s t a r g a z e and Berlin's  Kaleidoskop  at the Holland Festival (2013)

de Ridder conducting Lee Ranaldo's "Hurricane" with s t a r g a z e and Berlin's Kaleidoskop at the Holland Festival (2013)


SPECULATE

You started your musical career as a violinist. Do you play any other instruments besides the violin? How did you become interested in conducting?
Playing in youth orchestras, becoming frustrated with our conductors and becoming obsessed by the medium/phenomenon orchestra and the repertoire

I read in an interview with the Goethe Institute that your entrance into popular music came about from a frustrating experience with a new violin teacher you had as a teen. How did that experience lead you to make music outside the box of classical music?
I simply started composing, playing guitar, and founded a band, as other means of expressing myself musically

What were some of your earliest influences in your bands as a kid? Are there any current musicians that inspire you in the way they blend pop (or rock, electronic, folk) with classical elements?
My initiation was British New Wave, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure then, when I started a band, the reason were Dinosaur Jr, Hüsker Dü, The Lemonheads and Fugazi. The artists inspiring our work today are the likes of Julia Holter, Tyondai Braxton (with and without/after Battles).

You have said, “Music takes the listener from one place to another, changing them, which is the mark of great art.”  I agree completely!  It changes me to perform for people and the truth of a performance is the exchange of energy and ideas between the people on stage and the people in the audience.  The back and forth. I am experimenting with being more focused on a taking the audience to a specific place and change.  Do you ever write with an intentional place or subject you want to take people to?  Do you ever try to control the feelings people leave with or do you let the music lead the way from the conception?
I haven't really 'written' as such creatively for a long time. But when I do, or when writing arrangements I am just trying to colour, to make audible what I hear as overtones, as resonances of the music. A kind of 3-D or 4-D version of what we're experiencing already (or what I am hearing walking down the street). Another dimension? And then, if people find themselves with me in that other dimension, wel.. anything can happen? Out of body experiences is what have glued me to music. No drugs involved I should add...

One of my hold quotes is from Ai Weiwei: “Everything is Art and everything is politics”.  Do you have any thoughts on that in relation to your own work?
I agree! If Art and Music is a means of communication it is all, or can become political. I travelled to Bamako in October 2013 and it heightened my sense of that, in my senses in general, incredibly. Music is community art. Music clubs are a place of political discourse.

Do you have any visions for the sounds you’d like to make with Poliça?  Fast and abrasive textures or slow and calm sounds, ect...?  What sort of musical feelings or sounds are you drawn to these days?
Ah now we're talking!! Both!! I am interested in s t a r g a z e being a punk-noir version of the Ensemble Modern (contemporary classical, who play a lot of Zappa though as well), or a contemporary classical version of Godspeed! I am excited in the challenge and possibilities of playing with two drummers. I think if they play full-on (which I hope) we have to use a more broader, or harder brush stroke, but in the cracks or liminals there can be more lyrical calm and experimental sounds. I cannot wait, Channy!!!

de Ridder conducting s t a r g a z e

de Ridder conducting s t a r g a z e


LISTEN

s t a r g a z e 2014.15 season trailer 

"Chain my Name" from Schulamith (2013) Feat. in Liquid Music's 2015.16 trailer 

Spiritual America: Interview with William Brittelle by Liquid Music

By Lauren McNee

Liquid Music's season opener is t-minus 23 days away. On October 14, Liquid Music will present Spiritual America featuring composer William Brittelle and the indie rock duo Wye Oak, with special guest violinist, composer, arranger and songwriter Michi WianckoSpiritual America features a series of new electro-acoustic art songs that explore themes of secular spirituality in American culture through the personal lens of love, loss, youth and longing.

As we're gearing up for what is sure to be an electrifying first show of the season, Brittelle had time to answer a few questions about post-genre electro-acoustic music, American spirituality and road tripping across the U.S. 

"Spiritual America is conceptually very human—beautiful, haunting, sad and seeking—and the musical component moves you to these emotional places."                                                            —Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music Curator on Spiritual America                                                                                                                                                                                        
photo by Stephen Taylor

photo by Stephen Taylor


Tell us your story. How did you get interested in contemporary music and how did that lead to composing post electro-acoustic works?

I’ve always been drawn to different kinds of music. While studying music in school, I was very interested in contemporary compositional ideas - things that were happening that very moment, which, at the time, included kind of the tale end of Fluxus, free-jazz, etc. Growing up in a small southern town, I felt fairly alienated from my environment, and that continued to a certain extent into my collegiate and post-collegiate studies. Connecting with experimental music was a way of connecting with a world outside of the conservative dome I was living in. After dropping out of graduate school, however, I found myself very attracted to pop, hip-hop, and punk music, I think as a way of reconnecting with society and railing against my training. This led to me starting a punk band and touring, booking rock clubs, etc, but I soon found that the rock world is equally, if not more constricting that the world of classical conservatories. So, in my late 20’s, I began the quest to unite my influences and write music true to my background, interests, and abilities.

You describe your work as post electro acoustic music. Do you consider your music to be a reaction to electro acoustic music versus a new form of a pre-existing genre, as implied by the term "neo"? How does this fit in with the ideology of the label you co-founded, New Amsterdam Records?

The term I usually use (at least for now) is post-genre electro-acoustic music. Post-genre is meant to signify that the music isn’t actively participating in any kind of genre tradition and shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of reaction against or for classical, rock, etc. I feel like, at this point, using genre information to understand certain kinds of music is misleading and ineffective. So, in that sense, post-genre is the absence of genre, a call for viewing music in more individualistic terms. I see a parallel actually in the post-gender movement, a tendency towards wanting to see things as they are, as being truly unique, and resisting the urge to use shorthand or past experiences to come to the table with certain biases or expectations. It certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t shades of rock or classical or experimental music in what I’m doing, but I don’t think the story of the music are those shades, the story is something more personal, more emotional.

NewAm’s core objective is representing music that doesn’t fall cleanly into existing genre-bounds, so, in that sense, this music certainly fits the bill.

How did you enter into a collaboration with Wye Oak? What attracted you to their sound and how do you think it fits with the theme of secular spirituality in America?

The initial impetus for the project came from a discussion with the North Carolina Symphony about creating a work exploring my background, the fact that I was raised in a small town in an extremely religious environment. I’d always been extremely attracted to Jenn’s voice, and as the project developed, I became more and more certain that Wye Oak was a perfect match for this project. Getting to know Andy and Jenn has been wonderful and their ability to bring in elements that aren’t on the page is vital to this kind of project.

In terms of fitting in with the theme, I think Jenn’s voice embodies a sense of longing . Her singing has this magical effect, something my son would call “sad happiness”. I think the core of the project is that “sad happy” sense of emotional longing, the sense that there is something out there, beyond the walls of what’s immediately available to you, something are both intensely attracted to and scared shitless of - which basically describes my emotions upon first coming to New York!

photo by Stephen Taylor

photo by Stephen Taylor

Composer/violinist Michi Wiancko is also featured as a special guest in this program. Tell us about Michi and why you wanted to work with her on this project. How is her music complimentary to Spiritual America?

Michi is a dear friend, and we worked together previously on a collaborative show. Not only is she a world class violinist, but she’s a wonderful composer/arranger as well, and her ability to create on the fly and work with musicians of non-classical backgrounds is really unique.

Talk to us about the cultural aesthetics behind Spiritual America. What inspired you to develop this project and how does the music embody your vision?

Yes, so, as I mentioned, this project started with a discussion with the North Carolina Symphony. I’ve been getting increasingly interested in experimental and aggressive music as of late, and this project felt, in part, like a way to balance that out. A way to connect with something intensely personal, and, hopefully, universal. I spent the first 15 years of my life in the south, and, to a certain extent, I think I’ve lived my adult life walled off from that experience. I never see the people I grew up with, I never go back there. It feels like a different universe, like a past life, especially the religious dogma I was fed as a child and am now repelled by. It occurred to me about a year ago that there was an element missing from my life, a sense of grounding, a sense of having roots, and I think that’s due in large part to the denial of my youth. There were a lot of wonderful and meaningful things about growing up the way I did, and my experience certainly wasn’t unique. So the project is, in a sense, a way for me to connect the kid me with the adult me, to round things out, to break down the wall and reintegrate my youth into my general emotional being.

The Liquid Music/Walker Art Center presentation of Spiritual America is one of four offerings this season, along with the Alabama Symphony, North Carolina Symphony and Baltimore Symphony. What makes this show unique?

This is the first and only chamber version of this project, and will include some new material. Since the other shows are orchestral-based, this show will be much more “band” oriented and feature more improv. Because we only have 8 musicians on stage (versus upwards of forty or fifty for the full orchestra version) everyone, including me, will be called on to do a lot more!

What projects are you working on post Spiritual America?

Well Spiritual America is ongoing, and will probably be in development for another year or two. I’m also working on an experimental electronic album called “Alive in the Electric Snow Dream” which will be paired with my first book of poetry called “Spectral Peaks”, a new piece about the electronic musician Arca for the Seattle Symphony, and a project about LSD with my friend Elia Rediger for the Basel Sinfonietta.

And lastly, in the vein of Spiritual America, if you were going on a cross country road trip across the US, what three things would you need with you, and why?

Let’s see, good food because I can’t eat at Arby’s, my wife because I’d be super bored without her, and an atlas so I didn’t have to bring my ****** phone:)


Spiritual America Trailer

The Show

Wye Oak and William Brittelle: Spiritual America with special guest Michi Wiancko
Sponsored by First & First                            
Co-presented with the Walker Art Center

Wed Oct 14, 2015
Doors at 6:30p | Music at 7:30p         
Aria, Minneapolis                        

Tickets:
Order online or call the SPCO Ticket Office at 651.291.1144
$25 ($22 for LM subscribers and Walker members) 

Program:                           
World Premiere - Michi Wiancko           
Shriek Suite - Wye Oak, arr. by Wiancko and Brittelle
     Before
     Shriek
     The Tower
     I Know the Law
     Sick Talk
Selections from Spiritual America - Brittelle
     We are not Ancient
     Spiritual America
     Canyons Curved Burgundy/Acid Rain on the Mirrored Dome
     Pink Jail
     Topaz Were the Waves

Devendra Banhart Gets Mystical with Art by Liquid Music

Devendra Banhart talked art, music and more as Guest of Honor on The Dinner Party Download. We appreciate this guy's sense of humor and are eager to present his music as part of the 2015-16 Liquid Music season. Devendra Banhart and Friends: Wind Grove Mind Alone offers a beautiful artistic vision in two unique nights of programming, May 13 & 14.

For more information on Devendra Banhart and to purchase tickets:

Interview: Julia Holter by Liquid Music

Julia Holter and Spektral Quartet will be joining the Liquid Music Series on Monday, February 23, performing music of their own alongside Behind the Wallpaper, a recent composition by Alex Temple. Julia had a chance to answer a few questions about collaborating with Temple and Spektral Quartet, her life as an artist and growing up and living in Los Angeles.

How did you become involved with Spektral Quartet and Alex Temple?  What drew you to Alexs music and the Spektral Quartet as an ensemble?

I’ve known Alex since college, and she always has had an approach to her poetry and melodies that seems completely her own. Members of Spektral Quartet are also related to that circle of college music friends, so I was happy to be involved.

How does Alex Temples music relate to the music that you compose? Are there major similarities or differences?

I think our music might be similar in that there are definitely inspirations and influences, but none are particularly direct or obvious. Alex’s music does develop in a way more akin to classical music than mine–there are melodic themes developed in a more precise and traditional way, and harmonic progressions that are always forward-moving–they don’t work as cyclically as mine do. I’ve come to love working with melodies that repeat the way they do in pop music, but honestly, Alex probably does love this too, and probably works this way as well. So I don’t know ultimately! I would also say we are both pretty interested in characters and voices–a narrative, rather than simply “absolute” music.

Could you talk about what its like to perform music that you wrote versus music that was written by someone else?

It’s a challenge to perform music by other people, and I embrace that. I think it’s even more fun for me now, because I perform my own music so much. I have never been a very great classical pianist, and I have no vocal training. When I have performed others’ music in the past, it has always been music that is not meant to be virtuosic but demands some kind of intense focus and musicality. It’s always music that feels very soulful or necessary–never music that is meant to be “impressive”.  I love the challenge of bringing real music like this to life. With my own music, it can be wonderful because I have an understanding of it the way you might understand your own body, but that is a totally different thing than working with someone else’s body!

Your music often tends toward the narrative or conceptual; is there narrative in Behind the Wallpaper? As the performer, how do you interpret the way music and concept connect in this piece?

There is no neat and tidy narrative to the piece, but there is definitely a narrative for each song, and overall, it is a cycle of songs to me. Like my own albums, there are connecting threads throughout, but not necessarily in some kind of obviously linear story form. I think that Temple is really interested in how to bring out characters and their environments. She seems to have a kind of theatrical or operatic perspective. She always seems to be thinking about “who” and “where” which is somehow even evident in her melodic style and harmonic choices. A lot of times the vocal parts have a kind of “recitative” kind of style to them, almost like speaking.

I find genre distinctions increasingly inadequate when discussing contemporary music. How do you like to describe or talk about your own music? How would you describe the music that you will be performing with the Spektral Quartet?

It’s hard to talk about any new music, whether it’s what we call “new music”, or just whatever is being put out in general. I have trouble talking about my music, except in very specific terms. I can talk about specific albums or works, explaining why I did what and the characters within them. Trying to sum up one’s music in general is strange for anyone and that may be something that has been true throughout time for many composers/artists, not just now. I would say that both Temple and I are presenting pieces of ours that are not easy to define musically or with a kind of musical genre, but clearly based on a kind of narrative, often presented by a “character” within that narrative.

As we begin a new year, any thoughts on the best music of 2014? What were 5 tracks that really stuck out to you in any genre?

Ahhhh hmm….I spent a lot of time in early 2014 listening to the 2013 Beyonce and MIA records. I loved that romantic and vague album by “Lewis” and the new album by Perfume Genius is really nice. I listened to a lot of Bulgarian choir music as well as Nina Simone and Lou Reed, old things.

What can you share about the music scene in Los Angeles right now? What distinguishes it from other cities as a place to create and present music?

I’m not sure what the scene is in LA to be honest. It is really huge and spread-out. There has never really been “a” scene–and arguably, there are no real dominant “scenes”. That mystery is what kind of makes it compelling to me…

Not only are you based in Los Angeles but you grew up there. How has your relationship to the city changed over time as you have become an increasingly successful and respected musician?

It hasn’t changed at all! I don’t hang out with almost anyone that I grew up with–most of them have moved away. But I have new friends that I’ve acquired over the past 10 years that I’ve lived here again since college. I love LA, it’s a great place to disappear in. You have to really fight to even have some kind of social life–it’s very easy to find solitude here. No one knows who I am here, in the sense of being “successful and respected”. I just spend time with my friends and otherwise, work on my music in my apartment. The only people in LA whose lives “change” because of their “success” would be famous actors, but I never even see famous actors–it’s pretty big.

Interview: Dawn of Midi’s Amino Belyamani by Liquid Music

Listen to “Nix” from Dawn of Midi’s Dynomia:

DysnomiaDawn of Midi’s critically acclaimed 2013 release, seems to come from another realm entirely. The trio calls upon the full expressive and technical range of their acoustic instruments to create sounds that evoke a delicately woven electronic composition. The result is something undeniably unique and irresistible, music charged with an immediacy and purpose that hypnotizes and engages not just the ears but the body of its listeners. Dawn of Midi will perform Dysnomia in its entirety alongside a set by virtuosic keyboard improviser Nils Frahm at Amsterdam Bar and Hall on November 15.

I had a chance to talk with Dawn of Midi pianist and composer Amino Belyamani about their mysterious and arresting album, and the challenges of performing the music live.

How did Dawn of Midi start? Can you talk a little bit about your journey as collaborators and how you arrived at the music that you will be performing for the Liquid Music Series? 

Dawn of Midi started out because of our failure to progress as tennis mates. We decided to play completely improvised music in complete darkness instead. We’re still not sure if abandoning tennis was the right choice.

What are some of the biggest challenges in performing your music? What makes a performance particularly exciting or rewarding for you?

The biggest challenge in any musical performance, we believe, is to deliver a near-perfect execution of an aural story in real-time. Every note needs to be played at its fullest intention and every duration, whether of a note or of a silence, must be respected at its correct quantum value. We are not satisfied and the audience will not be satisfied with a performance that is mathematically correct in terms of the time intervals. It is the collective ‘swing’ of each rhythmic phrase that allows for the music to sound right and breathe naturally.

This ‘swing’ cannot be given any fixed value, hence the use of the word ‘quantum.’ It can only be learned through first hearing and understanding it in the body, then practicing it until you feel like abandoning all music endeavors and end up as a goat herder.

I understand that some of your music is created through improvisation but Dysnomia now exists in a structured, composed format. Why did you decide to move in a more composed direction and what was the process of cementing the musical details like?

Dysnomia started with the idea that the whole piece would be through-composed, note for note. However, prior to the making of, we did experiment with partially improvised formats that eventually led to Dysnomia. We felt that we needed to control our musical ideas in their total form, in order to reduce the risk of the music sounding like s***. The process involved a lot of trial and error, over 150 rehearsals that were all archived for compositional use.

Many reviewers talk about the hypnotic and trancelike qualities of your music, what draws you to such effects and how do you achieve them musically?

I am from Morocco where  dancing as a way to induce trance is very common, whether in shamanistic-like rituals like the Gnawa Lila, or in casual gatherings and wedding parties. A lot of Moroccan music is based in polyrhythms that are heavily swung which makes the music and effect even more complex. When the body dances to music that never plays or outlines the regular pulse (the one you would be dancing on), trance is facilitated as the body becomes a complementary instrument to the experience by completing the circuit in time. Dysnomia is heavily based on these swung polyrhythmic ideas and creates different degrees of hypnosis and trance depending on the listener.

Why are you looking forward to performing on a bill with Nils Frahm? 

We are excited to go on tour with Nils Frahm as both acts represent this idea that humans can play and emulate what machines do, or let us say, what we taught machines to do.

An Interview with Glenn Kotche by Liquid Music

The Liquid Music Series’ Sam Tygiel recently had a chance to speak with composer, percussionist and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. They discussed Kotche’s diverse musical background, his approach as a composer and Wild Sound, the work he is bringing to Saint Paul for the Liquid Music Series. Tickets + Info

What initially attracted you to art music and composing?

Since I was a child I’ve always straddled the worlds of rock music and classical music through the different ensembles that I’ve been in. I’ve always been in rock bands and I’ve always been in school bands and orchestras. I went to music school for college and at one point thought that I was going to go the symphonic route. In my time in college I tried out a lot of different areas of percussion and played in a lot of different ensembles and ended up going more in the drum set route. After college my whole approach to drumming was a hybrid of all those things I learned from playing in opera, from playing in steel drum band, in African ensemble and percussion ensemble. That’s when I joined Wilco and started my duo, On Fillmore. I started to really find my own voice and get busy.

After I was with Wilco for a bit I made two experimental percussion records, one more improvised and one comprised of studio collages. Then I became interested in making a more composed percussion record. I went full steam from there and as soon as I released that record I began to get commissions from groups such as Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can, Silk Road Ensemble and Eighth Blackbird. I started having these opportunities to write and do other things. For me it was really the perfect balance because in a rock band or in my other outlets where I’m playing drum set, it’s more of a group effort. Often times, especially with Wilco, lyrics are at the forefront, that’s the main focus of the music. I love that outlet, I love being part of a team and helping to illustrate the words and make the music feel just right for the lyrics. At the same time I have a lot of other interests in music, from free improvised music to classical, from renaissance to cutting edge 20th century music. I’m interested in exploring a lot of different musical ideas and interests on drums.

I’m much more wired towards rhythm than harmony and melody, even though those are both important aspects of my music. All of the seeds for the musical ideas that I get are based in rhythm. That’s what I tried to do with Mobile originally, explore things that I couldn’t explore on the drum kit with myself, my four limbs, one body, so I started writing for multiple voices. I basically have a lot of rhythm questions I want to ask myself, areas I want to grow in and I set about doing that by composing.

Who are some of the composers in any genre that you pull from as favorites or inspirations? How do you see yourself interacting with the traditions of some of your favorite artists?

I have played a lot of different music from throughout history. I have played a lot of Bach pieces and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t inside me somewhere. I learned a lot of different extended techniques in modern percussion ensemble, largely from the writing of John Cage and that’s definitely a part of my fabric as well. More recently, when I started writing a lot, Steve Reich became a big inspiration because he comes from a very similar background of percussion driven music as well as Balinese and African music. Those are two common interests we share and he’s incorporated those elements into his music so well which makes him a big influence.

John Luther Adams is another major influence because of the way he approaches writing and what an original voice he has. He goes after these extremely ambitious ideas and he’s always able to pull it off somehow. More than maybe any composer I can think of, John Luther Adams doesn’t repeat himself and he’s constantly exploring new territory as an artist.

Another composer who comes chiefly to mind is Jim O’Rourke, who is a friend that I’ve played with on some of his pop records and the reason I got into Wilco in the first place. We had a side band, Loose Fur, with Jeff Tweedy from Wilco. What a lot of people don’t realize is that he has a composition degree from De Paul and he is an incredible composer. He’s written for oscillators and string quartets as well as drone pieces, radical kinds of sound collages that are so forward thinking, brave music.

He’s always spread himself into all of these different areas of music as a composer, a performer and an engineer and the fact that that he just does all of these things so well has always served as a great example for me. He’s showed me that I don’t have to just be a drummer in a rock band, I can also compose, I can also do sound installations. He taught me that all possibilities are open if you work hard, do it well, do your homework and have a passion about it.

One of the things I heard you saying a lot in there is that it’s good to hear composers who are constantly reinventing and pushing their boundaries. I’d love to hear a little bit about how you approach doing that for yourself as a composer and maybe particularly with this new piece, Wild Sound, that you are working on now. 

The reason why I compose is to try and grow, try and learn and explore some ideas that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Composing is a great outlet to do such exploration and I am trying to push into new territory for myself. Lately a lot of the pieces that I’m writing are written on drum set. The formal structure, the architecture of the piece, as well as the ideas and the personality of the music come through on the kit. Then I’ll expand the music out to the instrumentation at hand. Wild Sound is new territory for me; I approached it more as a storyboard, writing almost program music to a degree. I had the idea from listening to a lot of Cage and John Luther Adams, the concept of “wild sounds,” that everything is a sound. Through the history of percussion you can see that anything that is not a string, woodwind or a brass instrument is relegated to the percussion section. The cannon shots from the 1812 Overture or wind machines, starter pistols, tin cans, they all create these different undefinable sounds that percussionists play.

I see everything that is not a woodwind, string or brass instrument as a percussion sound, including recordings, like the field recordings I make. When I’m on tour I tend to go on a lot of walks. There’s a lot of down time and that’s when I do a lot of my composing and think about this sort of thing. I record these walks and I’m always amazed because there’s inevitably going to be a confluence of events that is just mind blowing, that you couldn’t think of if you were composing and that’s something that I’ve always been inspired by. So many different sounds that I hear on these walks arepercussive and so I got the idea of building all of our instruments on stage because the construction sound itself is so percussive and once the instruments are constructed, they will be percussion instruments. So that was my basic premise for the piece.

I wrote a piece for the cellist Jeff Ziegler recently that was inspired by the mutual experiences that we have touring, so I had that kind of storyboard thing going. And then I did that Delta Faucet commercial which was all written on a story board, so maybe this kind of stuff was already in me, mulling around subconsciously. When it came time to write Wild Sound, I thought, “Yeah, I want to write it as a sequence of events more than notes on a page.” I laid out a whole big story line with the four members, laying out the way that the performers would navigate through four different sound environments, moving from wild to rural to industrial to modern and urban and trying to capture those sounds. The piece is also based on an “audio score,” i.e. an audio track that I have composed and made, an audio collage that instructs the performers. Now within that “score” there are several anchors, or sign posts of composed music.

For me it’s a new way of working, it’s not a traditional piece; it’s almost like making an album, which obviously resonates with me as a rock musician. I do think of the piece as a combination of all my different interests. You have the field recordings, capturing these “wild” sounds. In addition, I’ve always experimented with making and customizing my own instruments and implements with Wilco and On Fillmore so there’s that side of me coming out with the building of the instruments. Then you have the actual composed music, the main component of which was written on drum set and later farmed out for four keyboard instruments that they are actually playing on Arduino triggers. It’s kind of like a snapshot of all my different interests as a musician and a composer. It seemed like the best way to work by this more storyboard narrative, for lack of a better term for it.

Talk about why you’re excited to be working with Third Coast Percussion.

Third Coast Percussion approached me years ago while I was in Spain on tour. I was going for a walk and I had this incredible experience walking and I heard all these different sounds and I got the idea for the piece. Since then I got busy doing a lot of other commissions, and they were working on a bunch of records. We also had to find the right presenters and the funding and it finally all came together. It has been a long process even though really, all the work has been done in the last six months or so.

I’ve been blown away by these guys, organization wise, how they divide their tasks. Of course they’re amazing percussionists – that goes without saying – they’re all virtuosic players. I can write what I want to write for them and I don’t have to worry if they can pull it off. It makes my job easy. I also admire how they operate as an ensemble. I’ve worked with a lot of different groups and these guys have their act together like you wouldn’t believe. For this piece we have pages and pages of Google documents with videos and charts and timing. This piece heavily involves engineering and other aspects to pull it off. That’s why we’re working with a team of six engineering interns at Notre Dame this summer to help realize the piece. There’s a lot of cut and dry scientific information like “it takes this long to cut through a pipe, if you cut these u-channel pieces at this length, we’ll get these pitches.” There are all sorts of charts and graphs and Third Coast has organized that information such that the resources have been in place, which has made the process really easy on me. This is new territory for me composing as well and I am trusting them to make a lot of the decisions because a lot of timing in the piece depends on how they perform these actions. It’s a very fluid piece and I’m trusting them on a lot of certain micro decisions.

This is also the first time I’ve worked with a director or video designer, a sound technician, a lighting designer. There’s a whole team of creative people working on this team, which I’ve never done before. A piece of this scale is really interesting for me because I’m using my mentality of being in a rock band. This is also a give and take situation—it’s a collaboration more than me being a composer and saying, “this is how I want it, this is my vision, make it so,” which is the way a composer operates or has to operate a lot of the time. Thank God it looks like it’s the right team in place, helping to shape this piece and make it better than I would have on my own.

It’s challenging enough writing for any instrument, much less an instrument that’s completely new and much less an instrument that is actually being made as you perform on it. How have you approached conceptualizing the piece in light of these challenges and how did working with Third Coast Percussion and the engineers impact that? 

Percussionists always get these bizarre sounds and requests. We’ve all played on planks of wood and planks of metal and pipes and we kind of started from there, asking “what are sounds that I know can be constructed on stage and be useful?” When I made of list of these sounds, that’s when the narrative of the piece became obvious to me. I divided the sounds into different categories because some of them sound a lot more animalistic, raw and guttural and some are more refined and pitched almost like a different type of vibraphone or xylophone. We’re using contact mics on a lot of the surfaces, which is something that I’ve always done with percussion, so that I can make these really interesting small sounds, microscopic sounds by using different implements such as springs, sticks, little pieces of sandpaper and different kitchen utensils. When these small sounds are amplified, they compete with the big sounds which makes those small sounds usable and practical.

Notre Dame is really interested in cross disciplinary projects, and with the residency they asked if I would be interested in working with the engineering department in some capacity. My wife has her masters in mechanical engineering and her Ph.D. in bio-engineering and she’s an engineering professor so I was like, “sure, why not, I’ve worked well with engineers, I’ll try it.” My wife gave the idea of incorporating Arduino technology, something I had no experience with. It’s basically these little circuit boards that you can get at Radio Shack and can do different things depending on how you trick them out. They’re user friendly, you can combine them, you can use them as musical triggers, or, as my wife does, you can use them for engineering purposes. The head of the engineering department at Notre Dame, who is our liaison, is very familiar with Arduino technology and he was fully on board with incorporating it in Wild Sound and he helped us develop ways use the technology in the piece. With the help of Arduino triggers and the engineering interns at Notre Dame, we developed ways to play some of the parts that I wrote by using motion sensors or light sensors. We have flex triggers and depending on how much you bend your hand, you are playing just by moving your hand. We have triggers on plexiglass. I can make any sound that I want from working with this technology. The performers might just be waving their hand in the air but you’re hearing a marimba. With that technology we opened up all these instruments that Third Coast and I have zero experience in. The narrative of the piece is going from this raw beginning to this more refined, staged piece in the end. So it opens with cutting, sawing sounds, and raw percussive sound that anyone can make and moves to this super complex technology, with Third Coast performing this very intricate percussion ensemble piece. By the end of the piece, you come full circle as you now have something that sounds more electronic, industrial and modern, even though it’s still constructed, onstage percussion. It’s really hard to articulate what the piece is and it’s still developing, but hopefully that gives you an idea…

What does it mean to you to have your music presented by a classical music organization like The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

I love it. The thing I like the best is that there are classical organizations out there that are open minded. They’re not just presenting the same classics over and over, which some people might argue is what has driven younger audiences away from classical music in the first place. The programing that’s happening, especially at the SPCO is so inviting to my generation and even the generation after me. You’re bringing a lot of forward thinking, younger composers who are doing a lot of different types of work and expanding what the definition of classical music and art music is. It is music that’s appealing to our generation, who grew up listening to rock. I’m excited that you guys are brave enough to put on new and challenging music, and pieces like Wild Sound, that are definitely in the cracks and difficult to categorize. Of course, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel I could get some kind legitimacy as a composer. Coming from the rock world, maybe you always have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder, wondering if people just think I’m doing this because I’m in a popular rock band. It’s nice to show that I actually have the goods, Third Coast has the goods, and that we deserve to be there and believed in.

What do you think makes this piece really special? Why are performances like this important for music now and moving forward?

I think Wild Sound is special because it is a new kind of piece. It’s nothing like what I’ve ever done or what Third Coast has done, and collectively nothing that we can think of that has been done before. It’s new territory for all of us, which is exciting. The piece by its nature will be different every time it is performed. There’s musical moments that will always be the same but there is no way you can predict all of these elements to any degree of certainty, especially when you are constructing instruments and when there are a lot of things that can go wrong, which we are completely inviting. Each performance is going to be a new experience. In addition, it is going to be more of an experience for the audience than your typical concert, with audience interaction built into the piece, as well as extremely visually stimulating elements because you’re seeing the construction of these instruments as well as an accompanying video component. Wild Sound is a multimedia experience that’s interactive with the audience and is by the nature of the piece, fluid from night to night.