Your new work, SynchroniCities is a play on words; you’ve turned it into a compound word: time and place. I understand you took field recordings in different locations and worked them into the piece. What inspired you to do this? And can you describe the processes involved in incorporating these recordings?
I was interested in finding common ground between sounds captured in various locales and used for different occasions, no matter how disparate the sources and irrespective of time and place. And of course, the original meaning of “synchronicity” implies an almost serendipitous encounter of time and place. Going into this project, I didn’t set out with the goal of capturing field recordings based on particular themes, but found that sounds kept organizing themselves together, based purely on objective criteria like similarity or contrast of timbre, but also on their semiotic and ritualistic connotations. I simply kept my ears open to many sources, as well as my recording equipment at the ready. I’m always struck by how concrete sounds in the world are both overwhelmingly chaotic and commonplace.
We tend to think of image as the strongest signifier of place, yet sound can be equally, if not more, powerful. And especially emanating through the ambiguity of speakers, processed slightly beyond recognition, and further enhanced and in dialogue with live instruments, they can take on many new meanings and references.
Time as objects of perception seems to be a preoccupation in your body of work. How do you work with time here?
Within the four sections of the work, there are many moments that return, slightly altered, expanded, or compressed. I’m very interested in playing with the perception of memory over time. If and when I do repeat things, it’s usually with the alteration of recognizable material – a re-processing of a sample, for example, or the stretching of a very fast rhythmic gesture into something almost unrecognizable. Time is always in flux here, though some sections feel more static than others.
You’ve written before that Jazz is a large influence on your sound world. Sometimes it is clearly audible in your work. Who are some of your favorite jazz musicians?
Improvisation, in particular that of the jazz tradition, has been an important part of my musical background, and I can’t imagine not being influenced by it, whether in subtle or more outward ways. My approach to melodic phrasing is as something quite pliable, and similarly, my use of notation is more as transcription of gesture originating in the body or a vocalization, rather than broken down by the constraints of the parameters of a particular system. Other ways in which I’m influenced include how instruments dialogue with one another in real-time, the power of motivic developing variation through an improvised solo, and how harmonic innovation can really be the stamp of a musician’s personality. There are so many great musicians who have influenced me, where to begin? One of the great things about living in New York was getting to see so many of my heroes live: Keith Jarrett, Lee Konitz, Cecil Taylor, Brian Blade, Jim Hall, Brad Mehldau, Martial Solal, dozens and dozens more. And of course hearing Steve Lehman and George Lewis – both of whom resist and defy categorization within and around “jazz” - on so many memorable occasions as well. I’m so glad that they’ve written fascinating new works for this concert.
How do you place or conceptualize these seemingly disparate influences? American, European?
I think we’re in an exciting time where so many of the sonic characteristics that once connoted acceptance within a clearly defined aesthetic have been lifted, recontextualized, and re-invented, and that there isn’t a taboo surrounding their re-appropriation. Of course there is still the matter of being inventive and in good taste about it, but the fact that it’s harder to point to unified schools of thought based on nationality or region is definitely a healthy thing. But Chris Trapani’s question posed at the end of his interview is an important one to consider: can there be a regional voice for the American composer? I would like to think that regional influences can and should be tapped into, without necessarily being the primary defining characteristic of a composer’s output. And the important question is whether there is something musically interesting and relevant about putting these things in dialogue with one another.
I also think there’s quite a lot to be explored in terms of the consonance (or dissonance) of very distinct cultural references suddenly being thrown together. One of the ways I go about it in this piece is through live-processing of the piano. The piano, the exemplar of equal-temperament in western music, sometimes get processed through an “auto-tune” filter, using modes from different traditions and historical periods, such as just intonation and Indonesian gamelan tunings. Just as field recordings from very different cultural contexts get mixed together, so too do the tuning practices of cultures vastly removed by time and place.
As the Artistic Director and co-founder of Talea, what is it like working with an ensemble that you have such an intimate relationship with? What do you see in the future for the ensemble?
It has been an unbelievable privilege and pleasure working with the musicians of Talea. When I wrote this piece, I knew I’d be very consciously thinking of the personalities of the individual and collective sounds of the group and Jim Baker’s conducting. In concert music, it’s rare to have a relationship with a group of players in which it’s possible to tailor-make compositional decisions, and I realize that I am extraordinarily lucky in this respect. Through the incredible dedication of the musicians, staff, and supporters, we’re going to see the group continuing to attract the attention of composers who want to see their visions realized, who are looking to work with an ensemble that’s known for being adventurous and open. I think the international presence of the ensemble will also continue to expand. That has already happened quite a bit in the last two years, and new projects in the pipeline will make it even more so.
SYNCHRONICITIES: NEW WORKS
PREMIERES BY LEWIS, TRAPANI, LEHMAN, CHEUNG
DECEMBER 14, 2012 8:00 PM
MANNES COLLEGE OF MUSIC
150 W 85TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10024