Category Archives: Music Studies

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Rhodri Davies.

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Interview with Rhodri Davies:

The work of the group of the younger generation of improvisers subsequently labelled New London Silence has been important to my own development as a composer. Their interest in quiet, carefully placed sounds came at a time when I was beginning to engage with similar material in my own notated work, and this was reinforced by knowing Rhodri Davies from his time as a postgraduate in Huddersfield in the mid-1990s. His interest in improvisation developed from around then – I was at his first improvised performance – and grew into a music which has been extremely influential over the past decade. His response to the prevailing conditions was to do the opposite, initially looking to small gestures and silence as a way of reassessing conventions, but more recently exploring a wider palette of sounds, expanding the scope of his instrumental preparations. He describes this as a gradual process, one which developed organically: it is mirrored by his approach to group work, where his strategy is to challenge himself to work against the grain. This is not to say he is deliberately reactionary: these trajectories are creatively necessary to stimulate change. Davies also works regularly with notated music, and has commissioned much new work for the harp. He draws a clear line between his work as an improviser and his expectation of notated music written for him however. The music’s identity must not be reliant on a mining of his resources as an improviser, a view echoed by other practitioners concerned about the appropriation of their work by composers.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 9 October 2007

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The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Alvin Lucier.

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Interview with Alvin Lucier:

I initially met Alvin Lucier in Ostrava at the first New Music Days, organized by Peter Kotik. His work had fascinated me for some time, so it was a great opportunity to find out more in person. Lucier has been central to developments in experimental electronic music since the 1960s, with a focus on acoustic phenomena as the material and subject matter for much of his earlier work. From pieces like I am sitting in a room (1969) in which the continual playback and recording of a text in the same space reinforces the room’s overtones to create a throbbing harmonic drone, to Still Lives (2003), which sets piano notes against slow sliding sine tones to create variable beating patterns, their audibility is framed by his compositional approach. Subsequent work has tended to draw on these techniques and instrumentalize them to various degrees, such as with Diamonds (1999) for three orchestras where the violins replace the sine waves. Whilst in Lucier’s work processes are articulated with extreme clarity, it is music which constantly confounds expectations. It is of course possible to read his scores and gain an understanding of the principles involved, but it is only through the acoustic reality of the sounding result that the music emerges. One of the questions posed by the work of all the interviewees here is a consideration of how we listen, and this is in many ways most clearly exemplified by Lucier.

The interview took place at Dartington College of Arts on 14 November 2007.

Read the full interview here.

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The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Tim Parkinson.

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Interview with Tim Parkinson:

My first contact with Tim Parkinson, through Bryn Harrison, was via his work as a performer, notably at the series of concerts he programmed at the BMIC in its former Stratford Place home from 1997-2000. His industry in presenting music from composers who were new to me at the time, alongside my own pieces, was a galvanizing force. The associations we made through those events have led to many subsequent projects, including this book. Although I came to know his music well at this time, it was the later experience of working with Tim as a performer which led me to a clearer understanding of his work as a composer. We began playing together as a duo, Parkinson Saunders, in 2003, working on mostly indeterminate repertoire which uses any sound-producing means, seated at two tables. The kinds of strategies he uses to realise the music we find interesting reflects his tendencies as a composer: there is a meandering mix of randomness and extreme control, with one often subverting the other with surprising results. The multiplicity that appears in so much of his music confronts our notion of compatibility as a defining factor in a piece’s identity. There is an indirect connection between elements which only becomes apparent through our experience of them, and the way we make the links ourselves as listeners. So whilst found or pre-fabricated material is at the heart of his music, part of a need to look outside of himself to begin work, it is the often bare presentation of these tightly crafted moments which allows their natural beauty to project.

The interview was conducted by email between 3 November – 9 December 2003.

Read the full interview here.

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The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Jennifer Walshe

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Interview with Jennifer Walshe:

Objects and their sonic properties are central to Jennifer Walshe’s music. The terms of reference for her work are wide and draw in the world around her: everything has potential as material, whether it is found text from food packaging, old answer machine messages, skateboarding, or the texture of ribbons. There is a voracity to her collection of sounds and exploration of ways to elicit them from performers, exemplified by pieces such as Hostess-in-a-Jiffy® Brings You Cooking With Stone: 4 Five-Minute Dishes (2004) which presents instructions for sonic cooking, or elephant (2004) with its unique scoring of ‘harp, gun’. The manner in which sounds are made is perhaps every bit as important as their audible result. Instructions in her scores typically indicate the necessary attitude required to make sounds as a primary focus, or differing forms of documentation are used to enable performers to triangulate her intentions when working with objects. This consideration of the physical situation of performing is a constant in her work, drawing on her own experience as an improviser and a concern with what it feels like to make sounds. Often this involves recontextualizing her material, stripping away some of its inherent meaning so that it can be used as a building block to construct new identities, finding a natural extension in her recent installation, stage, and intermedia work. All of this was present in the first piece of hers that I heard at the Darmstadt Ferienkurse in 2000, her astonishing duo for violin and voice as mo chéann (2000), which she also performed. This piece helped me begin to expand the palette of my own work and its impact on an unsuspecting audience was startling, as was her follow-up lecture there two years later, which mostly used kick-boxing as a presentation medium.

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The interview was conducted by email between 10 May – 5 December 2004, and edited in September 2008.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has published his interview with Antoine Beuger.

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Interview with Antoine Beuger

Antoine Beuger’s suggestion that the subject of music is the pervasive noise of the world and that its form is cut out from this infinite diversity is perhaps surprising for a sounding result that is permanently on the verge of disappearing. The extreme dilution of sound in his work emphasises both its savoured value and the importance of space as its receptacle. Calm inaction is the norm, with sound and momentary action the exception. Listening to performances of his music, it is easy to forget what is being experienced: when sounds reappear after a long period of silence, they have an impact which is born only of necessity. Sounds also rarely appear together intentionally, almost always in isolation to further reinforce their identity: this is music of the utmost clarity. Yet within each sound Beuger suggests there are infinite possibilities, so that everything can be contained in the brief moments of activity which characterize his work. Structurally, his music from the 1990s is either rigorously ordered with a grid at its heart or very open, with the minimum necessary instructions as to how to project sounds. These approaches are linked: freedom out of precision, and precision out of freedom. More recently he has begun exploring the ontology of ensemble size in a series of pieces for specified numbers of players, such as dedekind duos (2003) in which two performers play specified pitches as long quiet tones, separated by enough time to breathe, or much longer, carefully listening to each other. From these pieces fundamental questions concerning the nature of separation and togetherness emerge, as does the serendipity of coincidence, focusing on how people interact with each other and project sound in performance. I was introduced to Beuger’s work by Manfred Werder, and we finally met up in Witten in April 2002 in a hotel breakfast room surrounded by most of the German contemporary music establishment, in town for the Neue Musiktage. Antoine showed me some scores, producing them from a beautiful well-used leather briefcase, and we had an interesting morning discussing each other’s work. I have been fascinated by his music ever since: for me it is a benchmark to which other music must be compared. The interplay of action and inaction, of sound and silence in carefully weighted and understated amounts continually makes me evaluate my own practice, and the ideas behind his work cut to the heart of the nature of music and making art.

The interview was conducted by email between 1 December 2003 – 12 March 2004.

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Read the full interview here.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

Continuing with this series, James Saunders has published his interviews with Laurence Crane and Philip Jeck:

Laurence Crane

When I first encountered Laurence’s music, my interest was in extreme miniaturisation, and his exquisitely constructed, poised compositions made a deep impact on me, both through their own beauty and the way it made me readdress the assumptions I had grown to have about the way music could (should?) be. It has been interesting to see the way in which his music has changed since then: principally the soundworld has expanded in some pieces, often looking away from pitch to define material. The focus and reduction is still apparent though, with a carefully selected palette of sounds distilled from the objects used to make them. Laurence’s material is resolutely abstract, and despite the superficial references to a classical tradition, his harmony has little sense of teleology. Tonal constructions are hinted at, but mutated through a studied use of unbalanced and extended repetitions. His approach to titling is important too: descriptions of the ensemble, as with Feldman, form a large proportion of his catalogue, as do names (which make passing references to the music’s original performers). The Skempton connection can also be heard through his general preference for miniatures and movements. Although more recent work has explored longer spans, much of Crane’s music deals with economy.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 14 June 2007. Read the interview in full.

Philip Jeck

While improvisation forms a component of Philip Jeck’s music, he considers it as much arranging given his use of records as material. His work in performance, recording, and installation is linked by the equipment he uses, but is in other ways very different. In his performances, making decisions about the deployment of material can be altered by the inconsistent response of his aging record players and well-played records, necessitating the readjustment of ideas when something unexpected occurs. The installation work uses domestic time switches to control grouped banks of players set with a prepared tone arm tied to create loops, or the use of locked grooves. Over time, these too degrade and produce slippage: the time switches drift chaotically out of phase, and the arm and groove preparations become worn. Here the equipment defines the detail of the resultant music, taking its own course within Jeck’s prescribed boundaries. Both these approaches contrast with his recorded work, surprisingly created by mostly cutting and pasting minidisc recordings of live performances. The opportunity to audit the results of this process allows for more precision, although he notes the importance of surprise here as well, with a dislocation between his memory of a performance and its newfound context as sample informing his decisions. It is perhaps no surprise that collage is a common theme through all this work, given his material is derived from locked physical objects in which sound resides. It is testament to his skill at manipulating them though that subverts the music’s construction in the sounding result.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 13 June 2007. Read the interview in full.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicPosted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

James Saunders is publishing a series of interviews from The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music via his website. The 14 interviews that feature in the companion will be posted gradually over the coming weeks, starting with Christian Wolff:

Introduction provided by James Saunders:

Christian Wolff’s work addresses the way musicians interact with each other, and with material. In much of his work the contingency of the relationships he prescribes between people leads to a vibrant provisionality in the resultant music. In pieces like Looking North from the Prose Collection (1968-71), or the fourth part of Burdocks (1970-1) performers are, in differing ways, asked to attempt to synchronize their actions with those of others. The performance energy set up by these simple constraints can only be achieved by players listening and responding to each other in this manner: any attempt to capture this activity through more conventional forms of notation would be pointless. It is no surprise that Wolff has worked for a long time as an improviser: the spontaneity in his notated work draws on this experience whilst at the same time formalizing it. Performers are sometimes asked to make decisions during performance. Whilst these are not necessarily improvisatory actions, there is a freedom of movement granted through his use optionality: time brackets, multiple transpositions of the same material, or the gravitational pull of heterophony. The result is a social music, in which participation is a rich and rewarding experience. In his recent work, it has been interesting to see how he has revisited the varied strategies employed over the course of his career, whether contingent or more determinate. There is a compendium-like summary of ideas in these pieces, whereby disparate fragments are presented together to form longer spans, such as with the hour-long Long Piano (Peace March 11) (2004-5) or the piece for three orchestras Ordinary Matter (2001). This admission of personal history is unusual amongst composers, for whom the pressure to move forwards is constant, and it is indicative of the inclusive approach to his work.

Find the full interview here.

About the Editor: James Saunders is a composer, with an interest in modularity and series. He performs in the duo Parkinson Saunders, and with Apartment House. He is Head of the Centre for Musical Research at Bath Spa University, currently working on the composition and performance practice of text notation, and directs the ensemble Material.