WET INK, New York, and "Pendulum III": An interview with Alex Mincek

Alex Headshot_0 Performing for the first time in Australia the music of New York based composer Alex Mincek, Kupka musicians Sami Mason and Alex Raineri tackle his saxophone and piano duo Pendulum III in the upcoming concert 'The American Dreamsong: New Music in the USA' - Friday 29 November, 7.30pm, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Our Alex chats with composer Alex:  

Alex Raineri: You're a very impressive young composer, could you tell us a little about your musical journey thus far - who have been some significant mentors and how have you come to be based in New York? 

Alex Mincek: I moved to New York from Florida when I was 19 to study saxophone at the Manhattan School of Music. At that time I was mostly participating in various forms of jazz music, but was already well aware of, and inspired by composers like Ives, Cowell, Cage, Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky, etc. Though, I had not seriously considered composing myself until I took a course called "composition for non-composition majors". The professor of that class, Giampaolo Broccoli, recognized my intense interest in composition and really convinced me that I should pursue a more serious study of the craft. Since then I have had many wonderful teachers including, Nils Vigeland, Fred Lerdahl and Tristan Murail.

AR: In addition to composition you're also a saxophonist and clarinettist. I was very interested to learn that you are the artistic director of WET INK Ensemble with Kate Soper (who is also receiving an Australian premiere in our upcoming concert!). I would like to hear your thoughts on how being a performer (especially in terms of your collaboration with other composer/performers in your ensemble) affects the way you approach writing music? Does this allow for a more detailed and intimate workshopping process for certain pieces?

AM: The short answer is yes. But more specifically, I often directly draw from my knowledge of my own instruments to compose, which I believe allows me to write more idiomatically for instruments, albeit in novel ways. Additionally, working with my ensemble has allowed for, as you mention, a more detailed and intimate environment for experimenting with sounds.

AR: Tell us a little about the Pendulum pieces, you're written five as far as I can tell. Are they related to each other musically?

AM: I'm working on the 10th and final piece of this series currently. And yes, they are related to one another, insofar as they each are meant to represent various physical, temporal, and spatial phenomena demonstrated by the simple swinging motions of pendulums, along with some of the more complex forces, environments and mechanisms that make a pendulum’s movement continue or dissipate.

AR: Specifically, what were your thoughts behind Pendulum III? I hear some spectralist influences in the piece, perhaps attributed to Grisey, or Murail with whom you studied?

AM: Both of the composers you mention have indeed been very influential to my approach to composing, but I wouldn't say there is too close a connection between their work and Pendulum III, other than the focus on timbre as inseparable from harmony (specifically) and structure (more broadly). For example, the piece does use variously untempered, close tunings that cause novel timbral effects such as psychoacoustic 'beatings' to represent subtle back-and-forth 'motions' between the saxophone and piano, while simultaneously creating unconventional harmonies.

AR: You've received commissions and worked with some eminent ensembles such as the JACK Quartet, Ensemble Linea, Talea Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra among many others. What projects are you currently working on - what's next?

AM: I'm currently finishing a large orchestra piece for the Guggenheim Foundation and writing a new work for my own group, WET INK Ensemble. In the near future I will also write a new piece for string quartet and orchestra for the JACK Quartet and the American Composers Orchestra, a new string quartet for MIVOS, and a piece for 2 pianos and 2 percussionists for YARN/WIRE.

AR: Our 2013 concert series has been a peripatetic exploration of music from all around the globe with a focus on the younger generation of composers. We've looked at Asia, Germany, Italy and now we wrap up with music from the USA. As a young composer in the States, would you say that you draw inspiration from your American predecessors or contemporaries?

AM: I would say both. Composers of the past like Ives, Ellington, Cage, Feldman, Coltrane, Braxton and Lucier have been VERY important to me, but so have younger composers like my colleagues in WET INK. Many international composers, past and present (mostly European, I suppose), have been extremely influential for me as well.