New Territory, New Possibilities: an interview with Eric Wubbels

eric-wubbles_wet-inkTaking some time out from rehearsing 'Shivering, Confined, Expiring' (7:30pm Friday April 10th at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts), flautist Jodie Rottle chats to young American composer Eric Wubbles. Jodie Rottle: Kupka's Piano turns three in 2015. Whilst having two composers affiliated  with our group ('in residence' per se), the performing musicians don't write ourselves. What have been the keys to success for Wet Ink Ensemble? In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of working with composer/performers? 

Eric Wubbels: I think one of the things that has drawn people to Wet Ink is the fact that the music that we make has a clear and distinctive style. I think it also helps that that style is an assimilation of an extremely wide-ranging set of influences and enthusiasms, that it has a strong sense of place (rooted in New York), and that it tries to synthesise and incorporate elements from aesthetics that until recently were seen as antagonistic to each other. We're trying to make strong aesthetic statements that are also non-dogmatic, that open up new territory and new possibilities, that invite people in without pandering to them in any way.

Working with a group of composer/performers over an extended period has simply been the easiest way for us to solve a lot of the problems and frustrations that we had had in the past (both as composers and performers). Playing pieces you don't want to play or that are poorly written (the alienated labor of the freelance musician); woefully inadequate rehearsal periods and no subsequent performance beyond the first; lack of trust between composer/performers; inability to take risks and to experiment, refine, and revise... We just don't think these things should be normal, and certainly not the accepted state of affairs in new music. It's not in any other kind of music you listen to.

Having a company of peers and collaborators (just starting from that relationship...!) and growing and developing something personal and meaningful with them over the course of years... It just takes all of those problems I described earlier and inverts them, instantly. Which is not to make it sound easy, of course it's a long process, and we've been very lucky in a lot of ways. But I think we're pretty sold on the model, and it's something I would wish for everyone.

JR: We are looking forward to performing your work 'Shiverer' this season. Having recently given the Australian Premiere performance in a concert in Sydney with Ensemble Offspring and Aventa Ensemble, we're also featuring it in our upcoming concert 'Shivering, Confined, Expiring' at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on April 10th and again in the QSOCurrent Festival on May 16th at the State Library of Queensland. Can you tell us about your inspiration for this piece or anything about the compositional processes? 

EW: It's one of the first pieces in which I consciously took unison as the compositional material. The parts are not tremendously difficult to play individually, but when combined into very precise hocket, heterophony, or unison there's suddenly a negotiation that has to take place between the two players that I find very interesting. They really have to reach a state of group concentrated awareness, listening carefully to one another and making decisions in the moment as a kind of joint-mind. And if there's any disagreement, in most parts of the piece it's immediately audible. It's quite challenging.

The engine of the piece's development is repetition, but instead of mechanical or literal repetition it's a kind of organic, spiralling structure unfurling over the course of the whole form.

JR: What are you listening to now? Do you have any suggestions as to what you think should be on our new music radar? Aside from Wet Ink Ensemble, of course! 

EW: I'm listening to the new Kendrick Lamar album a lot. Don't love all of it, but some of it's terrific and some of it is breathtaking.

Also been discovering Dmitri Kourliandski's music, which is all over the map aesthetically and yet always compelling and well-made.

Here's a shortlist of other young composers whose work I admire and would love to see more widely known and played: Rick Burkhardt, Katie Young, Evan Johnson, Bryn Harrison, Alexandre Lunsqui, Cat Lamb, Petr Bakla, Chris Mercer, Andrew Greenwald, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Yoshiaki Onishi and Andrew McIntosh.