Posts tagged America
'My building blocks are variations': An interview with Melody Eötvös

meotvos_profile Kupka pianist Alex Raineri chats with exciting young Australian composer Melody Eötvös, now based in Indiana. Come along to 'Modern Music in Exile' this Friday night to hear the world premiere of her new work!

Alex Raineri: We're really excited to be giving the world premiere performance of your new work Wild October Jones at Friday night's concert. Could you tell us a little about the piece? What does the title reference?!

Melody Eötvös: Wild October Jones has been quite a while in the making.  Several summers ago (which was actually winter in Australia) I spent some time in Melbourne.  I was at one of my first record fairs and happened to be curiously browsing through several albums of playing cards these people there had accumulated and were selling.  They were rather special cards because of the particular edition and 'frontispiece' each had.  So I was flipping through pages and pages of these cards and then one suddenly jumped out at me (as pictured above).  It was a reproduction of a beautiful painting that depicted a train passing a carriage at full speed, and the carriage halting to avoid a collision, and a young woman falling off the back of the carriage.

Thomas Hart Benton's "Wreck of old '97" provided the spark of inspiration for Eötvös' new work "Wild October Jones"

The whole image has a very animated perspective to it.  I bought that single card there and then for $3. Anyway, several years later I found it while cleaning out a box of souvenirs I'd gathered over the past 5 years or so, and decided to research it a little. After some intensive googling I discovered the painting belonged to an Indiana artist Thomas Hart Benton, and that we have several of his works throughout the IU Bloomington campus. For me this was too serendipitous to ignore and I knew I had to write a piece based on this painting one day, but it had to be a piece with a particular kind of energy and sound... something I hope I've captured. It was strange though, because I knew I didn't want to use the title of the painting "Wreck of old '97". So I brainstormed a little while staring at the picture for hours. To me the painting has a wild, untamed look about it - I started seriously writing this piece back in October - and of all the references my crazy, film saturated brain instantly connects with Indiana (even after living here for 5 years)... you can probably guess..

AR: Already at such a young age you've got a very impressive list of achievements to your name! After completing a BMus at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (Griffith University) you went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music (London) and you've just finished up a DMA at the Indiana University (USA). On top of this you've had a significant amount of successful grants and funding opportunities, including a substantial one recently from the Australia Council for the Arts. What are some upcoming projects for you and where to now?

ME: I remember listening into the online streaming of the Soundstream Collective broadcast by the ABC in 2012, and Julian Day saying something quite similar about my collective activities and how they're contributing nicely to my 'mantelpiece' - it's always flattering when somebody points out these advances (so, thank you!).  I'd have to say though that the foundation of that mantelpiece is structured around an uncompromising outlook - for each success there has probably been about double the number of rejections! So, we composers develop very tough hides over time and need to have a very quick bounce-back rate.

I am thrilled about the Aussie Council of the Arts grant - given the changing climate in Australia at the moment with arts funding (and just funding in general) I feel exceptionally lucky to have received one of these - I'll be using it for a collaboration with Bernadette Harvey (Sydney) to develop a large piano work, most likely a Piano Sonata, and this project will carry through in to 2015.  In the meantime I have a wonderful collaboration with Musica Viva and the Red Room in Sydney that will be coming to an exciting conclusion in October this year, and in a few weeks I have a reading/workshop with the New York Philharmonic as part of the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings program.  After these I have to make a decision about teaching applications to universities beginning with the 2015-16 academic year... so very exciting times ahead with lots of change!

AR: Extended techniques play a large part in the instrumental writing of Wild October Jones. There's now quite a tradition and a 'repertoire' of sorts for these techniques and I'm interested to know how you personally approach this as a composer and what kind of a role they play in the compositional process? 

ME: For me it's been a gradual building up towards using extended techniques like I have in Wild October Jones. It was also a very dangerous decision as there is only so much you can indicate on the score, and couple that with a brand new piece without a recording to refer to, there's a lot of room for interpretation and many different directions the sound of this piece could be taken in.  So I'm very excited to hear what Kupka's Piano does with it! As for the compositional process, as I mentioned earlier I wanted a particular sound and energy for this piece, and the extended techniques are a crucial part of that.  I think it comes down to a common desire with composers to expand the timbral plane that they're working with.  For me, I wanted both more transparency and a thicker, harsh-block sound as part of my palette.  What happens in between those two extremes could be anything, as long as it works with the structure etc.  My building blocks are variations, and through these I can alter the tone colour around a basic theme, while leading the piece towards its high-point, then releasing that tension away at the end.  That's a really simple, wordy way of putting it though... actually doing that in the music required a lot of thought and fluency/fading of colours across the variations

AR: Lastly, what are some desert island pieces? Top five?

ME: No. 1 is always going to be Bartok's 3rd String quartet.  It's also my "if you have 15 minutes left to live" piece. No. 2 is Shostakovich's 2nd Piano concerto (my mum was learning this when she was pregnant with me... so it kind of stuck) No. 3 Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin No. 4 all of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier (both books) No. 5 probably Stravinsky's Firebird (1910 version)

'Limits are lame': An interview with guest artist Jodie Rottle

Jodie Rottle Whilst Kupka's Piano flautist Hannah Reardon-Smith is momentarily abroad, we're pleased to announce that we're welcoming American artist Jodie Rottle into the ensemble fold for the next concert 'Modern Music in Exile' on Friday May 23rd. Kupka's pianist Alex Raineri chats with Jodie about her musical life thus far and what's ahead in 2014.

Alex Raineri: We're really excited to be working with you for two of our concerts this year in our series at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 'Modern Music in Exile' (May 23rd) and 'Absent, Almost Absent' (November 28th). We've got some wonderful and challenging repertoire on those two programs, I'm interested to know what excites you about the style of music Kupka's Piano presents?

Jodie Rottle: I'm honored to be working with Kupka's Piano this season. My experience with the ensemble so far as an audience member has been nothing short of inspiring, and I can't wait to share the stage in Brisbane with such a committed group of musicians. I'm particularly excited to perform Brett Dean's mammoth Old Kings in Exile and premier Melody Eötvös's newest work in May. I think the 'Modern Music in Exile' concept is brilliant. To me, it challenges the idea of nationalism in music and addresses the contribution that identity and environment provide to artistic output.

AR: I was really interested to read about your ensemble Dead Language. How do you manage your involvement with the group from afar and what are your thoughts about the composer/performer collaboration? Perhaps could you speak a bit about the role of improvisation in your creative practice?

JR: Dead Language approaches the contemporary classical music realm with a sense of humility. It is a physical embodiment of everything I stand for in new music. We don't care who listens to us; we care that we have something to say and do so through the medium of our instruments. We are open to performing anything: contemporary classical "standards", commissions by our colleagues, graphic or improvisatory works, and self-composed pieces about wolves, white noise, and people who eat noisy sandwiches during quiet moments. I think I have maybe played flute for only half of our performances. I have spent the rest of the time dressing in hazmat suits, playing with stuffed toys, and having a great time.

When I made the decision to move to Australia last year, I was devastated to leave a group that had made such a huge impact on my artistic life. I didn't need to worry, though, because we have learned to accept the distance, and it has further strengthened who we are as an ensemble. The fact that we make music together only once or twice a year has allowed us to realize the importance of quality over quantity. I haven't rehearsed or performed with Dead Language since December, but I oddly still feel as though I am on a 'high' of inspiration from our latest performance. We aren't New York based anymore, we are world-based.

I have always cherished the opportunity to work directly with composers as I believe it is vital for informed performance of new works. Being a part of Dead Language has not only confirmed this belief, but it also has put the composer/performer collaboration in a new light. We grant ourselves full artistic freedom. Anything goes, as long as it is informed and done with conviction. I am not just an instrumentalist in Dead Language, I am an interpreter, a composer, and an improviser. I have really enjoyed taking this attitude out of Dead Language context and applying it to all my playing.

AR: You've spent some time as artist in residence at the Banff Centre and the Bang on A Can Summer Institute and you also have a masters of contemporary performance from the Manhattan School of Music. How would you say living in the States and being exposed to so many new works by American composers has moulded your musical tastes and influences?

JR: Location has definitely played a role in defining my musical tastes, but I don't think that I have ever thought to throw an "American" label on the weight of my experiences. I met my former teacher, flutist Tara Helen O'Connor, while at Banff and her inclusive approach to performing any music from any genre with vibrance and energy radically changed my views about being an artist. She taught me that no limits exist unless I define a boundary, and why set any limits in the first place? Limits are lame.

This attitude helped me digest the quantity of schools of musical thought that you are inevitably smacked over the head with when living in New York. It's almost like choosing sides: are you Uptown, or Downtown? Free improv or art music? Classical or contemporary? I'm not about to completely exclude something just because of a judgement or label. I have enjoyed exploring the musical gamut with an open mind and without any limitations, and I think this has shaped who I am as a person just as much as it has shaped my musical tastes.

AR: Now that you're based in Australia, how would you make a comparison between the new music scene in the USA and Brisbane? For me, the arts in Australia are imbued with a wonderful openness to act as a springboard for interesting thoughts and projects to become realised but I imagine it must seem rather contained having come from the hustle and bustle of the American musical culture?

JR: My life in Australia is still young, so perhaps I do not have enough authority to make a statement on the matter. Given my experiences to date, I completely agree that the arts in Australia are approached with an open and appreciating mind. I'm not sure if the new music scene in the entirety of the USA can fairly be pitted against that of Brisbane. Scope is an enormous factor. The new music scenes are even drastically different on the west coast of America than on the east, which creates a bit of an overwhelming barrier.

I will say that regardless of location, musicians operate within some sort of circle connecting them to resources, people, and an environment that drives personal creativity. Even though the population is much larger in the States and the musical history is quite vast, I believe that Australia and America are similar in respect to this interconnectivity. It is so important to realize the reach of artistic circles and never be afraid to extend it further.

I wouldn't say the life of contemporary music in Australia is any more contained than it is in America. Currently, I've noticed that Americans feel an obligation to do something different that will give an edge to their artistry, and this is actually quite crippling. It detracts from one's innate artistic sensibilities and instead focuses on the importance of an outsider's reception. Gone are the days of the nineties when everyone received a gold star. There is a rising expectation for artists to be different, cutting edge, or revolutionary solely for the sake of doing so. This pressure is the biggest container of all.

AR: Lastly, what are your top 5 desert island pieces?! What music is making you tick?

JR: Steve Reich's Different Trains, anything by The Books (I guess I'm cheating on that one), Luciano Berio's Sequenza XIV for 'cello, Bjork's entire "Vespertine" album, and Tchaikovsky's Trio in A minor op. 50.

Check out Jodie's website here: www.jodierottle.com

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.

Immersion is required! Introducing Luara Karlson-Carp

Luara Kupka's Piano is proud to introduce Luara Karlson-Carp in our upcoming concert, "The American Dream-Song: New Music in the USA" - on next Friday, 29 November, 7.30pm, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art - where she will be performing the Australian premiere of a work by young American composer Kate Soper, as well as a great work by Downtown New York giant, Morton Feldman.

Our violinist, Alethea Coombe, took some time to chat to Luara and find out about her, her music and her connection to the States.

Alethea Coombe: Tell us a little about yourself - Where were you born? Where did you study? What were your early influences? All those things that led you to where you are today!

Luara Karlson-Carp: I was born in Montana, USA and lived there till I was four years old, in a tiny town right next to Yellowstone National Park. It was a pretty wild place, bears and cowboys and the like. I then moved to Bellingen NSW and that's where I stayed till I began a Bachelor of Music in jazz voice at the Queensland Conservatorium, from which I'm graduating this semester. Whilst in Bellingen I attended a Steiner School, which was very alternative and arts-based, and lived with a painter/potter for quite a while and I see both of these "creative" experiences as having a big affect on my values and musical/artistic influences today.

AC: How about now? What's an average day in the life of Luara?

LKC: I've just been struck down with a 24 hour bug so most recently it has included sleeping, reading A Room Of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, pumpkin soup and guilt-free internet perusal time....

AC: You recently studied in America - Please tell us a bit more about it! What did you expect, and what was surprising for you? What led you there in the first place?

LKC: I went over on a semester of exchange/study abroad. When I decided to apply, the real impetus for going was a well needed break from my environment and a chance to reflect and chase inspiration. I knew I wanted to be close to NYC, so I looked at the list of exchange partner universities, found the only one in New York state, pointed to it and said "that one". That was the extent of the expectation! I was incredibly lucky and landed in a strong community of positive, creative young musicians in the best town ever(!) and had an incredible time. Together with some friends a band focusing on free and concept-based improvisation was formed and we undertook a six-week, grass-roots, 6000 mile tour of the states, which was a pretty eye opening and pivotal experience. I also did a great workshop in New York City. I was surprised at the openness and positivity of the music scene there, and also shocked by the political situation and who really seems to be pulling the strings.

AC: Of course our aim in this concert is to present some of the music coming from the States that we find exciting and poke a little into what the scene is like there. You've experienced it first hand, though! What music and musical scenes did you discover while you were there?

LKC: The underground improvised/experimental scene was one I got some decent exposure to as we did almost 25 gigs in 25 different places on tour. Due to the economy, culture and licensing, paid gigs in venues are really hard to come by, but the underground scene is thriving. The fantastical existence of basements in nearly every US home provides pretty adequate sound-proofing, so people will set up their houses as music venues, naming them and giving them their own Facebook pages with weekly or bi-weekly events. It's fantastic as it provides a hub for local, self-determined musical communities. I think that's a lot harder to pull off in the rather more flimsy raised wooden suburban Queenslanders we have here!

AC: Tell us a little more about one of the pieces you're performing with us, Kate Soper's "Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say".

LKC: For me this piece is really exciting for many reasons, the first being that it's actually the first piece of music I can remember performing composed by a women, and secondly it's definitely the only piece I've composed by a soprano! That's really inspiring - it can be easy to feel like your only options as a female singer are to sound pretty and, if you please, look pretty too. I also think the way the piece plays on and relates to the text is creatively brilliant, and how the movements sit together is highly surprising and satisfying. This will be my first contemporary classical concert ever, so I've been very lucky to have Hannah's patience, passion and experience at hand for the learning process. We performed the first movement recently and I was surprised at the emotional force of the piece when it's put in front of an audience - there's a lot of intense rationalisation of highly emotional content in the text, and that, combined with Soper's musical treatment of it, creates what felt to be a rather unruly beast to pace and perform, but so exhilarating! I'm very excited about the performance, I think everyone will find it to be a very powerful yet playful experience.

AC: It sounds like there's a lot of music that excites you. What are you listening to at the moment?

LKC: Morton Feldman; this is my first contemporary classical gig, immersion is required!

AC: What's in store for you in the next few years? What would you like to be doing? What do you see coming in your future?

LKC: My current plan is to move to Melbourne and enrol in a BA. I feel my creative-world needs some intellectual-world support to feel meaningful and stay relevant to what's important to me. I'm really looking forward to getting involved in the scene down there and want to continue exploring contemporary classical music, as well as improvised/experimental music and eventually sound based installation works.

AC: Thanks very much!

Luara will be performing with Kupka's Piano on the 29th of November at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts for the fourth and final concert of our 2013 series. Get tickets here!