Interview With Conrad Winslow

Ahead of our coming concert at Spectrum, we asked Conrad Winslow a few questions about his piece Bloody Lyre that he wrote for us.

Bloody Lyre—it almost sounds like some peculiar American folk song. But instead, it’s a setting of radical feminist poetry! What draws you to Adrienne Rich’s work?

Conrad: “Political” predicaments are woven into the syntax of her work: for Rich it’s never a question of making a poem about politics; the poems take up their place within the scope of the problems that she fights. You can’t separate her activism from her art. Claudia Rankine (and a thousand others) was hugely influenced by Rich, and Rankine has carried this torch forward in work such as Citizen. In reading these poets you follow certain contours of thought that fill your head with questions. They put you on a path and then send you on your way, which is what I want my music to do.

The other thing that drew me to Rich was her use of ordinary language that feels so good to sing, and works on the low burner with occasional spectacular flares. The title refers to her image of a lyre that tethers the (aspirations for the) 21st Century to the 20th; the lyre/liar pun refers to her preoccupation with the idea that all language shuts out as much truth as it reveals.

You’ve very explicitly organized the work into “songs” and describe the piece as being like a cabaret set. How did you arrive at this structure, and does it affect the music itself?

Conrad: I selected texts from different periods in Rich’s life that speak directly and musically to her overarching project, which probes and manipulates text for new approaches to empathy and connection. An urgent late poem called “Final Notations” withholds its subject (“it will take all your breath / it will not be simple / it will become your will”). I broke it up and placed the sections as corridors between the other songs so that its meaning keeps shifting.

I’m really interested in the unstable borderland between sound and symbol. It’s super important to me that the word and the note have a fluctuating power dynamic. If there’s a battle between them I don’t want a clear winner throughout. Justine is singing on mic, so she has lots of opportunities to play with subtle shades of tone and to bring out the words. There’s also an overall musical trajectory in this 20-minute work moving from fragments to very long phrases, which forces the words to change their suit.

You quote Rich in your program note, saying “A poet cannot refuse language, choose another medium.” As composers, I guess our lot in life is sitting in front of Sibelius (or Dorico?) all day, moving notes around the page. In a way, Bloody Lyre feels like an act of reconciliation with Rich’s idea; you “bend and torque” your notes to create a music that’s self-reflexive, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, always inviting the listener in. What impact does this concept have on your outlook as a composer?

Conrad: As listeners, we switch up our expectations more rapidly than listeners in the past, which is a huge opportunity. I want to create the circumstances to re-hear sound in a piece—to establish a possible meaning and pull the rug out and create a new context. The Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri wrote “there’s nothing old under the sun,” meaning that you must always re-inscribe your gaze, and see again.

Conrad Winslow

Interview with Brian Petuch

We chatted with Brian Petuch about his new piece for us, 24 Hours, which we’re premiering on April 15th at Spectrum. Read on for a sneak peek at Brian’s thinking.

When we first approached you about this commission, you mentioned this idea of a piece about each hour of the day. How did you settle on this idea & how did the writing of the thing morph the idea into the piece that we’ll be premiering in April?

Brian: I’ve had this idea kicking around in my head since at least 2008, but I didn’t really have the chops back then to write it. Our relation to the day is so embedded into each hour, I’ve always felt that each hour of the day has a distinctive color and energy. It varies a bit from day to day, but it’s definitely there. The piece turned out almost how I initially envisioned it, though some of the movements are a little longer. I wanted them to all be “micro movements” that stick to the point, are very simple, and last less than a minute. Most do just that, but that was very hard to successfully sustain over 24 distinct movements! Also, the idea of having the option for the performers to expand the single movements into a longer stand-alone movement was an idea that came a little later in the process.

Relatedly, how did you distill the essence of each hour of the day into music (some movements lasting less than a minute!)? Did you stay awake for 24 hours in a mindfulness-meditation kind of state, or?

Brian: Yes for sure! When I had a musical idea or impulse I would write it down and keep in mind the time of the sketch as well as if I thought it captured the essence that hour. I could then work out the movement later if needed, but the initial impulse was approximately related to the time it was written. I say approximately because with daylights savings, structural considerations, and the very subjective nature of this it was clear that there was wiggle room. But in general I would say that each movement represents the accumulated average over a lifetime of my relation to each hour. Or you could think of this piece as one very specific day, that’s up to y’all!

The piece uses motorized percussion (a first for us!)—is this the first time you’re using these motors in a piece? What got you interested in this kind of automation, in a way, of the percussionist’s job?

Brian: It’s a direction I’ve been moving in for a while and it began with practical solutions. I once adapted a piece for large ensemble to be performed by the chamber group Latitude 49. The original had a part for one of the violins to play a pizz on the downbeat throughout, so in the arrangement I had them amplify a metronome instead. It’s a bonus that it adds a light theatrical element. For you all I wanted to give the percussionist some time to set up for the proceeding movements after 3AM so I built these motors that make tiny scraping and rustling sounds. I thought of each movement in 24 Hours as an expressive miniature musical machine, so the motors fit right in. And don’t worry, I’m not trying to replace the percussionist with machines, I want us to live in harmony with the machines!

How do you feel 24 Hours fits in with your larger body of work? There are some truly beautiful, minimalist-esque moments in the piece—things you do especially well, I think—but there are also microtones, multiphonics, and unmetered music (oh my!), not to mention a big French Baroque reference. Are you charting new territory for yourself in writing the piece?

It’s hard to say where this fits into the rest of my work or if it’s leading me somewhere else. I’d like to believe I’m charting new territory for myself, but you can only see if this was a stepping stone or a dead end many years and many pieces later. One great thing about working on this was that coming up with 24 very different movements allowed me to try all the different things I’ve been interested in recently. In regards to the French Baroque reference, there’s this part in the overture of Rameau’s Le temple de la Gloire (specifically the part starting at :54) that I LOVE and just want to live inside forever! The 12PM movement of 24 Hours was essentially an excuse to do just that.

Brian Petuch

Echo Chamber at Spectrum

We’re excited to announce our spring concert happening at Spectrum, one of New York’s preeminent presenters and supporters of new music, on April 15th at 7pm. We’ll be giving the world premiere of music by Conrad Winslow (featuring acclaimed soprano Justine Aronson), Brian Petuch, and our Call for Scores winner, Caroline Mallonée, alongside music by one of the trailblazers from the New York School, Christian Wolff.

Check out our Facebook event for the concert, and we’re looking forward to sharing these brand new pieces with you soon in Brooklyn! Keep your eyes peeled for sneak peak into the rehearsal process.

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Brian Petuch looking very excited about his mechanized percussion; Conrad Winslow looking contemplative.

Movie Night Interview with Fjóla Evans and Amanda Bonaiuto

Before its premiere at tomorrow’s concert, we asked Fjóla Evans and Amanda Bonaiuto to talk about their collaboration on Running up that hill.

What is the conceptual basis behind Running up that hill? You’ve mentioned that it’s based loosely on I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus. How does the book relate to your piece? And does the title have anything to do with the eponymous Kate Bush song?

Fjóla: Chris Kraus has this line in I Love Dick that talks about the importance and radical act of witnessing women engaging intellectually with the world. Like that the idea of a woman just sitting or thinking alone, or reading a book or whatever, but being alone with herself and her thoughts, is a radical act. Back in the spring, Amanda showed me some clips of a piece she was working on where these monastic looking female characters were walking down a spiral staircase and I immediately thought of that line. The women looked really engrossed in their own world, and didn’t seem to notice or care that they were being watched. We talked about how cool it would be to make a piece that was about a series of women embarking on solitary creative quests, some kind of epic, wandering journey. I also just love how Amanda draws women characters – they always look super fierce and powerful, yet free and goofy at the same time. I wanna be more like those women!

Yup, the title is definitely stolen from Kate Bush – I’m a huge fan. I feel like more people need to know that she was the first female artist (this was in the 70s!) to get a number-one song that she had written herself. Isn’t that crazy!? I feel like Running up that hill encapsulates this boundless but kind of redundant energy; a spurt of excitement that pushes you to accomplish something ridiculous and amazing. It’s difficult to be alone with yourself and to make a bunch of creative work for no particular reason, but it’s also super exhilarating.

This isn’t your first collaborative project. Could you talk a bit about how you work together on projects? How does Fjóla’s musical language interface with Amanda’s visual language, and vice verse?

Fjóla: This is actually the first project we have done together! We have some drafts of earlier work, but this is the first piece that will be presented to the worrrld — thank you Echo Chamber! For this project we talked a lot about different conceptual and practical ideas, and then sent clips of music and video back and forth between the two coasts (Amanda is based in LA). I find that Amanda’s films have this amazing visual rhythm, a kinetic bounciness that is so joyful and alive. I wanted to try and have the music speak in this bouncy language (I feel like my music sometimes tends to be kinda … dour and austere haha :/ ). I also think this piece is influenced by conversations we’ve been having for years. For example, a lot of the landscape reminds me of Iceland (the mountains! The geysers!), and Amanda and I have had many talks about Iceland’s bleak vastness — Amanda has spent a lot of time in Iceland, coincidentally on a tiny island (Hrísey) off of its North coast where my family is from.

Amanda: We started some collaborations a couple of years ago, but never got it off the ground because of little time/resources, so it was exciting to have another opportunity! Fjóla’s work makes me think of open spaces, so when she asked me if I wanted to collaborate I decided to take a short trip to Yosemite to see some wide open Pacific Northwest landscapes. Since the concept for the piece is loosely based on ‘wondering women on a creative pursuit’, I wanted to literally go on my own short pursuit to generate ideas and material. I’ve recently been working with bodies and tight spaces, so for Fjola’s piece I was excited to explore landscapes and a slightly more expansive color palette.

Amanda, your work is strikingly beautiful and harkens back to an earlier kind of animation. Are you influenced or informed by 20th-century animation? How do you translate sketches and concepts into the final piece of art, given that you don’t work from the start on a computer?

Amanda: Definitely, I’m super inspired by handmade animations in the independent/experimental animation world. I get really excited when I can see the cracks and imperfections in a film because everything was made by one person. I love early films by Amy Lockhart, Suzan Pitt, Igor Kovalyov, Rose Lowder, and more contemporary work by Laura Harrison, Lale Westvind, Sarina Nihei, and James Bascara. The lines in my animation are all ‘analogue’, so I work out all of the movement and most of the compositions by hand with pencil on paper, and then I scan each scene into the computer and color each frame in Photoshop. Once it’s all colored, I take it into After Effects and do any compositing or any color adjustments.

Fjóla, how does a project like this fit in with the larger body of your work?

Fjóla: In this piece, I wanted to work with large washes of sound in a rhythmic context. I wanted to see if I could keep a droney/soundscapey approach to the instrumental textures (definitely something I’ve been exploring pretty frequently in my other works) but create a rhythmic energy between the different instruments that builds in intensity; to sustain a jittery rhythmic pulse throughout. This is the first time I’ve collaborated so specifically with a visual artist —I really feel like this was a collaboration from its inception — which was really fun! I feel like it pushed me to be much more concise and specific with my musical ideas.

We hope you can join us tomorrow, October 27th, at the DiMenna Center to see the premiere of Fjóla and Amanda’s collaboration!

Movie Night + Call for Scores Winner!

Though it may still feel like summer here in New York, it is indeed now fall and we’re excited to bring news about our Call for Scores winner and to talk about our upcoming season.

Movie Night

Our first concert of the season is coming up soon: on October 27th, we’ll be presenting Movie Night at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Cary Hall at 8pm. In it, we’ll be premiering a new work by Fjóla Evans with animation by Amanda Bonaiuto, and presenting the world premiere of the music video we made for Pascal Le Boeuf’s Don’t Say a Word written for us in our first season, alongside works by Brooks Frederickson, Florent Ghys, and Aleksandra Vrebalov.

To help support the dedicated and talented artists creating this show, we’re launching a crowdfunding campaign. Playing concerts and working with interesting musicians and artists are impossible without your generosity, and with it we can continue to make and bring to you art that speaks to our modern life. All donations are fully tax-deductible, and we’re offering lots of perks to make any size of donation worth your while.

Looking ahead, we’ll be posting some interviews with our collaborators involved in October’s show on social media along with other glimpses into our preparation. We’ll be playing a concert in the spring, featuring three brand new works including a new piece by our Call for Scores winner, which we’ll be talking about more soon.

See you on October 27th!

Call for Scores Winner!

After being happily inundated with over 200 submissions to our first Call for Scores, we are even happier to announce that Caroline Mallonée is our winner! Caroline will be writing us a new piece to be premiered on our spring concert (more info to come). To tide you over, check out her awesome piece Throwing Mountains.

Honorable Mention
Elizabeth Bayer
Patrick Castillo
Nicole Murphy
Gregory Wanamaker

About Caroline
The music of Caroline Mallonée (b. 1975, Baltimore, MD) has been performed in New York City at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, Merkin Hall, Bargemusic, Roulette, Tenri Cultural Center, Town Hall, Tonic and National Sawdust, and has been programmed at the Tribeca New Music Festival, Long Leaf Opera Festival, Carlsbad Music Festival, Bennington Chamber Music Conference, Cambridge Summer Music Festival (UK), by American Opera Projects, on the New Music New Haven series, and at Boston’s Jordan Hall.

Her high-energy and cerebral chamber music has been performed across the country by new music ensembles including counter)induction, Da Capo Chamber Players, Wild Rumpus, Antares, Present Music, Locrian Chamber Players, Firebird Ensemble, New York New Music Ensemble, and Wet Ink, as well as the Spektral, Del Sol, and Ciompi Quartets. Her music has recently been programmed on the New York Philharmonic CONTACT! series, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra presented her cello concerto, Whistler Waves, in 2015.

Dr. Mallonée holds a Ph.D. from Duke University, a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Music and a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. A Fulbright award recipient, she spent a year in The Netherlands studying with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and has also studied with Mario Davidovsky, Joseph Schwantner, Stephen Jaffe, Scott Lindroth, Evan Ziporyn and Pamela Layman Quist.

Dr. Mallonée is the director of The Walden School Creative Musicians Retreat, a week-long festival held in New Hampshire each June. Dr. Mallonée is the composer-in-residence for the Buffalo Chamber Players.

Intern, anyone?

Happy summer! We’re excited to announce a search for a 2017-2018 Production Intern, & hope you or somebody you know might be interested. Broadly, the production intern will be responsible for aiding the ensemble in producing concerts—from attending planning meetings, to coordinating equipment and promotion, to working with ensemble members on planning future performances.

While priorities and administrative needs shift from season to season, previous interns’ duties have included:

  • Managing social media and website/blog updates;
  • Proofreading grant applications;
  • Assisting in situ at performances with house tasks (selling tickets, setup, etc.);
  • Coordinating percussion equipment cartage; and
  • Creating and maintaining databases.

The internship provides hands-on experience with the business of running a chamber ensemble in New York; interns learn about the commissioning process, grant-making, and the art of putting together a successful concert.

The ideal intern possesses the following qualifications:

  • Is currently studying or recently studied music at an undergraduate (BM) or graduate (MM) level (specialization in composition and/or performance of new music preferred);
  • Has a basic understanding of social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as of the WordPress content management platform; and
  • Is interested in the process of creating new music from head to tail, is a self-starter, possesses a strong ability to extrapolate from basic instructions in order to complete projects.

No previous production experience is necessary, though applicants should have a basic understanding of contemporary music in general. The internship is unpaid, however college credit can be organized if the intern so wishes. The general time commitment is roughly 8 hours per month, and most tasks can be completed remotely, with occasional in-person meetings with the artistic directors.

All interested parties should submit a résumé and cover letter to Kyle Tieman-Strauss, co-artistic director of Echo Chamber, at echochambernewmusic@gmail.com, by July 31, 2017.

It bears noting that Echo Chamber does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, ancestry, disability, marital status, or military status in any of its activities or operations.