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

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