Meet the Musicians of SoundSpace

This Sunday at 2pm, the Blanton is excited to present SoundSpace, a visual and sonic experience with musical performances throughout the museum. In a recent article in the Austin American-Statesman, writer Jeanne claire Van Ryzin states,”The Blanton Museum of Art’s SoundSpace easily claims must-see status.” 

In conjunction with the exhibition Converging Lines, this iteration of SoundSpace – Downtown NYC 1960- features dynamic experimental works by composers based in lower Manhattan in the 1960s such as Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass, as well as more recent compositions inspired by this movement. Artistic Director Steve Parker interviewed some of SoundSpace’s composers and participants in anticipation of this weekend’s event.

Roland DahindenSwiss Composer Roland Dahinden

What can you tell us about your friendship with Sol Lewitt?

The American composer Alvin Lucier (I studied with him and was his assistant 1992 -95 at Wesleyan University, CT) introduced me to Sol. We visited him in his home and atelier in Chester, CT, 1992, because we were invited to do a collaboration for the Kunstmuseum Zug, Switzerland. This was the beginning of our friendship. As a young student, I was deeply touched by the openess and kindness of both Sol and Alvin – two great artists. Our work together was very fruitful and I learned a lot.

How did your collaboration with Sol come about?

The collaboration was based on a horizontal line of the Swiss Alps; Sol did a wall drawing, Alvin wrote a composition for trombone and piano (for my wife Hildegard Kleeb and myself) and I did a sound installation. A few weeks later, Sol gave me a painting of himself to thank me for the collaboration – what a generosity! Three years later the interdisciplinary art festival Steirischer Herbst Graz, Austria, commissioned a collaboration for Sol and myself; Sol did a wall drawing and I did a sound installation and a concert. Again, the collaboration was very fruitful and again, Sol gave me a painting of himself, to thank me for the collaboration. So, I’m thankful for our friendship, the collaborations, and the paintings I’ve been enjoying every day since.

How is your work inspired by the visual arts?

As a composer I’m often inspired by visual beauty – works by visual artists or landscapes, structures of stones, mountains, forests, water, rain on the water, wind in the air, leaves.  Artists who inspired my work are Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman or Brice Marden, Swiss Artists Philippe Deléglise, Stéphane Brunner and Rudolf de Crignis, Austrian Inge Dick and German Lali Johne. It’s the vibrations of the art work, how they resonate in me – in fact, I’m listening to the paintings.

What are you currently working on?

Hildegard Kleeb and I are currently working on the new program, entitled RECALL POLLOCK – music for trombone and piano. The music is inspired by paintings of Jackson Pollock. We have worked about three years on the music and done several concerts and a CD recording. Now we are trying to develop the music and a second concert program, including a second CD recording.

line upon line percussionMatt Teodori, of line upon line percussion

What will you be performing on SoundSpace on April 27th?

Steve Reich’s Clapping Music and Drumming Part I

You’ve just launched a successful series at Canopy.  What appeals to you about performing at art galleries and museums?

For us, the idea of spaces being specific to one use is a bit unfortunate. I think we welcome ways for any space, not just art spaces, to be used for music performance.

line upon line percussion has has a history of great hybrid arts collaborations.  What are some of the highlights for you, and can you tell us about your collaborative process?

Our site-specific work with Norma Yancey, seeing times are not hidden, for custom chimes hung under the Waller Creek Bridge, stands out. For us, collaboration is vital. We have a need to work with others, not only to learn, but to find ways for percussion to be more useful in contemporary art-making.

What do you have in the works for 2014-2015?

Looking ahead to 2014-15, we’ll premiere several new works and continue touring the States. We’re also really excited to present the 2nd year of our series at Canopy. We’re making an effort to curate the front half of those shows next year as a way of bringing some folks doing interesting things to Austin.

Jason Phelps in The Intergalactic Nemesis Buzz Moran in The Intergalactic Nemesis © Sarah Bork HamiltonJason Phelps of the Intergalactic Nemesis

What will you be performing at the Blanton?

I have assembled a group of 6 performers to do an interpretation of LaMonte Young’s Composition 1960 # 15 to Richard Huelsenbeck, “This piece is little whirlpools out in the middle of the ocean.”

What appeals to you about Lamonte Young’s work?

He creates open ended compositions that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. It appeals to the multi-disciplinarian artist in me to take his structures and create anything. I love the endless possibilities that can be explored with such evocative images. Like a haiku. Like a breeze. Like a beam of sunlight illuminating. Like the sound of a bell…

What are some of your most prized collaborations?

I love working with artists-actors, dancers, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, digital artists- who can be open to the limitless possibilities of making something live in a given moment. How can we enliven this space, now!? How can we create an experience that will change how an audience sees, hears, think and feels? This has happened for me in a photo shoot, during a play rehearsal, creating a dance theatre moment, listening/responding improvisationally with a musician/live dj.

How does movement, sound, and the visual arts inspire your work?

To me, these art forms are interconnected by rhythm and/or the absence of rhythm. It requires a specific kind of listening and finding a place to tap into and get inside and explore. Sound is everywhere and I am constantly inspired by the feedback I receive from it. Movement is life. Everything moves. When there is movement harmony, then life is flowing. When there is movement dis-harmony, there is tension and something is trying to get free. This back and forth is constantly compelling to me. The visual arts esp, photography, sculpture, painting, and film inspire me to view the world in chaotic and beautiful newness.

The Invincible CzarsJosh Robins of The Invincible Czars

What will you be performing on the April 27th SoundSpace show?

Terry Riley’s In C.  This will be fairly true to form though certainly not as long as most performances of the piece.

What are some of your favorite cross-disciplinary collaborations?

It’s very difficult to say but —- there are plenty of them happening right now at Fusebox!  I guess I’m partial to the stuff that simply can’t be replicated without some major planning.  The real spectacles – like Graham Reynolds writing dance music for dump trucks.  I also like the live music/live art events where there’s live music and multiple visual artists making art right there in front of you.

The Czars always come up with such interesting and novel adaptations of existing scores.  Can you tell us a little about this process?

In my mind, there are two facets to the process: 1) choosing the piece and what to do with it and 2) dealing with the realities of arranging it that way and for our line up.

Choosing the piece ultimately it comes down to this question: is our version of this work going to be necessary, good and/or entertaining? In other words – will we like it and if so, will it matter to anyone else? Working up an arrangement of a composed work for an event like SoundSpace isn’t like learning a quick cover song to play at a club show.  The audience will (probably) be more sober, attentive and critical.  So we need to do more than just entertain ourselves. From piece to piece, those three factors  can vary in ease of achievability.

1812 Overture was a no-brainer with regard to necessity.  We’re the only rock band to have ever performed it in its entirety to my knowledge.  That makes our version remarkable – meaning it’s at least worth mentioning.  Making it good and entertaining was the challenge.  It’s not an easy piece and it took years to get right.  Making it entertaining live can be tough, too, because we’re so focused in that moment on simply playing it correctly.

In C is the opposite.  Our version will certainly be good and entertaining but because it’s not a particularly difficult piece to play, there are tons of versions of it out there.   We won’t be the first rock band to play it.  We’re not even the first to play it this month in Austin!  We won’t be the first to incorporate loops or dancers or non-orchestral instruments or to play a shorter version.

However, the improvisational nature of the piece makes nearly every performance of it unique!  Plus, this piece is truly essential to the theme of the event and we’ll be proud to be performing it such a special location.  I’d also wager that the performance will be most of the attendees’ first exposure to the piece.  That’s necessary enough for us.

Dealing with the realities of arranging the piece for ourselves is often more time consuming than difficult.  It’s an incubation process that can’t be rushed. It takes becoming intimately familiar with the original score, doing some individual and group experimentation and then, ironically, stepping away just enough in order to have an “a ha!” moment in the shower or while doing the dishes.  Then there’s the tedious task of notating all our changes to the original – tempo, rhythm, meter, expression, phrasing, dynamics or what have you.  Of course,  then we sometimes wind up back at the drawing board if it doesn’t sound good in our practice room.

When I country-fied the Miniature Overture (from The Nutcracker), I was relatively new to both instrumental country music and arranging classical music for a rock band.  So I simultaneously learned a lot about conventional country playing, Tchaikovsky’s orchestration/composition styles and the limitations/strengths of the band and instrumentation I had to work with!

What are some interesting projects you have coming up?

The Invincible Czars Play Reynolds and Stopschinski:  We just released an short-run EP of music by Austin composers Graham Reynolds and Peter Stopschinski entitled The Invincible Czars Play Reynolds and Stopschinski Vol. 1.  We plan to return to the same studio and record several more Reynolds/Stopschinski pieces for a full album.  You can listen to the EP here and buy a copy here.

An Album of Original Works: We’ve been so taken up with playing other peoples’ music and creating silent film scores that it’s been way too long since we released any of our own non-film compositions.  We plan to change that later this year.

Pictures at an Exhibition: Years ago we decided to team up with local jazz scientists Bee vs. Moth to re-imagine Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  It’s taken a very long time but that project is nearly done and I’m very excited about it.  Fans of Emerson Lake and Palmer will be glad to know that our version is a far cry from ELP’s rendition.  Like our version of The Nutcracker, it’s all over the map genre-wise.

The Wind at Texas A&M: We’ll be performing our score for the silent film The Wind at Texas A&M in the fall.  Very excited to do this.  Phil and I went out to College Station and spoke to the music appreciation classes last November and had a great time. I’m sure we’ll do another performance in Austin and Houston, too.

More In C: Now that we’ve worked it up for the Blanton, we plan to take our version on the road the next time we hit it!

SoundSpace: Downtown NYC 1960 is on Sunday, April 27 from 2pm – 4pm and is included with museum admission. For more information, visit our website.

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