Once you hear the sublime and moving Mehr Licht you’ll definitely want to know more about the music and it’s composer, Danielle Schwob. Now you can read this first and enjoy the concert instead of digging your nose into your program! Which probably won’t happen anyway, given how engaging Schwob’s piece is. Anyhoo…
What was your source of inspiration when you wrote Mehr Licht?
The adage that served as the motto of my first school, “Mehr Licht” (German for “more light”), has always held personal significance for me. As a young student, I was told that it meant that enlightenment could be reached through the pursuit of knowledge, and the idea has remained with me since. My piece is intended to portray a journey from obscurity towards clarity, away from ignorance and towards the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The sound world itself, however, was inspired by two pieces of artwork: Cildo Meireles’ Missions/Missions (How To Build Cathedrals) and John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Both pieces have a luminous quality to them, and, to me, seem united by a quiet, meditative tone that transcends their aesthetic differences: the former is a contemporary installation incorporating a pit of softly lit coins, black curtains and a ceiling of dangling bones, while the latter is a nineteenth century painting of two nightgown clad children carrying lanterns. I chose the sound palette of Mehr Licht in an attempt to translate the visual elements of these artworks into music.
A lot of young composers in New York (perhaps elsewhere) seem to be torn between being defined as a ‘classical composer’ and writing music that sounds sort of like pop or electronic music, genres that have master artists in their own right. Has this been a struggle for you at all? Why or why not? If so, how do you deal?
I can’t say that it has been a struggle for me at all! I write both concert pieces and songs, and so the issue of what box people might want to put me in has never really bothered me. While obviously the two idioms are very different, I tend to approach them in similar ways and am sort of genre-blind while I’m actually writing. I’m also getting to an interesting point creatively where I’m starting to hear my concert writing tendencies seep into my songwriting and vice versa, and discovering what can happen as my two worlds converge naturally is very interesting to me. I’m much more excited to see what sort of music this can yield than I am about worrying which camp I belong to.
What qualities do you seek in a performer?
I look for performers who are interesting, focused artists with a strong sense of self, artistic integrity and an honest stage presence. Obviously professionalism, technique, musicianship and interpretative abilities are very important too, but I think the difference between a good performer and a great performer has more to do with who the person is than how they move their hands (or vocal chords) or how glossy their résumé is. I believe that interesting people make interesting music. I also think that a performer’s basic motivation for playing is extremely important. There seems to be so much emphasis in the music world on winning accolades, getting ahead and looking impressive on paper that I sometimes wonder where artistry factors into the equation. I like to work with grounded performers who are in the music world for the right reason: to make art, not just a name for themselves.
Which composers do you look to the most for inspiration, or which composers have had the most significant impact on how you think about/write music?
This changes so frequently that it’s difficult to say! A few years ago, when we did the last interview, you asked me a similar question and my thoughts on the subject were very different. At that point, since I was in the middle of my undergrad degree and had concert music tunnel vision, I think I mentioned Reich, Pärt, Dello Joio, Stravinsky and Partch. I’m still very much inspired by these people, however at the moment I’m not listening to them as religiously as I used to. Since I’m currently in songwriter/performer mode and am finishing my debut EP, Overloaded, I’ve been listening to a lot more popular music. Top of the list are Radiohead and Björk, followed by Pink Floyd, The Smiths, Tori Amos and Elliott Smith. I think these people are true creative geniuses, and deserve as much recognition as the best artists in the concert world.
How about a book recommendation instead? The last thing that I read and was completely entranced by was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I enjoyed it much more than a lot of things that I’ve read recently (or listened to, for that matter) and would definitely recommend it.
Hear Mehr Licht tonight at Amped/Electrified!
…And guess what? It’s us! On March 10 at Issue Project Room. If you are already excited about going, get tix here. Below is our first blog post for MATA, and we’ll have more coming up with composer interviews, insights from our designer Jonathan Cohen, y mas…but we’re not giving everything away! We do like to tease ;)
Via MATA’s Blog:
posted on February 10th, 2011
First of all, we’d really like to thank everyone at MATA. It definitely takes a group of open-minded and daring people, especially in [classical? art? concert?] music to support a project like this.
The Nouveau Classical Project is a concert series that connects fashion and music. For Amped/Electrified, designer Jonathan Cohen will style the musicians’ attire based on the music they perform. He has already started listening to the music and has a lot of great ideas brewing. Jonathan’s fashion presentation is this Friday, so stay tuned for photos of his show and an interview about Amped/Electrified on our blog!
In the spirit of MATA, we decided to program experimental and electro-acoustic works by composers who have a classical background but are breaking ground with unconventional approaches to music. So we searched and encountered a few speed bumps on the way, but it all came together. We got a hold of some great works that each have something unique to offer. Izzi Ramkissoon’s The Asperity of Lace asks musicians to improvise, compose something on their own, which is something that we think every musician should be able to do, but is instead something that most of us with a classical background find intimidating. (Maybe I’ll have a Jameson before performing that one.) Ananta (New York Premiere) by Ryan Manchester puts us in a calm, meditative yet focused state, while Jay Wadley’s textural and strangely beautiful Things My Father Never Told Me (World Premiere) expresses the anxiety and self doubt many of us experience. And then there’s Danielle Schwob’sMehr Licht, whose sound literally reveals ‘more light,’ and Trevor Gureckis’s arrangement of Aphex Twin’s Cliffs. APHEX TWIN. Enough said there.
Admittedly, we haven’t programmed but one work with tape in the past, but we knew that being part of MATA means embracing innovation and looking beyond what we had already done thus far. We hope that this comes across in both the music and our approach to the classical (for lack of a better word) concert, and we are thankful for being involved with an organization that pushes us to push boundaries and be open.
We’ve got more things to say on what we do and why we do it, plus artist interviews. Keep up with us on Twitter: @ncp to get updates on new posts and photos!
Thanks to everyone who came out last Friday to our Sounds & Silhouettes Listening Party! Funds will go towards supporting our artists and creating more great concerts. This event would not have been possible without the generosity of the following people: Val and Myn-Myn Schaffner of Nabi Gallery (where there is currently an must-see Kathy Buist exhibition up); Jay Wadley for providing our speakers; Ejay Jung, photographer; Marcus Sands and Santosh Sateesh for our drink mixers; our volunteer staff, Yoobin Whang, Steven Chen, Alexandra Woo, and Jenn Wang; composers William Brittelle, Brooks Frederickson, Trevor Gureckis, Ryan Manchester, Danielle Schwob, Victoire, and Jay Wadley; fashion designers Edward Lorenz and Eri Wakiyama; and last, but not least, our alcohol brigade, for making our open bar happen! Randolph Hall, Jason Jean, Justin Kantor, Melinda Lin, and Smitri Sateesh. Enjoy these!
…put composers, fashion designers, and cool people in a beautiful art gallery? This!
Meet our exceptionally stylish (and friendly!) fashion designers, amazing composers, and fellow lovers of life at our listening party. The playlist is hand-selected; among those on the music roster are composers who won our competition in addition to present favorites in the New York music scene. It gets better: there’s an open bar, and you get to take hope an exclusive CD with selections from the evening’s sounds.
Our crowd is sure to be fun and interesting (in the best sense of the word!), per usual at our events. So don’t miss out!
1. When did you start composing? When and how did you realize you wanted to be a composer?
Well I’ve been writing songs and coming up with bits of music since as far back as I can remember. However, I came to concert composition later in life than a lot of composers I know, having previously focused on jazz guitar performance. I’ve always known that I wanted to compose seriously, but for some reason composition always ended up taking a backseat. I eventually made the switch when I was forced to take some time off from playing due to an injury– something that, in retrospect, was the best thing that could have happened. During the time off I thought considerably about what I wanted to do in music, what I admired most about my favourite artists etc. (lots of very touchy feely stuff), and realised that writing was more important to me than performing. After that I jumped straight into composition and have never looked back.
2. What do you love about making music?
That’s an impossible question to answer! I love so many things about it! I’ll give it a try though… I suppose that at the most personal level I find writing music to be quite cathartic. I feel very stagnant when I’m not writing. I’m sure most musicians would say the same thing. On a day-to-day basis I also like that music allows me to communicate with people, and to collaborate on projects where many individuals work together to create something unique. And then in the most philosophical sense, I think that music adds colour and vibrancy to the world, which, let’s be honest, can be rather a bleak place at times. I truly believe that being a musician is one of the most meaningful professions a person can have, and if that’s not a good reason to enjoy making music then I don’t know what is!
3. What did you enjoy the most about form/figure on Friday?
That I got to wear a cape! No, my favourite thing was seeing the performers dressed in such unusual clothing. I’ve never understood why classical musicians are expected to adhere to such a staid dress code when performing. There is something to be said for dressing nicely out of respect for the art and musicianship being showcased, but why this calls for players to dress like conservative clones of one another I still can’t grasp. Isn’t performing supposed to be about expression and individuality? I thought the aesthetic of form/figure was refreshingly contemporary and shone rejuvenating light on music that some people (wrongly) perceive as stuffy or outdated. Seriously though, I really did love the cape. In fact I loved it so much that I spent a good portion of my last Syzygy blog post waffling on about it…
4. What inspired you to write ‘Music for Releasing Ghosts?’
The piece is about loss and endings. I began writing it in remembrance of several relatives who have passed away, and at the most literal level their passing is certainly what the piece is about. However, I hope that the themes behind the piece can be applied to any type of “ending,” both literal and figurative. Compositionally I looked to several different other composers for inspiration, including John Corigliano, Justin Dello Joio, Ravel and Shostakovich, since their string and piano writing is extraordinary. Obviously they’re big names and I don’t flatter myself by thinking that I’ll ever come close to being as skillful as any of them, but hopefully some of their influence comes through.
5. What composers do you look up to?
In the concert realm I am blown away by Arvo Pärt, John Corigliano, Steve Reich and, of course, greats like Stravinsky and Ravel. However I’m equally as captivated by people like Björk, Radiohead and Pink Floyd. I’ve also really started getting into Harry Partch recently. Not only did he write brilliantly innovative music, but he had the guts to break with almost all Western musical conventions. I admire his fearlessness and conviction. I’ve got incredibly eclectic taste (both a blessing and a curse), and don’t really have a favourite composer. I admire lots of people for different reasons and my ear is always evolving.
6. What are you working on at the moment?
I have a few things on the burner. I’m working on some projects with the Syzygy New Music Collective, a group that I co-founded and serve as Director for, as well as writing a new piece for our next concert. I was also just asked to write a piece for percussion trio, the howl (theory), which I’ll begin working on soon. I’m also beginning to think about writing a piece for the Harry Partch instruments, which I’m really excited about doing. I’m currently participating in the Harry Partch Ensemble and have been studying the theory behind Partch’s tuning system as well as learning how to play some of the instruments. It’s been a complete eye-opener.
7. Anything else?
Just a shameless plug for Syzygy, if you don’t mind! We have several events coming up, including a fundraiser next month and a concert on April 23rd at the Nabi Gallery. You can find out more about the group and listen to audio samples at www.syzygynewmusic.com, or, if you’re feeling particularly generous, go directly to our Kickstarter page.
Photos: Natti Vogel