Why haven’t I heard of him?

Imagine an unknown composer, born late in 1871, who writes wonderful music.

This composer has studied with Anton Bruckner, whom people know.

The music of this composer is championed by a well-known composer by the name of Johannes Brahms, who attends performances of this composer’s work, even recommending it to an established publisher who has published many fine composers.

This composer becomes friends and later brothers-in-law with Arnold Schoenberg.  In fact, he even gives counterpoint lessons to Schoenberg, becoming the only formal teacher the eventual pioneer of the 12-tone system would ever have.  (NB: this composer never writes atonal music in spited of this relationship).

The music of this composer is conducted by Gustave Mahler, who eventually marries his former girlfriend, Alma.

He influences composer Alban Berg, and possibly others, including Igor Stravinsky and Kurt Weill, who admire his conducting and promotion of contemporary music.

He writes symphonies, string quartets, choral works, songs, works for piano, etc. – all the standard fare of a composer of his time.  He is both active and celebrated in his native Vienna.  The rise of the Nazis prompts is emigration to America.

Sadly, his wonderful music does not capture the admiration of his new homeland and, becoming increasingly ill, he eventually ceases his composition life until his death in Larchmont, New York in March, 1942.

Who knows the mysterious workings of the universe, i.e. the social forces and nebulous societal “tastes” that can make or break an individual artist’s career?

Alexander Zemlinsky seemed to have a lot going for him, especially a lot of “the right” contacts in his field.

So, I’m listening to his gorgeous String Quartet No. 2, and wondering, why…?





Winter projects

To-Do List

This semester is already going full steam ahead.  Today I presented my monologue for my Collaboration seminar.  I sacrificed some of my intended performance elements – percussion and song – to focus on my texts and saxophone improvisation.  My preparation process led me to revisit some old pieces of short writing I’d done – mostly for blogs – and to polish some new ones, with the idea that I could incorporate indeterminacy or the concept of “mobile” form into my presentation.  I opted to talk about a series of topics of interest to me, including some things about myself that were probably worth sharing in this context, rather than spend a lot of time focusing on my work.  I had the idea to prepare one-page essay topics and then shuffle them, determining an order at the moment of presentation.  I placed the pages face down on a table and, since there were ten, I asked my class to give me a number from 1-10 so I could choose what to start with and, later, how to proceed.  I began with a short improvisation and interpolated another one after my first page.  I’m now thinking about how I can expand my approach to this mini lecture-recital format and what sort of venues or contexts I might be able to present in.  I like the idea that each presentation will be different with the same core material, which I will gradually expand. I have ideas for interactive components or creative group activities as well as incorporating random text elements such as news items, scientific facts, quotes, etc.  These presentations are intended to be thought-provoking, artful and entertaining and primarily centered around the theme of creativity.

We sorted out our first collaboration partnerships today as well.  I’m excited to be working with Marcelo, an MFA student from Brazil who works with music and video, and Neil who is a 4th-year undergraduate Theatre Production major with extensive experience in design and other visual art.  We had a brief meeting after class and Marcelo seems keen on  incorporating “VJ-ing” – his main current interest – into our project.  He also mentioned his interest in exploring narrative.  Neil mentioned cultural blending as a key component potentially.  I have an idea for a project that I just came up with last night, which I will pitch to them at some point tomorrow.  We’ll have our first production meeting on Wednesday afternoon.  We have to go hard because we are one of the first presenters on February 1st, only two weeks away!

Other important and super exciting project I’m working on is an art song for my composition seminar.  I’m setting Sylvia  Plath’s poem “Words” and the instrumentation is mezzo-soprano, viola and piano.  I’ll probably do 2-3 Plath songs this semester depending on length.  I’ve only ever done one other art song and that was my second composition project of my first composition course way back in my undergrad.

I’m dabbling with another piece called “Coltrane’s Ghost” for my improv group but I’ll probably only be able to work on this on a very sporadic basis.  I also have to polish one of my current solo saxophone projects for a premiere at the upcoming Student Composer Symposium on January 29th!

So why am I writing in this blog now and not off composing?  Very good question.

Collaborations galore

Yesterday I met a whole slew of potential new collaborators in the first meeting of my Interdisciplinary Collaboration seminar.  There are a lot of interesting people doing fascinating stuff.  I hope I can measure up!

The course format centers around three different collaborative partnerships throughout the semester.  We have to choose our first partner by next week.

But the first project is a 12-min monologue in which we can pretty much do anything but is primarily intended to introduce ourselves and our creative interests.  My intention is to colour my “info” with artful use of text, musical performance – primarily on saxophone, but maybe also incorporating singing and percussion – improvisation (both textual and musical) and quasi-random elements from a field of possibilities prepared beforehand and chosen throughout the performance.  In fact, thinking about this project has inspired me to explore the possibility of developing a series of such monologues into an ongoing performance art project.  We’ll see how it goes!

Broadly speaking, I’m interested into developing into an artist for whom various forms of collaboration inform my individual artistic practice – I’d like to balance the two throughout my career.   Up to now, my musical endeavours, while often collaborative with other musicians, have vastly been in favour of musical expression alone and I have only a handful of interdisciplinary collaborations under my belt.  I’m really hoping to change this.  Through collaboration there is the opportunity to produce something we wouldn’t come up with on our own, maybe even not think of on our own! – a beautiful thing to be sure.

With the primary goal of artistic development at its core, the seminar is about the collaboration more than the actual artistic outcome. However, I still want to work hard to produce good material.  Again, I’m intrigued and excited by the possibilities that will emerge that would not have in another place and time and with different partners.


Culture of the ear

I’ve borrowed the term “culture of the ear” from editors Christopher Cox and Daniel Warner of the book Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. In their introduction to the book, “Music and the New Audio Culture,” they are talking about an “auditory turn in contemporary culture,” essentially a shift towards greater collective attention to sonic matters due to the ubiquity of recording and playback technology.

Audio Culture is a fascinating collection of essays and I plan to blog about about and respond to a bunch of them as I review the book over the coming weeks.  Also, I think “culture of the ear” is a fitting description of what this blog is all about.

Another topic I plan to blog extensively about over the next few months is film music.  I’m taking an overview course with Martin Gotfrit at SFU.  For quite some time now I’ve been intending to explore some of the musical tropes and vocabulary that are often used (or are unusual) in various types of scenes.  I’m sure this course will finally provide the opportunity to do so.  Already we are off to a great start.  I learned last evening in the first class that so much about the film can be garnered from just the overture, if you know what to listen for!


Sound Matters


I can’t think a better way to start off a year of blogging about music and sound than with a citation of this brilliant, interactive New York Times article, “Dear Architects: Sound Matters” by Michael Kimmelman.

It’s probable that most people are, generally, unaware of the profound impact that the acoustics of a particular space has on one’s emotional state of being.  Perhaps, this awareness is only heightened in extremely loud or soft environments.  At any rate, even in a relatively quiet environment, there are a lot of sounds happening. Some of them can be quite interesting and even difficult to discern.  As the article points out, a lot of what we hear is affected by the space itself.  We may take sound for granted but there’s no denying it’s impact.

“The spaces we design and inhabit all have distinctive sounds.” So, let’s pay more attention!

Get out your headphones to enjoy: