I also would want to be a singer-songwriter in 1973 because it was the time when you could still bend and stretch pop/rock genres and yet the technology for recording was finally coming into its own. Singer-songwriters didn’t need to dance and didn’t need to do excessive covering like today’s generation of American Idols. You just needed a piano or guitar, a relatively decent voice, and most importantly, something to say.
2. Dog, cat, or goldfish?
Cat, ultimately. Barber has his song about “scholar and cat”--- I think about that song often when I’m writing with my grey tabby Ollie at my side. But I like dogs too. I’m against false dichotomies. As for goldfish, they’re okay, but I really prefer Cheez-Its.
3. Would you rather…Be an unknown superhero or be a famous villain?
This sounds like it could be superficial question but it’s not. I am half of an electroacoustic music duo called Blind Labyrinth. My partner is actually blind. He has had a miserable life. He was born into perhaps the single most ill-equipped family that could care for a blind child. One parent a tremendous alcoholic, the other a gambling addict. He suffered abject neglect. Then, to repeat the cycle, he married an emotionally abusive, manipulative woman who routinely spied on his e-mails and eavesdropped on his phone conversations without his knowledge. She also threatened to become violent with him if he didn’t fall into line. Once this all came to a head, he decided to leave, but nobody in his shitty family would come to pick him up, as he lived about four hours away and they couldn’t be bothered. So I drove from Texas to Ohio to get him. When I was there, the spouse’s sex-offender brother was there obviously to stop me from retrieving my partner who wanted to leave but cannot drive--- he’s blind, after all. We found out later he was there to beat me up to keep me from retrieving my partner. Fortunately, I had the good sense to call for a police escort. With the police at my side, I got my partner out of the house, and we drove down to Texas, where he has a secret new residence. I’ve made my peace with not being famous. I’m a secret superhero for my friends.
By the way, my partner has no academic background at all. He’s just a whiz at sound design. I don’t think one has to have an academic background to participate in so-called “serious” art music. My uncle is a tenured strings professor at Vanderbilt and he doesn’t even have a bachelor’s. He left Juilliard to form the Concord String Quartet and the rest is history. I don’t think people should be intimidated by the alphabet soup of degrees; degree inflation is a serious problem. I’m working on my second doctorate because my first one has been impotent in my quest for a secure academic job. Of course, it could be that I’m just lousy! But I’d like to think that there is some alternative explanation.
4. You’re trapped on an island. There is one electrical outlet connected to a boombox from 1992. When you were stranded here you only had time to save one cassette out of collection of singles. What is the one pop song you will listen to for the rest of your life?
Don’t laugh. “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago. Magnificent orchestration by Jimmie Haskell, who also did the orchestration on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which also would be up there on my list. Don’t laugh. I first heard IYLMN when I was three years old and was entranced by this song. Don’t laugh. Ooooh ooooh oooh, no, baby. Please don’t go. I’m totally serious. Don’t laugh.
5. Who are 3 composers from the past -AND- 3 of your own generation whose music you respect, enjoy, inspires you, etc… 6 in total (for the composers of your own generation please give a links to soundcloud or their website).
Past: Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Olivier Messiaen
Present: Jeffrey Holmes, Vincent Ho, Suzanne Sorkin
Rob and I met on the first day of class of my doctorate. He was my teacher for a theory course I took. I ended taking three theory courses from Rob while I was at Rice including a course on his field of study, post-tonal prolongation. Rob and I became good friends during these classes and have remained so afterwards. We are of like mind on many subjects and like to debate the other ones. I can say, without doubt, that Rob’s courses (especially the post-tonal prolongation course) have changed me as a composer for the better. Rob is currently completing his third doctorate!!! This time in Music Theory at the University of North Texas to go along with his doctorates in Composition and Film Scoring from USC.
Please click on the titles to go to the sound files.
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Mvt. 1) (2010) for piano and wind ensemble
From the program notes: “The first movement explores the building of specific harmonies and interval structures through very controlled time.” The wonderful thing about composer-theorists is that they are able to take analysis tools and turn it on its head to make a piece out of the theoretical technique. This is one of the big lessons that Rob taught me (not that others haven’t - but the kind of theory I was studying with Rob was such that it lent itself more to this idea than others did).
One aspect of the pieces that Rob has written that I’ve heard is that there are not forbidden intervals or forbidden chords in his language. If you are able to do it convincingly (which I think Rob is able), it is all up for grabs. It has a wonderful diversity of surface sounds that are connected through the theoretical background. Some would argue that, you cannot hear the theory behind it. I disagree. I don’t think you are always conscious of what is going on but, you feel the “otherness” that the piece exudes. It is one thing to listen to Crumb or Bartok and hear of (0,1,6) and identify it. But, in Rob’s music, my gut is telling me to go searching after I hear it because I want o know why it belongs the “other” category and not in the “nice piece” pile. Very nice.
Twelve Structures (2012) for cello and piano
Rob gave a lecture on this piece at Rice, which I admit I remember nothing about. Luckily, Rob was kind enough to refresh me before I listened. I’m going to give you the full program notes because I think it is important for us to think about.
“I struggle with program notes. Should I go over the technical aspects or discuss the intended overall affect? Why not both? It occurred I could give the piece two competing titles and address this duality. So here are two program notes. Each is a valid description.
Twelve Structures for Cello and Piano is an exploration of the twelve Forte trichords appearing in The Structure of Atonal Music by the recently late Allen Forte. Each movement is unified by the quasi-Schenkerian projections of the central trichord across the background of the piece as it assembles itself first by structural monad then structural dyad, then structural triad.
Twelve Charming Little Pieces for Cello and Piano is inspired by two composers of miniatures, Webern and Kurtag. Each explores a single specific mood. Sometimes the mood is pensive, sometimes explosive, sometimes quirky. However, I hope that each movement is engaging and enjoyable.
The piece was written for my good friends Lachezar Kostov and Viktor Valkov.”
What do we want the audience to know about the piece before they hear it? Does it matter? Some think that if they piece requires an explanation that you didn’t do your job as a composer. I disagree. We all speak a different musical language based on our tastes, history as musical listeners, and preferences. In previous times, you could get away with it because, in general, tonality ruled the landscaped and most listeners were well versed. But, now, everyone speaks a different dialect of a non-existent universal language which is to say, it is difficult to be understood at this point in history.
So, does the theory matter to the listener? Well, if the listener is a theorist or composer, maybe. If not, then it probably doesn’t matter at all in which case see program note 2. I like to know if a composer is using a method but, I don’t know that it effects the way I listen any differently. I listen to sound. If the sounds moves me to, I’ll investigate the theory or method behind it. But, I still like to know because it gets me thinking creatively while I listen to the piece. It isn’t so much a real-time aural analysis as it is a sparkplug for thought while listening (if that makes any sense at all).
I’m not going to talk about all of the movement individually. The slower movements are very pretty while the faster movements are more intense and exciting. I often wonder in atonal music if chords or intervals or melodies that are considered more dissonant become less so at slower and quieter levels. I wonder if this has something to do with 1) the speed at which our brains are able to process information and 2) softer dynamics yield fewer overtones and thus fewer partials that will clash with “dissonant” intervallic companions.
Rob has a really great command of the piano. His harmonic formations are very pleasing. The cello writing is really matched to Lachezar’s playing (he was in the same class of DMA’s as I was so we are also good friends and colleagues). Rob also talked about alternate methods of ordering the movements. This particular ordering groups them based on tempo and mood (I think). I want to hear it with a different ordering. I don’t think that this one is bad but, rather, the hook is in me and I want to explore it further. Nice work, Rob!
And great name, by the way.