VISI ASL 2012 Days 1 & 2 (With Prefatory Update)

I sit here posting from the lair of my friend Morgan somewhere near East Hastings in Vancouver. Before I give a recap of my first two days at the VISI Art Song Lab, I should give some very important general updates.

On March 2, I was accepted to the MA program in composition and experimental music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, home of Anthony Braxton and (until recently) Alvin Lucier.  I’m still working on details relating to my visa, but I will be moving in just over two months. I also placed 1st in the Via Choralis Call for Scores in late April. Additionally I’ve received my first commission (grants allowing) from the Vancouver Clarinet Trio (Shawn Earle, Kate Frobeen and Liam Hockley) for a piece that I will finish this summer.

I arrived in Vancouver Friday night, and ASL started in earnest with a meet and greet Saturday afternoon.  One of the other composers is Ryan Noakes, whom I’ve known for about 10 years from Kamloops and Victoria.  Everyone else was new to me, and though many of them are from Vancouver, some are from Toronto and one is from as far as Cincinnati.  I’ll be posting about some of them and their works before the week is through.

Today we had our first rehearsals in the morning. I’m extremely lucky to have Michael Robert-Broder and Corey Hamm performing the song on which Shannon and I collaborated. We spent 40 minutes going over both broad technical and interpretive issues, made a few changes and discussed strategy for the rest of the week. In the afternoon, we all attended a Composer-Poet Forum, with seven BC composers, a poet and CMC BC Regional Director Bob Baker, who discussed the issues inherent in the collaborative process involved in writing art song, as well as some of the possible directions art song may take in the future.

I was most impressed by what composer Leslie Uyeda said, something to the effect of: “I can only set heightened language. I can’t work with language that can be described as journalistic.” This is also true of me.  All the texts I find myself drawn to set are generally emotionally heightened, but fairly abstract. I find most unemotional texts too boring to set, while direct expression embarrasses me.

Needless to say, the next few days will bring a great deal of collaborative ideas and creative energy, and I hope to post more highlights tomorrow night.

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Posting from Svalbard

Picture music as a map, and musical genres as continents–classical music as Europe, jazz as America, rock as Asia. Each genre has its distinct culture of playing and listening. Between the genres are the cold oceans of taste, which can be cruel to musicians who try to cross over.

There is another route between genres. It’s the avant-garde path–a kind of icy Northern Passage that you can traverse on foot. Practitioners of free jazz, underground rock, and avant-garde classical music are, in fact, closer to one another than they are to their less radical colleagues. Listeners, too, can make unexpected connections in this territory. As I discovered in my college years, it is easy to go from the orchestral hurly burly of Xenakis and Penderecki to the free-jazz piano of Cecil Taylor and the dissonant rock of Sonic Youth. For lack of a better term, call it the art of noise.

Alex Ross, “Edges of Pop” in Listen to This